The devastating report by Reuters describing Myanmar security personnel involvement in a massacre of Rohingya civilians was released this week as two of the local journalists that led the investigative reporting – Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone – remain in jail and face up to 14 years in prison after being charged under the colonial-era Official Secrets Act. In the same week, Amnesty International detailed how remaining Rohingya in northern Rakhine State are being starved out. Meanwhile, in Kachin, Shan, and Ta’ang areas of northern Myanmar, airstrikes and attacks by the Myanmar Army have displaced another 1,000 civilians and continue to inflict misery on the local population.
The Reuters report describes how ten Rohingya men were murdered – either hacked to death by local Rakhine villagers or shot by Myanmar Army soldiers – and buried in a mass grave in Inn Din Village, Rakhine State. The report is based on credible interviews with local villagers – both Rohingya and Rakhine – as well as members of the paramilitary police force. A leading lawyer who has worked on cases at the international criminal tribunals stated if military had organized civilians to commit violence against Rohingya, such evidence “would be the closest thing to a smoking gun in establishing not just intent, but even specific genocidal intent, since the attacks seem designed to destroy the Rohingya or at least a significant part of them.” The report points to such cases where the Myanmar Army took a leading role in organizing Rakhine villagers to burn Rohingya homes and inflict violence.
Just a few days before the release of the Reuters report, Amnesty International also released a report based on interviews with recently arrived refugees in Bangladesh that outlines how “forced starvation, abductions and looting of property drove them to flee.” The push for repatriation of the Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh is absurd given the current conditions in northern Rakhine State, which continue to drive out the already vulnerable population.
Yet it is not just Rakhine State where civilians suffer such atrocities. In northern Myanmar, thousands of villagers remain trapped in the conflict zones of Sumprabum and Tanai Townships, Kachin State since renewed intense military offensives – including aerial attacks by the Myanmar Army – were launched in January 2018. Over 100,000 people that have become internally displaced since the ceasefire with the Kachin Independence Organization ended in 2011 are lacking basic necessities as humanitarian assistance continues to be blocked. Similarly, hundreds of frightened villagers escaped fighting in Shan State as the Myanmar Army directed aerial attacks in conjunction with coordinated ground offensives against the Ta’ang National Liberation Army.
There is a distinct pattern of institutionalized and systematic state-sponsored oppression and violence against ethnic minorities in Myanmar of which the latest campaign in Rakhine State against the Rohingya is a particularly bloody chapter. Hopes that the National League for Democracy Government led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi would usher in an era of human rights, democracy, and peace, including equality and self-determination of ethnic nationalities of Myanmar are misplaced. Hundreds of thousands of people continue to be displaced due to ongoing conflict and related human rights violations without the prospect of justice or accountability for crimes that have been committed by the Myanmar Army. In the meantime, many communities in Myanmar are facing starvation, loss of homes, extreme human rights violations, and atrocities that amount to crimes against humanity. As Matthew Wells, Crisis Director of Amnesty International stated, “Myanmar’s security forces are building on entrenched patterns of abuse to silently squeeze out of the country as many of the remaining Rohingya as possible. Without more effective international action, this ethnic cleansing campaign will continue its disastrous march.”
As the UN Security Council (UNSC) meets on 13 February to discuss the situation in Myanmar in face of these damning reports by Amnesty International and Reuters, they have a duty to take decisive action against Myanmar. This must include imposing a global arms embargo and pursuing accountability for the perpetrators of these atrocities through international mechanisms such as the International Criminal Court. It is almost half a year since approximately 688,000 Rohingya were uprooted from their homes to become refugees whilst enduring the most horrific cruelty. It is time that the UNSC sends a clear message to the Myanmar Army and the Government that such actions cannot go unpunished. Not doing so could set a precedent – that state-sponsored ethnic cleansing can be inflicted with impunity.
 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
Myanmar: Fresh Evidence of Ongoing Ethnic Cleansing as Military Starves, Abducts and Robs Rohingya
By Amnesty International
Myanmar Army Attacks on Kachin Civilians Must End
By Burma Human Rights Network
Pause in Myanmar Grant-Making
By C&A Foundation
Boris Johnson Meets Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh
By Foreign & Commonwealth Office and The Rt Hon Boris Johnson
Burma: Ensure Unfettered Aid in Kachin State
By Human Rights Watch
PHR Calls on Full Senate to Pass Burma Human Rights and Freedom Act
By Physicians for Human Rights
Second Regular Council Meeting of the United Nationalities Federal Council
By United Nationalities Federal Council (Union of Burma)
United States Senate: McCain, Cardin Bill on Burma Accountability Passes Senate Foreign Relations Committee
By United States Senate, McCain and Cardin Bill
Northern Burma/Myanmar: Global Kachin Appeal for UN Members’ Action
By 20 Global Kachin Organizations
Briefing: Myanmar Forces Starve, Abduct and Rob Rohingya, as Ethnic Cleansing Continues
By Amnesty International
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.”