‘Burnt down house in northern Rakhine State’ courtesy of Wiki Commons
The Barma constitute the majority of the population in Myanmar and are mostly Buddhist, while the Rohingya are the largest minority and are predominantly Muslim. Social tensions between the two groups have been rife throughout history and were exacerbated by the economic crisis which resulted from Barma General Ne Win’s military coup in the 1960s (Green et al., 2015, p.7). General Ne Win called upon the pre-existing rivalries to scapegoat the Rohingya as the cause of the economic turmoil (Kirby, 2017). The militarised state then set out to systematically expel the Rohingya through the implementation of a number of laws which aimed to relinquish their citizenship, deny them education and healthcare, prevent them from worshipping and marrying freely, and place many in concentration camps (Green et al., 2015, p.15).
The latest wave of violence against the Rohingya came in August 2017 when the Myanmar Armed Forces used the attack perpetrated by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on police posts in Rakhine state to justify an increase in the brutality against the Rohingya. The crackdown of the Myanmar security forces led to the burning of Rohingya villages, the firing of weapons on civilians, the use of landmines on the roads to Bangladesh, and sexual and gender based violence. The amount of casualties remain unclear but the violence has caused more than 624,000 to flee to Bangladesh since 25 August 2017 (UNHCR 2017). “Over 723,000 refugees have fled to Bangladesh since 25 August 2017”
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has identified the current situation in Rakhine state as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” (UN News, 2017). In addition to this, the UN accused the military leaders of Myanmar of crimes against humanity (in particular genocide) against Rohingya muslims. Not only this, the Burmese politician, diplomat and author has been accused of failing to discourage the violence. Journalists from the UK have been sentenced to seven years as they did not act in accordance with state secrecy laws, although they claim to have been framed by the police. This case is linked to when they reported on the military’s violence against the Rohingya. It could amount to crimes against humanity. (BBC NEWS, 2018). Moreover, Amnesty International argues that the army has perpetrated six crimes against humanity: murder, deportation and forcible displacement, torture, rape, persecution based on ethics and religious grounds and denying food and life-saving provisions (Amnesty International, 2017) . More recently, in April 2018, there were a number of clashes between the military forces in Myanmar and the Kachin Independence Army, involving heavy artillery and aerial bombings. This has led to the displacement of 3,500 civilians, which includes 1,000 people who are taking shelter in a nearby forest (UNICEF, 2018). A recent article has stated that Myanmar’s stateless Rohingya people fled an ambush in Bangladesh and escaping certain crimes against humanity (Rape, murder) (The Guardian, 2018). It is estimated that Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh will start returning home in November. This was confirmed after declaring that Genocide against Rohingyas is still ongoing (ALJAZEERA, 2018).
At the individual level
First and foremost, the Rohingya are suffering. Those who have not been able – or have refused to – flee remain under threat in Myanmar and cannot receive humanitarian assistance since the government has blocked aid access (Human Rights Watch, 2016). Other thousands are risking their lives every day to take refuge in Bangladesh. By mid-August 2018 around 725,000 Rohingya that have arrived in Bangladesh live in disastrous conditions with very limited access to food, water, and medical assistance (UNHRC, 2018). The intensity of the flow of refugees combined with recent floods mean that many do not have shelter and live in the mud. Robert Onus, emergency coordinator for Médecins Sans Frontières, warns that “the situation in the camps is so incredibly fragile, […] that one small event could lead to an outbreak that may be the tipping point between a crisis and a catastrophe” (in The Guardian, 2017).
At the state level
This ethnic cleansing and the way it is being handled by the government is a considerable step back for Myanmar. Many believed that the country, which had been under a dictatorship until 2012, was making considerable progress towards transitioning into a democracy especially given that the 2015 elections saw Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi, and her party come to power (Holmes 2015). However, whilst in power, she has done little to prevent such atrocities leading Myanmar to fail its responsibility to protect.
UN Secretary General Guterres also warned of the risk of “a spill-over into central Rakhine, where an additional 250,000 Muslims could potentially face displacement. They are outnumbered by Rakhine communities, some of whom have engaged in violent acts of vigilantism against their Muslim neighbours” (Guterres 2017).
At the regional level
The situation is also a source of instability in the region. In particular, the recent flow of refugees – which comes on top of the 400,000 Rohingya refugees who had already fled Myanmar following previous attacks by the military – are destabilising neighbouring states such as Bangladesh (Financial Times, 2017).
The recent attacks are also making the region more vulnerable to jihadist groups. As Guterres mentioned in his speech to the Security Council, “we should not be surprised if decades of discrimination and double standards in treatment of the Rohingya create openings for radicalization” (Guterres, 2017).
At the global level
Finally, the situation is threatening the legitimacy of the UN since it once again appears to be incapable of preventing and responding to a humanitarian crisis. Additionally, the fact that Aung San Suu Kyi received the 1991 Peace Nobel Prize and has been supported by the international community for decades, yet has failed to ensure the protection of the Rohingya people, is making the situation even more complex.
What has the international community done about it?
Many countries in the region and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) more generally have been reluctant to address the situation in Rakhine state as they argue that they cannot interfere in the domestic affairs of Myanmar. However, the United Nations and the European Union have begun to take steps to address the violence and the humanitarian crisis associated.
The United Nations
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees is providing humanitarian relief to the refugees in Bangladesh. However, the ongoing flow of refugees, the limited means available, and the weather conditions mean that the situation remains extremely precarious. Additionally, considering that Myanmar has refused access to the affected areas to the UN and international NGOs, thousands of people within Myanmar do not benefit from any assistance.
