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More than 400,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar. Photograph: Zuma Wire/Rex/Shutterstock

By Julia Carrie Wong in San Francisco, Michael Safi in Delhi and Shaikh Azizur Rahman in Calcutta
September 20, 2017

As hundreds of thousands flee a brutal campaign by the Myanmar military, the social media company labels an insurgent group a ‘dangerous organization’ 

Amid international accusations that Myanmar’s military is engaging in “ethnic cleansing” of the Rohingya Muslim minority, Facebook designated a Rohingya insurgent group a “dangerous organization” and ordered moderators to delete any content “by or praising” it.

The decision, which the company said was made after an internal assessment of the group, came shortly before activists began complaining that the company was censoring posts about the brutal military campaign against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (Arsa) was placed on Facebook’s “dangerous organization” list in recent weeks, a Facebook spokesperson confirmed. The company’s community standards ban posts by or in support of such organizations, which it defines as groups engaged in terrorism, organized violence or crime, mass murder, or organized hate.

Facebook refused to comment on whether any of the other groups involved in the conflict that has seen more than 400,000 Rohingya flee the country have been designated as dangerous, or had accounts or posts deleted.

Myanmar’s military, which the top United Nations human rights official has accused of engaging in a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”, has a verified Facebook page with 2.6m followers. The government has numerous other official pages as well, and human rights observers have raised concerns that posts by Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s de facto leader and a Nobel peace prize recipient, are stoking anti-Rohingya fervour.

Myanmar’s government declared Arsa a terrorist organization on 25 August, after the group coordinated attacks on police posts in the western state of Rakhine, killing 12 members of the security forces. Facebook said it did not make its decision at the request of the government, and that the decision was based solely on the group’s alleged violent activity, not its political aims. 

But the social media company’s decision was welcomed by Aung San Suu Kyi’s spokesman, Zaw Htay, who shared a message from Facebook regarding the designation on his own Facebook page on 26 August. Htay’s post urging his followers to report pro-Arsa content to Facebook was shared nearly 7,000 times. 

Arsa emerged last October and calls itself a freedom fighter organization on behalf of the approximately 1.1m Rohingya living in Rakhine. Rohingya Muslims are despised by Myanmar’s Buddhist majority and treated as stateless, undocumented immigrants by the government. They are widely described as the most persecuted people on earth.

Arsa claimed on Twitter that the attacks were a “legitimate step” to defend the rights of Rohingya against repression by the Myanmar military. But the attacks triggered “clearance operations” by the Burmese army that have resulted in a refugee crisis. The top UN human rights official denounced the military’s actions as “clearly disproportionate” to the Arsa attack. Rohingya arriving in Bangladeshi refugee camps have described a savage military campaignagainst Rohingya villages, with arson attacks, rapes, shootings, and landmines. 

Facebook’s acknowledgment that it banned Arsa comes amid criticism from Rohingya refugees, journalists, and observers that the company is censoring reports of human rights violations against the minority group. 

“I believe [Facebook] is trying to suppress freedom [of] expression and dissent by colluding with the genocidaires in Myanmar regime,” the activist and journalist Mohammad Anwar told the Guardian. Anwar, whose allegations of censorship were first reported by the Daily Beast, shared screenshots of numerous posts that had been removed by Facebook for violating community standards. Several of the posts comprised only text, he said, and described military operations against Rohingya villages in Rakhine. 

The Kuala Lumpur-based journalist, who works for the site RohingyaBlogger.com, said that his reports come from a network of 45 correspondents and citizen journalists in Rakhine.

Facebook said some of Anwar’s posts had been deleted in error but that the mistakes were not the result of moderators confusing support for the Rohingya with support for Arsa. 

“In response to the situation in Myanmar, we are only removing graphic content when it is shared to celebrate the violence, versus raising awareness and condemning the action,” a Facebook spokeswoman, Ruchika Budhraja, said in a statement. “We are carefully reviewing content against our Community Standards and, when alerted to errors, quickly resolving them and working to prevent them from happening again.”

While Facebook has long banned certain content for containing graphic violence or nudity, the company amended its standards in October 2016 following an international outcry when it censored a well-known image of a naked child fleeing a napalm attack during the Vietnam war. Faced with intense criticism of its role as a censor, Facebook decided to allow graphic content that is “newsworthy, significant, or important to the public interest”.
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But several Rohingya Facebook users complained to the Guardian that the censorship continued. 

