Rohingya, Justice, and Lessons from History

December 2nd, 2021  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  10 minute read
Featured image

“The voluntary and dignified return of Rohingya will not be possible without addressing current human rights and humanitarian crisis stemming from the attempted coup by the Myanmar military. At the root of these crises is the military who continues to be able to enjoy blanket impunity.“

Wai Wai Nu, Women Peace Network

While the military junta continues its scorched earth offensives, particularly in Chin State, Sagaing Region, and Karenni State, a missed deadline to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) regarding steps that Myanmar has taken to prevent ongoing genocide against the Rohingya reminds the world that the military’s brutal violence we see today did not begin with its illegal coup attempt of the 1st of February. The ongoing persecution of the Rohingya, highlighted by civil society organizations, should have been a tipping point to catalyze a more effective, coordinated international response.

A report published by the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK) on 22 November, illustrates that after nearly two years since the ICJ ordered the State of Myanmar to take “provisional measures” to prevent further harm to the Rohingya, “genocidal acts continue to be perpetrated against the Rohingya to this day.” The case at the ICJ is for genocide and refers to the two waves of violence committed against the Rohingya in 2016 and 2017, which displaced nearly 890,000 people, who still live in refugee camps in Bangladesh. The UN-mandated Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar’s report that was released after careful investigation of these military operations found that the Myanmar military had committed crimes against humanity, including “murder; imprisonment; enforced disappearance; torture; rape, sexual slavery and other forms of sexual violence; persecution and enslavement” as well as “elements of the crimes against humanity of extermination and deportation.” Their conclusions that the violence could also constitute the crimes of genocide and their recommendation for senior generals to be investigated for such, partially catalyzed the case at the ICJ. The ICJ’s initial provisional orders included for Myanmar to report back to the court every six months. The latest reporting date was 23rd November.

Yet it is clear that the conditions for Rohingya have not changed. As BROUK’s report outlines, harassment, arbitrary arrest and torture of Rohingya men, restrictions on access to healthcare, blocking humanitarian aid, and arresting those who flee, thus, “match the risk factors for genocide, namely ‘patterns of discrimination against protected groups’ and ‘signs of an intent to destroy in whole or in part a protected group’.” Just this week, in one of the main Rohingya townships of Rakhine State, Buthidaung, the local authorities ordered that all travel within the township and to other townships must be pre-approved by local immigration, as well as the village administrator. The difficult, arbitrary and bureaucratic process to obtain a travel permission document that was already in place has now been made even harder. The result is that access to healthcare, education and livelihoods will only worsen in a situation of extreme precarity. On 29 November, the Myanmar navy seized a boat with 228 Rohingya onboard who were fleeing the country. Clearly the conditions are so bad that they would risk this often perilous and – as many previous tragic attempts to flee illustrate – fatal journey to escape their apartheid.

Another aspect outlined by BROUK’s report is the repeated denial of Rohingya identity, and labelling Rohingya as ‘Bengali’ which implies that they are illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh. This tired trope, used to ‘other’ the Rohingya and deny their legitimate claims to their identity and homeland, has been used for decades, not just by the Myanmar military, but the NLD government, and misguided foreign academics that cannot escape a colonial mentality. One recent example of the use of the term ‘Bengali’ is by Yohei Sasakawa, Chairman of the Sasakawa Foundation and son of the notorious suspected Class A Japanese war criminal, Ryoichi Sasakawa, when donating to IDP camps in Rakhine State. The Sasakawa Foundation, set up by Ryoichi, has long-standing links to the Myanmar military, including between Yohei Sasakawa and former dictator Than Shwe.

Most of the Rohingya who have had to flee their homeland and are now living in underfunded and precarious refugee camps in Bangladesh. While this has put a huge strain on the Bangladeshi government, its plans to relocate many of them to a flood-prone, barely habitable island of Bashan Char is deeply worrying. Protests last year from Rohingya refugees about relocation to this island were met with beatings by Bangladeshi authorities. Since then, already 20,000 have been relocated there, but issues around consent, freedom of movement, and coercion into moving there, as documented by Human Rights Watch, means that the type of permissions they need in Rakhine State, to access healthcare or education, are being applied to Bhasan Char. This is a clear violation of the rights of people who have already had to endure the worst possible violence and living conditions. Already, hundreds have tried to escape and protests about the conditions occurred when officials from the UN refugee agency, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), visited in June 2021. Despite such visits, the UNHCR appears powerless to affect substantive change for the living conditions for these Rohingya refugees. Meanwhile, the latest resolution by the UN General Assembly (UNGA) stops short of addressing the violence that these Rohingya communities and many others from Myanmar continue to face. As Wai Wai Nu, of the Women Peace Network, commented in a statement by Myanmar civil society organizations about the inadequacy of the UNGA’s resolution, “The voluntary and dignified return of Rohingya will not be possible without addressing current human rights and humanitarian crisis stemming from the attempted coup by the Myanmar military. At the root of these crises is the military who continues to be able to enjoy blanket impunity.“

