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.
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.
UN fact-finding mission 27 Aug issued report calling for investigation and prosecution of Myanmar military leaders for genocide against Rohingya and war crimes and crimes against humanity against minorities in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan states; said military were “killing indiscriminately, gang-raping women, assaulting children and burning entire villages”; called for referral of case to International Criminal Court (ICC). Report also criticised State Councillor Aung San Suu Kyi for not acting to stem or prevent events, found civilian govt “contributed to the commission of atrocity crimes”. Govt rejected report and questioned body’s impartiality and sincerity. Facebook, long criticised for providing platform to incite hatred and facilitate violence against Rohingya, immediately removed eighteen accounts and 52 pages associated with Myanmar military and its commander-in-chief, depriving him of his main channel of communications with Myanmar people. UN Security Council held open session on situation in Myanmar 28 Aug, addressed by Secretary-General Guterres; while there were many strong statements, Council remains deadlocked on stronger action due to opposition from China and Russia. Office of the State Counsellor 9 Aug stated it has declined to engage in any way with ICC on question of whether it has jurisdiction over possible crime of deportation of Rohingya from Myanmar (a non-State Party) to Bangladesh. Chair of Commission of Enquiry 16 Aug stated that Commission would not “point fingers” and that seeking accountability was “quarrelling … not looking for peace”, dealing major blow to body’s international credibility. Govt’s Advisory Board on Rakhine crisis prematurely dissolved 16 Aug after submitting hasty final report. U.S. Treasury 17 Aug announced sanctions on four members of Myanmar military and two units, for serious human rights abuses in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan states. Bangladesh FM visited Myanmar for talks with senior officials 10 Aug, during which they reaffirmed commitment to early repatriation of Rohingya refugees and agreed to establish hotline to facilitate cooperation. UNICEF 23 Aug warned of potential “lost generation” of Rohingya children lacking access to education in camps in Bangladesh.
More than 700,000 Rohingya refugees from brutal military operations in Myanmar are stuck in Bangladesh, with returns to Myanmar unlikely soon and Bangladeshi goodwill being tested. In Myanmar, international partners must be allowed access to northern Rakhine State. In Bangladesh, donors must help both refugees and their local hosts.
The mass flight of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar’s Rakhine State has created a humanitarian catastrophe and serious security risks, including potential cross-border militant attacks. The international community should press the Myanmar government to urgently implement the Annan commission’s proposals, including as regards discrimination, segregation and citizenship.
Extreme Buddhist nationalist positions including hate speech and violence are on the rise in Myanmar. Rather than ineffective bans on broad-based groups like the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion (MaBaTha), the government should address underlying causes and reframe the debate on Buddhism’s place in society and politics.
Despite important progress at the 24-29 May 2017 round of peace talks, the path toward a negotiated end to Myanmar’s conflicts remains fraught with difficulties. All sides must redouble their engagement to broaden armed groups’ participation in the talks, and improve the implementation of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement.
Recent attacks by an émigré-led force of trained Rohingya fighters mark a dangerous turn. To remove a main root of the violence – Rohingya despair – the government must reverse longstanding discrimination against the Muslim minority, moderate its military tactics, and reach out to Myanmar’s Muslim allies.
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.
Originally published in Asia Times
More than one million Muslim Rohingya forced to flee from Myanmar now live in camps in south-eastern Bangladesh. In this excerpt from our Watch List 2018, Crisis Group urges the EU and its member states to increase funding for refugee assistance and use diplomatic leverage to find a compromise on the issue of refugee repatriation.
Most went back home from Bangladesh in two earlier exoduses, but this time is different.
Originally published in Nikkei Asian Review
Originally published in Lowy Institute
The international community’s failure to address Myanmar’s Rohingya crisis has resulted in massive displacement from Rakhine state. The crisis poses a clear threat to Myanmar’s democratic transition. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2017 – Third Update early warning report for European policy makers, Crisis Group urges the European Union and its member states to support strong Security Council action and push for multilateral and bilateral engagement with Myanmar’s civilian and military leaders.