Ensure justice for Rohingya, end military’s impunity for genocide

Restore Rohingya’s citizenship and rights, coordinate support for refugees

Marking the sixth-year remembrance of the Rohingya genocide in 2017, 356 civil society organizations reaffirm our solidarity with the Rohingya community in the pursuit of justice and accountability for victims and survivors, call for an end to impunity of grave crimes perpetrated by the Myanmar military, and urge for the immediate restoration of Rohingya’s rights and citizenship. The world must not forget the Rohingya’s plight. Most importantly, the international community must take responsibility for their human rights and humanitarian obligations for the Rohingya community.

Six years ago, the Myanmar military launched “clearance operations” and unleashed a wave of massacres, torture, rape, and burning of villages against the Rohingya in Rakhine State, forcing over 750,000 – many of them children – to seek refuge in Bangladesh where a quarter of a million Rohingya had previously fled from persecutions by the military. Today, almost one million Rohingya are suffering in squalid, overcrowded refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, longing to return to their home in Myanmar with dignity, citizenship and with their full rights restored and justice served.

To actualize Rohingya’s sustainable return to Myanmar, the military’s prevailing impunity must end, and accountability must be established for its grave atrocity crimes, primarily through criminal prosecution of individuals most responsible. Yet, minimal progress towards justice and accountability has been achieved by the international community. Following the coup attempt of 1 February 2021, the passivity, negligence and in some cases total inaction of the international community, in particular ASEAN, once again embolden Myanmar’s war criminals to further their atrocities against the people across Myanmar unabated and unpunished.

Six years of injustice for the Rohingya have enabled fresh atrocity crimes and mass internal displacement of over 1.6 million people that have engulfed Myanmar for the last 30 months,[1] just as the decades-long impunity for the Myanmar military’s war crimes and crimes against humanity endured by ethnic minority communities had allowed the Rohingya genocide to occur in the first place. Without concerted actions from the world to realize full justice and accountability, Myanmar remains vulnerable to descend into vicious cycles of multi-dimensional catastrophe and rampant violence.

We welcome the hearing before the Argentinian federal court in a historic universal jurisdiction case filed by Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK) against Myanmar military leaders for the Rohingya genocide, which has paved the way for similar efforts in Germany and Turkey. With these ongoing cases, respective countries’ governments must readily provide legal, financial and technical support to achieve justice and guarantee remedies and reparation for victims and survivors of the junta’s heinous crimes. The lawsuit in Argentina, in tandem with The Gambia vs Myanmar case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) into the forced deportation of Rohingya to Bangladesh, however, would not allow for all crimes committed against the Rohingya and other ethnic communities and people across Myanmar over the past two years to be entirely prosecuted. The international community must take concrete actions to advance justice and accountability in other avenues, namely a UN Security Council referral of the situation in Myanmar to the ICC or the establishment of an ad hoc tribunal.

As the military repeats war crimes and crimes against humanity across the nation, perpetrating similar crimes committed against the Rohingya in 2017, the military junta has launched a “pilot project” to repatriate 7,000 Rohingya to their killing fields in Myanmar by the end of 2023. The international community must not be manipulated to applaud or facilitate yet another of the junta’s desperate bids for legitimacy, as have been done by Bangladesh and China. Rohingya who have been “repatriated” to Myanmar in the first phase of the project have been simply moved from squalid refugee camps in Bangladesh to internal displacement camps comparable to open air prisons in Rakhine State. As recently stated by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Mr. Tom Andrews, “Conditions in Myanmar are anything but conducive for the safe, dignified, sustainable, and voluntary return of Rohingya refugees.”

Prospects for return are inconceivable as Rohingya in Myanmar continue to endure genocidal policies and live in an environment akin to apartheid, with denied citizenship, extreme restrictions on movement, education, and healthcare, as well as the lack of livelihood opportunities. Rohingya communities face discrimination, persecution, and dehumanization on a daily basis, while the junta’s restrictions on fundamental freedoms and rights have intensified following the coup attempt. After Cyclone Mocha in May this year, which devastated the flood-prone internment camps in Rakhine State where 140,000 vulnerable Rohingya live, the military once again deliberately set out to massacre and starve the Rohingya by blocking vital humanitarian aid, criminalizing attempts to deliver aid, and obfuscating numbers of dead. Effectively, the junta persists with violations of the provisional measures ordered by the ICJ to preserve evidence and protect the Rohingya from genocide, while its tactics are by design aiming for the “slow death” of Rohingya.

In Bangladesh camps, Rohingya refugees grapple to survive as food rations were reduced to USD 8 per person per month – equivalent to just 27 cents per day – as a result of insufficient funding for the UN’s Rohingya Humanitarian Joint Response Plan budget. The ration cuts are detrimental to the safety and security of women and girls who predominantly face abuses and violence during distressing times. Exacerbating these issues are the deteriorating camp conditions which have driven refugees to crime, arson and drug trade. In addition, the ration cuts have forced refugees to fall prey to human trafficking and the military junta’s calculated repatriation project. Over 3,500 Rohingya were further compelled to take perilous sea journeys in search of better opportunities in 2022, with continuing reports of Rohingya refugees missing at sea. The current monsoon season is expected to further aggravate the situation in camps.

Coordinated actions among the international community are immediately required to prevent further hunger, malnutrition and lives lost. Rohingya refugees must be provided with access to education and livelihood skills and opportunities by the Bangladesh Government and relevant agencies for their self-reliance and sense of dignity.

The ongoing atrocity crimes against the Rohingya highlight the critical role of Myanmar’s legitimate government, the National Unity Government (NUG), to echo the Spring Revolution’s solidarity with the Rohingya community by taking concrete actions to recognize them as one of the ethnic communities, a key fabric of Myanmar society, and an integral part to the federal democratic future of the nation. While we recognize important steps taken by the NUG in line with its policy, including the cabinet decision to replace the discriminatory 1982 Citizenship Law with a new law which has yet to be turned into action, we reiterate calls for the full restoration of citizenship and rights for the Rohingya. Concrete steps must be taken to ensure genuine and meaningful engagement with the Rohingya community, and active participation of them in the Spring Revolution’s political processes towards establishing an inclusive federal democracy. We commit to continue to observe the Ministry of Human Rights’ pledge to repeal previous instruments of genocide, National Verification Process and the Race and Religion Protection Laws. The NUG must take actions to ensure the safety of Rohingya refugees by campaigning for the international community to provide resettlement for refugees. At the same time, the NUG must call on the Bangladesh Government and related agencies to immediately halt the junta’s repatriation project.

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Signed by 356 organizations, including 233 groups who have chosen to not disclose their names: Click here to see full list of civil society organizations