The Security Council has met on 28 September 2017 to discuss specifically the situation in Myanmar. However, China and Russia have been reluctant to recognise that an ethnic cleansing is taking place and have prevented any resolutions from being passed. However, an informal meeting took place by China, Myanmar and Bangladesh a year later, whereby China dominated the session to ensure that there was cooperation between the two sides and that a continued flow of humanitarian aid continues (UNSC, 2018). While China appears to be acting in a cooperative way, their role as a regional power needs to be consolidated in security council debates. This is due to the use of their veto which has prevented change from taking place.
The Advisory Commission on Rakhine State chaired by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has published a report called ‘Towards a Peaceful, Fair and Prosperous Future for the People of Rakhine’. Although valuable, the report was launched on 23 September 2017, two days before the attacks led by Arsa and therefore does not contain remarks on the current situation.
Similarly, The UN Human Rights Council of the High Commissioner has undertaken a fact finding mission which reported that “the manner in which the villages, home and property of the Rohingya across northern Rakhine State has been destroyed points to it being well-organised and coordinated, thereby challenging the assertion that it was merely collateral damage of the military security operations following the alleged attack against police outposts and on a regimental headquarters across locations in northern Rakhine State, allegedly by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA)” (OHCHR, 2017). The scope of the report was however limited by the fact that it only covers the period 13-24 September 2017 and by the lack of access to the affected zones.
However, a more recent report was published covering the time frame from the 10-28 September 2018. It declared that the state needs to act right away to reconcile the wrongdoings and prevent more crimes against humanity from happening within their society. The international community also has a responsibility to ensure that these acts are condemned. This is to ensure that accountability takes place (UNHRC, 2018).
Following the escalation in armed conflict in Kachin State since 7 April, United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, Knut Ostby has called for the parties who are involved in the conflict to allow the return of all displaced people to be permitted to move more secure locations and that they are protected under International Humanitarian Law (United Nations, 2018).
The European Union
The Council of the European Union met on 16 October 2017 to discuss the situation and has agreed – amongst other things – to “suspend invitations to the Commander-in-chief of the Myanmar/Burma armed forces and other senior military officers and review all practical defence cooperation”. Even though it has agreed to maintain the arms embargo which was already in place, it has not yet considered additional measures but simply stated that it would if the situation does not improve (Council of the European Union, 2017).
Vice President of the European Commission, Federica Mogherini met with Aung San Suu Kyi in December 2017 to discuss cooperation between Myanmar and Bangladesh. Three days after the meeting, Myanmar and Bangladesh signed a deal, which agreed that Myanmar will “create the conditions on the ground that will allow for a voluntary, safe and dignified return of the refugees to their places of origin”. The EU will monitor how Myanmar does this, ensuring that it complies with international law (European External Action Service, 2017).
In addition to the €12 million in humanitarian aid announced in May 2017, the European Commission has committed an additional €3 million on 12 September
2017 (The European Commission, 2017). An additional €40 million for aid was announced on the 31 May 2018, to help provide additional support for both those Rohingya still in the country, as well as for those in the host communities (The European Commission, 2018).
In addition to the €12 million in humanitarian aid announced in May 2017, in January 2018 the European Union announced its new €5 million initiative to support “identification and registration of Rohinghya refugees in Bangladesh” (European Commission, 2018).
Key declarations by the European Union and EU member states
Consilium.europa.eu. 2018. The Charlevoix G7 Summit Communique. 8-9 June 2018; Accessed 30 October 2018.
The leaders of the G7 came together in Quebec, Canada, to discuss a number of topics and atrocities going on within the world. The leaders described themselves as ‘advanced economies’ and ‘leading democracies’ who believed they shared a ‘fundamental commitment’ to responding to global challenges. On the topic of the crisis in Myanmar, leaders of the G7 expressed how they ‘welcomed the new
commitments made by Myanmar’ and agreed to ‘coordinate efforts to build lasting peace and support democratic transition in Myanmar’. The leaders expressed how they want to ensure a safe and voluntary return of refugees, and allow ‘unhindered humanitarian access’.
GOV.UK. 2018. Foreign Secretary call with Aung San Suu Kyi . 11 June 2018; Accessed 30 October 2018
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson spoke with Burma’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi about the Rohingya people, and recent violence in Kachin and Shan States. Johnson expressed his ‘deep’ and ‘continuing’ concern regarding the current situation facing the Rohingyas. He expressed how he welcomed the State Counsellor’s announcement of the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry into human rights violations in Rakhine.
GOV.UK. 2018. UK Minister calls for international action on accountability and support for Rohingya refugees. 28 August 2018; Accessed 30 October 2018
Lord Tariq Ahmad of Wimbledon addressed the UN Security Council on Burma, calling on the international community to increase support for Rohingya refugees.
Lord Ahmad argued that more action needs to be taken, such as the perpetrators of the ethnic cleansing to be brought to justice. Lord Ahmad explained how “Bangladesh has done more than its fair share to help the refugees. Now it’s the turn of other countries to step up, and provide the money that will help support both refugees and the communities that support them”.
GOV.UK. 2018. Minister visits Cox’s Bazar camps ahead of International Development Committee evidence session. 3 September 2018; Accessed 30 October 2018
Following his visit to Bangladesh, International Development Minister Alistair Burt has reaffirmed the UK’s commitment to stand by the Rohingya people as this
latest crisis continues. Minister Burt witnessed the shelters funded by the UK in order to provide protection for the Rohingya people. He also met with and witnessed the life-saving work performed by UK funded aid workers. He described what he witnessed as a ‘positive sign and demonstrates that we are doing all that we can to protect them’. As Bangladesh are amidst the monsoon season, Minister Burt strongly expressed how there are ‘almost one million Rohingya people depending on the international community during this precarious time’.
