Latest Highlight

Rohingya refugees who fled from Myanmar wait to be let through by Bangladeshi border guards after crossing the border in Palang Khali, Bangladesh October 9, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

MS Anwar
RB Opinion
November 12, 2018

Some may differ. But I believe the government of Bangladesh is currently not seeing beyond Chinese Economic Inducements and some temporary political leverages in the region. It is important to consider all aspects especially when an action could endanger thousands of human lives and is bad for a country's long-term national interests.

Somebody, please deliver these points to the Bangladesh government and policy makers. 

Here how they are:

Bangladesh and Myanmar have made a bilateral agreement on Rohingya repatriation (which is due to begin soon). However, the survivors/refugees themselves, all alike, say "we prefer deaths over being forcibly sent back to Myanmar. We will at least get funerals here after deaths. Over there, the cruel Myanmar do not treat us like humans and commit all sort of atrocities." Some refugees have even said that they would commit suicide if foced to go back to the 'Killing Fields in Myanmar'.

The UN Human Rights Council have proven that Genocide on the Rohingya people is still going on in Myanmar. Under such condition, (possible) forced repatriation of Rohingya by the Bangladesh government and other parties (involved in the process) are violating the act of Non-refoulement and facilitating Myanmar's Genocide (on Rohingya). 


On Monday (Nov 12), Camp-in-Charge (CiC) of Balukhali camp 9 and 10 in Cox's Bazaar summoned all Mazhis (Captains or Focal Points) and Elders from the camps and threatened them to persuade 2,260 Survivors enlisted for repatriation scheduled on November 15. If failed, they were told, the Bangladesh authorities will cease Ration Supply to the refugees, bar the refugee youths from working in NGOs/INGOs, restrict their movements and stop local shopkeepers/vendors from selling foods and goods to them, implying that the survivors/refugees will be kept starved. 

'Go back or die here out of starvation in a confined place.' Just like that? What is so big a crime the survivors have committed by seeking refuge in the country that they deserve to be starved and confined (to death)?


Coming back to the point, the Myanmar government has explicitly shown its intention that the returning refugee will be confined in internment camps or a very small place of housing arrangement fenced with barbed wire.

There will be no freedom to move around for Rohingya. Genocide and atrocity crimes against them will continue silently. In turn, that will force the people to flee from the internment camps one by one and silently to Bangladesh. And these people will successfully be assimilating in Bangladesh societies, like it's been going on for decades. Everyone is aware of that. Bangladesh won't be able to stop that gradual migration by the Rohingya (because of Genocide) into the country.

Consequently, in Myanmar, the population of Rohingya decrease and increase in Bangladesh over the time. Who gains and who loses at the end? It's all clear.


Therefore, we request the government and people of Bangladesh to 'Make Hay While the Sun is Shining' and not miss this historical opportunity which will not only serve Bangladesh's long term national interest but also end Genocide and shape Rohingya's future. Please be an important part in ending the Genocide going on more than 40 years. Please help them get justice and International Protection to ensure Genocide (on them) never happens again.

Dear Bangladesh's Government, please see beyond Chinese economic inducements; and bilateral economic and trade ties with Myanmar. Please reconsider your position on the premature repatriation of the Rohingya which will further endanger them. The solidarity of World Citizens are with Rohingya. Thus, if you cooperate with Rohingya and the governments of many countries that are in Solidarity with Rohingya, you could find a way out of Chinese pressures as well, if there are any.


These people are not threats to Bangladesh but will really benefit the country provided the opportunities. They are not threats to Myanmar sovereignty, either. They are threat to none. Perhaps, their oppressor (Myanmar genocidal regime) perceives them to be threats because they are committing Genocide (on them), just like a burgalar percieves the (house) owner a threat.

All they want to dream and live like other human beings, like you, like them, like all. Please help them dream and live as equally as other human beings. Yes, they are human beings, too, and human lives are more precious than anything else.

Rohingya Today
November 11, 2018

Cox's Bazaar — Bangladesh attempts to strip UNHCR-registered Rohingya refugees of their 'Refugee' Status, triggering them to go on 'Ration Strike' since November 1 out of fear of forced repatriation to Myanmar, refugees say.

Approximately 250,000 Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh to escape atrocity crimes committed by the Myanmar armed forces under 'Operation Pyi Thayar' in 1991 and 1992, apart from about one million Rohingya genocide survivors who have fled Myanmar to seek refuge in Bangladesh in last two years. In 1993, a bilateral agreement made Bangladesh and Myanmar to repatriate the survivors/refugees (without their participation).

As the refugees resisted the forced repatriation to Myanmar, Bangladesh used FORCE. The refugees were beaten, tortured, arrested and detained by the Bangladesh authorities. Most of them were forced to return to Myanmar in years following 1995.

Some 25,000 refugees who showed resilience and resisted the forced repatriation were registered by the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) as Refugees. They have been taking refuge in two camps, Nayapara and Kutupalong, since then. The number of refugees increased to 38,000 as the UNHCR newly registered ‘unregistered relatives’ of ‘the registered refugees’ in 2005.

Bangladesh, UNHCR and Forced Repatriation

The government of Bangladesh have, since 1st November (this year), been attempting to reduce the status of these (old) registered refugees to that of Genocide Survivors who have sought refuge since 2016 and were merely recognized as 'Displaced' Persons.

"We demanded the Bangladesh authorities to register new arrival of genocide survivors as refugees. They replied that they wouldn't do that. Instead, they are attempting to revoke our refugee status.

"They are planning to force us back to the killing fields in Myanmar, an action which will not only put security to our lives in jeopardy but also put our future in further limbo," said Mohammed Islam (not real name), a refugee in Kutupalong registered-refugee camps.

It has further been reported that as registered refugees in the two camps are refusing to produce their documents before the Bangladesh authorities in fear of unwanted changes, the Bangladesh forces have begun harassing and beating them.

Over the last two months, UNHCR has secretly changed the title of the Family Sheets of the registered refugees, from MCR (Master Registration Card) to FCN (Family Count Number), and categorized them (the family sheets) under '128' ─ a registration code number applied to the new arrival of refugees ─ and hence, downgrading their recognized refugee status. Similarly, WFP (World Food Programme) has changed the name of the Refugees' Ration Cards from 'Food Card' to 'Assistance Card.'

Rohingya Refugees Resist Forced Repatriation

After the Bangladesh authorities began coercing the (registered) refugees to agree to their plan (of repatriation) on November 1, they (the refugees) wrote to UNHCR Sub-office in Cox's Bazaar. However, due to the UNHCR staffs at the Office being local Bangladeshis, no response has been made and their effort to find a solution was unsuccessful, according to the refugees.