The atrocity crimes that the junta has committed against the people of Myanmar since the attempted coup of 1st of February is not an aberration. The people of Myanmar, especially ethnic minorities including the Rohingya, have experienced destruction and devastation for decades. The issues that Rohingya continue to face, including lack of freedom of movement, denial of identity, and their ongoing displacement, speaks to the unaddressed impunity that the military has enjoyed and that emboldens them to continue committing their scorched earth campaigns. A complete lack of an independent and impartial domestic judiciary means that the only way for justice and accountability to be pursued is through international mechanisms such as the ICJ, as well as the International Criminal Court. Therefore, the recent decision by the Federal Court of Argentina to open a case against the Myanmar military for the crime of genocide under the legal principle of Universal Jurisdiction is a positive and critical step. As was the National Unity Government’s announcement that it recognizes the Rohingya, will seek to repeal the 1982 Citizenship Law, and will “endeavour to seek justice and accountability for all crimes committed by the military against the Rohingya.” It has also lodged a declaration with the registrar of the International Criminal Court which should be accepted as the NUG is the legitimate government of Myanmar. Such steps are important for the Rohingya and all people of Myanmar. Until the Myanmar military is dismantled, with its top leaders found accountable by law, Myanmar will not be able to lay the foundations for the federal democracy the people are dying on the streets and in the villages for.


[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

Call on INTERPOL to ban the illegal junta from representing Myanmar at its General Assembly

By 259 Civil Society Organizations

အမျိုးသား​နေ့အတွက် သဝဏ်လွှာ​ပေးပို့ခြင်း။

By Association of Medical Students’ Unions

Courage in the face of violence. Women’s League of Burma receives ACFID’s Sir Ronald Wilson Human Rights Award

By Australian Council for International Development

EU Dithering While Burmese Activists are Jailed and Killed

By Burma Campaign UK

Historic Decision By Argentinian Courts To Take Up Genocide Case Against Myanmar

By Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK

Rohingya Genocide Continues As Myanmar Military Defies ICJ Order – New Briefing

By Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK

တိုက်ပွဲသတင်းထုတ်ပြန်ချက် (၂၀၂၁ ခုနှစ်၊ နိုဝင်ဘာ (၂၆) ရက်)

By Chinland Defense Force – Matupi

Activists condemn Myanmar Junta for lies and distortions about Rohingya: Free Rohingya Coalition Statement

By Free Rohingya Coalition

Joint Statement on increasing violence in Myanmar, November 2021

By Government of (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Norway, Republic of Korea, United Kingdom and United States of America)

Indian firm Vaibhav Global Limited selling Myanmar gems in US, despite sanctions

By Justice For Myanmar

Military Atrocities and Civilian Resilience: Testimonies of injustice, insecurity and violence in Southeast Myanmar during the 2021 coup

By Karen Human Rights Group

တိုက်ပွဲသတင်းထုတ်ပြန်ချက် (၂၀၂၁ခုနှစ်၊နိုဝင်ဘာလ (၂၅) ရက်။)

By Karenni Nationalities Defense Force

တိုက်ပွဲသတင်းထုတ်ပြန်ချက် (၂၀၂၁ခုနှစ်၊နိုဝင်ဘာလ (၂၃) ရက်။)

By Karenni Nationalities Defense Force

တိုက်ပွဲသတင်းထုတ်ပြန်ချက် ၂၀၂၁ခုနှစ်၊နိုဝင်ဘာလ (၂၂) ရက်။

By Karenni Nationalities Defense Force

KWO Formal Message on International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

By Karen Women’s Organization

Announcement on the safety of healthcare activities, healthcare personnel and charity workers – Statement (4/2021)

By National Health Committee

New Briefer from the Network for Human Rights Documentation-Burma Condemns Ongoing Attacks Against Innocent Civilians in Myanmar

By Network for Human Rights Documentation – Burma

ပြည်သူ့ကာကွယ်ရေးတပ်ဖွဲ့ SSPDF (ရှမ်းပြည်တောင်ပိုင်း) ၏ အများပြည်သူသို့ သတင်းထုတ်ပြန်ကြေငြာခြင်း

By People Defense Force – Southern Shan State

UN Resolution lacks commitments to address protracted displacement, fails to reflect the gravity of the current crisis in Myanmar

By Progressive Voice, Women Peace Network, Human Rights Foundation of Monland and Action Committee for Democracy Development

People in Myanmar on the brink of starvation

By Special Advisory Council for Myanmar

အပြည်ပြည်ဆိုင်ရာ အမျိုးသမီးများအပေါ် အကြမ်းဖက်မှုပပျောက်ရေးနေ့ အထိမ်းအမှတ် ထုတ်ပြန်ကြေညာချက်

By Shan Women’s Action Network

Joint Statement on 16 Days of Activism against gender-based violence in Myanmar

By UN Women and United Nations Population Fund



US Retailers Trading in Myanmar Gems, Despite Sanctions

By Justice For Myanmar

Military Atrocities and Civilian Resilience: Testimonies of injustice, insecurity and violence in Southeast Myanmar during the 2021 coup

By Karen Human Rights Group

ဒီမိုကရေစီလမ်းကြောင်းပေါ်မှ လမ်းချော်ခဲ့သော် မြန်မာ

By Network for Human Rights Documentation – Burma

Democracy Derailed in Myanmar

By Network for Human Rights Documentation – Burma

Myanmar Emergency Update (15 November 2021)

By United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

UNHCR Myanmar Operational Update (September – October 2021)

By United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

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.”