Following weeks of escalating conflict in Rakhine State and southern Chin State, a ceasefire that has been in place between Myanmar’s (Burma) military — the Tatmadaw — and the ethnic armed organization the Arakan Army (AA) since November 2020 appears to have entirely broken down. The temporary ceasefire was established following two years of war between the Tatmadaw and AA – an armed group seeking greater autonomy for the ethnic Rakhine Buddhist population in Rakhine State. Since June, tensions between the Tatmadaw and AA have steadily risen, with reports of intense fighting, shelling and deployment of troops since early August.
Most of the fighting has been concentrated in Maungdaw, Rathedaung, Buthidaung and Mrauk-U townships in Rakhine State, as well as in Paletwa township in southern Chin State. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, as of 5 September the violence had displaced nearly 9,600 people, bringing the total number displaced by past and ongoing fighting between the Tatmadaw and AA to almost 84,000. Key roads and waterways have been blocked, restricting freedom of movement and halting humanitarian assistance from reaching people in need.
Escalating armed conflict in Rakhine State comes as populations across the country continue to face atrocity risks resulting from the February 2021 coup. On 12 September Nicholas Koumjian, Head of the UN Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM), presented the IIMM’s fourth annual report on Myanmar during the 51st session of the Human Rights Council. Between 16 June 2021 to 30 June 2022 the IIMM found that “the scope of potential international crimes taking place in Myanmar has broadened dramatically,” with evidence indicating that the military continues to commit war crimes, as well as the crimes against humanity of murder, torture, deportation and forcible transfer, rape and other forms of sexual violence, persecution and imprisonment.
Renewed fighting between the Tatmadaw and AA not only increases the risk of atrocities facing civilians but also complicates the prospects for the safe, dignified and voluntary repatriation of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh to Myanmar. Liam Scott, Myanmar Expert at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, said, “the resurgence of violence between the Arakan Army and the Tatmadaw underscores the international community’s ongoing failure to effectively respond to the post-coup crisis in Myanmar. Imposing arms embargoes and sanctions against the oil and gas sectors are the least individual states and the UN Security Council should do to uphold their Responsibility to Protect.”