Mohammed Rafique, a Rohingya activist based in Ireland, told the Guardian that he was temporarily banned from Facebook on 28 August for posting “photos and videos of torture and killings in the Rohingya villages” on his Facebook page. 

“Although I am still receiving new photos and videos of the ongoing anti-Rohingya violence, I am not posting them on my Facebook any more, fearing Facebook action like suspension of my account,” he said.

Jafar Arakane, a Rohingya refugee based in Saudi Arabia, runs Arakan Times, a Rohingya community YouTube channel with an associated Facebook page. Arakan is an alternative name for Rakhine.

“As soon as the violence broke out in Arakan last month, from day one, we began broadcasting our news on YouTube and remained active with posts on our channel’s Facebook page. We reported how the Rakhines youths actively supported the violence helping the military in arson and murder of the Rohingyas. Through our Facebook page we reached tens of thousands of our viewers,” Arakane said.

His Facebook page was suspended on 27 August, he said. 

Ko Ko Linn, a Rohingya community leader living in Bangladesh, said his work to inform the world about human rights abuses against the Rohingya had been “badly hampered” by Facebook suspending his account on 12 September. Linn, who heads the Bangladesh chapter of the London-based Arakan Rohingya National Organisation, said he had been posting “videos and photos which showed the brutal massacre of Rohingya civilians in Arakan”.

Phil Robertson, deputy director of Asia Division of Human Rights Watch, said the Rohingya were forced to get the word out about their cause on Facebook and Twitter because the few media outlets in Myanmar that exercise independence in reporting on the situation in Rakhine face threats of boycotts and retaliation.

Not many media outlets in the country, he said, were willing to take the risk of alienating their readers, advertisers, and in some cases, their staff, by calling out the Burmese government for the campaign of ethnic cleansing they are involved in. 

“Of course, the problem with social media is that their policing mechanisms can be used for harassment by those willing to mount a concerted campaign of filing complaints against specific Facebook pages or Twitter feeds,” Robertson added. “We’ve seen an explosion of Rakhine and Burman nationalists using Twitter, retweeting hateful messages and gory images, so it would not surprise me at all if some of those nationalists, using bot accounts and pages apparently set up en masse, are now going on the attack against Rohingya on Facebook.”

Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters


RB News
September 21, 2017

Maungdaw -- Rumors among Rohingya people are ripe that clashes between the Burmese armed forces and the fighters from ARSA Resistance Group would break out in the heart of Maungdaw tonight (Sept 21) or at forthcoming nights.

The Burmese (Myanmar) government has rammed up numbers of troops in the downtown of Maungdaw and surrounding areas since yesterday evening triggering immense fears among the local Muslim Rohingyas.

Our sources have confirmed that the rumors stemmed from the government sources and have started spreading among the Rohingyas since 11:30pm (on Sept 20). The increase in numbers of the troops and the subsequent rumor-mongering are apparently intended to create panic among the remaining local Rohingyas and make them flee from the country.

The sources have further confirmed that the government is misusing some Hindus to make random calls to local Rohingya villagers to make the rumor go viral.

Since August 25, the Myanmar military have launched a scorched-earth operation against the entire Rohingya population under pretext of counter-insurgency operations carrying out mass-killings of over 3,500 Rohingya civilians; forcing nearly 500,000 Refugee exodus into Bangladesh; burning down over 200 Rohingya villages (i.e. 2/3 of Rohingya areas) in Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung Townships.

The UN Secretary General, the UN Human Rights Commissioner, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have unanimously described the plight of Rohingya as 'a Textbook Case of Ethnic Cleansing.'

[Reported by RB Correspondent; Edited by M.S. Anwar]

Please email to: editor@rohingyablogger.com to send reports and feedback.



By Kate Cronin-Furman
Foreign Policy
September 20, 2017

We've never known more about oncoming atrocities, but are still mostly helpless to stop them.

A humanitarian crisis is unfolding on the border between Burma (also known as Myanmar) and Bangladesh. Over the last three weeks, nearly 400,000 Burmese Rohingya have fled the country, driven out by the devastating violence unleashed upon them by the military. Their stories are horrific: parents slaughtered in front of their children, systematic rape and sexual torture, wholesale destruction of villages. Aid and advocacy groups describe the rate of population displacement as unprecedented and the human misery among the refugees as unparalleled.

