Justice and Accountability – Essential First Step towards ‘Rakhine Recovery’

July 5th, 2019  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  7 minute read
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The International Criminal Court (ICC) took a step forward on 26 June, 2019, when it announced that a prosecutor will submit an authorization request to open an investigation into crimes committed in Rakhine State. With escalating conflict and related human rights violations taking place under the blackout of information due to the recent internet shutdown in Rakhine State and parts of Chin State, it is appalling that the World Bank is looking to carry out its $100 million development project in Rakhine State.

The ICC has announced that it has constituted a pre-trial chamber and assigned to it the situation in Bangladesh and Myanmar[1] in regard to the alleged international crimes against the Rohingya. The decision came after a notice by Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, stating her intent to submit a request seeking authorization from the court’s judges to open an investigation into crimes relating to two waves of violence in Rakhine State. While Myanmar is not a member of the ICC, the court ruled in September last year that it had jurisdiction over the crime against humanity of deportation committed against the Rohingya, as an essential legal element of this crime – crossing an international border – had taken place in the territory of Bangladesh, which is a member of the ICC. If the Prosecutor’s request is granted, the ICC would become the first international court to investigate atrocities committed against the Rohingya.

“the current internet shutdown will further reduce availability of information about the armed conflicts and impacts to civilians. This increases our concerns for their safety […].”

Digital Rights Organizations and Other Civil Society Organizations

Meanwhile, the escalation of armed conflict between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army (AA) has continued to displace tens of thousands of people. On June 20, the Ministry of Transport and Communications issued a directive to all mobile phone operators to temporarily suspend internet services in eight townships in Rakhine State and in Paletwa Township in Chin State. Local organizations have called for the immediate lifting of the internet shutdown stating, “the current internet shutdown will further reduce availability of information about the armed conflicts and impacts to civilians. This increases our concerns for their safety […].” Similar concerns were echoed by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, who stated, “I fear for all civilians there.”

This is the area for a proposed $100 million USD “Rakhine Recovery and Development Support Project” by the World Bank, which was announced earlier this year. The World Bank development project in Rakhine State – which has yet to be approved by its Board of Executive Directors – intends to provide cash-for-work programs and support small businesses with a plan to pump these funds through the Myanmar government. The World Bank project is largely based on a flawed analysis. It describes the crisis as “inter-communal violence” caused by “tensions between the ethnic Rakhine Buddhist and Muslim communities,” failing to acknowledge the scale and plight of the Rohingya as a direct result of a brutal military campaign that intentionally targeted them and their lives. It is difficult to imagine that an inclusive development project can take place under the current apartheid-like policy that is being implemented by the Myanmar government and military. Unless the underlying state-sponsored discriminatory policies, abuses and violence that are impacting all aspects of life for the Rohingya are addressed, the World Bank’s funding will only further embolden the government and the military to continue implementing these apartheid-like policies, making the World Bank complicit in perpetuating these state-sanctioned abuses and crimes.

Under these circumstances, it is unsettling that countries such as Japan have continued to side with the Myanmar government’s political rhetoric by promoting investment in Rakhine State. In February 2019, Japan co-organized the Rakhine State Investment Fair with the Myanmar government, which sought to draw in potential local and international investors, turning a blind eye to the massive displacement and violent atrocities inflicted upon the Rohingya and instead capitalizing on the war-torn state. The ambassador of Japan to Myanmar has defended hosting the investment fair stating “if there is economic development… there will be no conflict,” reiterating its skewed approach to solving the ongoing crisis.

If countries such as Japan are going to invest in Myanmar, they must also pursue accountability for the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya and other minorities by supporting resolutions related to Myanmar at the UN while taking responsibility in ensuring that their own bilateral engagement does not further contribute to the current crimes and abuses. While the current ICC probe initiated by the prosecutor does offer some pathway to accountability, its investigation is limited to the crime of deportation. The Myanmar military’s long laundry list of crimes – not only in Rakhine but across the country – demand a broader response from the international community which has a responsibility to end impunity for the worst international crimes in Myanmar. To this end, the UN member states, including those on the UN Security Council, must continue to call for a resolution referring Myanmar to the ICC.

In addition, the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar must immediately be fully operationalized. Any delay in its operationalization risk gaps in investigating the most serious international crimes and violations in Myanmar. Finally, targeting the Myanmar military controlled and owned companies and ending the militarized economy in Myanmar is a step towards addressing accountability. Government must look to solutions that address the human rights situation and discriminatory policies that are the basis of the current cycle of violence in Rakhine State and other ethnic states that have been conflict ridden for decades. Otherwise they may find themselves complicit in supporting the crimes which the ICC has begun to probe.


[1] 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: End internet shutdown in Rakhine, Chin States

By Amnesty International

Myanmar Authorities Shut Down Internet Access in Rakhine and Chin States

By Committee to Protect Journalists

Statement on the Internet Shutdown in Rakhine and Chin States By Digital Rights Organizations and Other Civil Society Organizations

By Digital Rights Organizations and Other Civil Society Organizations

Statement on Internet Shutdown

By Embassy of Sweden

Myanmar: Release 15 Arbitrarily Detained Muslim-Wedding Guests

By Fortify Rights

Myanmar’s Discriminatory Citizenship Laws Can and Must be Immediately Reformed

By International Commission of Jurists

ICC Presidency assigns the Situation in Bangladesh/ Myanmar to Pre-Trial Chamber III

By International Criminal Court

လုုပ္ငန္းခြင္အတြင္း လိင္စိတ္ဝိေသသကြဲျပားမႈကို အဓမၼ ေဖာ္ထုုတ္ခံခဲ့ရပီး၊ နိုုင္ထက္စီးနင္းျပဳက်င့္ ခံခဲ့ရသည့္ ေမာင္ေက်ာ္ဇင္

By Over 120 Individuals and Civil Soceity Organizations

PEN America and PEN Myanmar Jointly Call for End to Government Internet Shutdown in Myanmar

By PEN America and PEN Myanmar

Myanmar: UN Expert ‘Fears For Civilians’ After Internet Shutdown

By UN Human Rights Office

International Day in Support of Victims of Torture: Transitional Justice for Torture Survivors is Key to Building Peace and Democracy

By Women’s League of Burma, the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners, the Vimutti Women’s Organization and Asia Justice and Rights

ညႇဥ္းပန္းႏွိပ္စက္ခံရသူမ်ားကို ကူညီေထာက္ပံ့ေရး အျပည္ျပည္ဆိုင္ရာေန႔

By Women’s League of Burma, the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners, the Vimutti Women’s Organization and Asia Justice and Rights



ညႇဥ္းပန္းႏွိပ္စက္မႈႏွင့္ အျခားရက္စက္၍ လူမဆန္ေသာ (သို႔မဟုတ္) လူ႔ဂုဏ္သိကၡာက်ဆင္းေစေသာ ဆက္ဆံမႈ (သုိ႔မဟုတ္) ျပစ္ဒဏ္ေပးမႈ ဆန္႔က်င္ေရး ႏုိင္ငံတကာသေဘာတူစာခ်ဳပ္

By Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma)

Citizenship Law and Human Rights in Myanmar: Why Law Reform is Urgent and Possible

By International Commission of Jurists

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.”