There has been an ongoing genocide occurring in the Southeast Asian country of Myanmar against the minority Rohingya Mulsim population.1 For decades the Rohingya have been denied citizenship, deprived of basic human rights, and have faced ruthless violence from the government and the majority Buddhist population. The Rohingya are targeted due to their status as a minority in Myanmar, as they differ from the majority Buddhist population ethnically, linguistically, and religiously.2 Furthermore, the government perpetuates the false claim that the Rohingya are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, calling them “Bengalis,” and denies them citizenship. This has rendered the Rohingya a stateless people.3
The most recent wave of violence against the Rohingya began in 2017 and has yet to dissipate. The military of Myanmar launched “clearance operations” against the Rohingya, which included the destruction of villages, mass rape, and killings.4 It is unclear exactly how many Rohingya have been killed so far, although the estimate is as high as 24,800.5 The violence has also created a massive refugee crisis as Rohingya flee to their neighboring country of Bangladesh. Over one million people now reside in refugee camps within Bangladesh, and the large majority lack access to clean water, sanitation, food, housing, and healthcare.6 What is happening in Myanmar is not just crimes against humanity or ethnic cleansing, it is genocide.
The international community must take strong and swift action to prevent further violence and support the Rohingya in this dire crisis. Unfortunately, so far not enough has been done in response to the crisis. Countries including the United States, Australia, and Canada, as well as the European Union, have imposed targeted sanctions against top military officials, and the EU has imposed an arms embargo. While these are important first steps, they have largely been ineffective in stopping the violence, and stronger action must be taken.7 The United Nations has recognized that the situation in Myanmar constitutes genocide and has an emergency response plan which provides aid to the Rohingya, although there has been little comprehensive action otherwise.8 On the other hand, the International Criminal Court has taken its first steps into prosecuting individuals in Myanmar for their crimes against humanity. The ICC launched a preliminary investigation, which resulted in the Special Prosecutor seeking authorization to begin a full-fledged investigation. While Myanmar is not party to the Rome Statute, Bangladesh is. It is possible that by focusing on the crime of forced deportation of Rohingya from Myanmar to Bangladesh, the ICC will be able to investigate and prosecute individuals guilty of this crime in Myanmar.9
The international community must also focus on providing aid to Rohingya refugees and supporting the state of Bangladesh. Currently, the UN and aid organizations such as the International Committee for the Red Cross are unable to meet the needs of the over one million Rohingya in Bangladesh. These organizations need greater funding and more resources if they hope to supply the food, clean water, sanitation, housing, and medical attention that these people so desperately need. The state of Bangladesh similarly needs greater international support in order to ensure that they will continue to harbor and accept more Rohingya refugees.10 It is not an option for the Rohingya to be repatriated to Myanmar at this time, as they still face discrimination, violence, and oppression by the state and the population. Until there is drastic change within the military, government, and populus of Myanmar, the Rohingya cannot return home.11
Simply Virtuous supports organizations who are dedicated to protecting human rights, including Human Rights Watch. This international organization investigates and exposes human rights violations and works with governments, the UN, rebel groups, corporations, and more to create change. Human Rights Watch has been a key actor in investigating and reporting on the abuses of human rights occurring in Myanmar against the Rohingya. If you would like to learn more about Human Rights Watch and other Simply Virtuous supported human rights organizations, or if you would like to donate, click here.