The violence is shocking, but at the same time it is entirely unsurprising. For the past three years, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Early Warning Project has identified Burma as one of the top three countries most at risk for a mass atrocity. Other researchers argued as early as 2015 that a genocidal campaign was already underway. With such clear indications that a crisis was coming, why did the world fail to protect the Rohingya?

The question is all the more puzzling because in 2005, the member states of the United Nations endorsed the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) framework, which obligates the international community to protect civilians from mass atrocities when their governments are “unwilling or unable” to keep them safe. R2P was borne out of collective guilt over the mass slaughter of civilians in Rwanda and Bosnia and promised a new era of “timely and decisive” atrocity response. In pursuit of this goal, early warning efforts to identify the precursors of mass atrocities became a focus for both international and state actors.

But if the Rohingya crisis has revealed anything, it’s that early warnings were never going to be enough to prevent mass atrocities.

As the death toll mounts, many observers are asking whether Burma is committing genocide. But the question hinges on intent, not scale. The mass slaughter of civilian members of a minority group by state forces is a crime against humanity. It may also be genocide if committed with the goal of destroying that group “in whole or in part.” And, practically speaking, the distinction doesn’t matter — neither for the Rohingya, who are being subjected to a brutal and systematic attack whatever the motive, nor for the international community, whose options and obligations in the face of mass atrocity do not depend on the name of the crime.

Called “the world’s most persecuted minority,” the Muslim Rohingya have suffered decades of discrimination and abuse at the hands of their Buddhist neighbors and the Burmese security forces. Although the Rohingya have lived in Burma’s western Rakhine state since the era of British colonial rule, Burma does not recognize their citizenship and insists that they are illegal migrants from Bangladesh. As a result of this deprivation of nationality, they have been systematically discriminated against and denied access to state services.

The Rohingya’s precarious legal status has made them particularly vulnerable to violence from other groups. In 2012, when ethnic riots erupted between Muslims and Buddhists in Rakhine state, 100,000 Rohingya fled their homes. Human rights groups documented the collusion of state forces in the violence, suggesting that the Rohingya’s subsequent forced relocationto squalid displacement camps and urban ghettos in the name of security was part of a deliberate plan to restrict their freedom of movement. In 2015, another alarm bell rang: The situation in the camps had become so dire that thousands of Rohingya boarded unsafe vessels on the Andaman Sea. An international crisis ensued when, in the face of the unprecedented numbers seeking asylum, Burma’s neighboring countries began turning back the boats.

When Rohingya insurgents attacked several border posts in October 2016, the government responded with unrestrained fury. Openly invoking the hate speech propagated by militant Buddhist monks, government officials have characterized the Rohingya as “dirty,” terrorists, and liars. By November 2016, human rights groups were warning that the military was systematically employing extrajudicial killings, torture, and sexual violence against the civilian population in the name of counterinsurgency. And in February 2017, a U.N. report concluded that the so-called “clearance operations” likely amounted to crimes against humanity. The violence, already severe, escalated sharply following the deaths of 12 security officers on Aug. 25. In response, the military launched an all-out attack on the Rohingya. Credible estimates suggest that over a third of the Rohingya population has fled. Thousands more attempt to cross the border into Bangladesh every day.

The plight of the Rohingya suggests that early warnings do little to prevent atrocities against vulnerable groups. The high risk of mass atrocities was clear from the escalating communitarian violence, the documented uptick in online hate speech beginning in 2012, and the tightening of official restrictions on the Rohingya’s movement and activities.

And the Rohingya are not the only post-R2P victims of long-telegraphed mass atrocities. In 2009, Sri Lanka slaughtered tens of thousands of Tamil civilians in the final phase of its war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. The bloodbath was neither sudden nor unpredictable. The security forces had committed systematic abuses throughout the conflict and had expelled aid workers and journalists from the field of combat in late 2008. More recently, South Sudan’s descent into violence and anarchy was preceded by the breakdown of a power-sharing agreement and rumors of ethnic militias forming. In both cases, the threat of atrocities was clear, yet the international community took no action to prevent them.

These examples underscore the fact that a lack of advance notice is not the critical obstacle to action on mass atrocities. It’s politics. Many powerful countries are reluctant to permit action that impinges on another state’s sovereignty, lest the precedent be used against them later. This is particularly true for countries (like China, India, and Russia) fighting insurgencies within their own territory. And for those who lack these disincentives, the costs of action may still present a barrier. International actors are aware that humanitarian interventions are rarely simple exercises and often presage long-term commitments. And in the aftermath of the Libyan intervention, where R2P was explicitly invoked, they are particularly wary of the potential for making a bad situation worse.

