Breaking the Cycles of War

January 29th, 2021  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  8 minute read
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“We would [sic] like to ask for the participation of the Rohingya supervisors in the camp in the meeting as “No consultation, No voluntary repatriation””

Rohingya Students’ Network

On 20 January, 2021, 172 civil society organizations and networks stood united in solidarity, penning an open letter to Myanmar’s President and the State Counsellor to take immediate action to resolve the tension and conflict between the Myanmar military and the Karen National Union (KNU) as well as to address the expansion of the Myanmar military’s presence in Karen State. Since the beginning of December 2020, tensions and conflict has continued to rise after the Myanmar military broke the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement by entering designated KNU’s territory and shelling in and around villages, resulting in civilian casualties and mass displacement.

When we turn our heads to Rakhine State on the other side of the country, we see the recent effects of the Myanmar military’s operations. Conflict in Rakhine State reflects a cyclical pattern of violence and human rights abuses perpetrated by the Myanmar military against ethnic peoples over nearly eight decades of civil war in Myanmar. While these are geographical differences, the Myanmar military’s playbook in Mon, Karen, Rakhine, Shan, and Kachin remains the same – demoralize ethnic communities by brutally targeting civilians with artillery shelling, rape, sexual and gender-based violence, torture, extrajudicial killing, looting, and burning villages. Many of these acts amount to grave international crimes, including genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes and yet, accountability for these crimes remains elusive and rampant impunity for historic and continued acts of violence against ethnic communities has only emboldened the Myanmar military. Civilians bear the brunt of conflict, as reflected in the UN Office of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict in Myanmar recently published findings that between 2018-2019 a total of 994 grave violations were committed against children throughout Myanmar, including the killing and maiming of 320 children (mostly in Rakhine State). These numbers are likely to be higher given the difficulties in accessing part of Myanmar, verifying, monitoring and documenting data.

As fighting in Karen State resumed, conflict has slowed in Rakhine State. However, Rakhine, Rohingya, Kaman, Mro, Chin and other ethnic peoples know from experience that this situation is fragile and resumption of fighting could occur at any moment. Furthermore, while conflict may have eased, human rights abuses continue, especially for Rohingya who endure relentless persecution based upon their identity and religion. On 6 January, 2021, 99 Rohingya were detained and arrested in Yangon on their way to Malaysia, and an additional 19 Rohingya were arrested in Bangkok for illegal entry into Thailand, also bound for Malaysia. In the former case, Rohingya paid around $1,500 to people smugglers to escape dire conditions in Rakhine State, in search of a better life. Rohingya are disavowed of citizenship and their freedom of movement heavily restricted under discriminatory laws and policies, including the 1982 Citizenship Law. Last Saturday, 23 January, marked one year since the International Court of Justice made an order of provisional measures to the Myanmar government to ensure the protection of Rohingya, but the government continues to persecute them. Thus, at present there are many barriers preventing safe, voluntary and dignified repatriation of Rohingya from Bangladesh to Myanmar.

Yet, on 19 January, 2021, a consensus was reached during a tripartite meeting, held between governments of China, Bangladesh and Myanmar, to begin repatriation of Rohingya from Bangladesh to Myanmar in June 2021. In response to the meeting, Rohingya Students’ Network said in a statement that “We would [sic] like to ask for the participation of the Rohingya supervisors in the camp in the meeting as “No consultation, No voluntary repatriation””. In order for repatriation to take place, Ro Sawyeddollah, founder of Rohingya Students’ Network says security, citizenship rights and equality need to be guaranteed but no plan has been devised to effectuate these rights. Meanwhile, the Bangladeshi government continues to relocate Rohingya from Cox’s Bazar to the remote and disaster-prone island of Bhashan Char in the Bay of Bengal, amid allegations of physical abuse by authorities, unsanitary conditions and involuntary resettlement. Overall, the plight of the Rohingya continues and urgent steps need to be taken to ensure their human rights are protected and upheld. It has been over three years since the genocide and it is absolutely frustrating that no tangible progress has been made for their safe and dignified return home, nor to hold perpetrators to account.

The international community must pressure the Myanmar government to immediately act to prevent further backsliding of the human rights situation, and compel the Myanmar military to immediately call a ceasefire and break the cycles of war and violence perpetrated against ethnic and religious communities. The international community must take a multi-pronged approach, by supporting international accountability mechanisms at the International Criminal Court and International Court of Justice, at the same time cutting all investments and economic ties with the Myanmar military-linked businesses and their cronies. Funding must be conditional on respect for and protection of human rights that ensures that vulnerable populations impacted by war and government’s discriminatory laws, policies and practices are able to benefit from it.

