Rohingya Crisis
August 25, 2019

Almost 200,000 Rohingya participated in a peaceful gathering that marked the second anniversary of the Muslim-majority ethnic group's exodus from Myanmar into Bangladesh, commemorating what they described as "Genocide Day." The refugees rallied and prayed as they demanded Myanmar grant them citizenship and other rights before they return.

In August 2017, nearly 740,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh in the wake of a brutal crackdown by Myanmar's armed forces. Last year a United Nations investigation recommended the prosecution of Myanmar's top military commanders on charges of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity; Myanmar dismissed the allegations. "I have come here to seek justice for the murder of my two sons," 50-year-old Tayaba Khatun, a participant in the rally, said. "I will continue to seek justice till my last breath."

Sunday's demonstration came days after a second failed attempt to repatriate the refugees — no Rohingya refugees showed up at the border to return to Myanmar, as their demands for rights and citizenship remained unmet.

Nearly one million refugees are living in "squalid" camps in Bangladesh. Al Jazeera reported the camps are akin to cities like Islamabad, Pakistan, or Oslo, Norway, in size, but lack the infrastructure to cope with the large populations. Read more at Al Jazeera. Tim O'Donnell

November 14, 2018

On Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence diplomatically rebuked Myanmar's civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi on her country's "violence and persecution" of its Rohingya Muslim minority and its jailing a year ago of two Reuters reporters covering the massacre of 10 Muslim Rohingya men.

"The violence and persecution by military and vigilantes that resulted in driving 700,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh is without excuse," Pence told Suu Kyi before a bilateral meeting she had requested on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Singapore. "I am anxious to hear the progress that you are making holding those accountable who are responsible for the violence that displaced so many hundreds of thousands, created such suffering." Pence also mentioned the "premium" America places "on a free and independent press," adding, "The arrest and jailing of two journalists last fall was deeply troubling to millions of Americans."

Suu Kyi quietly rebuffed Pence, saying it is always good to exchange views, but "we understand our country better than any other country does. ... So we are in a better position to explain to you what is happening, how we see things panning out."

A longtime political prisoner herself, Suu Kyi's powers are limited under a constitution written by the former military junta, but she has faced criticism for not condemning what the United Nations calls Myanmar's Rohingya "genocide." This week, Amnesty International became the latest organization to revoke an award it gave Suu Kyi, citing her "shameful betrayal of the values she once stood for." ASEAN elder statesman Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia's prime minister, also chastised Suu Kyi on Tuesday, telling a reporter she's "trying to defend what is indefensible." He dialed back his criticism a bit on Wednesday.

Pence is attending the ASEAN summit and subsequent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Papua New Guinea on behalf of President Trump.

August 27, 2018

On Monday, a team of investigators from the United Nations-backed Human Rights Council released a scathing report on Myanmar's military campaign against the Rohingya Muslim minority, recommending that the nation's military rulers be prosecuted for genocide. The list of six named leaders includes Myanmar's commander in chief, Min Aung Hlaing. The report also criticized the head of government, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, for failing to intervene to stop the violence, including by using her "moral authority."

The three-member Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar was sent to investigate human rights abuse in Myanmar, especially in Rakhine state, six months before the military started its crackdown on the Rohingya a year ago. The U.N. mission was not allowed into Myanmar, but through hundreds of interviews with refugees who fled Myanmar and satellite images, among other evidence, the report documented crimes including gang rape, the enslavement and killing of children, and burning of entire villages. The report said a "conservative" estimate is that 10,000 people were killed in the military purge, and some 700,000 Rohingya have fled, mostly to neighboring Bangladesh.

"The crimes in Rakhine state, and the manner in which they were perpetrated, are similar in nature, gravity, and scope to those that have allowed genocidal intent to be established in other contexts," the report said. It recommended that the Myanmar atrocities be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) or, if the ICC is not a viable option — Myanmar is not a member and China could block such a move in the U.N. Security Council — prosecuted through a special tribunal. "Genocide is the most serious charge that can be made against a government, and is rarely proposed by U.N. investigators," says BBC Southeast Asia correspondent Jonathan Head. But the team apparently believes it can prove "genocidal intent," a high legal bar last met in Bosnia and Rwanda in the 1990s. Peter Weber

August 25, 2018

One year has passed since government troops in Myanmar executed a massacre in villages populated by the Rohingya people, a stateless, majority-Muslim ethnic group.

More than 700,000 Rohingya survivors, mostly women and children, have since made a dangerous border crossing to seek safety in neighboring Bangladesh. They have formed the world's largest refugee camp near the Bangladeshi city of Cox's Bazar, living in makeshift structures often built of bamboo and tarps.

Relief aid remains grossly inadequate, and it is unclear how long the Rohingya will be permitted to stay in Bangladesh — or where else they may flee to avoid returning to Myanmar, which many refuse to countenance. "I don't expect they will let us stay here very much longer," a Rohingya refugee named Begum told NPR, "but I would rather die than go back there. I would rather drink poison than go back to Myanmar."

