Progressive Voice: Inclusivity and Protection Imperative in Rakhine State

June 4th, 2024  •  Author:   Mizzima  •  6 minute read
Featured image


As Rakhine State burns, Rohingya communities remain stuck in the middle of a vicious, complex, and brutal war of liberation as the junta seeks to obfuscate and divide the two major populations of Rakhine, according to campaign group Progressive Voice.

It says that given the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding for Rohingya, Rakhine, and other ethnic communities, aid agencies and other international actors must urgently respond to the intensifying crisis to ensure that humanitarian assistance reaches the many tens of thousands of displaced.

They must work cooperatively and transparently with Rohingya and Rakhine civil societies and community leaders whilst pushing for cross-border aid to pass through Bangladesh.

Progressive Voice points out that Rakhine State is historically one of the poorest states in Myanmar and has experienced extreme violence in the past decade. A legacy of colonialism, decades of state-sponsored discrimination, deprivation and inequality, campaigns of hate speech and incitement to violence, intersecting with a global narrative on ‘Islamic terrorism ’have created deep rifts within Rakhine State between the Rakhine and the Rohingya, the two main ethnic groups in the state, as well as other minority groups.

The recent war of liberation in Rakhine state by the Arakan Army (AA) as they seek self-determination is understandably widely supported by the Rakhine population and beyond.

However, in recent months, the junta’s forced recruitment of Rohingya youth in Rakhine State, its cooperation with Rohingya armed gangs to recruit Rohingya refugees from the camps in Bangladesh, its instigation of anti-AA protests, and the use of of these recruits to burn Rakhine homes have set the stage for yet another bloody chapter in recent Rohingya history, putting them in the firing line of the armed conflict.

It is a tragic irony that the Rohingya, a group that has been the victim of genocide, that have had their basic rights to education, healthcare, marriage, citizenship, movement, and even childbirth denied by successive military juntas and civilian governments, are now being enticed, cajoled, and forced by the junta to be a pawn in their cynical military strategy against the AA.

Furthermore, the groups that the junta is reported to partner with–Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, the Rohingya Solidarity Organization, and the Arakan Rohingya Army–have been denounced by Rohingya civil

society organizations and activists as nothing more than armed criminal gangs that do not represent the Rohingya community.

That these groups are helping the junta to forcibly recruit Rohingya just adds one more layer to the Rohingya’s desperate plight. The actions of these illegitimate groups should not be reflective of the whole Rohingya community, whose acute vulnerability has been systematically exploited by those in power for decades, in addition to the discrimination and persecution that they have faced.

in this longstanding context of political grievance and divide-and rule strategy by the junta that the AA took the town of Buthidaung on 17 May 2024.

According to Progressive Voice, reports indicated that the deliberate targeting and burning down of Rohingya homes by AA soldiers on 17 May forcibly displaced tens of thousands of Rohingya residents. Rohingya people have been forced to sleep in open fields with no access to medicine, clean water, and adequate food. Many have lost direct contact with their families due to a telecommunication blackout imposed by the junta, while some have experienced the AA taking away their phones.

A statement by nearly 200 revolutionary groups and civil society organizations from Myanmar, including Progressive Voice, urges the AA to carry out an independent investigation into this incident.

More broadly speaking, a statement from Rohingya organisations calls on the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, as well as the UN-mandated Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM) to “immediately begin investigations into the current crisis.”

The IIMM has released a statement asserting that it is “closely monitoring the escalation in fighting in Rakhine State,” and is “assessing if crimes against humanity or war crimes have been committed.”

Progressive Voice says it is clear that the junta has instigated its divide-and-rule strategy to create tensions and now violence between the AA and the Rohingya. And while this violence that stems from the junta’s instigation undoes some of the initial steps towards reconciliation in Rakhine State, the AA is not an actor without agency.

Inflammatory public remarks by AA’s leader, as well as the credible reports of looting, arson, and possible massacres committed by his troops against the Rohingya are not to be discounted. Since the AA is the most powerful actor in Rakhine State, especially after recent victories on the battlefield and liberation of towns and whole townships, it is imperative that it takes responsibility for the protection of all civilians in areas under its control.

While there is an urgent need to address the rights violations, the delivery of humanitarian aid to communities is urgently and desperately needed.

Yet delivering aid through the junta is not an option here. The junta does not have the access to northern Rakhine State, and any pretense that they can facilitate access for aid agencies is disingenuous.

Informal networks of Rohingya community can provide channels for humanitarian aid, as can Rakhine civil society, and these groups must have the freedom and protection to carry out their essential lifesaving work.

The Bangladesh Government, with the help of the international community, must facilitate cross-border channels to alleviate the suffering of all affected civilians in Rakhine State.

The AA’s leadership, as it claims control of increasingly large areas of Rakhine State, must ensure the protection of all civilians and communities, in line with international humanitarian law, and take steps towards reconciliation that were beginning to occur before the latest intensification of violence.

Progressive Voice says that the people of Myanmar and their Spring Revolution have demonstrated a commitment to inclusivity which includes the Rohingya; a deepening of understanding among different groups, especially those most marginalized; and a will to create a new nation that is a clear break from the decades of violent authoritarianism and divide-and-rule amid Myanmar’s myriad of ethnic and religious groups.

Now more than ever, Progressive Voice believes that these principles must be put into practice to protect one of the most marginalized and violently persecuted ethnic groups in the world.

Meanwhile, the international community must step up and take urgent actions that are necessary for the protection of the remaining 600,000 Rohingya in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, according to Progressive Voice. The UNSC must hold an emergency open meeting, as called for last month by Women’s Peace Network, on the escalating violence against the Rohingya in Rakhine State and ensure there is not another wave of violence similar to the genocide of 2017.

See the original post.