The refugees in Kutupalong and Nayapara Camps have gone on 'Ration Strike' as both Bangladesh and UNHCR has remained largely irresponsive. Meanwhile, a refugee in the camp said that they have been trying to reach out to UNHCR Head-office in Dhaka.

"We know and there are evidences that Genocide is still going on in Myanmar. We fear of getting killed. And so, after having spent 28 years in dismal condition as refugees, we can't return there without 'International Protection' and equal human rights are restored for us.

"As refugees we were given three options: to return to Myanmar if we feel safe, live in Bangladesh by integrating in the local societies and if none of them is possible, then we are to be resettled to third countries. Therefore, we request the concerned international authorities to find a durable solution for us as urgently as possible," said a refugee going by the name ‘Shomsul Alam.’

Rohingya Refugees Prefer Death over Repatriation to Myanmar

Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, both old registered and new arrivals alike, unanimously say that they prefer death or getting killed in Bangladesh over being forced to return to Myanmar when the Genocide is still going on there.

One woman genocide survivor whose name is in the list of the forced repatriation said “I don’t even know how my name appeared in the list. I didn’t give consent for that.

We prefer death over here. Or somebody kill us here. At least we will get proper funerals. Over there, they behave like animals to us. They are so cruel to us. We won’t there until there is a protection, justice and all other equal rights for us.”

On September 2, a 48-year-old genocide survivor, Nur Kasim, seeking refuge in ‘Nurali Pura’ camps near ‘Shal Bagan’, fell ill over the fears of forced repatriation to Myanmar and died after a while apparently from Cardiac Arrest. Similarly, on November 4, another 68-year-old Genocide survivor, Dil Mohammed, attempted suicide in Unci-Parang makeshift camps after hearing that he was enlisted for the forced repatriation.

Dr. Maung Zarni, a human rights activist and Burmese (Myanmar) Scholar, has recently remarked that Bangladesh is committing an Act of Refoulement by forcibly repatriating the Rohingya genocide survivors who have legitimate rights to seek refugee status. And therefore, it also makes Bangladesh complicit in Myanmar's Genocide of Rohingya.

[Report by Zakir Ahmed; Edited by M.S. Anwar]

Please email to: to send your reports and feedback.

Media Release from Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK
For Immediate Release 10th November 2018

ASEAN leaders must push Myanmar to end Rohingya genocide

Southeast Asian leaders must stop burying their heads in the sand and pressure Myanmar to end the ongoing genocide against Rohingya when they gather in Singapore next week, said the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK).

ASEAN heads of state are meeting for the 33rdASEAN Summit in Singapore between 13 and 15 November, when they are expected to discuss political and economic issues facing the region.

“ASEAN’s response to the crisis in Rakhine State has been marked by shameful silence and inaction. As heads of state gather in Singapore next week, they must pressure Myanmar to end all abuses against the Rohingya and show that they will not stand idly by while a genocide is unfolding in one of their member states,” said Tun Khin, President of BROUK.

“The almost complete lack of regional pressure on Myanmar will only mean that Nay Pyi Taw feels emboldened to carry out abuse against the Rohingya in the future. ASEAN has a key role to play in ending the atrocities against Rohingya – leaders must take this seriously.”

Although the ASEAN Charter spells out a commitment to human rights and allows member states to “address emergency situations affecting ASEAN by taking appropriate actions”, in practice the regional bloc’s “non-interference” principle has meant that it has largely stayed silent on atrocity crimes in member states.

Since the Myanmar security forces launched a “clearance operation” in Rakhine State in August 2017 that killed thousands of Rohingya and drove more than 700,000 to flee across the border to Bangladesh, there has been no official ASEAN condemnation of Myanmar’s actions.

Some individual ASEAN states and officials – notably from Indonesia and Malaysia – have, however, spoken out. On 29 August, Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah called on Myanmar to bring perpetrators of crimes against Rohingya to justice, and to let the Rohingya return “to peace and a life of dignity”.

“Malaysia and Indonesia have shown moral courage in defending the rights of the Rohingya. Now it is up to ASEAN as body to follow suit, and once and for all prove that it is genuinely committed to creating a region where atrocity crimes are unacceptable,” said Tun Khin.

The ASEAN Summit in Singapore is taking place as Myanmar is preparing to receive the first group of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh, part of a repatriation deal signed between the two states in November 2017.

Myanmar has announced that 2,260 Rohingya will be returned to Rakhine State in mid-November, even though the refugees themselves have not been formally consulted, and conditions in Myanmar are far from safe and secure for their return. Yanghee Lee, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, earlier this week urged Myanmar and Bangladesh to halt the repatriation plans as Nay Pyi Taw had not taken any steps to create a safe environment for Rohingya.

BROUK stresses that repatriation effort should not start until the full human rights of Rohingya can be guaranteed inside Myanmar. This must include ending all forms of discrimination against Rohingya, granting them full citizenship, and a guarantee of international protection for Rohingya against further abuses by the military.

“The rushed plans to push Rohingya refugees across the border into a country where they were subjected to systematic killings not long ago must be stopped. Myanmar continues to impose widespread discrimination against Rohingya, and as long as no perpetrators have been held to account, the risk of further abuse from the security forces is virtually guaranteed,” said Tun Khin.

“ASEAN leaders should do all they can to ensure that the repatriation plans do not begin until the human rights of returning refugees can be guaranteed. Crucially, the Rohingya community itself must also be consulted about any plans affecting their future.”

For more information, please contact Tun Khin +44 7888714866.

Maung Zarni, leader of the Free Rohingya Coalition, speaks at a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo on Thursday. | CHISATO TANAKA

By Chisato Tanaka, Published by The Japan Times on October 25, 2018

A leader of a global network of activists for Rohingya Muslims on Thursday called on Japan to actively speak out against the alleged abuse and genocide against Myanmar’s ethnic minority by the country’s military and strongly criticized Tokyo for its relative silence on a crisis that has become a major international concern.

“There are 400 villages burned to the ground … Japan cannot be so out of line from the reality. Rohingyas are treated as guilty (just) because they exist,” Maung Zarni, leader of the Free Rohingya Coalition, said at a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo.

Around 723,000 Rohingya people fled to neighboring Bangladesh in the year after violence broke out in the Rakhine state in the Buddhist-majority country in August 2017, according to the UNHCR, the U.N.’s refugee agency. More than 40 percent of them were under age 12.

In September this year, a U.N. fact-finding mission released a report on the situation, saying that the armed forces of Myanmar are the main perpetrator of the “gross human rights violations and international crimes” committed in Rakhine and other states.

