Persecution, Forced Displacement, and Genocide of Rohingya, Kachin, Shan, Karen and other minorities
Persecution of the Rohingya, Kachin, Shan, Karen and other minorities in Myanmar has been continuous since a military coup installed the Ne Win junta in 1962. The ethnic Burmese monopoly of political, economic, and military power has resulted in systematic oppression of non-Burman minority groups.
Genocide Watch has issued Genocide Emergency Alerts for Myanmar annually since 2006, with major updates in 2012, 2013, 2015, and 2017. We declare Genocide Emergencies when there are ongoing genocidal massacres.
In this statement I will summarize the evidence of persecution, forced displacement, and genocide by the army and police of Myanmar against two groups: the Rohingya and, briefly, the Kachin. Similar evidence exists of the government’s crimes against the Shan and Karen.
The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic minority of one million people that has lived in Rakhine state for centuries, but which increased during British colonialism to provide labor for agriculture. They face systematic religious and ethnic discrimination because under Myanmar’s constitution, they are not classified as one of 135 legally recognized ethnic minority groups with Myanmar citizenship. Ethnic Burmese consider the Rohingya as “illegal immigrants” from Bangladesh. Bangladesh does not recognize the Rohingya as its citizens. Without citizenship, the Rohingya have no civil rights in Myanmar. They are stateless.
· The regime refuses to issue identification cards to Rohingya, which are necessary to be able to travel, as well as to obtain passports and enroll in higher education.
· They are denied land and property rights and ownership. The land on which they live can be taken away at any time.
· The Rohingya people are barred from government employment.
· Marriage restrictions are imposed on them. They are limited to two children per couple.
· They are subject to forced labor, extortion and other coercive measures.
· Public services such as health and education are neglected. Illiteracy is 80%.
· More than 40,000 Rohingya children in western Myanmar are deprived of rights to travel, to attend school, or to marry in the future, because their parents had an unauthorized marriage or exceeded the two-child limit the Myanmar government has imposed on the Rohingya. These blacklisted children are refused birth registration, and so are not included in family lists and must be hidden during the authorities’ population checks.
· The Rohingya are subject to curfews and other restrictions on basic freedoms.
The Rohingya are a dehumanized and persecuted minority in Myanmar. Many attempt to flee to Bangladesh or Malaysia in rickety boats, but are not accorded the rights of refugees in those countries. Every year hundreds of these boat people drown. Others are maimed or killed by land mines sown at the border by the Myanmar army, who also shoot people who are running away.
Genocide Watch uses a ten stage model of the processes that lead to genocide. They are not linear. Many of them occur simultaneously. But they provide a logical model for seeing the early warning signs and understanding how to prevent genocide by countering each stage.
1. Classification divides the society into “us” versus “them.” The Rohingya and Kachin are classified as non-Burmese ethnic groups, with religions other than Buddhism. Most Rohingya are denied citizenship. The 1982 Citizenship Law holds that only members of the 135 groups named in the law that were deemed to be in Burma prior to 1824 can be citizens.
2. Symbolization provides ways to identify the groups. Rohingya and Kachin speak their own languages, have their own clothing, and have their own places of worship. The identity cards that Rohingya once held were taken away in 1989, and new ID’s have only been issued to around 4000 Rohingyas on the condition that they say they are “Bengali,” validating the government’s false narrative that they are immigrants from Bangladesh.
3. Discrimination against Rohingya includes denial of government jobs, health care, education, and confiscation of land and property.
4. Dehumanization includes propaganda that Rohingya are jihadists, terrorists, murderers, and thieves. The leader of the 969 Movement, Monk Ashin Wirathu, has said that he wants to lead a campaign to purge Burma of all Muslims -“starve them to death, make them homeless.” He was jailed for his involvement in burning alive an entire Muslim family -a well-to-do grocer and a Haj returnee- in his birthplace.
5. Organization includes the 969 movement, extremist orders of monks, and the Tatmadaw government army and police. They carry out the murders and disappearances, torture, rapes, and arson of Rohingya villages.
