Rohingya Still Face Atrocities in Myanmar

By Emily Thompson

Myanmar’s Rohingya continue to be caught in severe danger as the escalating violence in conflict-torn Myanmar’s Rakhine State has forced another 45,000 civilians to flee for their lives.

The U.N. human rights office warned Friday of “frightening and disturbing reports” about the impact of new violence in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine, pointing to new attacks on Rohingya civilians by the military and an ethnic armed group fighting it.

Spokesperson Liz Throssell of the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights cited the attack on the town of Buthidaung, as well as air strikes, reports of shootings at unarmed fleeing villagers, beheadings and disappearances as part of the violence in the northern part of Rakhine in recent weeks.

Information gathered in testimony from victims, eyewitnesses, satellite images, and online video and pictures over the last week indicate that Buthidaung has been “largely burned.”

Reports from activists and relatives of residents have emerged of AA soldiers torching and looting Rohingya houses in Buthidaung, preventing people from returning home, confiscating phones and threatening to kill those who try to contact family abroad, according to a CNN report.

“We are receiving frightening and disturbing reports from northern Rakhine state in Myanmar of the impacts of the conflict on civilian lives and property,” Throssell said. “Some of the most serious allegations concern incidents of killing of Rohingya civilians and the burning of their property.”

Throssell said tens of thousands of civilians have been displaced in recent days amid fighting in Buthidaung, pointing to evidence from satellite images, testimonies and online video indicating that the town has been largely burned. A battle begun in neighboring Maungdaw presented “clear and present risks of a serious expansion of violence,” she added.

Clashes have rocked Rakhine State since the Arakan Army (AA) rebels attacked forces of the ruling military government in November, ending a ceasefire that had largely held since a military coup in 2021. The fighting has caught in the middle the Muslim minority group, long considered outsiders by the majority Buddhist residents, either from the government or the rebel side.

The AA says it is fighting for more autonomy for the ethnic Rakhine population in the state, which is also home to an estimated 600,000 members of the persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority, who have chosen to remain in the country.

More than a million Rohingya have taken shelter in neighboring Bangladesh after fleeing Rakhine, as noted by Al-Jazeera, including hundreds of thousands in 2017 during an earlier crackdown by the military that is now the subject of a United Nations genocide court case.

With more than a million Rohingya already in the country, Bangladesh has been reluctant to take more, leaving the latest refugees stuck on the Myanmar side of the border.

In January, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on Indonesia to safeguard the well-being of Rohingya refugees who sought refuge in Indonesia, where increasing insecurity and tension have prompted refugees to seek refuge instead of neighboring Bangladesh. HRW urged Indonesian authorities to cease all pushbacks of boats carrying Rohingya refugees, allow refugees to disembark in the nearest safe port and provide protection and humanitarian assistance to them.

Unfortunately for the Rohingya, they seem to have no recourse and no one appears to be working to protect them. The US appears to have threatened punishment for those who are committing crimes against the Rohingya but it is unclear how enforceable or plausible this is.

US State Department Spokesman Matthew Miller released a statement last week saying,

The United States is deeply troubled by the reports of increased violence and intercommunal tension in Rakhine State, including reports of towns being burned and residents, including Rohingya, being displaced. These developments follow concerning reports of forced conscription of Rohingya, as well as the spread of disinformation, misinformation, and hate speech.

The military’s previous acts of genocide and other crimes against humanity targeting Rohingya, in addition to its history of stoking intercommunal tensions in Rakhine State and elsewhere across the country, underscore the grave dangers to civilians. The current increased violence and intercommunal tensions also raise the risks of further atrocities occurring.

Miller called on Burma’s military, as well as all armed actors, “to protect civilian populations and allow for unhindered humanitarian access. We encourage international partners to condemn this increased violence, take action to hold perpetrators of human rights abuses accountable, and provide protection to those fleeing violence to prevent future atrocities.”

Miller said the US “remains committed to promoting justice for victims and survivors, as well as to holding accountable those responsible for atrocities, and will impose costs on the military and other armed actors who commit abuses.”

These are encouraging remarks, but the US must find a way to place real pressure on Myanmar and enforce the government to protect the Rohingya from further atrocities and forced displacement.

If nothing is done, the Rohingya will continue to face oppression and possibly even genocide. Now is the time for the US to act.

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