Populations at Risk Serious Concern


Ethnic and religious minorities in Burma/Myanmar, especially stateless Rohingya, continue to face the threat of mass atrocity crimes.
BACKGROUND: Sporadic inter-communal violence in Burma/Myanmar, combined with discriminatory state policies, puts the Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority group, at ongoing risk of mass atrocity crimes. Rohingyas continue to be denied citizenship and other fundamental human rights by the government.

On 29 September 2014 at the UN General Assembly, the government announced the "Rakhine Action Plan," which would require Rohingyas to accept ethnic reclassification as "Bengali" in order to obtain citizenship or be forced into detention camps. On 31 March 2015 the government invalidated the identification cards held by many Rohingyas, forcing them to apply for citizenship as "Bengalis." This follows the government denying Rohingyas the ability to self-identify on the national census of March 2014, the first since 1983. On 31 August Burma/Myanmar's President Thein Sein signed into law the last of four "Race and Religion Protection Laws." These laws place restrictions on women and non-Buddhists, including on fundamental religious, reproductive and marital rights.

The former UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, has said that previous violence against the Rohingya could amount to crimes against humanity and warned on 30 May 2014 that the government's failure to address the human rights situation in Arakan/Rakhine state "will ultimately mean the extermination of the Rohingyas."

Ongoing 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. During May the governments of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia denied entry to thousands of Rohingyas, pushing their boats back to sea after Burma/Myanmar refused to take responsibility for them. Meanwhile, throughout May, mass graves containing the bodies of Rohingyas were discovered at human trafficking camps in Thailand and Malaysia.

An estimated 139,000 people, mostly Rohingyas, remain segregated in IDP camps due to inter-communal violence and attacks against the minority Muslim community that occurred between June and October 2012, when clashes in Arakan/Rakhine state killed nearly 200 people. The government continues to block the IDPs' access to healthcare and other vital humanitarian assistance.

The country's military forces (Tatmadaw), which have previously perpetrated atrocities against several ethnic minority groups, also pose an ongoing threat to civilians.

ANALYSIS: The government's refusal to grant the Rohingya access to citizenship or lift discriminatory state policies, as well as its failure to restrict hate speech, encourages ongoing violations of their fundamental human rights and reinforces the dangerous perception of the Rohingya as ethnic outsiders.

As a result of the government curtailing the voting rights of Rohingyas, after the upcoming general elections in November Rohingyas may lose all political representation in Arakan/Rakhine state.

The country's constitution still exempts the Tatmadaw from prosecution for any act carried out "in the execution of their respective duties." With a pervasive culture of impunity, the military has not been held accountable for previous mass atrocity crimes. On 25 June the military-dominated parliament voted against a bill that would abolish the military's veto power on constitutional amendments.

The government of Burma/Myanmar is failing to uphold its primary Responsibility to Protect with regard to the Rohingya and other vulnerable minorities.

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. [For responses prior to April 2015, see GCR2P's Timeline of International Response to the Situation of the Rohingya and Anti-Muslim Violence in Burma/Myanmar.]

On 22 April the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Parliamentarians for Human Rights warned of the "growing risk of atrocity crimes in Myanmar" and urged ASEAN leaders to respond to the "escalating crisis" involving Rohingyas and other vulnerable minorities.

On 19 May UNHCR, OHCHR and IOM as well as the UN Special Representative for International Migration and Development released a joint statement calling upon regional governments to protect and assist Rohingya asylum seekers stranded at sea. The following day Indonesia and Malaysia agreed to accommodate 7,000 asylum seekers until they can be resettled.

The UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on 1 July, condemning systematic violations of human rights committed against Rohingyas, urging the government of Burma/Myanmar to grant the Rohingya citizenship and end growing prejudice against Muslims.

Concluding a visit to Burma/Myanmar, on 7 August the UN Special Rapporteur, Yanghee Lee, reported being denied access to Arakan/Rakhine state. She called for the government to address the legal status of the Rohingya and to end discrimination against them.

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 intolerance and violence.

In Arakan/Rakhine state the government must facilitate the safe, voluntary return of IDPs to their communities. Neighboring countries should offer protection and assistance to Rohingya asylum seekers.

The international community must urge the government to develop a comprehensive reconciliation plan. 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 September 2015