6. Polarization has resulted in creation of concentration camps for Rohingyas and separation of them from the Rakhine Buddhist population.
7. Preparation has included planning for aggression and arson against Rohingya villages, and recently the buildup and invasion by large numbers of Tatmadaw troops in Rakhine state, with trucks and heavy weapons.
8. Persecution [itself a crime against humanity] has included forcing the Rohingya into concentration camps, denying them medical care, food, and water, torture, and mass rape. Many Rohingya have fled in rickety boats and large numbers have drowned while fleeing.
9. Genocidal massacres have resulted in thousands of deaths. Starvation and death from disease in concentration camps, especially of children and the elderly, have cost thousands of lives. Births are restricted through limits on family size to two children. Others cannot get birth certificates, a violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Myanmar is a state-party.
10. Denial permeates government statements, including the statements of Aung San Suu Kyi. The UN Commission of Inquiry, UN Special Rapporteur and other neutral observers have been barred from the country.
In 1978, Burma’s Tatmadaw army launched systematic persecution against the Rohingya that resulted in destruction of their mosques, mass murder and rape. 277,000 Rohingya fled from Burma. The persecution accelerated in 1991 and 1992 when a renewed wave of oppression and pogroms drove an estimated 250,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh and makeshift camps around Burma’s coastal borders.
Apart from denial of citizenship, the Rohingya are subject to such state-sponsored human rights abuses as forced displacement, forced labor, rape and other sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, extortion, police harassment, restrictions on freedom of movement, land
confiscation, arbitrary taxation, inequitable marriage regulations, a two-child-limit family planning policy, exclusion from access to jobs, education and healthcare, and eviction and destruction of their homes.
These dire conditions resulted in a refugee exodus of over 140,000 Rohingya to neighboring countries such as Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. Boarding rickety boats, thousands of Rohingya fleeing Myanmar face a perilous journey across the Adaman Sea and Bay of Bengal. These journeys can take up to 40 days, with starvation, dehydration, physical and sexual abuse and murder on board.
Arrival in these countries has been no guarantee of security. Thailand, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia have disregarded international refugee law. They have repatriated Rohingya and have denied them refugee or asylum status. Many are taken by human traffickers upon arrival and sold into servitude or sex slavery. Even where they are admitted to refugee camps, the Rohingya live in squalor beset by diseases and starvation, with no access to employment, education, healthcare and humanitarian aid.
Ceasefire negotiations in 2011 resulted in some improvement in relations between the government and some recognized ethnic groups. However, since the Rohingya are not officially considered a recognized ethnic group, they are excluded from this national dialogue and remain vulnerable to state-sponsored ethnic violence and persecution.
During 2012, violence increased against Rohingya and other Muslims in the Rakhine State. According to the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, the Rohingyas have become one of the most oppressed ethnic groups in the world. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a report on discrimination against the Rohingya. Miss Thidar Htwe, a Buddhist woman from Rakhine, was murdered on 28 May 2012. Government officials arrested and charged three Muslim men with the attack. The Economist reported that six days later a mob of Buddhist vigilantes stopped a bus carrying Muslim pilgrims, killing ten and raping one. Violence by Buddhists against Muslims grew. Scores of Rohingya were slaughtered. Attacks against Muslims spread to other areas of Myanmar. Attacks by government forces followed shortly thereafter. Mass media have incited discrimination against the Rohingya and Muslims, using derogatory terms and twisted stories when reporting on incidences. Violence against Muslims is not just targeted against the Rohingya; Muslims living in other states have also been targets of ethnic, racial, and religiously motivated violence. The Burmese government has committed atrocities against Muslims, including mass killings and rapes, burning of Muslim villages, arrests, forced labor, and torture. Many Muslims attempt to escape to Bangladesh for sanctuary. However, in Bangladesh the Myanmar refugees face discrimination, exploitation, and deportation. In Myanmar, the Rohingya are a stateless people.
In 2012, Buddhist violence against the Rohingya reached new heights. Human Rights Watch called the attacks on Rohingya “ethnic cleansing,” carried out by Rakhine militias and incited by extremist Buddhist monks with support by state police. Bureaucratic obstructions, corruption, extensive restrictions, and expulsion of humanitarian groups from access to vulnerable populations in the Rakhine State compound these atrocities.
