Populations in Myanmar face atrocity crimes perpetrated by the security forces and as a result of discriminatory laws and policies.
Since November 2018 Myanmar’s military and the Arakan Army (AA), an armed group seeking self-determination for the ethnic Rakhine population, have engaged in an armed conflict in Rakhine State. Myanmar’s security forces have shelled villages, blocked food supplies and arbitrarily detained civilians. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has said that attacks on civilians in Rakhine and Chin states may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. AA members have also been accused of violations and abuses. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, more than 97,000 people are currently displaced in Rakhine and Chin states.
On 22 September the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Thomas Andrews, decried growing child casualties in Rakhine State. On 5 October two Rohingya boys were reportedly killed after a military unit forced them to ensure their path was clear of landmines and protect them from potential enemy fire.
The latest conflict in Rakhine State ignited a year after the military launched so-called “clearance operations” on 25 August 2017. An estimated 745,000 people – the majority of the Rohingya population – were forced to flee Myanmar, bringing the total number of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh to over 900,000.
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 estimated 600,000 Rohingya who remain in Rakhine State are subject to severe restrictions on their freedom of movement. More than 120,000 Rohingya have been confined to camps since 2012.
The UN Human Rights Council (HRC)-mandated Independent International Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) on Myanmar concluded in 2018 that the military committed crimes against humanity and war crimes in Rakhine State, as well as acts of genocide against the Rohingya. The FFM has also asserted that Myanmar breached its obligations under the Genocide Convention and “continues to harbor genocidal intent” towards the Rohingya.
Myanmar held general elections on 8 November, which were won by the ruling National League for Democracy. The vast majority of the Rohingya population were unable to vote or run for office due to discriminatory laws and policies. In addition, citing security concerns, Myanmar’s Union Election Commission canceled or restricted voting in more than 50 townships across Chin, Kachin, Karen, Mon, Rakhine and Shan states, as well as the Bago Region. These restrictions affected an estimated 2 million people, mostly members of minority ethnic groups.
The Myanmar government has failed to address the root causes of the Rohingya genocide, including laws and policies that systematically discriminate against the Rohingya. Until these change and the perpetrators of past crimes are held accountable, the threat of atrocities endures.
Ongoing military operations in Rakhine State leave civilians at risk of atrocities. The use of human shields by the military violates international law and amounts to a war crime.
The government of Myanmar has manifestly failed to uphold its responsibility to protect the Rohingya and other minority populations, and bears responsibility for the ongoing commission of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
The only formal response by the UN Security Council (UNSC) to the genocide against the Rohingya was the adoption of a Presidential Statement on 6 November 2017 that stressed the “primary responsibility of the Myanmar government to protect its population.”
Since August 2017 various individual states and regional organizations have responded to atrocities in Rakhine State. The EU has reinforced its arms embargo on Myanmar and imposed restrictive measures on 14 individuals, while Australia, Canada, United Kingdom (UK) and United States (US) have imposed targeted sanctions on senior military officers. During May 2020 Germany announced that it was suspending development cooperation with Myanmar.
During September 2018 the HRC created an Independent Investigative Mechanism (IIMM) to “collect, consolidate, preserve and analyze evidence of the most serious international crimes and violations of international law” committed in Myanmar.
On 11 November 2019 The Gambia filed a lawsuit at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), accusing Myanmar of violating its obligations under the Genocide Convention. On 23 January the ICJ ordered Myanmar to comply with four provisional measures – to prevent genocidal acts, ensure military and police forces do not commit genocidal acts, preserve all evidence of genocidal acts, and report on compliance with these measures. Myanmar submitted its first report to the ICJ on 23 May, the second report is due in late November.
On 2 September Canada and the Netherlands announced their intention to intervene in support of The Gambia’s case against Myanmar. On 11 September eight members of the UNSC – Belgium, Dominican Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Tunisia, UK and US – issued a joint statement calling on Myanmar to comply with the ICJ’s provisional measures order.
During November 2019 Pre-Trial Chamber III of the International Criminal Court (ICC) authorized the Chief Prosecutor to proceed with an investigation into crimes against humanity that may have been committed against the Rohingya, resulting in forced deportation across the Myanmar-Bangladesh border.
During November 2019 a case was filed in an Argentinian court under the principle of universal jurisdiction, urging the prosecution of senior Myanmar officials responsible for the Rohingya genocide. On 29 May the court formally requested information from the ICC.
On 22 October the UN Refugee Agency, along with the European Union, UK and US, co-hosted a virtual donor conference, raising $600 million to support displaced Rohingya in Bangladesh and Myanmar.
Myanmar must fully comply with the ICJ order and address all underlying conditions that led to the genocide, including by repealing or amending laws that systematically discriminate against the Rohingya. The UNSC should closely monitor Myanmar’s compliance with the provisional measures order. The UNSC should also refer the situation in Myanmar to the ICC and impose an arms embargo.
Myanmar’s new government should end the systematic persecution of the Rohingya and repeal all discriminatory laws and policies, including the 1982 citizenship law.
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