GOV.UK 2018. Human Rights Council 39: UK Statement on Bangladesh . Human Rights Council, 20 September 2018; Accessed 30 October 2018
The UK welcomed Bangladesh’s support for two of its recommendations on religious intolerance and freedom of expression, however the UK echoed concerns regarding democratic freedoms. The speaker thanked Bangladesh’s
‘continued support’ to the Rohingya refugees who fled to Bangladesh. The speaker asked Bangladesh to take action against individuals that subject migrants to forced labour and human trafficking.
GOV.UK 2018. UK and France host high-level event on the Rohingya crisis. 24 September 2018; Accessed 30 October 2018.
Statement from UK and France following a meeting on Burma in the margins of the 2018 United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). The Foreign Secretary and the French Foreign Minister held a meeting in New York to discuss situations regarding the Rohingya people. Ministers from Myanmar and Bangladesh were present. They agreed that this was one of the largest refugee crises in history
and one of the most pressing human rights violations the council has seen. They addressed conclusions of the Fact-Finding mission, most importantly how the Burmese military are responsible for serious human rights violations. They stressed how the perpetrators of these crimes must be investigated and held accountable. The Co-chairs acknowledged that the Myanmar government had taken some steps, including singing of MoU. But, the Co-chairs stressed this was still a serious a pressing issue that was in dire need of resolution.
GOV.UK. 2018. UN Human Rights Council 39: UK Statement on Burma . UN Human Rights Council, 27 September 2018 ; Accessed 30 October 2018
The UK reminded the Council of the results of the Fact Finding Mission to Burma and called on all members to support the resolution to advance accountability
and prevent future violations. The speech entailed how there can be ‘no impunity’ for these atrocious crimes. The speech detailed how the commander in chief Min Aung Hlaing and other officials must be condemned for their atrocious crimes and brought before an independent court. The speaker detailed how atrocities discovered by the fact finding mission were still being carried out, including wide scale gang-rape.
GOV.UK 2018. UNHCR 69th Session of the Executive Committee: UK Statement. 2 October 2018. Accessed 30 October 2018
This UK statement was delivered at the 69th session of the UNHCR Executive Committee. The speaker announces that the UK will continue to be one of the
leading donors to the humanitarian system and a strong supporter of refugees. The speech states that the UK have provided a total of £129 Million to the Rohingya response. It also details how the UK will host an international summit on tackling sexual exploitation and abuse and sexual harassment on the 18th of October.
GOV.UK 2018. UK calls on the international community to prioritise long-term support for the Rohingya people on the anniversary of the crisis. Accessed 24 August 2018.
The UK requests on the international community to make long- term support for the Rohingya people a priority. Since the fleeing of more than 700,000 persecuted Rohingya men, women and children to Burma, the UK wishes to “provide long-term support” to protect the Rohingya people in the future in both Bangladesh and Burma. Its main priority is for the Rohingya people to have support whilst living in refugee camps. In July, a meeting between the International Development Secretary and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Cate Blanchett took place, where questions regarding how UK aid is saving lives and what more needs to be done were answered.
European Commission. 2018. “Federica Mogherini met with Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh”. Accessed 3 May 2018.
This is a statement by Federica Mogherini, Vice-President of the European Commission following her meeting with the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh, Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali in Brussels. In this meeting Mogherini expressed gratitude to Bangladesh for catering for the 670,000 Rohingya people who have fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh in recent months. She emphasised that the European Union is determined for a positive outcome and for the return of the Rohingya people to their places of origin.
European Commission. 2018. “Myanmar states and regions are contaminated with landmines”. Accessed 5 May 2018.
This is a statement by the European Union which urges the government in Myanmar to take action against the mines in Myanmar which have been left in a number of regions after decades of conflict. The landmines have meant that civilians’ lives are at risk when cultivating their crops on fields which are contaminated. They also pose a serious risk for children who play in the fields as well as children walking to school. UNICEF Myanmar and The European Union have therefore created a Mine Risk Education toolkit in a number of local language in order to help raise awareness about landmines and the threats that they pose.
European Commission. 2018. “EU Priorities for the 37th session of the Human Rights Council”. Accessed 5 May 2018.
This is a document which details what was discussed at the 37th session of the Human Rights Council. With regards to Myanmar, it was agreed that the European Union will present a resolution which “renews the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, takes stock of the work in progress of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission” as well as combatting the violence against the Rohingya people.
European Commission. 2017. “Speech by Federica Mogherini at the European Parliament plenary session on the situation of the Rohingya people”. Accessed 14th December 2017.
During this speech, Federica Mogherini discusses her meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi in December 2017 during which it was agreed that Myanmar must work with Bangladesh and the EU to help solve the crisis. During the meeting, a deal between Bangladesh and Myanmar was also discussed, which agreed that Myanmar must ensure that its refugees can safely return to their places of origin. Mogherini also announced that the EU is reviewing Myanmar’s practical defence cooperation in light of its army’s disproportional use of force. Mogherini states that the EU has pledged more money than anyone else in order to provide humanitarian assistance to Myanmar’s refugees but urges that the people of the Rakhine state are granted access to basic rights such as education.
European Commission. 2017. “EU steps up humanitarian assistance in Bangladesh and Myanmar.” Accessed 5th December 2017.