Zarni, who is visiting Japan to give speeches about the plight of the Rohingya people, said international intervention is imperative and Japan could take a leading role as the world’s third-biggest economy.

“Japan can simply say we are going to have a policy review,” he said, signaling his frustration with the Asian country, which he views as not doing enough to address the humanitarian crisis.

Michimi Muranushi, an international politics professor at Gakushuin University who will be giving lectures with Zarni, told The Japan Times that the Japanese government appears to be avoiding the use of the term “Rohingya” in consideration of the fact the Myanmar government does not recognize the people as citizens.

“The government has been really strict about not using that word,” said Muranushi, noting that it instead has usually referred to the people as “Muslims in the Rakhine state.”

Zarni argued that a language encyclopedia published by the Myanmar government says that “irrefutably and unequivocally, and officially, Rohingya people are an official ethnic minority who have ancestral lands in the northern Rakhine state of Myanmar” and that the Southeast Asian country’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi also “has access to this document.”

When Suu Kyi visited Japan earlier in the month, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at a joint news conference that he values her efforts “to cope with a difficult agenda,” including economic reforms and “issues related to Rakhine state.” Abe also said the refugee issue poses a “very complex and grave” problem, and Japan will extend assistance to help them return to Myanmar and resettle there.

The Japanese government is reportedly said to be considering accepting more refugees who have fled their home to neighboring countries for resettlement. Zarni said Abe should accept more Rohingya people as they could become “assets,” for example by becoming part of the country’s workforce, which is experiencing shortages as Japan struggles with a graying population and declining birthrate.
A demonstration over identity cards at a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh in April, 2018. Image: NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Images.

By Natalie Brinham | Published by Open Democracy on October 21, 2018

Wary of the past, Rohingya have frustrated the UN’s attempts to provide them with documentation.

In 2016, Nural, as a leader in a Rohingya village in Rathedaung, was called to a meeting by a high-ranking officer from the Myanmar Border Guard Police. There, Nural and the gathered village leaders were told all Rohingya must now accept identity cards, known as nationality verification cards (NVCs), or they would “no longer be allowed to remain in the country” and be “driven out”. Despite the risk of speaking out, Nural raised his voice in the meeting, “These NVC cards make us into foreigners who are supposed to apply for citizenship. We are already citizens of this country.” In his frustration and anger, he pounded his fist on the table three times. Four armed officers pointed their guns at his head, escorted him out of the room and handcuffed him to a chair. Fortunately, he was not among the 30 men who were arrested in the village that day. He was not the man who was shot dead while running away from the guards that came searching for his father-in-law. He was not the man who was sentenced to seven years in prison, or the one who was blinded in one eye by police beatings. His village escaped being burnt that day – only to be razed a year later.

Nural is only educated to primary level, but he knows well the history of his people. He knows his Rohingya forefathers have resided in the north Rakhine region centuries before the Burmese generals in power now, who are Johnny-come-latelies by comparison. He knows that his parents and grandparents carried the same citizenship cards and had the same rights as all other citizens of independent Myanmar. And that Rohingyas’ proof of citizenship and belonging has been systematically removed over the past thirty-five years through the confiscation, destruction, nullification, and targeted non-issuance of documents, all carried out by multiple civilian and military agencies under a single command. He is sure that NVCs are just the latest in a long-line of ID cards that attempt to recategorise Rohingya as foreigners, attack their group identity and remove their rights.

In all Rohingya communities, village chairmen and yar ein hmu (leaders of 100 households) like Nural were ordered to accept the cards. They were told if they did not, they would be dismissed from their positions and punished under the law. Some held out – others could not. Nural tells me with pride that his was one of eight villages in Rathedaung that stood united against the NVCs. He, himself, held out. He was just one of many Rohingya who resisted the destruction of their identity as a group indigenous to the Rakhine region by refusing the cards. 

Now, after having fled across the border into Bangladesh, Rohingya are facing a new chapter in their struggle against identity cards. But this time threat is coming from an unexpected source – the United Nations refugee agency – who have proposed a form of documentation which Rohingya claim is almost identical to the cards imposed by the Myanmar state.

Nationality verification and genocide

Between 2016 and 2017, villages were subjected to night-time “security” raids which villagers say were linked to the NVC cards. One man described with tears of anger and sadness that his older brother died after being bitten by a snake while hiding in the forest one night. As the men hid, they left behind women and girls who were repeatedly subjected to sexual violence at the hands of the security forces. “I cannot even speak of what happened to our women, while we hid.” he said.Across ten focus groups and multiple in-depth interviews, I have been told that without the NVCs, school children were not allowed to sit for final examinations, fishermen could no longer fish, cattle traders could no longer go to market, businessmen could no longer pass through checkpoints, parents could no longer register the births of their children, prisoners could not be released at the end of their sentences, sick people could not go to the hospital, and retirees could no longer draw their salaries. It became barely possible to eke out a living, support a family or survive. The attempted enforcement of identity cards was, and still is, aiding, what the Indian philosopher Amartya Sen has described as, a “slow genocide” in Myanmar. But still communities hold out. Rohingya accounts of the enforced issuance of NVCs are full of heroism, tragedy, unity, pride and occasionally shame, where they could no longer endure.

In focus groups, I have often heard NVCs refered to as "genocide cards" by Rohingyas. Following the outbreak of violence in August 2017, the vast majority of Rohingya fled their homelands; many were killed or driven out of the country by terror, their homes burned, and their lands stolen by the state. A nationality verification process, originally (and sometimes still) promoted by international agencies as “a pathway to citizenship” for “stateless” Rohingya, has compounded the physical, symbolic and cultural destruction of a group.

Unsurprisingly, the 800,000 Rohingya in Bangladesh’s refugee camps are insistent that among their conditions of return to Myanmar is the end of NVCs or NVC-like procedures.¹ They are demanding an end to being labelled “Bengalis”, “foreigners” or “stateless.” They want their citizenship to be recognised and to be called by their own name, Rohingya, as an indigenous group of Myanmar. It is not simply a matter of access to citizenship rights. It is also a matter of safety, security and survival.

Resistance to UNHCR’s “smart cards” in Bangladesh refugee camps

Displaced Rohingya are also uniting in their resistance to another kind of ID card – the “smart cards” being issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Despite a deep and tangible yearning to return home, they are resisting premature or forced repatriations by refusing to accept UNHCR-issued biometric “smart cards”. These cards are being issued following the memorandum of understanding between the UNHCR, the United Nations Development Programme and the Myanmar government relating to repatriations to Myanmar. Although the UNHCR and the Bangladesh government claim the cards will not lead to immediate repatriation, Rohingya are understandably wary. The UNHCR are in a predicament. Without issuing cards, they struggle to “be operational.” But Rohingya are resolute in their rejection – operations or not.