Like many of her fellow survivors, Begum lost dozens of family members to the slaughter in Myanmar. Her husband, infant boy, and 5-year-old son were all brutally murdered in front of her, and Begum herself was gang raped. She and her 10-year-old daughter eventually pretended to be dead and then escaped to Bangladesh, where Begum was hospitalized for three months for her injuries.

Read more about the persecution of the Rohingya here at The Week. Bonnie Kristian

October 24, 2017

The Trump administration withdrew assistance from Myanmar's military on Tuesday in response to the forces' recorded atrocities against the minority Rohingya population, The Guardian reports. The State Department is also considering additional targeted sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act, "a law that allows the U.S. to freeze assets and impose visa bans on selected individuals," NPR writes.

Since the crisis broke out in August, more than 600,000 refugees have fled Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) into neighboring Bangladesh and hundreds more have been killed by security forces. The United Nations deemed the violence "textbook genocide." The Trump administration has been criticized for its slow reaction to the crisis, with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson saying the U.S. is "extraordinarily concerned," but taking little action so far.

"The Obama administration had a Burma policy, it was reasonably effective," David Steinberg, the former director of Asian studies at Georgetown University, told The Washington Post. "The Trump administration has no policy."

In a statement Tuesday, the State Department explained: "We have rescinded invitations for senior Burmese security forces to attend U.S.-sponsored events; we are working with international partners to urge that Burma enables unhindered access to relevant areas for the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission, international humanitarian organizations, and media." Some experts fear that will not be enough: "There must also be an effort to seriously engage the Burmese military leadership," the Post's Josh Rogin writes. See photos from the Rohingya's "desperate search for a safe refuge" here at The Week. Jeva Lange

October 18, 2017

In the process of forcing Rohingya Muslims to leave Myanmar, the country's military has killed hundreds of men, women, and children and burned down villages, a report out Wednesday by Amnesty International says.

Since 1982, Myanmar has denied citizenship to the Rohingya, and they are not one of the ethnic groups officially recognized by the government. On Aug. 25, an insurgent group called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacked dozens of security posts, and in retaliation, Myanmar security forces have been going from village to village, burning down buildings and shooting residents as they try to run away, witnesses told Amnesty International. In the chaos, more than 580,000 refugees have made their way to Bangladesh, with about 60 percent of the refugees being children.

Amnesty International has interviewed more than 120 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, and they described villages being set ablaze, residents being shot at as they tried to escape, and the rape of women and young girls by Myanmar security forces. Many of those who died in the villages were sick, disabled, or elderly, and unable to flee from burning buildings, the witnesses said.

While it's not known how many people have died, satellite imagery shows the destruction of Rohingya buildings and mosques, with non-Rohingya dwellings just a few yards away intact, Amnesty International crisis researcher Matthew Wells told The Associated Press. "It speaks to how organized, how seemingly well-planned this scorched-earth campaign has been by the Myanmar military, and how determined the effort has been to drive the Rohingya population out of the country," he said. Catherine Garcia

October 9, 2017

At least 12 Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar, including five children, died Monday when the boat they were in capsized off the shore of Bangladesh.

There were up to 35 people on the overcrowded boat when it capsized, police said. Eight refugees survived, and it's unclear how many have been reported missing. A search and rescue mission is underway.

Since Aug. 25, when the military in Myanmar started what it called "clearance operations" following an attack by insurgents that left several police officers and border guards dead, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have left Myanmar. Those who have made it to Bangladesh said the Myanmar military is burning down their villages in Rakhine state, The Associated Press reports, and the United Nations has accused the Myanmar military of "ethnic cleansing." Since August, at least 155 Rohingya have died in boat accidents while attempting to get to Bangladesh. Catherine Garcia

September 21, 2017

An aid truck hired by the International Committee of the Red Cross to deliver aid to Rohingya Muslim refugees in Bangladesh drove off a road and into a ditch Thursday morning, killing at least nine aid workers and injuring 10 others. More than 420,000 Rohingya refugees have fled to Bangladesh from their home in Myanmar since Aug. 25, when an attack by Rohingya insurgents sparked a harsh crackdown on the minority group in majority-Buddhist Myanmar. The Bangladeshi workers killed and injured were delivering food packages to 500 Rohingya families, ICRC spokeswoman Misada Saif said, and the Red Cross and Red Crescent are "very shocked and sad" at the deaths of workers "there to help the people who desperately need help."

Hours earlier, a Buddhist mob in the capital of Myanmar's Rakhine state tried to block a shipment of bottled water, food, blankets, mosquito nets, and other supplies for the Rohingya being loaded onto a ship. Some 300 protesters started throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at police trying to protect the loading of Red Cross supplies, and police fired in the air to ward them off, an officer tells The Associated Press. Peter Weber

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