In Rakhine state, longstanding communal tensions and extreme discrimination by the government against the Rohingya Muslim minority has morphed into a major crisis. Following renewed attacks by a militant group on security targets in northern Rakhine in August 2017, a brutal response by the military has driven more than 430,000 Rohingya into neighbouring Bangladesh. In addition to the human catastrophe, this could undermine the political transition and make Myanmar a target for transnational jihadist groups. The peace process with some 21 ethnic armed groups has lost momentum, and a negotiated settlement remains elusive. Resurgent Buddhist nationalism threatens to divide communities and faiths in this multi-ethnic, multi-religious country. Through field research and advocacy aimed at the Myanmar government as well as influential regional and international actors, Crisis Group works to help mitigate the crisis in Rakhine state, strengthen the peace process and promote improved intercommunal relations.
Myanmar’s 2020 polls are a chance to consolidate electoral democracy in the country. Yet many ethnic minorities doubt that voting gives them a real say. To preempt possible violence, the government and outside partners should work to enhance the ballot’s inclusiveness and transparency.
Clashes between Arakan Army (AA) and Myanmar military in Rakhine state continued amid protests over deaths of AA suspects in military custody. AA used new tactic of attacking navy vessels in Rakhine state three times since late-June, including 19 July rocket attack on two ships on river in Myebon Township which killed army captain and two navy personnel. Local media 5 July reported govt had charged in absentia four AA leaders under Counter Terrorism Law for organising and participating in militant group, alongside charging numerous villagers for harbouring AA members. At govt’s request, Singapore police 10 July arrested and deported seven politically-prominent Rakhine individuals, including brother of AA leader, on charges of using country as platform to organise support for anti-govt violence by raising funds and seeking diaspora support for AA; Myanmar police arrested all seven on arrival in Myanmar or shortly after. Amid demonstrations in Rakhine over deaths of AA suspects in military custody, military 12 July announced formation of investigative team to probe incidents; since early 2019 some fifteen civilians held on suspicion of AA ties reportedly died in military custody or shortly after release. Lull in fighting in Kachin and Shan states continued following military’s late-June extension of unilateral ceasefire until 31 Aug. Amid monsoons causing heavy flooding since early July in Rohingya camps in Bangladesh and leading to at least five deaths and deterioration of living conditions, Rohingya Muslims continued attempts to cross Bay of Bengal to Malaysia; over 60 people from Bangladesh camps and displacement camps around Sittwe in Rakhine state found on coast of southern Maungdaw township 7 July after boat difficulties. Prosecutor of International Criminal Court Fatou Bensouda 4 July requested court’s judges authorise an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity, namely deportation, other inhumane acts and persecution committed against Rohingya Muslims (in which at least one element occurred in Bangladesh – a State Party to the Rome Statute) during the period since 9 October 2016.
In 2011, fighting between Myanmar’s military and Kachin rebels displaced more than 100,000 people. Now they might be able to go home. The military and insurgents should both cease fire while the government arranges for the internally displaced persons’ safe, voluntary return or resettlement.
Bangladesh is hosting nearly a million Rohingya refugees who have little hope of going home any time soon. The government should move to improve camp living conditions, in particular by lifting the education ban and fighting crime. Donors should support such steps.
Ethnic Rakhine insurgents have attacked four police stations in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, provoking a military counteroffensive. Escalation could imperil both prospects for Rohingya repatriation and the country’s transition toward civilian rule. All sides should step back from confrontation and pursue talks about Rakhine State’s future.
Civil strife has turned Myanmar’s Shan State into a crystal methamphetamine hub. The richer the traffickers get, the harder the underlying conflicts will be to resolve. Instead of targeting minor offenders, the military should root out corruption, including among top brass, and disarm complicit paramilitaries.
Bangladesh and Myanmar have struck a deal for the involuntary repatriation of over 2,000 Rohingya refugees. But the agreement is rushed and threatens stability on both sides of the border. Myanmar and Bangladesh should halt the plan and instead work to create conditions conducive to a safe and dignified return.
The Pope was aware that inserting himself too strongly into a situation with a lot of religious undertones could inflame tensions further in Myanmar.
[Buddhist] monks feel the [Myanmar] government is weak on the protection of Buddhism and keeping the morals of the country intact.
The [Myanmar] military and government should be careful not to assume all Rohingya are sympathizers or supporters [of jihadis].
It should be in the government’s power to create the conditions in which to implement some of these recommendations [of the Kofi Annan-led Advisory Commission on Rakhine State in Myanmar].
Most [political] transitions end badly like the Arab spring. [They] are always bumpy and I think Myanmar is going through a particularly bumpy moment in its transition.
The threat is not because of [Harakah al-Yaqin's] military strength, it's because of what they represent, the potential of [Myanmar] facing a very well organized, violent jihadist movement.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s government appears stuck amid international condemnation of the Rohingya's mass displacement and domestic unease about the economy. To nudge Myanmar’s post-junta transition forward, the UN should combine engagement with pressure for accountability for crimes against humanity and eventual refugee return.
Originally published in Asia Times