A demonstration during a UN Security visit at a Rohingya camp on 29 April, 2018. Image: NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Images

On a visit to a refugee camp in Bangladesh to ask people about citizenship in Myanmar, not smart cards, it soon becomes apparent that the two are linked. The small crowd that gathers around me as I sit in a small open-air shelter steadily grows as the conversation moves on to smart cards. “Please do something about the smart cards, please”, one young refugee begs of me.

Reports have been circulating for several months among the camp population that there may be shadowy organisations offering 500 Bangladeshi Taka to each family willing to break ranks and take the cards, or that beatings by security officers taking place outside the UNHCR office are doled out for those that refuse. There’s buzzing concern and a subdued sense of confusion and betrayal that a group of residents in another camp have reportedly accepted UNHCR’s smart cards. In almost all of my conversations with refugees over the past two months, the issue of “smart cards” has come up as a major concern related to safety and security on return to their homelands in Myanmar.

So, what’s wrong with the cards? Firstly, Rohingya are asking that they be recognised on the cards as “refugees”, a term the Bangladesh government is reluctant to entertain fearing it will contribute to the protracted nature of the Rohingya refugee issue in Bangladesh. For Rohingya, whose family and oral histories are ingrained with accounts of repatriations at gunpoint over the past 40 years and the confiscation, destruction and nullification of the documents that prove their citizenship on return, the term “refugee” offers some degree of international protection. It also offers proof that they crossed from their home in Myanmar. Myanmar has labelled past returnees “Bengalis” and the UNHCR, who has presided over the monitoring of returnees in the past, has been powerless to prevent further abuses.

Secondly, refugees are insisting that the UNHCR cards carry the term “Rohingya”, running contrary to the agency’s practice of not stating ethnic identities on ID cards, lest it result in discrimination. Rohingya demands for recording their identity as a group indigenous to the Rakhine region of Myanmar, relate not to international practices but to practices within Myanmar in which the only variety of citizenship worth having is one based on the membership of an ethnic group considered by the state to be pre-colonial or indigenous – one recorded on all documents. Since these refugees have been targeted for no other reason than their membership of a group, Rohingya understand that the public acknowledgement of their ethnic identity by the Myanmar state is absolutely essential in halting and preventing the ultimate crime against a group, genocide.

Thirdly, and most significantly, Rohingya repeatedly state that “the smart card is the same as the NVC card”. They have an important point here – smart cards may well not be so different from NVCs in terms of outcomes. All biometric and biographical information handed over to the UNHCR will be shared with the Myanmar government in the event of repatriations, and this can then be used, to produce the identification cards issued by the Myanmar state. But much more importantly, as one bright young refugee explains, jabbing aggressively with his finger at clause 15 of the leaked MOU between UNHCR, UNDP and Myanmar on repatriations, the agreement states after Myanmar has carried out the “necessary verifications” they will issue “appropriate identification papers” and provide a “pathway to citizenship to those eligible”. In short, the ID cards issued on return, using the data from the UNHCR smart cards, will either be NVC cards or something very similar, that require Rohingya to have their nationality verified by a government that has systematically removed evidence of their citizenship and evidence of Rohingya existence, as part of a 40-year genocidal process. If returnees are lucky, or perhaps unlucky, they may be provided with a citizenship document that labels and stigmatises them as “Bengali” – but certainly not “Rohingya”, not indigenous and not entitled to the same rights as other citizens.

The poisoned chalice of “pathways to citizenship” 

What is even more problematic for Rohingya is that the UNHCR along with other international agencies have since the 1990s promoted “pathways to citizenship” as the way to resolve what they have historically understood to be Rohingya’s de jure statelessness. The “temporary registration cards” or “white cards” issued to Rohingya from 1995 onwards, during the UNHCR’s time in the Rakhine state, gave material form to the international rhetoric that Rohingya were “stateless”. One high profile camp-based Rohingya activist claimed, “when UNHCR told us to accept these white cards in Myanmar, they effectively labelled us as stateless.” Since they had citizenship before the 1982 citizenship law, under the law, they should still be entitled to it.

Rohingya across five countries, have consistently told me how hurtful and harmful they find the label “stateless” as, for many, it suggests that they have never been recognised as citizens. “Pathways to citizenship” is generally a way for international agencies to mediate between a neglectful state and undocumented people. It is perhaps less appropriate in a situation of genocide with the wilful denial of the rights and the existence an indigenous people.

“The good news”, I tell the young guy angrily prodding a copy of the MOU, “is the UN Fact Finding Mission report is the first UN report that does not call you de jure stateless, but de facto stateless. Just like any other refugee in the world. They recommend the reinstatement of your full citizenship.” His smile flickers, but he doesn’t appear reassured.

We can only but hope that the change in discourse brought by the FFM report, which also describes the Rohingya persecution as “genocide”, will help to finally bury the idea of NVC cards as part of a solution for Rohingya. In the refugee camps, it is hard to miss the simmering anger and indelible mistrust of the UNHCR for its inability to ensure voluntariness, safety and rights during two previous rounds of forced repatriations in 1978-9 and 1993-4; and for its lack of refugee consultation and transparency in negotiating the conditions of potential Rohingya returns this year. Promoting smart cards for genocide survivors, as though ID cards can provide a neutral record of external facts about human beings, just isn’t going to wash this time. As one Rohingya political leader told me, “it is impossible for the UNHCR to ensure repatriations if they cannot even issue the smart cards on a voluntary basis.” It’s time to stop talking about “pathways” – treacherous as they have been for Rohingya – and to start listening to Rohingyas’ own understandings and interpretations of how the genocide has played out, including how they feel about the “genocide cards” and “smart cards”. Rohingyas know the significance of these cards, more than anyone else, UN included. The survivors voice must carry the greatest weight.

*Names have been changed to protect interviewees.

¹ See also the UN Special Rapporteur report on Human Rights in Myanmarfor conclusions regarding National Verification Cards.
² Some Rohingya mediahas reported the beatings.

About the author

Natalie Brinham is a PhD student at Queen Mary University of London researching statelessness. She has worked for many years in NGOs in the UK and Southeast Asia on forced migration, trafficking and statelessness in both frontline service provision roles and research and advocacy roles. She holds an MA from UCL Institute of Education and a BA from SOAS.

Oskar Butcher
RB Article
October 6, 2018

Every night in an unassuming shop space located in Mandalay’s 39thStreet, Lu Maw and Lu Zaw – the remaining members of the Burma’s most famous comedy trio, the Moustache Brothers – present their show: a curious combination of comedy, political satire, and traditional Burmese dance. Par Par Lay, the group’s leader, passed away in 2013.

