By Charlotte King
For years, the Myanmarese military, the Tatmadaw, has been cracking down on the Rohingya Muslim minority population in Myanmar, resulting in over 730,000 refugees fleeing to Bangladesh for safety to date. Persecution of Rohingya Muslims has allegedly been ongoing in Myanmar since at least 2016, centralised in Rakhine State on the country’s western coast. Following years of apparent subjugation which has forced hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees to flee for their lives, the Tatmadaw has created a new military court to conduct a probe into these accusations of genocide.
Since 2017, Myanmar has been heavily accused of ethnic cleansing and carrying out genocide against its Rohingya Muslim population by international bodies such as the United Nations (U.N.), Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Following a string of allegations, the Myanmarese military court has announced it will be conducting an investigation into the events in Rakhine State from when the alleged genocide began, to determine the legitimacy of these claims.
The Tatmadaw launched their attack in Rakhine State on August 25th, 2017 in response to coordinated violence conducted by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) at approximately 30 security posts near the Bangladeshi border. Ever since, allegations have arisen of escalating violence and tensions between the Rohingya Muslim minority population and the Burmese government and security forces. In 2018, a U.N. operation alleged that military offensives orchestrated by the Tatmadaw following the ARSA attack were done with “genocidal intent”. The U.N. believes that Min Aung Hlaing, the Senior General of the Myanmarese Army, alongside five other generals, should be charged with conducting “the gravest crimes under international law”.
The UN claims it also has further evidence of wide-scale human rights violations in Myanmar against the Rohingya population since August 25th, 2017, including proof of infanticide, gang rape and extrajudicial killings. According to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, these atrocities are a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
Amnesty International also allege that the Burmese government and the Tatmadaw have been complicit in crimes against humanity, breaking international law. It claims that Rakhine State has been “plunged into crisis” following the security forces “[unleashing] a campaign of violence” against the Rohingya Muslim ethnic minority. Amnesty International state that in August 2017, the Burmese military coordinated with the Border Guard Police and local vigilantes to kill Rohingya men, women and children, to torture women and girls through rape and sexual violence, to burn villages and to lay landmines.
Human Rights Watch echoes these allegations, emphasising how the Burmese government’s actions have denied the Rohingya population of citizenship and instead they have faced decades of repression and discrimination. It calls the Rohingya Muslim population one of “the largest stateless populations in the world”.
The Burmese government says these allegations are exaggerations however, and whilst Hlaing admits “a number of security men may have been involved” in violence against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State, the accusations are illegitimate.
According to Southeast Asia and Pacific Director of Amnesty International, Nicholas Bequelin, this new probe is “another bad faith manoeuvre” and comes shortly after a previous investigation in 2017 which absolved the security forces of any responsibility for Rohingya persecution. Bequelin states that the military “has shown no sign of reform” and believing that they could investigate themselves and ensure justice and accountability is “dangerous and delusional”.
Whether these allegations of genocide and ethnic cleansing are accurate or not, it is evident that the Rohingya Muslims living in Rakhine State have been facing a persecution of sorts, clear through the hundreds of thousands of refugees seeking safety in neighbouring Bangladesh. However, Bangladeshi authorities recently announced they cannot accommodate any more Rohingya refugees coming from Myanmar. We can only hope tensions diminish and this population can find safety in Rakhine State soon.