ETHNIC CLEANSING OF THE ROHINGYA
The Rohingya are a predominantly Muslim ethnic group living in Burma’s western Rakhine State. They are effectively stateless, being denied citizenship in both Burma and Bangladesh, and the United Nations describes them as one of the world’s most persecuted groups. The Rohingya face persecution both at the hands of government militias and by the Buddhist majority.
Since 2012, when violent attacks by unknown insurgents led to the deaths of nine officials, the Myanmar military* has been conducting an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya. Buddhist fundamentalist and Islamophobic sentiments have intensified in Burmese politics, particularly in Mon and Rakhine states, exacerbating ethnic tensions. In 2015, Fortify Rights and Yale Law School released a report that found strong evidence that genocide may already be being committed against the Rohingya, and recommended that the UN Human Rights Council establish an inquiry into the human rights situation in Rakhine state.
Since October 2016, violence against Rohingya has escalated to alarming levels. Thousands of buildings have been destroyed, including homes and mosques. The UN and other human rights investigators have called on the Myanmar government to end these atrocities. Over the past year, both government and non-state groups have used anti-personnel landmines and forced military recruitment, including of children. Government forces have been found responsible for extrajudicial killings, torture, sexual violence, and destruction of property.
More than 600,000 Rohingya refugees have fled to Bangladesh since Aug. 25, 2017, when Myanmar security forces began a scorched-earth campaign against Rohingya villages. Myanmar’s government has said it was responding to attacks by Muslim insurgents, but the United Nations and others have said the response was disproportionate. Myanmar leader and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has faced international criticism for not doing more to stop the violence, although she has no power over the security forces under a military-drafted constitution.
A deal was reached late last year for all the refugees to gradually leave Bangladesh and return to Burma, although widespread fears remain among the Rohingya.
*Note: “Burma” was the name given to the country by the British; it was renamed “Myanmar” in 1989 by the military junta. Many Burmese diaspora and human rights organizations choose to use “Burma” in solidarity with the Burmese still suffering at the hands of the government. JWW uses “Burma” when referring to the country and “Myanmar” when referring to the government.
CIVIL WARS WITH ETHNIC MINORITIES
Of the 135 ethnic groups in Burma, 68% are Bamar. In the 1960s, Burma’s ruling elite began a process of “Burmanization” in which minority cultures were forcefully assimilated into the majority Bamar culture. Minority groups remain subject to a lack of government representation and Burma has experienced recurrent ethnic conflicts as a result. Burma’s army, the Tatmadaw, has been accused of war crimes and acts of ethnic cleansing, specifically against ethnic minority groups from the northeast and western regions.
ONGOING DEMOCRATIC REFORMS
Burma’s transition from a military dictatorship to a mixed civilian-military government has been rife with corruption. During the 2015 election, a new police force was established to prevent civil disorder, but ultimately resulted in increased military control. Concerns of electoral corruption, vote-buying, and threats to political opponents continue. A constitutional amendment bolstered the Tatmadaw’s influence by allocating 25% of parliamentary seats to the junta, regardless of who wins the majority vote. In this way, the Tatmadaw holds veto power over constitutional change, safeguarding their grip on power.
Despite promises made during the 2010 elections regarding governmental reforms, human rights abuses and crimes against humanity remain rampant in minority areas. As a reward for moves made towards democratization, many countries, including the US, have normalized ties with Burma. In 2016, the Obama administration lifted the remaining economic sanctions on Burma despite its continuation of human rights abuses.
The Refugees Who Don’t Want to Go Home … Yet
Jason Beaubien, NPR
Explanation of why Rohingya refugees are fearful about gradual repatriation to Burma.
What Elephant Attacks Tell Us About the State of the Rohingya Crisis in Bangladesh
Poppy McPherson, GlobalPost
Overview of the the many life-threatening challenges facing refugees.
Facts and videos that give an overall view of what is happening.
Rohingya Recount Atrocities: ‘They Threw My Baby Into a Fire’
Jeffrey Gettleman, New York Times
Traces the harrowing journey of Rohingya refugees fleeing to Bangladesh.
Background on the situation as well as what you can do to help.
The Rohingya refugee crisis is the worst in decades
Chart showing how the weekly outflow from Myanmar is the highest since the Rwandan genocide.
Video of Yanghee Lee, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, expressing bafflement at Aung San Suu Kyi’s seeming indifference.
estimated current population
need humanitarian assistance and protection
internally displaced in Rakhine State
internally displaced in Shan and Kachin States
have fled the country to Bangladesh
- 1962: Military coup overthrows democratic government; military dictatorship
- 1988: Pro-democracy marches initiated by students, violently suppressed and thousands killed
- 1990: Elections held, National League for Democracy (NLD) wins, results ignored by ruling junta
- 2007: Peaceful anti-government protests initiated by Buddhist monks, violently suppressed
- 2008: Constitutional referendum held and overwhelmingly passes, mixed civilian-military government established
- 2010: Democratic elections are held
- 2012: Parliamentary elections held, NLD participates and wins 43 of 45 available seats
- 2015: First contested general election in 25 years is held; NLD wins majority
- 2016: Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi is appointed as State Counsellor, an equivalent to Prime Minister
- 2017: Thousands of Rohingya Muslims flee to Bangladesh due to violence the United Nations has denounced as ethnic cleansing.
Behind the Fence
Behind the Fence is an award-winning virtual reality short film produced by The Nexus Fund to give a truly insider, 360 degree view of the plight of the Rohingya. The film looks inside the 5×5 square mile camp that imprisons the Rohingya Muslim minority in Burma and investigates the extremist Buddhists who propagate virulent anti-Muslim sentiment across the country.