The Brothers’ history of human rights activism is no less than inspirational. For decades, they have unrelentingly critiqued their country’s despotic military regime through their comedy. The third generation of comedians in their family, they have suffered terribly as a result. 

Following a performance at the home where Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest in 1996, Par Par Lay and Lu Zaw were dragged from their beds in the dead of night and thrown into the city jail. The men were locked up for five years, with Lay sent to a distant facility and punished through hard labour, breaking rocks. Six years prior, Lay’s humorous take on the regime’s refusal to honour the National League for Democracy’s landslide election victory had already seen him serve six months behind bars. At no point did Brothers’ cutting satire of the regime relent.

Since Aung San Suu Kyi’s ascent to de facto national leader, the Brothers’ show appears somewhat out of step with the values of human rights and democracy that they have for decades espoused*. Their enduring praise for Aung San Suu Kyi – who is deeply complicit in the atrocities being carried out by the Myanmar state against its Rohingya minority - leaves their shows with an uncomfortable void. The performance seems indicative of the profound tragedy of Burma’s failed democratic transition. 

Today, Myanmar’s military – who remain the butt of most of the show’s jokes – retain control over the country’s most significant levers of power. Their relationship with Suu Kyi, formerly the most prominent thorn in their side, has become increasingly cosy. Nonetheless, it is unsurprising given the extent of the suffering endured by the Moustache Brothers, that they view their country’s failed democratic reforms as something of a triumph. The walls of their modest theatre are covered in photos of Suu Kyi. In many of these, she is pictured alongside the comedians. 

Speaking of Suu Kyi, Lu Maw tells of the Brothers’ great pride in seeing her in a position of power. He speaks of their shared struggle for freedom and democracy, how the Moustache Brothers were right there with her, and emphasising that “she is one of us”. When Lu Maw speaks, there is an unmistakable twinkle in his eye. It seems to say: ‘we made it’. 

The state of the country, including basic civil and political rights, has improved significantly in the last few years for the vast majority of the population – Moustache Brothers included. This, however, can never be the measure of human rights or democracy. 

The atrocities against the Rohingya have killed well over 10,000 people - with up to 43,000 missing, presumed dead. In total, approximately 700,000 have been driven from the country. Neither Suu Kyi’s shocking denials of these atrocities, nor the crimes themselves, are mentioned during the Moustache Brothers’ show. Given the group’s courageous history, it is clearly not fear that has induced their silence. Rather, it is likely something far more human: a need to believe in the purity of the democratic movement of which they have long been a part, and a loyalty to its leader - Aung San Suu Kyi. 

In February 2018, the United Nations recognised Suu Kyi’s complicityin the crimes against the Rohingya; crimes that they six months later have determined amount to genocide. Better late than never, these conclusions echo the findings of research conducted by the International State Crime Initiative at Queen Mary University, three years prior in 2015. As any position that Aung San Suu Kyi once held as a moral or democratic authority has been rendered entirely untenable, many of her international honours have been revoked. Her popularity across Myanmar, however, remains largely intact- as does the country’s rampant islamophobia.

In recent years, the virulent Islamophobic rhetoric of extremist, monk-led hate groups such as the 969 Movement has sparked deadly anti-Muslim riots across the country. According toAmnesty International, their hate speech has become increasingly normalised by the country’s political and military elite, who have encouraged society at large to “hate, scapegoat, and fear” Muslim minorities.

And whilst today much of the population believes the Rohingya to be ‘illegal Bangladeshi immigrants’to Myanmar’s Rakhine state, this myth has no basis in fact. As Professor of Asian and Military History at SOAS, Michael Charney explained, there has been extensive movement amongst both the Rohingya and the Rakhine peoples throughout the state historically, and in actuality, “the [Muslim] Rohingya are no more illegal migrants than the Buddhist Rakhine”. Yet the consequences of vicious anti-Rohingya sentiments could not be more severe. 

Whilst military bases are erected on the ruins of towns and villages where Rohingya lived and prayed only months ago, the Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo languish in jail for exposingmilitary massacres of Rohingya civilians. Reportedly “furious” upon being asked about the journalists’ ongoing incarceration, the Aung San Suu Kyi who said in 2014 that whilst moving towards democracy “we all need to work to point out our country’s faults” is nowhere to be found. 

Nonetheless, a number of international Burmese and Rohingya voices have been active in condemning Burma’s crimes, and bearing witness to their country’s genocidal ‘faults’. Local movements opposing the persecution of Muslims, however, are few and far between. Those who do so publicly belong to a small, brave and dedicated group of human rights activists. 

One grassroots campaign, Panzagar, brings together campaigners in opposition to hate speech, and in particular online and anti-Muslim discourse. With over 200,000 Facebook likes - no mean feat in a country with estimated 2.5% internet access – it would appear that there is greater support for such a movement than first appearances might otherwise suggest. The group has even benefitted from the support of Zarganar, another celebrated Burmese comedian and former political prisoner who is one of the few prominent Burmese figures to have spoken publicly about the plight of the Rohingya. His efforts, however, which have at times been channelled through official governmental commissions, have produced mixed results. 

When the economic, social, and political status of a majority population improves significantly – as has been the case in Burma since 2011 – it surely becomes more challenging than ever for members of that majority to protest the treatment of a small, marginalised, and scapegoated minority. As the past year of genocidal violence against the Rohingya demonstrates, however, it has become far more urgent. 

The Moustache Brothers are an inspiring illustration of Myanmar’s proud tradition of the finest kind of human rights activism. From a human perspective, their dedication to Aung San Suu Kyi is understandable. However, the Suu Kyi of their movement – the democratic icon who insisted on pointing out her country’s faults – is no more. As painful as it may be to renounce their one-time leader, highlighting her hypocrisy and indifference towards the suffering Rohingya would demonstrate an ongoing commitment to the principles for which Burmese human rights activists have long taken a brave stand.

As the gears of the international community slowly grind into action - with the UN now recognising the gravity of the crimes perpetrated and the International Criminal Court launching a preliminary investigation - Myanmar’s military maintains its brazen denials, and Aung San Suu Kyi remains enveloped in a deafening silence. Lasting change in Myanmar will not be achieved through international efforts alone, however, and long-term change will require an internal shift in the country’s attitude towards Islam and the Rohingya. Easier said than done, no doubt, but if the country is ever to overcome its tortured past and genocidal present, the rights of all people must be guaranteed regardless of race, ethnicity, or religion. 

*Author visited a Moustache Brothers’ show in October 2017. 

