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, combined with discriminatory state policies, continues to put the Rohingya, a Muslim minority group, at risk of mass atrocity crimes. Rohingyas have been denied citizenship and other fundamental human rights. On 29 September at the UN General Assembly, the government confirmed an "action plan" that would require Rohingyas to accept ethnic reclassification as "Bengali" in order to obtain citizenship or be forced into detention camps.

The former UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, has said that organized violence against the Rohingya 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." Persecution has led tens of thousands of Rohingyas to flee to neighboring countries, where they are often subject to further abuse, human trafficking and refoulement.

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.

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. Security forces have failed to adequately protect civilians and in some cases have been complicit in attacks. An estimated 139,000 people, mostly Rohingyas, remain segregated in IDP camps since this violence.

Conditions for Burma/Myanmar's other minorities also remain perilous, particularly in Kachin state, where a ceasefire between government forces (Tatmadaw) and the Kachin Independence Army collapsed over three years ago. Nearly 100,000 people remain displaced and in need of humanitarian assistance.

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 Rohingyas 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. This constitutes a failure to comply with international human rights standards and reinforces the dangerous perception of the Rohingya as ethnic outsiders.

Attacks by the Tatmadaw also pose a grave threat to civilians. 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 military dictatorship, democratic reforms have contributed to rapprochement between Burma/Myanmar and the international community, including the lifting of sanctions by a number of countries. Burma/Myanmar holds the chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for 2014. [For responses prior to September 2014, see GCR2P's Timeline of International Response to the Situation of the Rohingya and Anti-Muslim Violence in Burma/Myanmar.]

During a 26 September meeting of the Partnership Group on Myanmar and at the Sixth Annual ASEAN-UN Summit on 12 November the UN Secretary General encouraged the government to uphold human rights, take a strong stance against incitement and ensure humanitarian access to Rohingya living in vulnerable conditions.

On 13 November at the East Asia Summit, United States President Barack Obama urged Burma/Myanmar to implement a plan that would allow the Rohingya to become citizens "through a normal process."

On 21 November the UN General Assembly's Third Committee adopted a resolution expressing serious concern about the situation of the Rohingya and calling upon the government to allow freedom of movement, grant equal access to full citizenship, and allow self-identification for 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 should abolish the Rakhine Action Plan and 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 offer protection to Rohingya asylum seekers.

The international community must urge the government to prioritize the development of a comprehensive and 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 December 2014