This is a press release by Christos Stylianides, EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, announcing that €3 million of humanitarian aid (on top of the €12 million announced in May 2017) will be provided by the EU in order to address the most urgent needs of the Rohingya civilians in Bangladesh and Myanmar. The funding will “help provide emergency shelter, water, food and health assistance for newly arrived refugees in Bangladesh and people in need in Myanmar”.
European External Action Service. 2017. “Delegation of the European Union to Myanmar,” Accessed 30 October, 2017.
At a conference in Geneva on 23 October 2017, the EU stated that they aim to secure €370 million by February 2018 in order to care for the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.
Stylianides, C. 2017. “Statement by Commissioner Stylianides for the Pledging Conference for the Rohingya Refugee Crisis.” Accessed 30 October 2017.
EU humanitarian affairs Commissioner Christos Stylianides, speaking at the opening of the conference in Geneva on 23 October 2017 said “We have a moral duty to give these people hope. Our humanitarian support will work to provide essentials like water, sanitation, food, health care, protection and education”.
European External Action Service, 2017. “EU condemns outbreak of violence in Rakhine and supports Rohingya refugees,” Accessed 5 November 2017.
EU High Representative, Frederica Mogherini, condemned the violence against the Rohingya during a debate on Myanmar in the European Parliament on 14 September 2017. The European Union is increasing its support in Bangladesh with €3 million, in addition to the €2 million which has already been given to Myanmar and Bangladesh. Mogherini stated that the EU has a responsibility to help achieve political stability in Rakhine state. She called for Myanmar to be more cooperative with the United Nations, including the deployment of the UN Human Rights Council’s Independent Fact-Finding Mission.
European Commission. 2017. “EU – India Summit: strengthening our strategic partnership and moving forward with our common agenda,” Accessed 5 November 2017.
During the India Summit between the European Union and India on 06 October 2017, the leaders discussed prospects for peace in Myanmar. They encouraged the authorities in Myanmar to enact the recommendations of the Kofi Annan-led Rakhine Advisory Commission. These include recommendations which “focus specifically on citizenship verification, rights and equality before the law, documentation, the situation of the internally displaced and freedom of movement, which affect the Muslim population disproportionally”. They also urged Myanmar to work with Bangladesh in order to ensure that displaced people are able to return to the Northern Rakhine State.
European Council. 2017. “Myanmar/Burma: Council adopts conclusions,” Accessed 7 November 2017.
This press release from the EU Foreign Affairs and International Relations Council lists the EU’s key conclusions with regards to dealing with the conflict. The EU is urging the Myanmar military to protect all of its civilians without discrimination and thus abide with international human rights law. It also urges Myanmar for full cooperation with the Human Rights Council’s independent Fact-Finding Mission. The EU is also encouraging Myanmar to work with Bangladesh in order to find common solutions. The EU has said that it will continue measures on top of the current arms embargo if the situation does not improve.
Barthès, Yann. 2017. ‘Macron Parle À Quotidien Au Siège Des Nations Unies’. Accessed 15 november 2017
During his visit to the United Nations in New York on 20 September 2017, the French president condemned the latest events qualifying them of “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide”. He also stated that he would like to see France and the permanent members of the Security Council to officially condemn the atrocities happening in Myanmar. He then claimed that the international community must pressure Myanmar to let humanitarian organisations access the zones of the crisis and the people in need of help. He condemned again the ethnic cleansing happening at the tribune of the UN during his first speech as the French president, the same day Aun Sung Kyi herself made a speech at the same tribune. It is the only official statement that has been made by the French government in person since the start of the crisis. It could be noted that it has been done through the UN and not through the European Union.
Macron, Emmanuel. 2017. “Discours D’emmanuel Macron Devant La 72E Assemblée Générale Des Nations Unies”. L’Elysée. 2017.
The transcript of the first speech of Emmanuel Macron at the tribune of the United Nations in September 2017. The emphasis is made on the importance for France to defend human rights, especially for the Rohingya’s.
France diplomatie. 2017. ‘Situation des Rohingyas’. Accessed 14 novembre 2017.
In the official French government website for diplomacy, a short sum up of the latest events can be found, followed by a statement saying that France and its European partners decided to keep their embargo on weaponry against Myanmar on 16 October 2017. It is then said that they condemn any violation of the Human Rights, and that the financial help from the French government to the Rohingya’s would be of 3.2 million of euros for the year 2017. On 08 November 2017, it states that the French minister for Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian, had a phone call with Aun San Kyi, where he expressed his concern about the crisis and the French will to help the Rohingyas to come back to Myanmar. He also stated his full support to Aun Sau Suu Kyi to bring democracy to Myanmar.
Field, Rt. Hon Mark, Rt. Hon Priti Patel MP, and Department for International Development. 2017. “UK leads international support for Rohingya crisis at landmark conference (Press release).” GOV.UK. 23 October 2017. Accessed 10 November 2017.
The Genevan International Pledging Conference on 23 October saw the UK lead the way in providing funding for the crisis in Myanmar. Acknowledging the intense humanitarian crisis of the Rohingya in Rakhine state, the UK has committed to providing an additional £12 million, a total of £47 million since August. The UK has guaranteed the highest amount of donations (more than a third of total contributions) to the Rohingya crisis from the international community. This money will help provide food, safe water, medical help and counselling to thousands of people who desperately need help. The UK has suggested that the international community should pool resources to respond effectively to crises. During the conference the UK government ordered Burmese authorities to not only to put an end to the violence but also ensure access of UK aid, to help people return home safely. The International Development Secretary Priti Patel recognised that the ethnic cleansing, sexual violence and murder is wholly unacceptable and ‘has no place in our world’.
