The government of Myanmar has been carrying out “clearance operations” in Rakhine State since Friday, 25 August, after an armed group calling itself the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) carried out coordinated attacks on multiple police posts and an army base. At least 109 people have been killed since 25 August, including civilians, members of the security forces and ARSA militants.
There have been reports of widespread burning of villages, large-scale displacement, extrajudicial killings and attacks on ethnic Rohingya communities in northern Rakhine by the security forces. Government authorities evacuated civilians from some areas of Rakhine State during the weekend, but reportedly only provided assistance to non-Muslims. In response, thousands of Rohingya have fled towards the border with Bangladesh, with eyewitness reports stating that the security forces were firing on civilians as they attempted to escape.
The government has denounced the ARSA as “Bengali terrorists” and on 27 August the Office of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi accused international non-governmental organizations of helping the “extremist terrorists” who staged the 25 August attacks. There is no evidence to support this claim, which the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect and other human rights organizations have described as profoundly irresponsible and dangerous.
The Myanmar government’s latest “clearance operations” come less than a year after a major counterinsurgency operation was launched in response to October 2016 attacks by Rohingya militants on three border guard posts. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the “widespread and systematic” attacks against Rohingya civilians during those operations may amount to crimes against humanity. The Myanmar authorities have repeatedly denied any atrocities have taken place and no perpetrators have been brought to justice.
The government refuses to acknowledge the plight of more than 1.1 million ethnic Rohingya in Myanmar, who are subjected to systematic discrimination and statelessness. The latest “clearance operations” mean that Rohingya civilians are again facing potential mass atrocity crimes as the security forces attack Rohingya communities that they presume support the ARSA.
Such an approach will not end inter-communal conflict in Rakhine, nor assist Myanmar in its transition to democracy. The security forces have a responsibility to protect all populations in Myanmar, regardless of their citizenship status, religious affiliation or ethnic identity. All counter-insurgency operations directed against the ARSA must strictly adhere to international humanitarian and human rights law.
The Myanmar government should also expeditiously implement the Final Report of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, which was submitted to the government on 23 August. Led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the Advisory Commission’s report offers practical recommendations that address the root causes of conflict in Rakhine, including through reforming the 1982 Citizenship Law.
Today, 30 August, the UN Security Council (UNSC) will receive a briefing on the situation in Myanmar under “any other business” at the request of the United Kingdom. The UNSC must end its silence on the crisis confronting one of the largest stateless populations in the world. The UNSC and the international community should make it clear to the government of Myanmar that it must immediately end atrocities and protect the human rights of all of the diverse populations in Myanmar, including the Rohingya.