According to UNHCR, almost half a million of Rohingya refugees have already been forced to flee their country as a result of what is considered the “most serious humanitarian and human rights crisis in Rakhine State since October 2012”.
Tensions between Rakhine’s Buddhists and the Rohingya People go back decades. Since Myanmar’s independence from the United Kingdom in 1948, different ethnic minority groups have been in conflict with one another, attempting to gain autonomy from the central government and its army.
The conflict re-ignited in the course of the country’s march towards democracy, starting in 2011 after five decades of military rule. After suspected Rohingya militants attacked and killed nine border posts in October 2016, the government blamed the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) for the violence and as a result, started what was referred to as a “legitimate counterinsurgency operation”. The crisis only deepened after the August 2017 attacks carried out by the ARSA group, which has since been declared a terrorist organization by the Myanmar government.
War crimes and Human Rights violations
Numerous violations of human rights have been committed since the conflict escalated in 2016 by armed government forces, the so-called Tatmadaw as well as nationalist groups such as the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, which is the largest nationalist organization that promotes Buddhist nationalism and anti-Muslim hate speech. Abuses of fundamental human rights as well as vast discrimination practices continue to be inflicted on the Rohingya population, and are further exacerbated and legitimized by the effective denial of their citizenship under the 1982 Citizenship Law.
Restrictions on movement and limited access to health care and education have caused higher levels of poverty, worsening living conditions and dangerous overcrowding.
War crimes such as extrajudicial killings, torture, rape, destruction of property, arbitrary arrests, and arson as well as airstrikes have been carried out throughout the region against the Rohingya People, who are viewed by the United Nations as one of the world's most persecuted minorities. The Government of Myanmar refuses to use the Rohingya name to refer to this population. Nationalist Buddhists refer to them as “Bengali,” which implies illegal migrant status in Myanmar, while the leader of the National League for Democracy, Minister of Foreign Affairs and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi labels them the “Muslim Community in Rakhine State”.
Rohingya villages have been burnt down, as satellite imagery proves, and independent journalists as well as humanitarian agencies have been prevented from providing aid through restrictions on travel imposed by the government. A journalist of the Myanmar Times was fired after he had reported on allegations of rape by government forces. Amnesty International has pointed out that armed groups use child soldiers, impose arbitrary “taxes” on civilians and both government forces and ethnic armed groups use landmine-like weapons, planting antipersonnel landmines or improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and has demanded that, “All sides to the conflict must end the pattern of violations and abuses against civilians, and the Myanmar authorities must end the cycle of impunity by investigating and prosecuting violations by all sides to the conflicts.”
According to Amnesty International, the Myanmar Army has been acting with "near total impunity" for decades. Even after recommendations to seek UN assistance, the Myanmar government has not only refused to enable UN-established, independent investigations into the violence against the Rohingya, but has also denied all kinds of sexual violence.
With the Myanmar government's refusal to grant access to humanitarian aid organizations as well as UN officials, the brutal killings and violence against the Rohingya minority will continue and those who are left will be forced to flee their homes.