Johnson MP, Rt Hon Boris, and Foreign & Commonwealth Office. 2017. “Foreign Secretary comment on UN Security Council Presidential Statement on Burma (Press release).” GOV.UK. 06 November 2017. Accessed 13 November 2017.
The Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, reported on the historic United Nations Security Council meeting on 06 November 2017. It was historical because the UN Security Council joined with the UK, who had previously called on Burmese forces to prevent further violence and allow access of humanitarian aid. Whilst Johnson signified his outrage with the human rights violations and desperate situation in Myanmar, he highlighted Aung San Suu Kyi’s encouraging moves forward. Johnson also commended efforts of Bangladesh government to ensure safety for refugees.
Key statements and resolutions from the United Nations
United Nations. 2018. UNHCR and UNDP complete first assessments in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine . October 5 2018; Accessed 31 October 2018.
The UN refugee agency, and UNDP carried out assessments in 23 villages in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. This gave both agencies ‘an initial understanding of the challenges facing those living there’. The assessments were also held to help ‘identify community initiatives’ that could in turn support the Government’s proposal to improve the lives of those affected.
United Nations. 2018. Seventy-five (75) children and young people released by the Myanmar Armed Forces. August 31 2018; Accessed October 31 2018.
The Government of Myanmar have recently released 75 young persons who were illegally recruited and used by armed forces that take the name ‘Tatmadaw’. This discharge of persons is the first of its kind within 2018. It is reported that this ‘underlines the importance of protecting children in the context of armed conflict and within the peace process’. the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator and June Kunugi, UNICEF Representative announced that this discharge was ‘one more positive development in the Government’s effort to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children within the Tatmadaw’.
United Nation. 2018. UNHCR and UNDP urge tangible progress to improve conditions in Myanmar’s Rakhine State . August 8 2018; Accessed October 31 2018.
It has been two months since the signing of the MuO, the UN refugee agency and the UNDP are urging authorities within Myanmar to face the crisis and provide resolution in regards to conditions in the Rakhine State. The resolution of these conditions is critical in terms of the dignified and voluntary return of the Rohingyas. It is reported that ‘substantial progress is urgently needed’.
United Nations. 2018. Note to Correspondents: First Official Visit of the United Nations Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on Myanmar. 21 June 2018; Accessed 31 October 2018. June 21 2018
Christine Schraner Burgener made her first official visit to Myanmar. She met a number of Myanmar officials as well as the refugees currently residing in Bangladesh, it is reported that in all of Burgener’s meetings she ‘stressed the need for inclusive solutions that integrated the views and important voices of women’. Burgener ‘engaged in substantive discussions’ regarding the current Peace Process and expressed her eagerness to ‘help build confidence and trust among the stakeholders’.
United Nations. 2018. UNHCR and UNDP agree on text of MoU with Myanmar to support the creation of conditions for the return of Rohingya refugees. 31 May 2018; Accessed 31 October 2018.
The UN Refugee Agency and the UN development programme discussed the Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar. Myanmar have agreed to sign on this, this will ‘establish a framework for cooperation’ in terms of the voluntary and safe return of the Rohingya refugees to their places of choosing. The MuO will ‘support the Government’s efforts’ to ensure these conditions are safe for the Rohingyas return. The agreement was officially signed on 6 June 2018.
United Nations. 2018. Statement by the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator ai in Myanmar Knut Ostby on security situation in Muse Township. May 13 2018; Accessed 31 October 2018.
Ostby highlighted the issue of the ongoing armed conflict in Myanmar, stressing the importance of allowing the ‘delivery of humanitarian assistance’ to those affected. Ostby urged all relevant within the situation to ‘exercise maximum restraint’ in terms of protecting the population from further casualties. Ostby also expressed his deep condolences to those who have lost friends and family due to the conflict. Ostby reported that the UN ‘encourages all parties to double their efforts to advance the peace process.’
United Nations. 2018. Remarks by UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator a.i Knut Ostby on 2018 UN Day celebration . United Nations 24 October 2018 ; Accessed 30 October 2018.
In this statement, objectives are put forward for the future and the Myanmar sustainable Development plan “is closely aligned with this set of goals.” Nearl “US$300 million has been sent to Myanmar to focus on four specific goals: “Maintaining the momentum of transition”- making sure that The government of Myanmar is making the best decisions with other groups E.G UNDP, UNICEF), “Saving lives now”- ensuring humanitarian aid for all, “Sustainable solutions for Rakhine, Kachin and Shan”- making sure that these states receive humanitarian intervention in the form of support, “Human rights agenda and advocacy”- to
ensure that each of their activities encourage human rights.
United Nations 2018. Statement Attributable to the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Myanmar. United Nations 20 October 2018 ; Accessed 30 October 2018.
In this statement, the Rakhine and the Kachin state are mentioned. Improvements have been made to provide more learning facilities, yet human rights need more respect, especially in the IDP camps which may face closing. In the Kachin state, a lack of basic human rights and amenities was noted. The Special Envoy of the Secretary-General (SESG) stated that “only peace anda
genuine political dialogue can address these problems.”