Early warning has not saved the Rohingya because it can’t offset the countervailing interests or cooperation challenges that make preventing or halting mass atrocities difficult. And unfortunately, these dynamics are particularly pronounced in the present crisis. The Burmese government, including its Nobel Peace laureate civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has made a concerted push to brand the Rohingya as Islamic militants. Tapping into international counter-terrorism narratives simultaneously bolsters the legitimacy of the military operation against the Rohingya and undermines their status as innocent civilian victims of state abuse.

Additionally, the international community is already struggling to respond to mass atrocities elsewhere, most prominently in Syria, but also in the often-overlooked wars in Yemen, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan. In tandem, these two factors mean that the Rohingya are in competition with other atrocity victims for attention and assistance — and the terrorism allegations, however far-fetched, may make them appear comparatively less deserving.

Finally, the fact that the attacks on the Rohingya are taking place against the backdrop of a singularly apathetic U.S. administration further reduces the likelihood of intervention on their behalf. Under President Trump, the U.S. has removed human rights conditions on arms sales, gutted the State Department’s human rights and democracy promotion mission, and threatened to withdraw from the U.N. Human Rights Council.

However vulnerable to charges of hypocrisy the United States has been in the past, its rhetorical commitment to human rights and willingness to exert pressure has provided a constraint on repressive states that seek the support of the West. But a world in which the United States openly ignores human rights constitutes a permissive environment for the commission of atrocities. Burma knows this, and it has seized the opportunity to finally rid itself of the Rohingya with little risk of interference.

Photo credit: Allison Joyce/Getty Images

By David Brunnstrom, Tommy Wilkes
September 20, 2017



UNITED NATIONS/COX‘S BAZAR, Bangladesh - U.S. President Donald Trump is urging the U.N. Security Council to take “strong and swift action” to bring Myanmar’s Rohingya crisis to an end, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said on Wednesday, calling the violence there a threat to the region and beyond. 

Pence, speaking at a Security Council meeting on peacekeeping reform, accused the Myanmar military of responding to militant attacks on government outposts “with terrible savagery, burning villages, driving the Rohingya from their homes.” 

Pence repeated a U.S. call for the Myanmar military to end the violence immediately and support diplomatic efforts for a long-term solution. 

“President Trump and I also call on the Security Council of the United Nations to take strong and swift action to bring this crisis to an end and bring hope and help to the Rohingya people in their hour of need,” Pence said. 

His remarks were the strongest yet from the U.S. government in response to the violence in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine that began last month and has forced 422,000 Rohingya Muslims into Bangladesh, fleeing a military offensive the United Nations has branded ethnic cleansing. 

Pence called the violence and the “historic exodus” of Rohingya, including tens of thousand of children, a “great tragedy.” 

The violence began on Aug. 25 when Rohingya insurgents attacked about 30 police posts and an army camp, killing about 12 people. 

Unless the violence was stopped, it would only become worse and “consume the region for generations to come and threaten the peace of us all,” the vice president said. 

“The images of the violence and its victims have shocked the American people and decent people all over the world,” he said. 

Pence said the United States welcomed comments by Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a national address that returning refugees have nothing to fear, but Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh said on Wednesday they took little hope from the 1991 Nobel peace laureate’s speech. 

“I have no hope to go back. My documents were stripped from my forefathers decades ago,” said Shafi Rahman, 45. He said he had arrived in Bangladesh two weeks ago after soldiers and civilian mobs burned his village.

Rights monitors and fleeing Rohingya say the army and Rakhine Buddhist vigilantes responded with violence and arson aimed at driving out the mostly stateless Muslim population, which the U.N. rights agency called “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” 

Myanmar rejects the charge, saying its forces are tackling insurgents of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army who it has accused of setting the fires and attacking civilians. 

Smoke could be seen rising from at least two places in Myanmar on Wednesday, a Reuters reporter in Bangladesh said. It was not known what was burning but rights groups say almost half of Rohingya villages in the region have been torched. 

In her Tuesday speech, Suu Kyi condemned abuses and said all violators would be punished, adding that she was committed to the restoration of peace and the rule of law. 

