NEW YORK: The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) has urged the Burmese government to end the violence in Rakhine State and address the gross violations of the Rohingya population’s human rights. After a group of Rohingya militants attacked police outposts and an army base in western Rakhine State on August 25, the Burmese military retaliated with what Burma’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi referred to as “clearance operations,” in which the military destroyed villages in northern Rakhine State and killed hundreds of Rohingya people. The Burmese military has stated that those killed were insurgents, but activists on the ground have disputed the claim, arguing that many civilians were among the victims of the extrajudicial killings. This incident is the latest in a series of systematic attacks against the Rohingya population by the Burmese military. So far, more than 410,000 Rohingya refugees have fled in fear across the border to Bangladesh.
“Aung San Suu Kyi has done nothing to stop the persecution of the Rohingya people. If anything, her indifference to their plight may have made matters worse. As a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, along with her party, must acknowledge, condemn, and take steps towards preventing future abuses against the Rohingya people,” said HRF President Thor Halvorssen. “It is her responsibility as the leader of the country to put an end to the violence and investigate these gross human rights violations.”
Despite the Rohingya population’s long historical roots in Burma, the Burma Citizenship Law of 1982 made it almost impossible for the Rohingya people to gain citizenship. Under the 1982 law, the Rohingya population is viewed as illegal immigrants, effectively rendering the Rohingya population stateless. The tension between the mostly Muslim Rohingya population and the majority Buddhist population in Rakhine State has led to violent clashes. In 2016 alone, within two months, an estimated 428 Rohingya Muslims were killed in military crackdowns, 192 Rohingya women raped, and 35,000 Rohingya displaced. In a Burmese military crackdown earlier this year, experts and officials estimated that more than 1,000 Rohingya Muslims were killed. On September 11, 2017, during the 36th session of the U.N. Human Rights Council, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called the military operations and widespread attacks against the Rohingya “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
The Burmese government denies that it is targeting civilians and maintains that allegations of “ethnic cleansing” are unsubstantiated. However, there is strong evidence to suggest that the government of Burma, along with its military, have intentionally targeted the Rohingya population. The Burmese military training materials were revealedto contain anti-Rohingya sentiment, and the Burmese government was complicit in the violence by using police force to forcibly removing Rohingya from Rakhine State. Satellite imagery reveals the extensive destruction of villages in northern Rakhine State, and numerous refugees who fled to Bangladesh have testified that the atrocities, including the burning of villages and the extrajudicial killing of civilians, were committed by the Burmese military as well as Buddhist extremists.
Following the 2015 election, Aung San Suu Kyi — leader of the National League for Democracy — rose to power, but retains little control over the Burmese military. Aung San Suu Kyi has repeatedly refused to condemn the Burmese military’s violence, and has instead alleged that Rohingya Muslims were not fleeing from violence. Additionally, the Burmese government has made deliberate efforts to block international investigations of violence in Rakhine state. Journalists are required to obtain a permit before entering the area, but the military rarely approves such permits. The government has also refused to collaborate with U.N. human rights investigators.
“The Burmese military’s targeted crackdown against the Rohingya population and the civilian government’s consent to that violence fits the legal definition of genocide under international law. For years, the Rohingya Muslims, an ethnic and religious group, have suffered extrajudicial killings and serious bodily harm at the hands of the Burmese government and the military. They have been put into internally displaced camps and denied sanitation, food, and medical care; and their freedom to travel is severely limited. These attacks have forced thousands to flee fearing for their safety, causing a refugee crisis in neighboring countries such as Bangladesh,” said Joy Park, an international legal associate at HRF. “The National League for Democracy and its leader Aung San Suu Kyi must acknowledge the cruel military operations for what they really are: widespread and systematic human rights violations that amount to both crimes against humanity and genocide.”