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.
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.
Concerns continued over possible forced repatriation of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh, while ethnic peace process appeared to enter fragile stage ahead of dry season with spike in fighting and all sides losing confidence in the current peace process. Fighting among ethnic armed organisations spiked in Shan state, specifically between Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) and Shan State Army North (SSA-N), and between RCSS and Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA); two largest armed groups’ suspension of participation in ethnic peace process (Karen National Union late Oct and RCSS 2 Nov) dealt significant blow. Following 30 Oct agreement between Myanmar and Bangladesh to proceed with limited repatriation of Rohingya refugees, planned return of some 2,260 scheduled to begin 15 Nov did not proceed after no one was willing to return; Bangladesh stated it will not proceed with repatriations until after its elections 30 Dec (see Bangladesh). UN and aid organisations had strongly criticised plan. Several reports emerged of refugees, fearful of forced returns, resuming dangerous boat journeys across Bay of Bengal, possibly aided by organised smuggling operations. On sidelines of ASEAN summit 11-15 Nov, Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad again criticised State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and govt’s oppression of Rohingya; summit outcome statement 15 Nov stated need for accountability and creation of conditions in Rakhine state conducive for refugee returns. In 14 Nov meeting with Suu Kyi, U.S. VP Mike Pence called for progress on accountability for violence against Rohingya and for pardon of two Reuters journalists jailed in 2017. Govt criticised UN General Assembly’s 16 Nov resolution which endorsed UN Fact-Finding Mission’s report and establishment of Independent Mechanism to prepare prosecutorial files. With possibility of end to EU’s Everything But Arms preferential trade scheme and pursuant uncertainty over future of garment industry reportedly having serious effect on business and investor sentiment, EU delegation visited early Nov to assess human rights environment.
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.
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.
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.