Over the past month, a crackdown by Burma’s military has forced more than 400,000 Rohingya Muslims from Rakhine state to flee to neighboring Bangladesh in what the UN human-rights chief has called a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
The Muslim Rohingya minority is facing increased violence and discrimination, as religious intolerance in Myanmar intensifies. In northern Myanmar, the government increased restrictions on access for humanitarian agencies to displaced communities.
The Rohingya, often described as “the world’s most persecuted minority” were stripped of their citizenship in 1982, when Burma’s junta passed a law that did not identify their ethnicity as entitled to it. Since then, the Rohingya were persecuted, steadily lost their rights, and were the victims of violence. In 2012, massive religious violence forcing 140,000 of them into camps for internally displaced people.
The situation of the Rohingya deteriorated significantly after nine border police officers were killed in northern Rakhine State in October last year by suspected Rohingya militants. Security forces responded with a major security operation, sealing the area and effectively barring humanitarian organizations, media and independent human rights monitors from entering.
Elsewhere in Rakhine State, Rohingya and other Muslim people are facing severe restrictions to their freedom of movement. They are confined to their villages or displacement camps and segregated from other communities, with great restrictions of access to livelihoods, health care, including life-saving treatment, food security and education.
The Burmese government refuses to register Rohingya as citizens under that name, because they fear militant separatism. The Nobel Prize Laureate and the leader of Myanmar, State Chancellor Aung San Suu Kyi, has refused to discuss the plight of the Rohingya. The government blames violence in Rakhine, and subsequent military crackdowns, on those they call “terrorists”.
Despite blanket denials issued by the government, there is evidence that security forces were responsible for unlawful killings, random firing on civilians, rape and arbitrary arrests.
Most recently, Myanmar’s military has imposed a crackdown on the country’s Rohingya population after police posts and an army base were attacked in late August. Since the violence erupted, rights groups have documented fires burning in at least 10 areas of Myanmar’s Rakhine State.
Since the late 1970s, nearly one million Rohingya have fled Myanmar due to widespread persecution in this long-standing conflict.
Following violence that broke out last year, more than 87,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh from October 2016 to July 2017, according to the International Organization for Migration. More than 1,000 people, mostly Rohingya, may have been killed in Myanmar.
The UN, as well as several rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have consistently decried the treatment of the Rohingya by Myanmar and neighboring countries. So far, no decisive action has been taken to help these innocent people.