If any repatriation of Rohingya refugees is to be undertaken, the international community must ensure the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh do so safely, voluntarily, and in a dignified manner, in full consultation with Rohingya. Before any repatriation can be undertaken, the Myanmar government must address the underlying causes of the plight of the Rohingya and secure their rights to equality, non-discrimination, restoration of citizenship and freedom of movement. To date, there has been no justice and accountability for violence against Rohingya, including for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the Myanmar military – this must be achieved. The Myanmar military must end its terror campaign against all ethnic communities and heed the calls from Karen people and Myanmar’s diverse civil society to immediately withdraw from ethnic areas. Also, the Myanmar military must be brought under civilian control, which requires the Myanmar government to make concerted efforts to constitutional and political changes. Overall, genuine peace must be brokered. Yet, this cannot occur without grappling with the catalysts of conflict – entrenched discrimination, suppression and marginalization of ethnic and religious communities through Burmanization and the unwillingness of the Myanmar government to join with ethnic peoples to build a genuine federal democratic union.


[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

Open letter from civil society organizations concerning the current tensions and conflicts and the situation of local people affected by war in ceasefire area in Karen State in Southeastern Myanmar

By 172 Civil Society Organizations

မြန်မာနိုင်ငံအရှေ့တောင်ပိုင်းရှိ ကရင်ပြည်နယ် အပစ်ရပ်နယ်မြေအတွင်း လတ်တလောဖြစ်ပွားနေသော တင်းမာမှုနှင့် ပဋိပက္ခစစ်ပွဲများ၊ စစ်ဘေးဒဏ် ခံနေရသော ဒေသခံပြည်သူလူထုများနှင့်ပတ်သက်၍ အရပ်ဘက်လူထုအဖွဲ့အစည်း များ၏ အိတ်ဖွင့်ပေးစာ

By 172 Civil Society Organizations

As Foreign Ministers Meet, ASEAN Urged To Step Up Its Rakhine Response

By ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights

ရခိုင်ပြည်၏ စည်းလုံးညီညွတ်သော မတူကွဲပြားသည့် အသိုင်းအဝန်းများ ထုတ်ပြန်ကြေညာချက်

By Diverse and United Communities of Arakan

Declaration by the Diverse and United Communities of Arakan

By Diverse and United Communities of Arakan

The Karen Women’s Organization Condemns Escalating Violence in Karen State and Calls for An Urgent Response by the International Community

By Karen Women’s Organization

Burma Army Persecution of Civilians Continues in Kawng Kha, Six Years after the Rape-murder of Two Kachin Teachers

By Kachin Women’s Association Thailand

Sixth Anniversary of 2 Kachin Teachers Brutally Raped And Killed by Burmese Army

Kachin National Organization

Urgent International Action Needed in Response to Burma Army Artillery Attacks in Northern Karen State

By Karen Peace Support Network

ကရင်ပြည်နယ်တောင်ပိုင်းတွင် တပ်မတော်၏ လက်နက်ကြီးများဖြင့် ပစ်ခတ်မှုများအပေါ် နိုင်ငံတကာမှ အရေးပေါ်တုန့်ပြန် ဆောင်ရွက်မှုများလိုအပ်

By Karen Peace Support Network

၂၀၂၁ ခုနှစ်၊ ဇန္နဝါရီလ(၁၃)ရက်နေ့၌ ကျရောက်သည့် ကရင်အမျိုးသားနှစ်သစ်ကူးနေ့တွင် တပ်မတော်ကာကွယ်ရေးဦးစီးချုပ်မှ ပေးပို့သော သဝဏ်လွှာအပေါ် KNU Concerned Group ၏ သဘောထားထုတ်ပြန်ချက်

By KNU Concerned Group

Statement by Refugees International President Eric Schwartz on Secretary Pompeo’s Genocide Announcement

By Refugees International

Statement of the World Kachin Congress

By World Kachin Congress



Lockdown and Shutdown: Exposing the Impacts of Recent Network Disruptions in Myanmar and Bangladesh

By Athan – Freedom of Expression Activist Organization, Peace & Development Initiative – Kintha, Rohingya Youth Association and Cyberlaw Clinic and International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School

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.”