Five years since the beginning of the Myanmar military’s “clearance operations” against the Rohingya in Rakhine State, they still await justice, protection of their rights and freedom. The world must listen to the important calls of Rohingya community and respect their agency in securing justice and accountability, lest the future of Myanmar is incomplete.
During the genocidal campaign against the Rohingya in 2017, military troops massacred, tortured, raped, forcibly displaced innocent villagers and torched their houses, schools and places of worship. Thousands were killed, while over 800,000 Rohingya were forced to shelter in Bangladesh. The operations amount to textbook crimes against humanity and genocide by conclusion of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar.
To commemorate the event, 384 civil society organizations (CSOs), including over 300 Myanmar groups, reaffirmed their commitment and echoed the calls of Rohingya community to “seek justice for the Rohingya, to ensure the full restoration of their rights in Myanmar, and to end the impunity of the Myanmar military.” Compared to the 45 organizations that signed on the 2021 statement, this is a testament to the growing number of Myanmar people, especially the youth, who have voiced solidarity with the Rohingya community following the bloody coup attempt and lethal attacks on the Spring Revolution. Webinars were held to discuss coordinated efforts to secure justice, Myanmar CSOs, regional and international organizations issued statements, and the National Unity Government (NUG) released a statement pledging three undertakings on repatriation, accountability and equality for the Rohingya.
Following the persistent campaign to end the military’s decades-long impunity, CSOs have welcomed the UK’s “intention to intervene” in The Gambia’s genocide case against Myanmar before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), along with Germany. Targeted sanctions by the UK on military arms brokers were also welcomed. Meanwhile, the US pledged to “support a UN Security Council referral of the situation in Burma to the International Criminal Court,” in line with its determination that crimes committed against Rohingya constituted genocide. The resounding tone from the international community, however, renders insufficient contribution to the Rohingya’s long fight for justice and accountability. Much more concerted efforts and concrete actions are urgently needed.
Around one million Rohingya are struggling to survive in meager living conditions in refugee camps in Bangladesh. In Myanmar, Rohingya population still grapple with the Myanmar military’s apartheid policy: denied citizenship, dehumanization tactics, no fundamental freedoms including freedom of movement, restrictions on access to healthcare, education and livelihoods. Since the coup attempt, over 130,000 Rohingya in Rakhine State’s open-air prison camps face severe restrictions on movement and blockages of assistance vital for their survival in squalid circumstances. The junta continues to devise living conditions calculated to bring about the Rohingya’s physical destruction, leading to their “slow death”. Such deliberate, systematic and widespread treatment to destroy the Rohingya population in whole or in part amounts to genocide, which the Myanmar military continues to perpetrate against the Rohingya in Rakhine State under an apartheid-like system.
Recently, the junta’s spokesperson for Rakhine State, Hla Thein, said they have planned to repatriate 150 Rohingya refugees per day starting September 2022. Meanwhile, junta leader Min Aung Hlaing intends to receive refugees from Bangladesh “only after thorough verification process in accord with our existing law” — the discriminatory 1982 Citizenship Law serving the apartheid policy. This is yet another empty avowal in the junta’s series of desperate attempts to gain legitimacy from the international community. As expressed by the High Commissioner for Human Rights during her visit to Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, “conditions are not right for returns.” The international community must listen to the refugees’ wish for a safe, voluntary and dignified return to their home country with their full rights restored, by pressing Myanmar to “address the root causes and pursue accountability.”
One of the major obstacles for Rohingya refugees to return to their homeland is the military’s ongoing lethal coup attempt through terror campaign against the whole Myanmar population. The Rohingya community consistently noted that prosecuting individuals responsible for grave atrocity crimes is a precondition for repatriation. With scarce accountability effort by the international community, the military junta is emboldened to commit further violence against the entire population today, while inflicting decades of suffering on the Rohingya and other ethnic communities.
The international community must respect and heed the repeated calls of the Rohingya community: lend legal, financial and technical support to The Gambia’s case and the Argentina’s universal jurisdiction case, press the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court (ICC) or establish an ad-hoc tribunal, and impose a global arms embargo. The US, UK and many other countries must also immediately place further targeted sanctions on the military junta, including the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise that is now under the control of the junta, among other Myanmar military-linked businesses.
Meanwhile, the NUG’s consultation meeting with the Rohingya community, its policy position on Rohingya and declaration to accept the ICC’s jurisdiction have been steps in the right direction. More steps to follow should include recognizing the agency and the will of the Rohingya and restoring their equal rights as Myanmar’s ethnic group, and including their representatives in political processes. As the legitimate government of Myanmar, the NUG must now act on possible course of actions including: engagement with the Bangladesh government and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on the return of Rohingya refugees, implement ICJ’s provisional measures and accede to the Rome Statute. The Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw must acknowledge acts of genocide against the Rohingya, amend the 1982 Citizenship Law, repeal the “Race and Religion Protection Laws,” and abolish the National Verification Process.
The Rohingya communities are working from the ground up to shape their own future. Shanti Mohila [Peace women in Rohingya], a group of women Rohingya refugees, collected 400 thumbprints of Rohingya women in Cox’s Bazar camp for the 2018 submission — among other submissions — to the ICC to request for jurisdiction. Burmese Rohingya Organization UK initiated a genocide and crimes against humanity case in Argentina under universal jurisdiction. Refugees even launched a case against Facebook for allowing comments on its platform to incite violence against the Rohingya. Hamida Khatun from Shanti Mohila and now-assassinated Muhib Ullah from the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, pled for justice to the Human Rights Council in March 2019. Refugees in the camps are taking care of their own community: opening some 30 schools and clinics to provide education and healthcare, and establishing Rohingya Women Welfare Society which offers protection for victims of domestic violence and trafficking and women empowerment trainings.
Each and every Rohingya is not merely a victim or a survivor of gross human rights violations, but an agent of their own future. The people of Spring Revolution have shown solidarity and respect for the Rohingya community, it is time the world follows.
 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.
By 384 Civil Society Organizations
By 864 Local, Regional and International Organizations
By Amnesty International
By Amnesty International
By Burma Human Rights Network
By Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, Women’s Peace Network, Sisters 2 Sisters and Progressive Voice
By Burma Campaign UK
By European Commission
By European Rohingya Council
By Germany (Federal Foreign Office)
By High Representative on behalf of the European Union, and the Foreign Ministers of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States
By Human Rights Watch
By Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar
By Justice For Myanmar
By National Unity Government of Myanmar
By Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
By Refugees International
By Special Advisory Council for Myanmar
By Student Union Representatives Committee
By The Rohingya Community
By United Kingdom (Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office)
By United States Department of State
By United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
By Women’s Peace Network
By Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network
By International Crisis Group
By International Labour Organization
By United States Institute of Peace
By Women’s League of Burma
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.”