It has been one year since Myanmar security forces swept through hundreds of Rohingya villages, killing, raping, and hauling people to detention sites where they were tortured.
On Monday, UN investigators issued a report asserting that Myanmar’s military carried out mass killings and gang rapes of Muslim Rohingya with “genocidal intent”.
The investigators accused the commander-in-chief and five generals should be prosecuted for “orchestrating the gravest crimes under law.”
Last August, soldiers burned Rohingya homes, shops, and mosques and forced more than 700,000 people to flee across the border to Bangladesh—the offensive amounted to ethnic cleansing. The latest episode in a history of state-sponsored persecution against Muslims, particularly the Rohingya, that amounts to apartheid, according to human rights organisations.
One year on, Rohingya survivors who remained in Myanmar are at risk of starvation. The military have repeatedly denied access to their rice fields, stolen livestock, and torched several local markets.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people are still in limbo in refugee camps in Bangladesh. Until their tormentors in Myanmar’s security forces are brought to justice, Rohingya refugees cannot safely return home, Amnesty International said in a statement on Sunday.
World leaders’ failure to act has allowed the perpetrators to remain at large for a year after their murderous campaign against the Rohingya prompted an exodus of epic proportions, amnesty added.
The Rohingya have long faced systematic discrimination and persecution in Myanmar. Successive governments have denied that the Rohingya are an ethnic group from Myanmar and instead asserted that they are migrants from Bangladesh who settled in the country “illegally”.
They have been effectively deprived of their right to a nationality, as a result of discriminatory laws, policies, and practices, most significantly the 1982 Citizenship Law and its application. Their lack of citizenship has had a cascade of negative impacts on the Rohingya. It has allowed the authorities to severely restrict their freedom of movement, effectively segregating them from the rest of society.
Access to healthcare, education, and work opportunities has also been severely limited. This discriminatory and dehumanising regime became particularly pronounced—and enforced rigidly by the Myanmar military and civilian authorities—in the aftermath of violence in 2012 between the Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine, the latter of whom were at times supported by the security forces.
Amnesty International has concluded that this regime, which targets the Rohingya as a racial group and which is implemented by the state through a range of laws, policies, and practices, amounts to the crime against humanity of apartheid. In addition to the daily persecution the Rohingya endure, there is a long history of violent expulsions by the Myanmar security forces. In 1978, up to 200,000 Rohingya were forced to flee Myanmar during and after a major military crackdown on “illegal immigration” codenamed “Operation Nagamin” (Dragon King). In 1991 and 1992, an estimated 250,000 Rohingya fled after another campaign of violence by the Myanmar security forces. In both cases, most Rohingya were repatriated from Bangladesh in subsequent years in a manner that raised serious questions as to whether the process was voluntary.
Neither repatriation process led to improvements in the lives of the Rohingya; on the contrary, the repatriations were followed by the further erosion of Rohingya rights and dignity. More recently, starting in October 2016, tens of thousands of Rohingya were forced to flee Rakhine State after the Myanmar security forces targeted Rohingya women, men, children, and entire villages following attacks on police posts by the then-unknown Rohingya armed group ARSA. The military’s subsequent “clearance operations” were marked by widespread and systematic human rights violations, including unlawful killings, rape and other forms of torture, enforced disappearances, and arbitrary detentions.
At the time, Amnesty International and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) concluded that these crimes may have amounted to crimes against humanity. The Myanmar military and a national commission separately launched investigations into the allegations.
Both rejected OHCHR’s findings and issued whitewash reports that found almost no wrongdoing. For the many crimes committed against the Rohingya, the security forces benefited from near total impunity. Meanwhile, the international community stayed largely silent, with many privately expressing fears that strong condemnation and action might undermine the country’s recent transition to a quasi-civilian government after decades of military rule and isolationism, Amnesty added.
In response, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and health partners said they have helped save thousands of lives, and prevented and rapidly curtailed deadly disease outbreaks among the nearly one million Rohingya refugees, who despite these efforts remain vulnerable even today with their evolving health needs, and severe funding crunch threatening continuity of life saving health services in their camps.
“Unprecedented efforts have been made in the last year and in the most challenging conditions. Deadly diseases such as cholera have been prevented, and measles and diphtheria curtailed rapidly with quick roll-out and scale-up of health services and mass vaccination campaigns. It is remarkable that not only has the mortality rate among the Rohingyas remained lower than expected in an emergency of such a scale, it has also reduced significantly in the last six months”, said Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director of WHO South-East Asia, commending the Government of Bangladesh and health partners’ work on the ground.