Otsby, Knut. 2018. “Statement by the Uniteed Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar Knut Otsby on Kachin State”, United Nations, 20 April 2018. Accessed 5 May 2018
In this statement Otsby expresses his concern about the increase in armed conflict in areas of the Kachin state, particularly after hearing reports of civilian casualties and an increase in the number of internally displaced people. Otsby appeals to all involved in the conflict to “allow displaced people and other civilians who may remain in the areas of conflict to be permitted to move to a more secure location of their choice and to allow for humanitarian assistance to reach these populations as a matter of urgency”.
UNHCR. 2018 “Statement: UNHCR appeals for protection of Rohingya currently trapped on Myanmar-Bangladesh border”. United Nations, 5 March 2017. Accessed 5 May 2018
In this statement, the UNHCR expresses its concern for the Rohingya people who have been in living in what they call “no-man’s land” (the border between Myanmar and Bangladesh). The UNHCR emphasises that all people should have the right to seek asylum and the Rohingya people must be granted safety. The UNHCR therefore requests that the Government of Myanmar will “allow humanitarian access to UNHCR and partners throughout Rakhine State” in order to “promote coexistence among all of communities”.
United Nations. 2018. “UN Secretary General remarks to Human Rights Council”. United Nations, 26 February 2018.
In this statement, the United Nations Secretary General says that the Rohingya people are “one of the most discriminated against populations in the world” and therefore emphasises that they receive humanitarian assistance as well as a long term solution. He also emphasises the importance of the international community supporting those who have fled to Bangladesh and to ensure that the internally displaced people are able to return to their places of origin.
Guterres, António. 2017. “Press Conference by Secretary-General António Guterres at United Nations Headquarters”, United Nations, 13 September 2017. Accessed 4 December 2017.
This is the transcript of the press conference in which UN Secretary General António Guterres confirms events in Myanmar is a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
Advisory Commission on Rakhine State. 2017. “Towards a Peaceful, Fair and Prosperous Future for The People of Rakhine”, Rakhine Advisory Commission, 23 August 2017. Accessed on 4 December 2017. Accessed 4 December 2017.
This is the final report of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State away a year of consultations in the region, detailing the issues preventing peace in Myanmar, and calling for urgent action to be taken to prevent further violence against the population.
United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner. 2017. “Mission report of OHCHR rapid response mission to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh”, United Nations, 13-24 September 2017. Accessed 4 December 2017.
This is a report by the UN Human Rights Council of the High Commissioner detailing their fact-finding mission which revealed the coordinated destruction of the Rohingya’s villages and property across Rakhine State.
United Nations Human Rights Council. 2017. “Special Session of the Human Rights Council on the human rights situation of the minority Rohingya Muslim population and other minorities in the Rakhine State of Myanmar, Statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein”. United Nations, 5 December 2017. Accessed 6 December 2017.
In this statement the UN High Commissioner for Human rights condemns all acts of violence against the Rohingya in Rakhine state, outlining the systematic discrimination and violations of economic social and cultural committed against this ethnic group. He calls on the Myanmar authorities to allow UN unfettered access and to allow humanitarian aid into the country. Significantly, this statement is the first time it is suggested that “genocide may be present”.
United Nations Security Council. 2017. “Security Council Meeting 8060, The Situation in Myanmar, S/PV.8060”, United Nations, 28 September 2017. Accessed 4 December 2017.
This document details the UN Security Council meeting on the situation in Myanmar that took place on the 28 September 2017, led by UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Briefed by Guterres, each member state presents the key aspects of the crisis, and what action they think needs to be taken by the Burmese government and the UN to resolve the issues as quickly as possible. However, this is a just a meeting, and no resolution was passed.
United Nations Security Council. 2017. “Security Council Presidential Statement Calls on Myanmar to End Excessive Military Force, Intercommunal Violence in Rakhine State.” United Nations. November 6. Accessed December 15, 2017.
On the 6 November 2017, the UN Security Council released the first Presidential statement on Burma in a decade. The proposal had unanimous support ordering the Burmese authorities to restrain from excessive military force, encourage the respectful return of refugees, allow UN humanitarian access and investigate allegations of human rights violations. The UN welcomed Myanmar’s decision to establish the ‘Union Enterprise Mechanism’ for humanitarian assistance, resettlement and development. This was also just a statement, and not a resolution.
Dieng, Adama and Ivan Simonovic. 2017. “Statement by Adama Dieng, United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide and Ivan Simonovic, United Nations Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect, on the situation in northern Rakhine state, Myanmar”, United Nations, 18 October 2017. Accessed 4 December 2017.
In their statements, Special Advisers Adama Dieng and Ivan Simonovic identify recent events in Myanmar as “atrocity crimes”, referring to genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes hence significantly positioning the crisis within the Responsibility to Protect. They state that the international community has as yet failed in its responsibility to protect and call on the Myanmar government to take immediate action.
Dieng, Adama. 2017. “United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide following the OHCHR’s report on the situation in Northern Rakhine State, Myanmar”, United Nations, 6 Febuary 2017. Accessed 4 December 2017.
In his statement, the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, calls for immediate investigation into the allegations of human rights violations against the Rohingya.
Dieng, Adama. 2016. “United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide on the situation in northern Rakhine State, Myanmar”, United Nations, 29 November 2016. Accessed 4 December 2017.
In this statement, Dieng expresses his alarm at the reports of increasing numbers of human rights violations in Northern Rakhine state, calling for the verification of these allegations and immediate action to be taken, which is the duty of the international community. He urges Bangladesh not to close its borders to refugees and for the Myanmar government to find a solution its minorities.
United Nations General Assembly. 2016. “Situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar, A/HRC/32/18”, United Nations, 20 June 2016. Accessed 4 December 2017.