However, she did not address U.N. accusations of ethnic cleansing by the security forces, drawing a cool international response. 

On the return of refugees, she said Myanmar was ready to start a verification process under a 1993 arrangement with Bangladesh and “those who have been verified as refugees from this country will be accepted without any problem.”

U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

But refugees in Bangladesh who were aware of her comments took no comfort from that, anticipating little change to policies that have denied their community recognition as a distinct ethnic group and citizenship. 

Most people in Buddhist-majority Myanmar see the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and refuse to even recognize the term Rohingya. 

“She didn’t mention Rohingya. Rohingya is our ethnicity,” said Nizam Uddin, 19, who arrived in Bangladesh in November, following violence the previous month triggered by insurgent attacks on police. 

”Most of our documents were burned by the military ... We don’t have proof of citizenship and how can we get it? 

“I have no hope.” 

‘UNACCEPTABLE’

Suu Kyi has for years been feted in the West as a champion of democracy during years of military rule and house arrest but she has faced growing criticism over the plight of the Rohingya. 

Western diplomats and aid officials had been hoping to see unequivocal condemnation of violence and hate speech in her address. 

In a telephone call with Suu Kyi, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson welcomed Myanmar’s commitment to allow the return of refugees, but urged it to facilitate aid to those affected by the violence and address “deeply troubling” rights abuse allegations, the State Department said. 

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Patrick Murphy is in Myanmar and is due to meet government officials and representatives of different communities in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine state. 

The United States said on Wednesday it would provide an additional $32 million in humanitarian assistance, bringing its total assistance in 2017 to $95 million. 

“We applaud the government of Bangladesh’s generosity in responding to this severe humanitarian crisis and appreciate their continued efforts to ensure assistance reaches people in need,” the U.S. State Department said in a statement.

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said she talked to Trump on Monday about Rohingya Muslims flooding into her country, but expected no help from him as he has made clear how he feels about refugees. 

China, which has close economic and diplomatic ties with Myanmar and is a competitor to the United States for influence in the strategically important country, has called for understanding of the government’s efforts to protect stability. 

On Tuesday, Britain said it had suspended a military training program in Myanmar and French President Emmanuel Macron condemned “unacceptable ethnic cleaning” and said he would launch a U.N. Security Council initiative to ensure humanitarian access and an end to the violence. 

Suu Kyi rejected a suggestion she was soft on the military, telling Radio Free Asia her objective was national reconciliation. 

“We have never criticized the military itself, but only their actions. We may disagree on these types of actions,” she said. 

She cited her efforts to change a military-drafted constitution, which bars her from the presidency and gives the military responsibility over security and a veto over charter reform. 

Additona reporting by David Brunnstrom in NEW YORK, Wa Lone in SITTWE, Michelle Nichols at the UNITED NATIONS; Writing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Paul Tait, Bill Trott and Grant McCool

(Photo: PID)

By Reazul Bashar,
September 20, 2017

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has presented a six-point proposal regarding the Rohingya crisis, including demands to return the refugees to Myanmar and an end to ‘state propaganda’ that labelled the ethnic group as ‘Bengalis’.

Hasina made the proposal at a meeting of the OIC Contact Group at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Tuesday and urged the OIC countries to unite to tackle the crisis.

“Today our Muslim brothers and sisters in Myanmar are faced with ‘ethnic cleansing’,” she said. 

“The ongoing military operations by the Myanmar authorities have created havoc in the Rakhine State”

The Bangladesh prime minister’s other proposals included an immediate end to atrocities against Rohingya Muslims, the creation of ‘safe zones’ in Myanmar for the protection of civilians, the immediate and unconditional implementation of the recommendations put forward by the Kofi Annan Commission, and urgent humanitarian assistance for the refugees from OIC countries until they can return to Myanmar.

Hasina is currently attending the 72nd General Assembly of the United Nations, which began on Sept 19 and will continue until Sept 25.

The meeting of world leaders began soon after militant attacks in the border state of Rakhine on Aug 25 triggered a crackdown by the Myanmar military which has forced hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas to cross the border into Bangladesh.



Over 400,000 Rohingya refugees have fled into Bangladesh since the crackdown began, which Hasina called ‘the largest exodus of Rohingyas of all time’. UNICEF estimates nearly 60 percent of the refugees are children.

If the situation in Rakhine state persists, UN agencies estimate the total number of refugees entering Bangladesh may hit one million.

