Populations at Risk
Ethnic and religious minorities in Burma/Myanmar, especially stateless Rohingya and other Muslims, continue to face the threat of mass atrocity crimes.
BACKGROUND: Sporadic inter-communal 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 continue to be denied citizenship and other fundamental human rights by the government. On 29 September 2014 at the UN General Assembly, the government outlined 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" by 1 June.
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.
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 due to this violence. The government continues to block their access to healthcare and other vital humanitarian assistance.
On 16 January the new UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, called upon the government to protect the human rights "of all inhabitants of Rakhine State regardless of legal status, to allow full and immediate access for humanitarian agencies across the State and to allow the safe return of all IDPs to their communities."
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 government's 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 fundamental human rights. In March 2014 the government denied Rohingyas the ability to self-identify on the first national census since 1983. This constitutes a failure to comply with international standards and reinforces the dangerous perception of the Rohingya as ethnic outsiders. The government's revoking of identification cards mostly held by Rohingyas is yet another measure to curtail their rights and will prevent Rohingyas from being able to vote in a referendum on constitutional amendments to be held during May.
Attacks by the Tatmadaw also pose an ongoing 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 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. Burma/Myanmar held the chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) during 2014. [For responses prior to December 2014, see GCR2P's Timeline of International Response to the Situation of the Rohingya and Anti-Muslim Violence in Burma/Myanmar.]
On 29 December the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution expressing serious concern about the plight of the Rohingya and calling upon the government to allow freedom of movement, grant equal access to full citizenship and allow ethnic self-identification.
On 27 March the Human Rights Council adopted a resolution expressing concern at the increase in nationalist-based intolerance of religious and ethnic minorities and calling upon the government to protect all civilians from violence. The resolution reiterated serious concern about the situation of the Rohingya and the government's decision to revoke their identity documents.
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 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 April 2015