The Rohingya are a Muslim minority of Myanmar. They are mainly located in the northern state of Rakhine, near the border to Bangladesh. For decades, they have been systematically discriminated against by law and by the Buddhist population of the country. The 1982 nationality law does not recognise the Rohingya as citizens, even though they have been living in the Myanmar for generations. They are therefore considered stateless and are, consequently, often deprived of their fundamental human rights. They are denied an identity and a home; they are not allowed to study, work, travel, marry or to practice a religion. They are not given any identity documents and can therefore not apply for citizenship or refugee status. Because of their situation, they are often exploited or abused.
Moreover, the Rohingya and other Muslim minorities repeatedly become the victims of inter-community violence. Some influential monks describe the Rohingya as the reincarnations of snakes and insects which should be destroyed like vermin. Consequently, in 2012 various religious and ethnic riots occurred between the Rakhine Buddhists and the Rohingya, leading to 200 deaths and 140,000 displaced people. Since then, peace has not yet been able to be re-established in the country. Tens of thousands of Rohingya had to flee from Myanmar in the following years, but no South-Asian state was willing to accommodate them. In May 2015, thousands of Rohingya looking for protection were stranded on the high seas around the Bay of Bengal because Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia kept pushing them back onto the sea. Several hundred lives were lost.
#What is the current situation in Myanmar?
Since the 25th August 2017, the Myanmar military are conducting so-called ‘cleansing operations’ in the Rakhine state, which was triggered by a coordinated attack against various police stations and a military basis. The attack was executed by a group of rebels who call themselves the “Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army” (ARSA). Since then, there have been various reports of security personnel punishing all members of the Rohingya group for these actions. They unlawfully kill civilians, burn down entire villages and banish thousands of people. The survivors at the Cox’s Bazar refugee camp in Bangladesh talk about their terrible experiences. They witnessed how government soldiers stabbed babies, decapitated young boys and raped girls. They throw grenades into family homes, execute unarmed civilians and burn entire families. This sort of violence is brutal and personal: it is the result of a long history of ethnic hatred. It is an organised massacre aiming to eliminate the entire Rohingya population. Human rights investigators estimate approximately 5,000 deaths.
A pack of soldiers stepped toward a petite young woman with light brown eyes and delicate cheekbones. Her name was Rajuma, and she was standing chest-high in the water, clutching her baby son, while her village in Myanmar burned down behind her. “You,” the soldiers said, pointing at her. She froze. “You!” She squeezed her baby tighter. In the next violent blur of moments, the soldiers clubbed Rajuma in the face, tore her screaming child out of her arms and hurled him into a fire. She was then dragged into a house and gang-raped. Her two sisters were raped and killed in the same room. In the next room, her mother and 10-year-old brother were shot. At some point, Rajuma lost consciousness. When she woke, the soldiers were gone, but the house was on fire. She sprinted out naked, past her family’s bodies, past burning homes, and hid in a forest. Right now, she lives in a refugee camp in Bangladesh.
According to several eye witness reports, the “cleansing operations” started before the 25th of August and were not actually triggered by the ARSA attack. The killing of men under 40 years of age, random killing and torture, as well as the rape of children to spread fear could therefore have started at least a month prior to the attacks. The security forces were also supported by armed Rakhine Buddhists.
So far, more than 500,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh in order to escape from the violence. There are even reports that the Myanmar government are placing landmines along the Bangladeshi border in order to stop the Rohingya from coming back into the country. On the 11th of September 2017, Zeid bin Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, called the Myanmar security forces’ actions a “textbook example of Ethnic Cleansing”. On the 13th of September, one of Myanmar’s government spokespersons reported that their security forces had successfully cleared 176 Rohingya villages throughout the course of their “cleansing operations”.
The government have already carried out a four-month operation to fight allegedly rebellious Rohingya less than a year ago. This led to mass imprisonments, torture, rape, sexual abuse, out-of-court executions and the destruction of houses and mosques after armed militants had attacked the military’s border guards.
Since then, the UN has declared these actions as crimes against humanity. Myanmar has initiated internal investigations in an effort to deny the accusations, however the State does not allow any investigators sent by the UN Human Rights Council to enter the country. António Guterres, the UN Secretary-General, published a letter to the president of the UN Security Council asking to address the situation in Myanmar to stop a humanitarian crisis at the beginning of September 2017. To this day, the UN Security Council has neither issued a statement about the situation, nor drafted a resolution. Due to the continuing violence, the landmines along the border and the destroyed livelihood, it is impossible for the Rohingya to return to their homes, but now they’re facing imprisonment in special camps in Bangladesh.
And there is a cruel irony in this situation: Myanmar’s prime minister is no other than Aung San Suu Kyi: Nobel Peace Prize Laureate (1991) and celebrated icon in the fight against suppression and social injustice. She denies all acts of violence against the Rohingya are happening.
# Amnesty International Australia (2017) “Who are the Rohingya and what is happening in Myanmar?”, available at: https://www.amnesty.org.au/who-are-the-rohingya-refugees/ (last accessed 25.10.17)
# Aljazeera.com (2017) “What’s happening in Myanmar is genocide” von Starr Kinseth, A., available at: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/Happening-myanmar-genocide-171016114145271.html (last accessed 25.10.17)
# Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (2017) “Populations at Risk: Current Crisis Myanmar (Burma)”, available at: http://www.globalr2p.org/regions/myanmar_burma (last accessed 25.10.17)
# New York Times (2017) “Rohingya Recount Atrocities: ‘They Threw My Baby Into a Fire’” von Gettleman, J., available at: https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/10/11/world/asia/rohingya-myanmar-atrocities.html (last accessed 25.10.17)
# Reuters (2017) “Brutal Myanmar army operation aimed at preventing Rohingya return: U.N.” von Nebehay, S., available at: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-myanmar-rohingya-un/brutal-myanmar-army-operation-aimed-at-preventing-rohingya-return-u-n-idUSKBN1CG10A (last accessed 25.10.17)
# United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (2017) “Mission report of OHCHR rapid response mission to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh”, available at: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Countries/MM/CXBMissionSummaryFindingsOctober2017.pdf (last accessed 25.10.17)
# UN Dispatch (2017) “New Evidence Suggests that What’s Happening in Myanmar is no longer a “potential” genocide. It’s the real thing.” Von Curtis, K., available at: https://www.undispatch.com/new-evidence-suggests-whats-happening-myanmar-no-longer-potential-genocide-real-thing/ (last accessed 25.10.17)
New York Times Gettleman, J. (2017)