Oskar Butcher is a human rights activist interested in Myanmar and the politics of conflict, justice, and forced migration. He works at the Death Penalty Project and volunteers as a Speaker with Amnesty International. He was awarded an MSc from SOAS, University of London, in 2017. 

Twitter: @Oskar_Butcher

By Dr. Maung Zarni
October 5, 2018

- The writer is coordinator for strategic affairs at the Free Rohingya Coalition and adviser to the European Center for the Study of Extremism, Cambridge, UK

Five steps can be taken towards achieving justice, repatriation and the rebuilding of Rohingya communities in Myanmar

LONDON -- Rohingya campaigners and human rights organizations welcomed the UN Human Rights Council’s vote on Sept. 27 to set up a body to conduct a further investigation and future indictment of Myanmar for atrocity crimes, including genocide. The resolution, co-sponsored by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the European Union, was passed by a vote of 35-3 with seven abstentions, with only China, the Philippines and Burundi opposing it.

The current calls for justice and accountability for the victims of the Myanmar genocide -- ongoing still -- must go beyond conceiving justice in a narrow technical judicial sense and consider the tangible and pressing need of the Rohingya, including the sitting duck Rohingya inside Myanmar, those in camps in Bangladesh and those on the verge of deportation in India.

While the International Criminal Court and/or other ad hoc international tribunals in the style of the tribunals on Yugoslavia and Rwanda would be a welcome step in the right direction, none of the international judicial processes will likely alter the genocidal conditions in which Rohingya have been forced to exist for several decades.

Here is a very grim picture: A Harvard Medical School study published in the Lancet (2016) found the doctor-patient ratio for Rohingya in the two predominantly Rohingya towns of Buthidaung and Maungdaw is 1:180,000 while the national average is 1:1,000. According to the World Food Program survey of July 2017 -- which was shelved a week after its release under pressure from the Aung San Suu Kyi government -- of 80,000 Rohingya children under the age of 5 surveyed in a select Rohingya region of Western Myanmar, severe malnutrition and acute severe malnutrition or semi-famine like characteristics are prevalent. A Physicians for Human Rights study in October 2016 uncovered the severe deprivation of access to even rudimentary health services: a Rohingya person is made to go through, on average, three to four security checkpoints from home to the nearest village clinic, typically without a doctor or emergency medical care.

Genocide against the Rohingya is more than a series of acts of genocide, but it is still an ongoing process, and its instigators remain with impunity at the highest levels of authority in Myanmar. As the 440-page Independent International Fact-Finding Mission report (Sept. 18) noted, the structures, institutions and policies designed to destroy the Rohingya community from its very foundations remain in place.

These conditions and the decades-old policies that have induced them remain in place. The World Court or other judicial processes, domestically or globally, are not going to alter them.

And there is something that is even harder to change that serves as the obstacle to ending Myanmar’s ongoing genocide: the utter impotence and non-functioning of the UN Security Council when it comes to large-scale, policy-induced human suffering, from Yemen and Syria to Palestine and Uighur East Turkestan, or Xinjiang, in China. The veto-wielders -- not just the usual illiberal suspects such as Russia and China but also the U.S. and UK -- have proven incapable of upholding the UN Charter.

Outrageously, one year after the now-well-documented genocidal acts committed by Myanmar, the Security Council has not been able to reach a consensus about what to call the crime, objectively, let alone ending it decisively.

In light of this realpolitik, the UN system, particularly the Security Council, is the last place where the Rohingya will find any meaningful support for either realizing their long-term needs for justice and closure (such as criminal prosecution of the perpetrators of genocide) or the immediate need for safety and protection of the remaining Rohingya populations inside Myanmar and in the refugee camps in Bangladesh.

The UN officials and ostensibly pro-human rights members have been urging the creation of “safe conditions” so that 1 million Rohingya in Bangladesh who fled Myanmar’s periodic waves of genocidal terror could return and rebuild their communities. Bangladesh’s Prime Minister, Sheik Hasina, has consistently called for safety -- and even “a safe zone” or international protection, “if necessary” -- for the Rohingya population inside Myanmar. She has made this sensible call at the UN General Assembly for the past two years since the genocidal killings hit world news headlines in August 2017.

No one has heeded these essential calls while promising to throw more aid money at the symptom, namely “the Rohingya humanitarian crisis”.

Meanwhile, echoing U.S. President Donald Trump, Aung San Suu Kyi’s man of the hour at the UN, Minister Kyaw Tint Swe of the Myanmar State Counsellor’s Office, rejected the World Court’s jurisdiction and dismissed the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar and its 440-page genocide report as having “no hard evidence”. The Burmese rejection of evidence is beyond belief in the face of the satellite images of nearly 400 destroyed Rohingya villages, consistently accurate and credible oral testimonies of thousands of genocide survivors and numerous legal and academic studies as well as journalistic investigations that reach a single conclusion: it is genocide, no less, that Myanmar is committing.

So what then needs to be done?

There are five concrete steps that can be undertaken with the view towards justice, repatriation and rebuilding of Rohingya communities inside Myanmar.

First, there is emerging a network of state actors -- governments, that is, -- which can establish something along the lines of “an international coalition of governments for ending Myanmar’s genocide”. Conceivably, Canada, Sweden, Ireland, Bangladesh, the Netherlands, the UK, certain Rohingya-concerned OIC member states (such as Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia, Turkey, Kuwait etc.) and those from Latin and Central America with experience in atrocity crimes at home can form the core of this coalition.

This coalition can, in a more focused manner, explore concrete ways, with the requisite condition of safety, to facilitate Rohingya's return and the rebuilding of their lives once they are in their places of origin inside Western Myanmar adjacent to Bangladesh’s borders.

The word “international protection” conjures up images of UN peacekeepers. But the Blue Helmets have an extremely poor track record: consider the Dutch peacekeepers in Srebrenica whom the ICC ruled to be complicit in the genocide or Canadian troops shooting dogs that came to eat the corpses of Rwandan genocide victims because UN peacekeepers in the capital, Kigali, were ordered to stand down as the genocidal slaughter raged on.

For instance, the coalition can push for the idea of attaching significant numbers of civilian human rights monitors and experienced military veterans to UN agencies based in Myanmar, as well as to the humanitarian organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross or Medicine San Frontiers. They would need to be based in Rakhine State in Western Myanmar, where these atrocity crimes occurred. The presence of these civilian human rights monitors ought to be made a non-negotiable condition for any interactions and agreements between Myanmar and the coalition’s partners as well as the UN agencies.

