Report on Myanmar Released After a UN Fact Finding Mission

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One year ago today, the marginalized and essentially stateless Rohingya people in Myanmar (denied full citizenship but also denied the right the leave the country legally), were subject to a brutal campaign unleashed by Myanmar’s Buddhist-majority state security forces.


In response to alleged attacks by Rohingya militants against government forces, security members and allied civilian mobs launched an all-out attack on defenseless Rohingya villagers, cutting off their efforts to escape to safety on foot and firing on them from helicopters and from the ground. The unofficial death toll quickly climbed into the hundreds, taking several decades of brutal and systematic oppression to the next murderous level. By mid-August of 2017, over 76,000 people had attempted a dangerous escape across the border to Bangladesh, through rain swollen areas that left more bodies washed up on riverbanks.

Many of those who eventually reached refugee camps described villages surrounded and families shot systematically and stabbed to death, including children.

A year later, six generals have been named as priority subjects for investigation and prosecution by a United Nations Fact Finding Mission on Myanmar. In a newly released report describing the campaign and its atrocities, their actions have been called “undoubtedly…the gravest crimes under international law.” Here’s the report.

The government of Myanmar has rejected the allegations, claiming that the attacks were warranted. But the three-member panel responsible for the report has attached the most serious allegation, genocide, to the list of charges against the military leaders. The panel finds enough evidence to support accusations of genocidal intent, and members have cited an organized plan for destruction and evidence of an extreme scale of brutality and violence. The panel cites over 10,000 deaths, harrowing witness accounts and over 700,000 refugees by the end of the 2017 actions in Rakhine.

Despite Myanmar’s refusal to allow access or cooperate with the investigation, the report contains hundreds of pages of witness accounts, interviews, satellite data and other information that will be submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva next month.

The United Nations human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, has previously condemned the army’s actions, but this newly released report will likely increase pressure for immediate international action. After reviewing the report, the UN Security Council may refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court or set up an international tribunal. The Council may also impose an arms embargo on Myanmar and penalize those most responsible with travel bans or asset freezes.  

But the path toward justice, if one exists, will not be clear. Since Myanmar’s civilian authorities have proven unable and unwilling to investigate or deliver justice on their own, any form of accountability will need to come from the international community. And since international criminal law is a nascent entity at this point, the outcome of any form of condemnation remains uncertain.

A year after the fact, the generals responsible for high crimes and human rights violations and the civilian authorities who enabled them remain both unpunished and unrepentant. Read more here and please join us as we follow the developments surrounding the newly released report.

Myanmar and the Rohingya

Most of the population of Myanmar identify as Buddhist, but about 1.1 million people, a majority of whom are Muslim, represent a Myanmar ethnic minority call the Rohingya. The Rohingya speak a distinct dialect and they are not listed among the country’s recognized ethnic groups. Since 1982, they have been denied Myanmar citizenship, which places them in a precarious position, since they live within the country (in the western state of Rakhine) and they cannot leave without government permission.

Rakhine is a very poor state, so its denizens lack the opportunities available elsewhere, but the Rohingya are often subject to violence and persecution when they attempt to flee.

Why are the Rohingya denied citizenship?

During British rule, thousands of Rohingya laborers migrated from India and Bangladesh into Myanmar, a migration considered legal and “internal” by the British. But native populations resented this influx, so when Myanmar gained independence in 1948, the migration was declared illegal, which has formed the historical grounds for the denial of citizenship to the Rohingya people. Many Myanmar Buddhists consider the Rohingya to be Bengali.

Why weren’t the Rohingya recognized after British rule ended?

In 1948, the newly independent nation passed the Union Citizenship Act, which included a list of ethnicities that could legally gain citizenship. The Rohingya were not included on the list, with limited exceptions granted for those who had resided in the country for more than two generations. After a military coup in 1962, that law changed, and all Myanmar citizens were required to obtain national registration cards. The Rohingya were an exception; they were not issued national cards, but instead were given foreign identity cards that limited their access to jobs and opportunities. In 1982, citizenship laws changed once again, and again, the Rohingya were excluded from a list of nationally recognized ethnic groups.

Since 1982, the Rohingya have been a stateless people. Without citizenship or paperwork allowing them access to many aspects of public life, they have limited opportunities to use public services, work, travel, marry, or leave. They also struggle to attain healthcare and they’re prevented from freely practicing their religion. When the Rohingya attempt to leave Rakhine and head for neighboring Bangladesh, Malaysia or Thailand, refugees typically face violence at the hands of Myanmar security forces. Sometimes they’re aggressively turned back by their destination countries.  

What’s Happening Now?

In October of 2016, nine border guards were killed, and the government blamed armed Rohingya fighters. They responded with a series of crackdowns on Rohingya villages, involving an array of human rights abuses which the government has denied. By November of 2016, multiple UN officials were referring to the crackdown and abuses as “ethnic cleansing”. The abuses have been ongoing for the past year and have been reported to include extrajudicial killing, arson, rape, and troops firing indiscriminately on crowds. The Myanmar government has so far rejected these accusations.

State Chancellor Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, has not yet openly discussed the conditions endured by the Rohingya, their inability to flee, and the resulting untenable position in which they’ve been placed. The government and Aung San Suu Kyi herself have blamed the violence in Rakhine on Rohingya “terrorists”.

This United Nations Human Rights Commission report was produced in February of 2017, and it documents some of the abuses in detail.

At this point, it remains to be seen where fleeing Rohingya will turn after attempting the dangerous exodus from Rakhine, which nations will accept the influx of refugees, and how Southeast Asian nations and the rest of the world community will respond to Myanmar’s official denial of a growing list of allegations. Who will condemn the violence and stand up for the stateless Rohingya people? We’re watching these events and the reaction of the United Nations and the ICC. For more information on the state of Rakhine, follow our page or contact our office.