A new report by the UN Human Rights Office based on interviews with Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh that fled the latest Myanmar Army crackdown reaffirms the reports from media and human rights organizations of terrible suffering in light of atrocities against the civilian population. Not only does the report highlight the abuses that is causing the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya, but also the importance of the Fact-Finding Mission to establish accountability for these crimes.
The UN report, based on testimonies from 65 refugees in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh, “indicates that the destruction of Rohingya villages in northern Rakhine State, and other serious human rights violations committed in the aftermath of the 25 August 2017 attacks, were executed in a well-organised, coordinated, and systematic manner.” Furthermore, the destruction of villages and homes was intended “not only to drive the population out in droves but also to prevent the fleeing Rohingya victims from returning to their homes.” Such findings correlate with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights assessment of the crisis as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
In light of such findings, the response of the Myanmar Army, which has been targeting innocent civilians in its hunt for Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army militants, is denial of any atrocities. The Commander-in-Chief of the Myanmar Armed Forces, Min Aung Hlaing, in a meeting with the US Ambassador, Scot Marciel, stated that the actions of the Myanmar Army do not go “beyond the legal framework.” He further outlined how the Rohingya simply do not belong to Myanmar, stating that “the native place of Bengalis is really Bengal. Therefore, they might have fled to the other country with the same language, race and culture as theirs by assuming that they would be safer there.” While this may resonate with many people in Myanmar, it only deepens the narrative that Rohingya are actually illegal Bengali immigrants that do not belong in the country, and therefore justifies the forced exodus of over half of their population.
Dr. Win Myat Aye, who is responsible for implementing the recommendations of the Kofi Annan Commission as well as being vice chairperson of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s new committee – the Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement and Development in Rakhine – suggests that the Rohingya are fleeing as part of a planned move so as to evoke the term ‘ethnic cleansing.’ That hundreds of thousands of people would abandon their homes and villages to live in appalling conditions in camps in Bangladesh in order to provoke the labelling of their situation as ‘ethnic cleansing’ are absurd and do not bode well for the successful return and resettlement of Rohingya refugees.
It must be remembered that military operations against Myanmar’s minorities in which innocent civilians are targeted leading to mass displacement is not a new phenomenon, dating back decades. Since 2011, offensives against ethnic Shan, Ta’ang, Kokang and Kachin ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) in northern Myanmar have been particularly fierce, creating more than 100,000 internally displaced persons while villagers have been the victims of arbitrary arrest, forced labor, torture, sexual violence and extrajudicial killings at the hands of the Myanmar Army. While 15 October, 2017 marked two years since the signing of the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) between the Government and eight EAOs, the peace process remains fractured and lacks substantive progress. One of the few major EAOs that signed the NCA, the Karen National Union (KNU), recalled similar operations to those in Rakhine State that displaced 200,000 ethnic Karen people internally while a further 150,000 refugees fled to Thailand in the 1990s, many of whom remain displaced today. The KNU stated that it “regrets witnessing the repeat of this history.”
History is being repeated in Rakhine State, albeit on a scale and intensity that is unprecedented. The NCA anniversary should serve as a reminder of the Myanmar Army’s systematic and unrelenting oppression of ethnic and religious minorities in Myanmar, whether Rohingya in Rakhine State, Karen in eastern Myanmar or the Kachin and Shan in the north of the country. While much of the narrative internationally has emphasized Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s perceived failings, the focus must be on the perpetrators of atrocities and the institution that causes the displacement and commits the majority of human rights abuses – the Myanmar Army. It is this institution that the international community must take action against including a global arms embargo and targeted sanctions. Precedent has shown that the Myanmar Army has the capacity and the political will to launch military operation after military operation against ethnic and religious minorities in Myanmar, and thus it is they that must be targeted.
The Fact Finding Mission would be a first step towards holding the Myanmar Army accountable for their abuses throughout the country and seeking justice by providing an objective and detailed account of human rights abuses committed, leading to more decisive international action against perpetrators, and placing more pressure on the Myanmar Army to curtail its abusive behavior. The Myanmar Government must allow unrestricted access for the FFM throughout the country if it is genuine in its resolve to end the grave human rights and humanitarian crises and to support the victims of all those who suffer at the hands of the Myanmar Army’s abuses.
 One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.
Resources from the past week
Statements and Press Releases
Rohingya in Buthidaung Fleeing Due to Starvation With Many Stranded and Unable to Escape
By Burma Human Rights Network
Myanmar: Free Khaing Myo Htun, Uphold Right to Freedom of Expression
By Fortify Rights
Brutal Attacks on Rohingya Meant to Make Their Return almost Impossible – UN Human Rights Report
By The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Burma: The Military Coup Threat Myth
By Burma Campaign UK
Mission Report of OHCHR Rapid Response Mission to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh
By The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.”