The job of providing for the returning Rohingya or those who remain inside Myanmar cannot be left in the exclusive hands of UN agencies. Besides being toothless even to secure their own unhindered access to the crime sites of Rakhine from where 725,000 fled in a span of a few months, the “UN as a whole” has been called out by the Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar for its categorical failures to implement the organization’s “Rights First” policies adopted in the wake of Sri Lanka’s war crimes in 2008.

Second, the coalition needs to start inter-state conversation about de-militarization of northern Rakhine state, where the persecution has been institutionalized by Myanmar’s military for several decades. Concretely, there needs to be established a de-militarized zone where Myanmar will be forced to engage in community policing designed to minimize and prevent petty criminality in the communities within its border region of Western Myanmar. In this respect, UN member states -- 35 in total -- who voted in favor of the UN Human Rights Council resolution last week to establish an international body tasked with collecting evidence for a future international tribunal on Myanmar may likely join this international coalition.

Third, as part of the neighboring state, Bangladeshi troops across the border need to step up their security functions to ease Myanmar’s (un-warranted) fear of Islamist “penetration” into the Rohingya communities. That should not be a problem for Dhaka, which has come under heavy international criticism for its heavy-handed if effective handling of radicalization and violence among Bangladeshi communities.

Fourth, individual nations that are prepared to be a part of this coalition can take unilateral actions designed to signal to Myanmar -- and the world -- that genocide is the red line that no fellow UN member will be allowed to cross.

As a matter of fact, Canada took an exemplary action when its parliament unanimously declared Myanmar a genocidal state while its executive stripped, in an unprecedented move, Aung San Suu Kyi of Canada’s highest honor -- honorary Canadian citizenship.

More concretely, other nations in the coalition can review their ties -- commercial, military, intelligence, educational, etc. -- with the view towards using them as leverage or simply suspending them as a signal of condemnation of Myanmar’s heinous Rohingya policies. These nations of conscience need to, at the bare minimum, suspend, downgrade or outright cut diplomatic relations if Myanmar doesn’t change its genocidal course. Specifically, the coalition members need to send Myanmar ambassadors, counsel generals and military attaches packing.

These measures have been proven effective in the past: when worldwide ostracism of South Africa and its apartheid regime took place, the racists in power were eventually forced to dismantle their savage political system.

Worldwide, governments and societal actors (universities, football clubs, theatrical groups, etc.) ought to be persuaded to shun Myanmar in various aspects of its foreign interactions and revive the “Pinochet Precedent”. Australia’s lawyers and rights campaigners are using the Commonwealth Law to hold Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi accountable for her vital role in Myanmar’s crimes against humanity regarding Rohingya people.

Fifth and finally, on the economic front, the governments within the coalition should advise their national investors to either divest from the Myanmar market or not to invest in the country. To be sure, a commercial boycott of Myanmar may not bring about the needed behavioral change on the part of the country’s leaders if only because investments from Myanmar’s neighbors such as China, Singapore, South Korea and Japan make up the country’s largest foreign direct investment.

But Western and Middle Eastern investors and markets still have sufficient global influence that the medium and long-term impact of such collective action by the coalition partners will affect foreign economic actors from the genocide-bystanding or collaborating states such as India, Japan, Singapore, South Korea and China.

China may be too big and too thick-skinned for, say, the reputational damage incurred from such a critical stance and boycotts from the coalition. Already being in a trade war with the United States (and its Western allies), and under close watch from human rights campaigners for its Uighur “re-education camps”, Beijing may be more vulnerable to global negative opinion that is assumed. But less important actors such as Singapore or South Korea will certainly be forced to review their ‘business-as-usual’ ties with Myanmar.

And the EU and Organization of the Islamic Cooperation, which co-sponsored a human rights resolution on Myanmar on the grounds of a fact-finding mission’s genocidal allegations, will need to reconsider their contradictory behavior on Myanmar: 300+ EU investors and some of the leading investors from the OIC remain very active in Myanmar. Neither bloc can slam Myanmar for committing the gravest of crimes while their money is propping up the genocidal perpetrators in Naypyidaw.

There are 200 UN member states, and about 140 of them are signers of the Genocide Convention. That is a lot to work with to effect positive change for the Rohingya, and for Myanmar’s violent and regressive politics.

Since the closure of the last Nazi death camp in August 1945, one hears of “Never again!” ritualistically. It’s the 11th hour of Myanmar’s genocide. Nations of conscience must band together, punish Myanmar’s perpetrating regime and provide effective protection to the genocide victims.

RB News
September 29, 2018

Buthidaung — An arbitrarily jailed Rohingya inmate has died in Buthidaung jail after being denied of proper medical treatments.

The victim, identified as 'U Abu Shama, 50, s/o U Basu Meah' from Thayet Oak village in northern Maungdaw, was sentenced to 12-year imprisonment along with his son, Mohammed Zubair, 25, under a false charge of instigating violence in 2012.

The jail authorities have paid no heed to the repeated requests of his family members for medical treatments outside the jail after he had been infected by Jaundice some four months ago. And the lack of proper medical treatments inside the jail has ultimately led to his untimely demise around 6 am on Friday (Sept 28), according to one of the relatives of the deceased.

The authorities neither handed over his dead body to his family for funeral nor informed them (his family members) where he was buried. They did not allow the family members (of the deceased) to see him while he was severely suffering from jaundice and other diseases in the jail.

Thousands of innocent Rohingya villagers were arrested and jailed under arbitrary charges of instigating violence and setting (Rakhine) homes on fire in and after 2012; and having links with Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) after 2016.

[Reported by Rohingya Eye; Edited by M.S. Anwar]

Please email to: to send your reports and feedback.

RB News
September 29, 2018

Maungdaw — Two girls were killed and a few other people arrested when the Myanmar Border Guard Police (BGP) opened fire at a Rohingya boat off the coast of 'Feran Furu (Mingalar Gyi)' village in northern Maungdaw at around 8 pm on Thursday (Sept 27).

The two girls got drown and died as they along with others were trying to escape for life after the BGP opened fire while boarding on the Rowboat to flee to Bangladesh. They have been identified as 'Athisa, 9, daughter of Noor Kalam' from 'Shiddar Fara (Myoma Kayindan)' village and 'Senuwara, 17, daughter of Fayaz Ahmed' from 'Shujah (Shwe Zar)' village.

After they died, the BGP sent their bodies to the Maungdaw General Hospital for examination and post-mortem. The hospital discharged the bodies at around 4 pm on Friday and handed over to the villagers of 'Shiddar Fara' for funeral and burial.

The other Rohingyas arrested while trying to flee by the boat were charged by the authorities and produced before the Maungdaw Township Court on Friday.

