BACKGROUND: Outbreaks of anti-Muslim violence in Burma/Myanmar continue to put minority populations, particularly the Rohingya, at imminent risk of mass atrocity crimes. Between 9 and 13 January 2014 at least 40 Rohingyas were attacked and killed by local Buddhist residents in Maungdaw Township, Arakan/Rakhine state. Local officials then ordered the arrest of all male Rohingya. The central government has denied the attacks and any deaths. However, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) reported treating 22 patients in the area with "violence-related injuries." The government has since ordered MSF to cease operations in Arakan/Rakhine state.
Amid growing hostility towards international efforts to assist persecuted Rohingyas, on 26 March Buddhists began two days of attacks on the offices and residences of international aid groups and UN agencies working in the Arakan/Rakhine state capital of Sittwe, forcing over 120 international staff out of the region.
Rohingyas continue to face discriminatory state policies, including the denial of citizenship and a two-child limit for families. During June 2012 President Thein Sein asserted that Burma/Myanmar will not take responsibility for Rohingya because they are "not our ethnicity." Beginning on 30 March 2014 the country undertook its first census since 1983. Despite previous assurance by the government, "Rohingya" will not be recognized as an ethnic group on the census.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, has expressed concern over the "increasingly permanent" segregation of communities in Arakan/Rakhine state, with many Muslims confined to internally displaced persons (IDP) camps and denied their fundamental human rights. Buddhist monk organizations have called for the deportation of Rohingya and have attempted to block the delivery of humanitarian aid to those displaced by violence. 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 between Arakanese/Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Arakan/Rakhine state, killing nearly 200 people. Some 138,000 people remain displaced as a result of this violence. Security forces have consistently failed to adequately protect civilians and in some cases have been complicit in attacks.
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. Special Rapporteur Quintana reported on 19 February that ceasefire agreements have been poorly implemented.
The government's armed forces (Tatmadaw) have committed violations including extrajudicial killing, 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 (OCHA) has said the government continues to block parts of Kachin and Shan states from access to humanitarian relief for those affected by the fighting.
ANALYSIS:While the government has been commended for introducing extensive democratic reforms, widespread abuses against several of Burma/Myanmar's minorities continue. Anti-Rohingya and anti-Muslim violence has spread and is evidence of a dangerous communal fracture that the government is failing to adequately address. In particular, the government has taken little action towards improving the plight of the Rohingya. The government's refusal to grant them access to citizenship or lift discriminatory state policies, as well as its failure to restrict anti-Rohingya hate speech, enables increasing violence and ongoing violations of their fundamental human rights.
Attacks on humanitarian workers in Sittwe that halted live-saving aid highlights the increasing isolation and vulnerability of persecuted minorities. The government appears content to permit ongoing mob attacks on these populations and humanitarian organizations that provide crucial aid to them.
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 questionable. 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 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. On 26 March Japan announced a $16 million contribution to support UN programs in Burma/Myanmar as part of a $75.2 million aid package that will also fund government development projects.
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 November 2013, see GCR2P's Timeline of International Response to the Situation of the Rohingya and Anti-Muslim Violence in Burma/Myanmar.]
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Inter-Parliamentary Caucus and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation have condemned violence against Rohingya. Burma/Myanmar holds the chairmanship of ASEAN for 2014.
Following the events in Maungdaw Township, several UN officials, including the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Humanitarian Affairs Coordinator, condemned the attacks and called for an impartial investigation. The government denied access to the area and claimed it conducted its own investigations, reporting "no evidence" of the killing of Rohingya.
Special Rapporteur Quintana released his final report on 14 March, saying that the government has taken no "clear action" aimed at addressing widespread discrimination and human rights violations against Rohingya, which he describes as possibly amounting to crimes against humanity.
On 26 March the UN Human Rights Council unanimously adopted a resolution reiterating serious concern about the situation of the Rohingya and other minorities in Rakhine State, and requesting an independent investigation into all reported incidents of violence.
On 31 March the UN Secretary-General urged the government to ensure the safety and security of all humanitarian workers. In a 2 April statement OCHA condemned the violence against aid workers in Sittwe, calling it "an attack on the entire humanitarian response in Rakhine State."
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 endemic discrimination against 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 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: 9 April 2014