The UN has called the incident a ‘textbook case of ethnic cleansing’.

Hasina spoke of her own visit to the refugee camps at the OIC meeting and attempted to highlight the ‘grave suffering, particularly of women and children’. She urged OIC nations to visit Bangladesh and see the situation for themselves.

She criticised Myanmar for claiming Rohingyas to be ‘illegal migrants’ from Bangladesh.

“The historical records suggest that the Rohingyas have been living in Rakhine State for centuries.”

The Rohingya Muslims are being forced out in a planned and organised manner, Hasina said. She referred to the minority’s exclusion from the list of Myanmar’s recognised ethnic groups, the denial of their right to citizenship in 1982 and their confinement to camps for internally displaced peoples.

“We have continued our diplomatic efforts to return all the Rohingyas to their homeland,” the prime minister said.

“But Myanmar is not responding to our calls. You may have also seen in the media that Myanmar is laying landmines along their stretch of border to stop return of Rohingyas to their homeland.”

She urged the OIC countries to unite and resolve the crisis before it is too late. Bangladesh is ready to join any joint initiative on the issue, she said.

Hasina will speak on the Rohingya issue in her General Assembly address on Sept 21. She will meet with United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres for bilateral talks afterwards.



By James Griffiths
September 19, 2017

Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi gave a much-anticipated address Tuesday on the ongoing crisis following the exodus of than 400,000 minority Rohingya Muslims from the country. 

Speaking for over 30 minutes in English, it's the first time Suu Kyi has addressed the situation in northern Rakhine State or the growing international criticism of her and her government

However, many of the claims made in her speech are somewhat dubious, with some even appearing to contradict the findings of an official report commissioned by the government and compiled by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

'We want to find out why this exodus is happening' 

Suu Kyi's protestations that the government does not know the root causes of the crisis are peculiar, especially as she repeatedly referenced the Annan report, the Final Report of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State.

The report, released in August, identified several key issues, including the lack of citizenship for stateless Rohingya Muslims as well as socio-economic challenges facing Rakhine, and police and military action in the state. 

Following attacks on border police posts in October 2016, the report said, "subsequent military and police operations led to tens of thousands of Muslims fleeing across the border to Bangladesh." 

"While Myanmar has every right to defend its own territory, a highly militarized response is unlikely to bring peace to the area," the report said. 

"Unless concerted action -- led by the government and aided by all sectors of the government and society -- is taken soon, we risk the return of another cycle of violence and radicalisation, which will further deepen the chronic poverty that afflicts Rakhine State," Annan said in a statement. 

UN human rights chief, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, has said the situation in Myanmar seems like a "textbook case of ethnic cleansing," a claim which has been repeated by multiple human rights groups.

Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have published damning reports on the causes of the exodus, including accusations the Myanmar military has deliberately burned Rohingya villages in a campaign of "ethnic cleansing" against the minority

They backed up this conclusion with satellite imagery of fires, photos and videos from the ground, and witness testimony of human rights abuses by the Myanmar authorities. 

'Myanmar does not fear international scrutiny'

Suu Kyi said she is aware of the "world's attention" focused on Myanmar presently, but said her government "does not fear international scrutiny."

"If you are interested in joining us in our endeavors, please let us know," she added. "We can arrange for you to visit these areas and to ask (those who have stayed) why they have not fled, why they have chosen to remain in their villages."

While the situation may change following Suu Kyi's speech, access to Rakhine State has been heavily restricted to media, human rights groups, and diplomats. 

A tightly government-controlled media trip to Rakhine state was organized earlier this month, but permits for journalists to visit the area independently and interview people without official interference have been next to impossible to come by. 

Amnesty International has accused the government of denying aid workers access to the state, while in January UN special rapporteur on human rights Yanghee Lee was prevented from visiting some parts of the state for "security reasons." 

Doctors Without Borders said it had been providing services to displaced people within Rakhine, "but international staff have not been granted travel authorizations to visit the health facilities since August, whilst national staff have been too afraid to go to work following remarks by Myanmar officials accusing NGOs of colluding with (militant groups)." 

In December, Kofi Annan also appeared to criticize the government's denial of access to Rakhine to aid groups and other NGOs. 

'The great majority of Rakhines in the state have not joined the exodus'

Rakhine State has a population of around 3.1 million, some one million of which are Rohingya Muslims. 