As the Myanmar government has imposed severe restrictions on the movement of the Rohingya people and confined them within some designated regions, they are unable to travel to Akyab (Sittwe) or the Capital Rangoon even in the cases of medical emergencies. Therefore, they have no other way left but to seek to sneak out to Bangladesh (illegally) for medical treatments, according to a local resident of Maungdaw.

"The people that usually use this route to go to Bangladesh include the families whose breadwinners have been arbitrarily arrested and jailed by the Myanmar authorities; the Rohingya families whose houses have been burnt down and have to seek shelter in neighbouring villages in displaced condition for a long time; and those who have to seek emergency medical treatments in Bangladesh. They have no other way left but to choose to secretly sneak out to Bangladesh through this route," said villager of Feran Furu.

[Reported by MYARF; Edited by M.S. Anwar]

Please email to to send your reports and feedback.

Media Release from Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK
For Immediate Release 27th September 2018

Creation of UN mechanism a vital step towards justice for the Rohingya genocide

The United Nations Human Rights Council’s (HRC) vote today to create an international and independent mechanism to collect evidence of atrocities against Rohingya is a vital step towards justice for genocide and crimes against humanity, the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK) said today.

“Today’s brave vote at the HRC marks an encouraging move towards accountability for some of the worst crimes imaginable. Finally, the international community has shown that it is willing to back up statements with action to end Myanmar’s ongoing genocide against Rohingya people,” said Tun Khin, President of BROUK.

Members of the HRC today voted overwhelmingly to create an impartial and international mechanism to gather evidence of atrocity crimes against Rohingya, which can be used in future criminal prosecutions.

The resolution was passed by the Council by 35 votes in favour, seven abstentions and three votes against (Burundi, China and the Philippines).

The vote followed the devastating report by the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) on Myanmar, which was released in full last week and called for the prosecution of Myanmar’s top military command for genocide and crimes against humanity.

BROUK have consistently called for the international community to take action and hold the Myanmar authorities to account for their genocidal policies against Rohingya people. Thousands of people have been killed and more than 700,000 Rohingya driven to flee into Bangladesh since Myanmar launched its murderous “clearance operation” in August last year.

This is just the latest manifestation of a decades-long attempt by the Myanmar authorities to wipe the Rohingya out as a people. This has included vicious state-sponsored discrimination that has confined Rohingya in Rakhine State to an open air-prison, and similarly brutal and violent operations against Rohingya by security forces.

The HRC resolution does not create an international court or tribunal to try Myanmar military leaders who are responsible for atrocities. BROUK has long urged members of the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in order to ensure a comprehensive investigation into the range of crimes by the Myanmar military across the whole of the country.

“The international community must now build on today’s HRC vote and ensure that the evidence gathered by the new mechanism can serve its purpose – to hold those responsible for genocide to account,” said Tun Khin. 

“Members of the UN Security Council must stop hiding behind politics and refer the situation in Myanmar to the ICC. If Myanmar is allowed to get away with genocide against Rohingya, it will be a dark stain on the world’s conscience forever.”

“We now urge members of the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee to take the next step and push the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Myanmar to the ICC.”

For more information, please contact Tun Khin +44 7888714866.

Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar wait to carry food items from Bangladesh's border toward a no man's land where they set up refugee camps in Tombru, Bangladesh, Sept. 15, 2017.

By William Gallo
September 25, 2018

Activists are criticizing a long-awaited U.S. State Department investigation into the Myanmar military campaign against Rohingya Muslims, saying the United States should to take a firmer stance on what the activists see as genocide. 

The State Department report, released late Monday, blames Myanmar's military for an "extreme, large-scale, widespread" campaign of violence against the Rohingya ethnic minority group over the past two years.

The report, based on interviews with more than 1,000 Rohingya refugees in neighboring Bangladesh, documented graphic descriptions of torture, rape and mass killing in Myanmar's northern Rakhine state.

In some cases, Myanmar soldiers threw infants and small children into open fires and burning huts, witnesses told State Department investigators. Others said they saw soldiers ripping fetuses out of the bellies of pregnant mothers.

The State Department concedes the campaign was "well-planned and coordinated." But, notably, the report makes no determination that any of the violence amounts to genocide or crimes against humanity, and it recommends no specific action.

"This is extremely disappointing for those of us who have no other country to look to but the United States to do something humane and compassionate and principled," said Maung Zarni, a British-Burmese academic and author of The Slow-Burning Genocide of Myanmar's Rohingya.

"This is not like Rwanda or other places where post facto people realized that genocide happened. This is still ongoing," Zarni said.

The press office of U.S. Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, weighed in as well:
Human Rights Watch (HRW) chided the State Department for being "silent on action" and said the U.S. government should follow up the report by imposing new sanctions against those responsible. 

"The State Department's report, confirming the systematic brutality of the Burmese military operations, should jolt the U.S. into action," Sarah Margon, Washington director at HRW, said.

In August, the U.S. sanctioned four Myanmar military and police commanders for their involvement in what the State Department then referred to as "ethnic cleansing" in Rakhine state. 

The latest report, however, did not use the phrase "ethnic cleansing." But the State Department, in an nonattributed statement, said the investigation's findings "fully support that conclusion" and insisted it would be used to inform future U.S. policy.

"U.S. efforts have been and remain focused on addressing the underlying conduct, encouraging steps that will improve the situation for all people in Burma and those displaced in Burma, and promoting accountability for those responsible for these crimes," the statement said.

Effect of terminology

The term ethnic cleansing carries less weight in international law than do the terms genocide or crimes against humanity. The Trump administration is reportedly divided about whether to apply those labels, in part because some fear it could compel the U.S. to intervene.

Rohingya refugee women hold placards as they take part in a protest at the Kutupalong refugee camp to mark the one-year anniversary of their exodus from Myanmar, in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, Aug. 25, 2018.

British author Zarni stressed that intervention does not have to take the form of bombs or even U.N. peacekeepers. It could instead mean the deployment of temporary human rights observers or civilian advisers to Myanmar's government, he added. 

"No one is calling for military intervention. But people want some sort of international mechanism to provide safety for those inside the country and for those who may return," he said. "These are things that need to be discussed — not simply being scared of needing to bomb."

A U.N.-mandated fact-finding mission in August recommended that Myanmar generals be investigated for genocide and crimes against humanity. It said that estimates of 10,000 deaths were "conservative." More than 725,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh over the past year.

Myanmar's military-dominated government denies oppressing the Rohingya. It claims it is responding to a series of attacks by Rohingya militants on police stations.

The Rohingya have long complained of discrimination in Myanmar, including being refused citizenship.

VOA's Cindy Saine contributed to this report.

Rohingya Exodus