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.
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.
Conflict in Kachin and Shan states eased somewhat due to onset of monsoon. Data compiled by UN humanitarian agency 1 June showed over 60,000 people temporarily displaced by fighting in Kachin and Shan states between Jan 2017 and May 2018, with most subsequently returning to their areas of origin; 103,000 people remaining in camps in Shan and Kachin states as result of conflict that resumed in 2011. Concerns over conditions of Rohingya refugees in camps in Bangladesh grew with beginning of seasonal heavy rains, which caused flooding, landslides and logistical challenges, and several fatalities from mudslides. UN refugee agency said some 200,000 out of 720,000 refugees “at risk” need to be relocated to safer areas. Still no refugee returns through official system, however small number of Rohingya reported to be returning informally to Rakhine state. Govt 6 June signed memorandum of understanding with UN refugee and development agencies on cooperation on repatriation of refugees from Bangladesh. President’s office 31 May announced that govt would establish three-member Independent Commission of Enquiry to investigate alleged human rights violations in northern Rakhine state, commission to include an international personality and assisted by national and international legal and technical experts. International Criminal Court (ICC) began discussions on possible investigation into alleged deportation of Rohingya to Bangladesh, gave Myanmar 27 July deadline to provide observations on the legal and factual aspects of the case for jurisdiction. UN Special Envoy for Myanmar Christine Burgener visited 12-22 June, met with state counsellor and commander-in-chief, visited Rakhine; then travelled to Thailand, China, Bangladesh. European Council 25 June decided to impose sanctions on seven Myanmar military officials over rights violations against Rohingya. Facebook 7 June announced it would ban several “hardline” monks and designated radical race and religion protection group, Ma Ba Tha, as a “hate organization.”
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.
After almost 70 years of armed conflict, Myanmar has a rare but fading opportunity to finalise a broad-based, federal settlement. The government must adopt a more flexible approach that allays opposition concerns, and armed groups need to go beyond preliminaries and engage in meaningful discussions.
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.