This is a report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights examining the situation in Myanmar, and the ongoing human rights violations of the Rohingya and other minorities. He argues the events suggest the possible commission of crimes against humanity and therefore solid action must be taken to amend the situation.
United Nations General Assembly. 2016. “Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, A/HRC/31/71”, United Nations, 18 March 2016. Accessed 4 December 2017.
In this document, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, recounts the reforms that have happened in Myanmar over the last four years, including the 2015 elections that marked a significant transition towards democracy. However, the ongoing discrimination against the Rohingya, and other Muslim communities, are also emphasised, and Yanghee Lee calls on the government to take immediate action to change their discriminative regulations.
United Nations General Assembly. 2016. “General Assembly Resolution 31/24, Situation of human rights in Myanmar, A/HRC/RES/31/24”, United Nations, 24 March 2016. Accessed 4 December 2017.
This resolution presents the UN response to increasing human right’s concerns over Myanmar on 24 March 2016. In particular, it details concerns over human rights violations in Rakhine state over ethnic minorities including the Rohingya and “urges the government to repeal discriminatory legislative and policy measures, to lift restrictions on movement that impede access to health and education services, to intensify its efforts to address discrimination, to counter incitement to hatred and hate speech leading to violence, to promote equality, tolerance and peaceful coexistence in all sectors of society, and to address economic deprivation and displacement”. It also resolves to extend the mandate of the special rapporteur for a further year.
United Nations General Assembly. 2015. “General Assembly Resolution 70/233, Situation of human rights in Myanmar, A/RES/70/233”, United Nations, 23 December 2015. Accessed 4 December 2017.
This resolution from 23 December 2015 reiterates the serious concern over discrimination against ethnic minorities, specifically the Rohingya. It calls upon the Myanmar government to ensure these minorities full citizenship, equal civil and political rights, self-identification and equal access to services. It also recognises the need for the freedom of movement for these minorities, their right to a safe return after displacement and unhindered access to humanitarian assistance.
United Nations General Assembly. 2015. “General Assembly Resolution 29/21, Situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar, A/HRC/RES/29/21”, United Nations, 3 July 2015. Accessed 4 December 2017.
This resolution documents the UN’s condemnation of the discrimination against Rohingya Muslims, and other minorities whose human rights have been violated. It calls upon the government to allow the Rohingya citizenship, and to take the necessary measures to end the discrimination and prejudice against these minorities.
United Nations General Assembly. 2015. “General Assembly Resolution 28/23, Situation of human rights in Myanmar, A/HCR/RES/28/23”, United Nations, 27 March 2015. Accessed 4 December 2017.
This document from 27 March 2015 expresses the UN’s concern over the intolerance of religious minorities, particularly the Rohingya which as of 31 of March would be left without the right to vote because of the expiry of their white (identity) cards. It urges the Government to improve its efforts against discrimination and human rights violations, and extends the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for one year.
United Nations General Assembly. 2015. “Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, A/70/412”, United Nations, 6 October 2015. Accessed 4 December 2017.
This report from the Special Rapporteur recounts the main human rights developments since her report in March 2015, as well as the key priorities that need to be addressed going forward before the November elections. Yanghee Lee outlines how little has been done to relieve the discrimination of the Rohingya and their human rights remain violated.
United Nations General Assembly. 2014. “Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, A/69/398”, United Nations, 23 September 2014. Accessed 4 December 2015.
This report by the Special Rapporteur explores the violations of human rights within Myanmar, expressing concerns over the discrimination of the Rohingya, and other minorities, who have been deprived of freedom, civil and political rights and access to food and water. She also documents the “deplorable” conditions some Rohingya have faced, having been displaced for two years since the 2012 violence.
United Nations General Assembly. 2014. “General Assembly Resolution 69/248, Situation of human rights in Myanmar, A/RES/69/248”, United Nations, 29 December 2014. Accessed 4 December 2017.
This resolution from 29 December 2014 reiterates the UN’s concerns over the violations of human rights of the Rohingya minority, and urges the government to allow them uninhibited humanitarian assistance, fundamental freedoms, full citizenship, equal access to services and ensure the safe and voluntary return of displaced citizens.
United Nations General Assembly. 2014. “General Assembly Resolution 25/26, Situation of human rights in Myanmar, A/HRC/RES/25/26”, United Nations, 28 March 2014. Accessed 4 December 2017.
This resolution passed on 28 March 2014 expresses concerns over human rights violations and abuses, and the violence against the Rohingya minority, requesting an independent investigation into the incidents, urging the government to accelerate its efforts to address discrimination and extending the mandate of the Special Rapporteur one year.
United Nations General Assembly. 2013. “General Assembly Resolution 68/242, Situation of human rights in Myanmar, A/RES/68/242”, United Nations, 27 December 2013. Accessed 4 December 2017.
The resolution passed on 27 December 2013, reiterates concerns over the situation of the Rohingya in Rakhine state, and the violence human rights abuses taking place against the Muslim minority. It urges the Government to grant the minority full citizenship and allow the voluntary return of displaced persons.
United Nations General Assembly. 2013. “General Assembly Resolution 23/1, Situation of human rights in Myanmar as regards Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State and other Muslims, A/HRC/PRST/23/1”, United Nations, 14 June 2013. Accessed 4 December 2017.
This document from 14 June 2013 acknowledges the human rights violations against the Muslim and Rohingya minorities and urges the government to end all acts of violence against these minorities, grant citizenship to the Rohingya and allow humanitarian assistance to all affected communities.
