BACKGROUND: Sporadic ethnic violence in Burma/Myanmar continues to put minority populations, particularly the Rohingya, at risk of mass atrocity crimes. Rohingyas continue to face discriminatory state policies, including the denial of citizenship and a two-child limit for families. Following attacks during January against Rohingyas in Arakan/Rakhine state, the government ordered Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to cease operations, shutting down the largest provider of healthcare among humanitarian organizations operating there.
Two days of anti-Muslim attacks, during which Muslim-owned shops, homes and a mosque were ransacked, broke out in Mandalay on 1 July. Authorities imposed a curfew, but two people were killed.
On 7 April the former UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, said that the violence is part of "a long history of discrimination and persecution against the Rohingya community which could amount to crimes against humanity." He warned on 30 May that the government's failure to address the human rights situation in Arakan/Rakhine state "will ultimately mean the extermination of the Rohingyas."
From 30 March to 10 April the country undertook its first national census since 1983. Despite assurances from the government that it would allow the self-identification of any ethnicity, just days before the census began it announced it would not recognize "Rohingya."
Former Special Rapporteur Quintana has expressed concern over the "increasingly permanent" segregation of communities in Arakan/Rakhine state, with many Muslims confined to internally displaced person (IDP) camps and denied their fundamental human rights. Persecution has led thousands of Rohingyas to seek protection in neighboring countries, where they are often subject to further abuse, human trafficking and refoulement.
Sporadic attacks against the broader Muslim community have recurred since June and October 2012, when clashes broke out in Arakan/Rakhine state, killing nearly 200 people. An estimated 138,000 people remain displaced as a result of this violence. Security forces have failed to adequately protect civilians and in some cases have been complicit in attacks on Muslims.
Conditions for Burma/Myanmar's other minorities also remain grave. After 60 years of civil war, the government has reached ceasefire agreements with several ethnic armed groups. Despite this, fighting continues in Kachin, Karenni/Kayah, Karen/Kayin, Chin and Shan states.
The government's armed forces (Tatmadaw) have committed violations including extrajudicial killing, torture, sexual violence and the recruitment of child soldiers, possibly amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has said the government continues to block affected parts of Kachin and Shan states from access to humanitarian relief.
ANALYSIS:Anti-Rohingya and anti-Muslim violence is evidence of a grave communal fracture that the government is failing to adequately address. The refusal to grant Rohingya access to citizenship or lift discriminatory state policies, as well as its failure to restrict anti-Rohingya hate speech, encourages ongoing violations of their most fundamental human rights. Denying Rohingyas the ability to self-identify on the census constitutes a failure to comply with international human rights standards and reinforces the dangerous perception that Rohingya are ethnic outsiders.
Attacks by the Tatmadaw also pose a grave threat to civilians, particularly in Kachin state, and indicate that the military's commitment to reform remains inconsistent. With a pervasive culture of impunity, the military has not been held accountable for previous mass atrocity crimes.
The government of Burma/Myanmar is failing to uphold its primary Responsibility to Protect.
INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE:Following decades of political isolation and military dictatorship, democratic reforms have contributed to rapprochement between Burma/Myanmar and the international community, including the lifting of sanctions and cancellation of bilateral debt by a number of countries. Burma/Myanmar holds the chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for 2014.
Since the outbreak of anti-Muslim violence during June 2012, the UN, regional organizations and individual states have censured the government for failing to protect civilians from attacks. [For responses prior to March 2014, see GCR2P's Timeline of International Response to the Situation of the Rohingya and Anti-Muslim Violence in Burma/Myanmar.]
On 26 March the UN Human Rights Council unanimously adopted a resolution expressing serious concern about the plight of the Rohingya and requesting an independent investigation into recent violence.
On 25 April the UN Secretary-General convened the first meeting of the Partnership Group on Myanmar, which included Burma/Myanmar's Minister of Immigration and Population Affairs. The Secretary-General and member states called upon the government to take "firm action" to curb incitement of violence and to address the issue of citizenship for Rohingyas.
On 26 June ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights warned that the "precursors to genocide" exist in Burma/Myanmar. The group urged the government to allow all humanitarian organizations to resume full operations and to "carry out its responsibility to protect Rohingya."
NECESSARY ACTION: The government of Burma/Myanmar must uphold its Responsibility to Protect all populations, regardless of their ethnicity or religion.
The government must end institutionalized discrimination against the Rohingya, including the denial of citizenship. It must hold accountable all those who commit abuses, including inciting ethnic and religious violence. In Arakan/Rakhine state the government must facilitate the safe, voluntary return of IDPs to their communities. Neighboring countries should also offer protection to Rohingya asylum seekers.
The government must allow unhindered humanitarian access to those affected by violence in Arakan/Rakhine, Kachin and Shan states.
The international community must urge the government of Burma/Myanmar to prioritize the development of a comprehensive plan to engage all ethnic and religious minorities in an inclusive reconciliation process. Remaining sanctions should only be lifted following a demonstrable improvement in the welfare of ethnic and religious minorities.
A central component of the government's reform process must include constitutional reform that addresses the needs of ethnic minorities, as well as the development of an independent judiciary as a means of safeguarding human rights and tackling the culture of impunity regarding mass atrocity crimes.
Last Updated: 15 July 2014