Populations at Risk Serious Concern


Ethnic and religious minorities in Burma/Myanmar, especially stateless Rohingya and other Muslims, continue to face the threat of mass atrocity crimes.
BACKGROUND: Sporadic ethnic violence in Burma/Myanmar continues to put minority populations, particularly the Rohingya, at risk of mass atrocity crimes. Rohingyas face discriminatory state policies, including the denial of citizenship and other fundamental human rights. 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 137,000 people remain displaced and segregated in internally displaced person (IDP) camps 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.

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. The government announced on 23 July that MSF could resume operations, but has yet to facilitate their return.

The former UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, has said that the violence against the Rohingya community could amount to crimes against humanity and 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." On 29 September at the UN General Assembly, the government confirmed that it is finalizing a plan that would require Rohingyas to accept ethnic reclassification as "Bengali" in order to obtain citizenship, or be forced into detention camps. Persecution has led thousands of Rohingyas to seek protection in neighboring countries, where they are often subject to further abuse, human trafficking and refoulement.

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.

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. In March, the government denied Rohingyas the ability to self-identify on the first national census since 1983, and continues to insist on their registering as "Bengali." This constitutes a failure to comply with international human rights standards and reinforces the dangerous perception that Rohingya are ethnic outsiders.

Attacks by government armed forces (Tatmadaw) also pose a grave threat to civilians, particularly in Kachin state. 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. [For responses prior to June 2014, see GCR2P's Timeline of International Response to the Situation of the Rohingya and Anti-Muslim Violence in Burma/Myanmar.]

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 humanitarian organizations to resume full operations and to "carry out its responsibility to protect Rohingya."

On 26 September the UN Secretary-General convened the second meeting of the Partnership Group on Myanmar, telling the group that he remains "deeply troubled by the communal situation in Rakhine and in other parts of the country." He urged the government to address the status and citizenship of the 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 October 2014