The UN estimates that over 400,000 Rohingya have arrived in Bangladesh since August 25. They joined around one million Rohingya already in the country who traveled there during previous periods of unrest. 

Earlier this month, the government said 176 out of 471, or 37.4% of all Rohingya villages were empty of people, and an additional 34 villages were "partially abandoned." During her speech, Suu Kyi said, "50% of the villages of Muslims are intact."

Suu Kyi did not use the word "Rohingya" in her speech to describe Muslims living in Rakhine, so it is difficult to ascertain whether she is referring to the state's entire population, or specifically the Rohingya population the UN and others say have been disproportionally affected by recent violence. 

"Rohingya" is a politically charged term in Myanmar and one the government has repeatedly refused to endorse.

The only time Suu Kyi said the word during her speech was when she referred to the ARSA militant group -- the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. 

"She chooses to use the word in relation to a terrorist group, that means that is the only identity that Rohingya will be attached to, from her perspective and she hopes from the international perspective," said Penny Green, a professor of law at Queen Mary University of London.

'All people (in Rakhine) have access to education and health care services'

Suu Kyi's claims Rohingya have access to the same services as their non-Muslim neighbors is contradicted by the Annan commission's report which found Muslims, in particular internally displaced persons, are "deprived of freedom of movement." 

"Movement restrictions have a wide range of detrimental effects, including reduced access to education, health and services, strengthened communal segregation, and reduced economic interaction," the report said. 

Moreover, it found that "access to health is particularly low within the Muslim community in the northern and central parts of the state. In some areas, Muslims face discriminative obstacles that prevent available lifesaving services from being accessed." 

Azeem Ibrahim, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Policy who has visited internally displaced person camps within Myanmar, told CNN the population there "don't have the same level of access at all to anything."

'No clearance operations' since September 5

In late August, Rohingya militants attacked and killed 12 security officers, according to Myanmar's state media, which kicked off the latest round of violence.

Human rights groups and other observers say those attacks were responded to with a major military and security operation that included helicopter attacks and the burning of Rohingya villages. Refugees have also told CNN non-Muslim groups were armed and encouraged to attack their Muslim neighbors

Government efforts to "restore the situation to normalcy" are succeeding, Suu Kyi said. "Since the fifth of September, there have been no armed clashes and there have been no clearance operations." 

However, satellite imagery examined by Amnesty International appears to show more than a dozen burned villages and fires since that date. 

Human Rights Watch said 62 villages were torched between August 25 and September 14. 

CNN's Bex Wright and Josh Berlinger contributed reporting.

Rohingya Muslims who fled Myanmar at a refugee camp in Bangladesh. Photograph: Dar Yasin/AP

By Rowena Mason and Heather Stewart
September 19, 2017

Theresa May says all engagement with Myanmar’s military will end until action against civilians in Rakhine state stops

Theresa May has announced that the UK will suspend the training of Burmese military amid concerns about the treatment of the Muslim Rohingya population.

Speaking at the UN general assembly in New York, she said the UK would end all engagement with the Burmese military until military action against civilians in Rakhine state had stopped.

The prime minister has been under pressure to halt the programme since the country’s army was accused of driving hundreds of thousands of Rohingya into Bangladesh.

“We are very concerned about what’s happening to the Rohingya people in Burma. The military action against them must stop,” May said. “We have seen too many vulnerable people having to flee for their lives. Aung San Suu Kyi and the Burmese government need to make it very clear that the military action should stop.

“The British government is announcing today that we are going to stop all defence engagement and training of the Burmese military by the Ministry of Defence until this issue is resolved.”

Asked if the action was coordinated with international allies, May said: “There has been very clear international concern about the issue of the Rohingya people and what is happening to them.

“I was discussing this yesterday in Canada with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The British government believes we must show our concern, and that’s why we are going to stop all defence engagement and training of the Burmese military by the Ministry of Defence until this issue is satisfactorily resolved.”

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the top UN official on human rights, said earlier this month that Myanmar’s treatment of its Rohingya minority appeared to be a “textbook example” of ethnic cleansing.

The UK programme in Myanmar does not include combat training but is aimed at educating soldiers in democracy, leadership and the English language at a cost of around £305,000 last year.

Last week, Michael Fallon, the defence secretary, said the violence against Rohingya Muslims was “obviously unacceptable” but refused to confirm the programme was ending.

“Our ambassador has made representations to that effect to the Burmese regime,” he said at the time.


Rohingya Exodus