Marginal improvement in freedom of expression has become an avenue for Buddhist chauvinists to broadcast anti-Rohingya, anti-Muslim rhetoric. Militant Buddhist nationalists are attempting to forge a sense of national identity based on Burmese chauvinism. Such anti-Rohingya. Anti-Muslim invective is spreading paranoia of Muslim expansionism. Anti-Muslim violence has also occurred beyond the Rakhine state. In 2013, Buddhist chauvinists launched “Movement 969,” an anti-Muslim campaign in which Muslim businesses are marked and boycotted. Such Symbolization is reminiscent of Nazi marking of Jewish businesses. Government propaganda has stressed the importance of protecting the “true Burmese” religion of Buddhism from “outside contamination.”
On 28 March 2013, The New York Times reported that President Thein Sein publicly declared that he would begin using force to stop religious conflict and rioting in Myanmar. This was the president’s first public comment on the issue since 40 Muslims were killed during rioting in central Myanmar the week before. About 12,000 were forced out of their homes and into refugee shelters as a direct result of that rioting, which included burning of Muslim houses and mosques. This was the worst instance of violence against Muslims in the past year.
On 29 March 2013, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, issued a statement from Geneva in which he not only expressed the UN’s concerns about the violence between Muslims and Buddhists in Myanmar, but urged the government to take “bold steps” to rectify the ongoing violence.
Speaking at the UN General Assembly in September 2014, Myanmar’s Foreign Minister, Wunna Maung revealed the “Rakhine State Action Plan” drafted for the “reconstruction and development of the Arakan/Rakhine state,” which included the relocation of all Rohingyas to unspecified detention camps. This calculated plan of forced displacement of the Rohingya population constitutes a crime against humanity.
When Aung San Suu Kyi was released, the western press was deluded into writing about a “democratic Myanmar.” In fact, the model Myanmar is following is China’s, with firm control by the military unshaken.
His Holiness The Dalai Lama, Archbishop Tutu, and at least seven other Nobel laureates have urged fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to champion the cause of the Rohingya. Their calls have been met with silence, much to the indignation of human rights advocates in the international community, who have accused her of political opportunism. Some have even asked that she surrender her Nobel Prize.
The UN General Assembly, UN Human Rights Council, the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), and the Kofi Annan Commission have urged Myanmar to extend citizenship to the Rohingya, and to arrest human rights violators. They have called upon ASEAN to develop regional solutions to the worsening emigration crisis. The United States, Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia have expressed concern about the Rohingya crisis yet delivery of aid to the Rohingya has remained minimal. Several countries have even lifted sanctions and cancelled bilateral debt in favor of economic investment in the new, “open” Myanmar, with its prime location between India and China.
Myanmar continues to perpetrate deliberate persecution of the Rohingya. Impunity for human rights abusers against the Rohingya remains official policy. Combined with Myanmar’s intransigent denial of citizenship to Rohingya, withholding of healthcare,
confinement in detention camps, and forced displacement, Genocide Watch, Human Rights Watch, Fortify Rights, Amnesty International have concluded these systematic, intentional tactics constitute crimes against humanity.
In 2017, the misguided Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked Myanmar police posts and killed as many as 30 police officers. The Myanmar army and police, with Rakhine militias, have launched vicious genocidal massacres against the Rohingya. They justify their crimes as counter-insurgency against “terrorists.”
ARSA’s violent attacks have turned what was seen by most observers as one-sided aggression against a peaceful people into the misperception that this is a two sided civil war. It plays directly into the Myanmar government’s narrative of counter-terrorism.
Such attribution of evil intent to the victims is called “mirroring” by genocide scholars. The victims are said to intend to commit exactly the same crimes that the perpetrators plan to commit against the victims. Mirroring is a powerful justification for and incitement to genocide. It was used when the Nazis accused Jews of intending to slaughter Germans; by Hutu Power militias in Rwanda when they accused Tutsis of intending to murder all Hutus; and by