More than two years since the government launched so-called "clearance operations" in Rakhine State, populations in Myanmar remain at risk of mass atrocity crimes perpetrated by the security forces and as a result of discriminatory laws and policies. Since August 2017 an estimated 720,000 people – the majority of the Rohingya population – have been forced to flee, bringing the total number of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh to over 900,000 people. In its 2018 report, the Human Rights Council (HRC)-mandated Independent International Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) on Myanmar concluded that the military have committed crimes against humanity and war crimes in Rakhine, Shan and Kachin states, as well as acts of genocide against the Rohingya minority in Rakhine State. On 16 September 2019 the FFM published its final report, concluding that Myanmar "continues to harbor genocidal intent" towards the Rohingya.
The FFM has listed alleged perpetrators, including military Commander-in-Chief, General Min Aung Hlaing, and called for them to be prosecuted at an international court, deeming accountability at the domestic level unattainable. The FFM also asserted that Myanmar had breached its obligations under the Genocide Convention.
The Rohingya, a distinct Muslim ethnic minority group in Myanmar, have been systematically persecuted for generations. Myanmar's 1982 Citizenship Law rendered most of the population stateless. The rights of the Rohingya are further limited by the so-called "Protection of Race and Religion" laws that place harsh restrictions on fundamental religious freedoms, as well as reproductive and marital rights. The Rohingya are also subject to severe restrictions on their freedom of movement, with more than 120,000 Rohingya confined to camps since 2012.
Other populations in Myanmar also continue to be at risk as a result of conflict between the military and various ethnic armed groups. Since November 2018 conflict has been ongoing in Rakhine State between the military and the Arakan Army (AA), an armed group seeking greater autonomy for the ethnic Rakhine Buddhist population. Myanmar's security forces have shelled villages, blocked food supplies and arbitrarily detained civilians. Access to conflict-affected areas continues to be denied to UN agencies and most humanitarian organizations. AA members have also been accused of violations and abuses, including abducting civilians.
Since 15 August fighting between the military and other ethnic armed groups, including the Ta'ang National Liberation Army, has also escalated in Shan State, displacing thousands and putting civilians and humanitarian workers at risk.
The failure of the UN Security Council (UNSC) to hold accountable those responsible for atrocities committed against the Rohingya enables the military to continue their attacks on other populations.
Utilizing the UN's "Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes" the FFM determined that the risk factors for genocide and other atrocity crimes remain present in Myanmar. Despite Myanmar's partial transition to democracy, until discriminatory laws and policies are repealed or amended, and the perpetrators of past crimes are held accountable, the threat of further atrocities endures.
The government has still not taken serious steps towards ensuring the safety and security of the Rohingya. Military units that perpetrated crimes against the Rohingya continue to operate in Myanmar. Recent fighting between the army and armed groups in Rakhine and Shan states puts civilians at ongoing risk of human rights violations and abuses.
The government of Myanmar has manifestly failed to uphold its responsibility to protect the Rohingya and other minority populations, and bears responsibility for the commission of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
The only formal response of the UNSC to the genocide against the Rohingya was the adoption of a Presidential Statement on 6 November 2017. That statement stressed the "primary responsibility of the Myanmar government to protect its population."
Since August 2017 the European Union (EU), Canada, US, Australia and others have responded to atrocities in Rakhine State, including by imposing an arms embargo as well as targeted sanctions on senior military officers. A number of countries have recognized the crimes against the Rohingya as constituting genocide. On 16 July the United States government became the first to sanction Myanmar's Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing and three other senior military officials for "gross human rights violations" perpetrated against the Rohingya.
During September 2018 the HRC adopted a resolution creating an independent mechanism to "collect, consolidate, preserve and analyze evidence of the most serious international crimes and violations of international law" committed in Myanmar. On 26 September HRC adopted a resolution urging the government to grant unrestricted access to all UN mandate holders and human rights mechanisms.
On 31 May 2019 the Organization of Islamic Cooperation urged its "ad hoc ministerial committee on human rights violations against the Rohingyas in Myanmar," led by The Gambia, to take a case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). On 11 November The Gambia formally filed a case with the ICJ, accusing Myanmar of breaching its obligations under the Genocide Convention.
On 13 November Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, supported by Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo and the Fundación Servicio Paz y Justicia, filed a case in an Argentinian court under the principle of universal jurisdiction, urging the prosecution of senior officials from Myanmar who are responsible for the Rohingya genocide. The plaintiffs are represented by the former UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana.
On 14 November Pre-Trial Chamber III of the International Criminal Court (ICC) authorized the Chief Prosecutor to proceed with an investigation into the forced deportation of the Rohingya population across the Myanmar-Bangladesh border. While Myanmar is not a State Party to the ICC, Bangladesh is.
The international community should adopt the FFM's recommendations and ensure that those responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes do not evade justice. All investment in conflict-affected areas in Myanmar should be conducted in strict adherence with the UN's Guiding Principles for Business and Human Rights. The UNSC should immediately refer the situation in Myanmar to the ICC and impose an arms embargo.
Myanmar's government must create conditions for the voluntary, safe and dignified repatriation of refugees from Bangladesh, including by repealing or amending all laws that systematically discriminate against the Rohingya. Access for UN agencies and humanitarian organizations should be restored to all conflict-affected areas
All UN member states should meaningfully support the case The Gambia has filed against Myanmar at the ICJ.
Last Updated: 15 November 2019
The five most recent issues of R2P Monitor and Atrocity Alert are available in the side-bar. To see previous assessments of this country, please see R2P Monitor and Atrocity Alert on our Publications page. Myanmar has been featured in R2P Monitor since the March 2012 issue.