United Nations General Assembly. 2013. “General Assembly Resolution 22/14, Situation of human rights in Myanmar, A/HRC/RES/22/14”, United Nations, 21 March 2013. Accessed 4 December 2017.
This resolution from 21 March 2013 urges the government to address the “discrimination, human rights violations, violence, displacement and economic deprivation” affecting the Rohingya minority, including a full review of the Citizenship Law of 1982. It also urges the government to allow humanitarian assistance to all those affected by the inter-communal violence in Rakhine state and extends the mandate for the Special Rapporteur one year.
United Nations General Assembly. 2012. “General Assembly Resolution 67/233, Situation of human rights in Myanmar, A/RES/67/233”, United Nations, 24 December 2012. Accessed 4 December 2017.
This resolution passed on 24 December 2012 expressed concern over both the armed conflict in Kachin state and the outbreaks of violence between communities in Rakhine state, urging the government to accelerate its efforts to confront discrimination and human rights violations to the Rohingya minority, and allow full humanitarian access across Rakhine state.
United Nations General Assembly. 2012. “General Assembly Resolution 19/21, Situation of human rights in Myanmar, A/HRC/RES/19/21”, United Nations, 23 March 2012. Accessed 4 December 2017.
This resolution passed on 23 March 2012 expresses concern at the human rights violations taking place in Myanmar and the discrimination, violence and displacement of numerous minorities, in particular the Rohingya, calling upon the government to accept their nationality and protect their rights. It also raises concerns over the conflict in Kachin and Shan states, encouraging inclusive politics in order to establish national reconciliation and decides to extend the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for one year.
United Nations General Assembly. 2011. “General Assembly Resolution 66/230, Situation of human rights in Myanmar, A/RES/66/230”, United Nations, 24 December 2011. Accessed 4 December 2017.
This documents the resolution passed on 24 December 2011 which expressed concerns about the violence within the Kachin and Rakhine states and the ongoing discrimination and human rights violations of the Rohingya and other minorities, urging the government to grant them citizenship.
To learn more
Bellamy, Alex. 2016. “The 21St Century Panglong: Myanmar’s New Hope For Peace”. IPI Global Observatory.
Written during the 21st Century Panglong Conference in 2016, this article gives a useful overview of the political history of Myanmar since the original Panglong Conference in 1947. It details the historic political tensions between different groups in Myanmar and the contests for power this wrought, notably the assassination of Aung San in 1947, the transfer to a military state in 1958, and the democratic election of Aung San Suu Kyi in 2016. The article also details the difficulties since this lattermost election. Broadly, these pertain to the fractured nature of Myanmar, with different ethnic and armed groups having vastly different aims and priorities. Notably, the article also mentions the Rohingya, praising Aung San Suu Kyi’s handling of the issue. Though the article is careful not to overstate this, it is demonstrative of the legitimate hopes many in the international community had of the Rohingya issue improving before the most recent crisis emerged.
Haacke, Jurgen. 2016. “Myanmar”. In The Oxford Handbook Of The Responsibility To Protect. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
The book as a whole is the most useful resource for understanding the notion of the responsibility to protect as a general political commitment. It provides an in depth history of how the idea developed, and goes on to explore its future. Of particular note however, is Jurgen Haacke’s chapter on Myanmar. The chapter discusses which atrocities have been committed in Myanmar, and how the responsibility to protect has been acted upon.
Farzana, Kazi Fahmida. 2017. Memories Of Burmese Rohingya Refugees. New York: Palgrave Macmillan US.
This book investigates how one might define “Rohingya” as an identity, taking particular care to examine things from the perspective of the Rohingya themselves. From pre-colonial times to the present day, the book provides an account of how perceptions of identity have developed the idea of the Rohingya as outsiders. Things such as changing governments, changing borders, the legalities surrounding citizenship, and the refugee experience are significant themes. The book emphasises how such politicisation of identity has shaped more current crises. Thus, it provides an invaluable resource for understanding the current situation as more than just an immediate crisis, and instead as an endogenous problem within Myanmar.
Amnesty 2017. “Myanmar: “Caged Without A Roof”: Apartheid In Myanmar’s Rakhine State”. Amnesty.Org.
This webpage provides a link to download a report on Myanmar by Amnesty International. The report is split into sections as so: background, denial of the right to a nationality, violations of the right to freedom of movement, violations of economic and social rights, social and political exclusion, a system of apartheid, and finally conclusions and recommendations. Of note is the subsection pertaining to Amnesty International’s recommendations for the international community. Amongst other things, this advocates the suspension of the arms trade with Myanmar.
Wheeler, Skye. 2017. “All Of My Body Was Pain”, Sexual Violence Against Rohingya Women And Girls In Burma”. Human Rights Watch.
This report by Human Rights Watch details the use of gender based violence during the 2017 crisis in Myanmar, including gang rape, mass rape and sexual harassment. It also discusses the issue of how to help rape survivors, whether this is psychological trauma or the physical consequence of pregnancy. The report also recommends a number of actions the international community should take in response to the crisis. For United Nations member countries, this includes implementing a bilateral arms embargoes on Myanmar, and imposing sanctions (such as a travel ban and asset freezes) to target companies and individuals responsible for the crisis.
This brief was put together by the ECR2P interns Souraya Bureau, Sophie Murphy, Fiona O’Brien, Elsa Pearson, and Kathryn Priestley under the supervision and with the assistance of Dr Eglantine Staunton.
Last updated on 30 October 2018 by Alexandra Somers Finlay Slater and Nicole Greene