Last week, 25 August, 2020 marked the third anniversary of the genocide against Rohingya by the Myanmar military. For many Rohingya this commemoration has not only been one of mourning and remembrance but one of frustration at the lack of justice and accountability for grave decades-long abuses committed against their community. Many of the nearly one million refugees inside Cox’s Bazar refugee camps in Bangladesh held a day-long silent and prayerful protest inside their makeshift huts, unable to gather due to COVID-19 restrictions. The protesters wished to highlight their distress over the dire situation inside the camp; conditions are unsanitary – particularly worrying during the COVID-19 pandemic – people are vulnerable to the harsh climate, and there are limited education resources and scarce livelihood opportunities.
For the approximately 600,000 Rohingya within Rakhine State, they continue to face extreme hardships, in what has been described in a recent report issued by the Burma Human Rights Network as ‘apartheid-like’ conditions in villages and ‘an open-air prison’. For many, every aspect of life is restricted by discriminatory and oppressive laws and policies, such as denying their right to identity and disavowing their citizenship. This renders them effectively stateless in their own country and denied free movement which is criminalizing without the requisite permission to travel punishable with hard labor. Additionally, Rohingya are denied the right to vote or stand in the upcoming national elections in November, giving them no voice in decision-making at a regional or national level. Many have had their land and houses confiscated, burned, destroyed or find it impossible to return due to conflict and lack of personal security. Approximately 120,000 Rohingya have lived in internally displaced persons camps since violence erupted in 2012. These camps are often fenced and monitored closely by security forces, with little access to aid, livelihood opportunities, healthcare, education and increasingly vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 due to cramped quarters.
The UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar (IIFFMM) found credible evidence of genocidal intent on the part of leaders in the Myanmar military, and recommended that crimes against humanity, war crimes, and sexual and gender-based violence be investigated by the International Criminal Court (ICC) or an ad hoc tribunal on the referral of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Yet, these and many other recommendations have not been actioned. This includes the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State report, chaired by Kofi Annan, which recommends the Myanmar government make sweeping reforms to ensure all people in Rakhine State have the right to citizenship, freedom of movement, education, livelihood, social cohesion and economic development. While many of the recommendations, if implemented effectively, would help to improve the lives of Rohingya, much of the report avoids identifying them by name or overtly deal with their grievances or the root causes of the crisis. In any event, the government has fundamentally failed to implement the report, which is often used as a decoy to assert their progress on issues in Rakhine State.
While recognizing the importance of the ongoing ICC investigation and the Gambia seriously pursuing Myanmar’s breach of the Genocide Convention at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), systematic discrimination and persecution of Rohingya continues to the present. In a statement released by the President of the Burmese Rohingya Organization UK, Tun Khin states “But just because the headlines have become fewer today, it does not mean that the Rohingya people are no longer suffering. Make no mistake – the genocide is ongoing, and Myanmar’s leaders are still intent on erasing the Rohingya as a people…Rohingya do not want revenge – we want the chance to build a life of dignity, which is only possible if there is justice for crimes against us. The world must support international justice efforts.” Yet, the international community’s response has lacked coordination, momentum, commitment and follow-through in responding to the Rohingya crisis, by not putting enough pressure on the Myanmar government and military with effective policies and sanctions for the crimes committed against the Rohingya. Many States continue to contribute to the Myanmar government and ministries, such as contributions made by the EU, Norway and UK to the Union Election Commission in spite of their continual lack of recognition of the Rohingya’s electoral rights. While some restrictions have been placed on the leadership of the Myanmar military, in terms of travel, these are grossly inadequate to halt human rights abuses, let alone hold them accountable for past abuses and atrocities.
The international community has failed to ensure the global business community divest their interests in Myanmar conglomerates KBZ and Max Myanmar, which made sizable donations to the Myanmar military, fueling their genocidal campaign against Rohingya. The IIFFMM concluded there were reasonable grounds for criminal investigation of actors within these conglomerates for crimes against humanity. While impunity continues for these crimes, the government has taken action to block the webpage of activist group, Justice For Myanmar, after they reported military corruption and their links to human rights abuses. These efforts by the government show their true position on military involvement in civilian-led government and continued unwillingness to hold the perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes to account.
The international community needs to be united and make concerted efforts to end human rights abuses against the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities by implementing the recommendations of the IIFFMM, which should accompany actions taken at the ICC and ICJ. It is commendable that Canada and the Netherlands have signalled their intention to join the Gambia in the ICJ case, and other countries, like the UK, Sweden and EU member states should follow suit. Additionally, the international business community must cut all financial ties to businesses owned by or linked to the Myanmar military, place targeted sanctions against military leaders and military-run businesses. Likewise, the UNSC must refer the situation in Myanmar to the ICC or establish an ad hoc tribunal to bring accountability for victims and survivors and to end impunity. The international community must clearly and unequivocally condemn the Myanmar government and military for the systematic persecution of Rohingya and other ethnic communities, and demand the restoration of citizenship, voting rights, and restitution of their land and property.
 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
By 12 International Non Governmental Organizations
By Arakan Rohingya National Organisation
By Burma Human Rights Network
By Burma Campaign UK
By Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK
By Chin Human Rights Organization
By Human Rights Watch
By Justice For Myanmar
By Justice For Myanmar
By People’s Alliance for Credible Elections
By Rohingya Student Union, Rohingya Student Network, Rohingya Youth for Legal Action, Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace & Human Rights, Rohingya Youth Federation, Rohingya Community Development Program, Education for Rohingya Generation and Rohingya Women For Justice and Peace
By Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in the U.S. Congress
By UN Human Rights Office for South-East Asia
By U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom
By U.S. Department of State
By Burma Human Rights Network
By Free Expression Myanmar
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.”