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By Maung Zarni, Natalie Brinham | Published by Middle East Institute on November 20, 2018

“It is an ongoing genocide (in Myanmar),” said Mr. Marzuki Darusman, the head of the UN Human Rights Council-mandated Independent International Fact-Finding Mission at the official briefing at the full Security Council on October 24, 2018.[1] This official briefing was officially requested by 9 out of the 15 Council members over the objection of China, Russia, Equatorial Guinea and Bolivia). [2]

On the same day, before the Security Council briefing, Darusman, former Attorney General of Indonesia who headed his country’s National Human Rights Commission and served as UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, had held a press conference in New York where he was joined by Professor Yanghee Lee of South Korea, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights situation in Myanmar.[3]Echoing the UN Fact-Finding Mission Chief’s concerns for Rohingyas’ safety arising out of the continuing existence of structures, institutions, practices and executioners of Myanmar’s genocidal policies, Professor Lee officially opposed the scheme of repatriation of one million Rohingyas who have taken refuge across the borders on Bangladeshi soil.[4] 

Amid calls for international accountability — international because Myanmar lacks an independent and competent judiciary, as well as the political will to bring to justice the main military perpetrators of the genocide[5] — the government of Bangladesh has prioritized the repatriation of Rohingyas.[6] To be sure, the massive influx of Rohingyas into Bangladesh has placed a heavy economic, social and political burden on the country. 

The flurry of activities by Bangladesh authorities — including organizing and attending international conferences and hosting countless visits by foreign heads of state and delegations, and celebrities that are focused on addressing the root cause of the recurring waves of refugee inflows from Myanmar — indicate that the continuing presence of Rohingya refugees in the country is an all-consuming concern for both its government and society at large.[7] 

Because third-country resettlement of one million Rohingyas is not a viable solution, Dhaka’s focus on repatriation — as opposed to holding Myanmar perpetrators of genocidal crimes accountable — is not only understandable but also warranted. However, the most crucial question is how to address the justifiable, widespread and profound fear of further waves of attacks and being sent back to live under genocidal conditions among the deeply traumatized Rohingyas in the camps in Cox’s Bazar district in Bangladesh.[8]

For two consecutive years, Prime Minister Sheik Hasina has gone to the UN General Assembly and presented her proposal to the international community in order to mobilize support for Bangladesh’s efforts to unload the burden placed on her country.[9] The large-scale impact of neighboring Myanmar’s genocide is all too visible for any visitor to the sprawling camp “city” in Cox’s Bazar. It is also a subject of criminal investigation by the pre-trial Chamber of the International Criminal Court after the ICC issued an unprecedented and fully justified ruling that the cross-border nature of Myanmar’s crimes — deportation and “other (international) crimes” — are within the Court’s jurisdiction and hence the preliminary investigations of allegations and facts must proceed,[10] despite non-signatory Myanmar’s official dismissal of the ruling as “meritless.”[11] 

To her credit, Prime Minister Sheik Hasina has highlighted the essential need of the Rohingya, most specifically the group’s safety, upon return to their places of origin inside Myanmar. In her proposals to the UN in 2017 and 2018, the PM even raised, officially, the issue of establishing “safe zone” for the Rohingyas inside Myanmar[12]— and rightly so.

Having had to deal with chronically large waves of Rohingya exodus into the Bangladeshi territories since 1978,[13] Dhaka is best positioned to comprehend and appear to fully appreciate, the absence of physical group safety, which is the direct outcome of Myanmar’s genocidal policies and practices, for this largely Muslim ethnic minority population as the prime “push factor.”[14] 

The predominantly Buddhist Myanmar has long singled out the Rohingya population — which qualifies, according to the UN Fact-Finding Mission report, as ‘protected group’ under international law[15] — for extermination on Myanmar’s soil. The military-controlled Myanmar state has perceived Rohingyas as a group with a distinct identity, language and culture, and as a demographic proxy which Bangladesh is using to ease its (Dhaka’s) population pressure[16]: although Bangladesh is 40% smaller in area than Myanmar, it is home to over three times as many people. 

Accordingly, the Myanmar military has instituted systematic measures, both violent and non-violent, designed to change the demographic character of the predominantly Rohingya region of Northern Rakhine, having reversed radically the official recognition[17] granted to Rohingyas in the 1950s and early 1960s as an ethnic nationality of the Union of Burma, who are full and equal citizens, like the country’s other minority populations (e.g., Shan, Kachin, Kayah, Chin, Mon, Rakhine, etc.) and that the 2.5 townships of Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathae Daung formed the main administration region of Rohingya people. 

When the Myanmar military realized that its peaceful scheme of changing the Muslim character of Northern Rakhine State of Rohingya homeland through the state-sponsored trans-migration of Buddhist and other non-Muslim internal migrants from other parts of the country was not having any appreciable impact on the region,[18] it decided to resort to waves of state-directed violence against the target-population of Rohingyas.

Since February 1978, Myanmar’s military leaders have attempted to reduce and eventually erase the Rohingyas’ presence from Bangladesh-Myanmar border region, which stretches 270 miles, framing the region next to the populous Muslim nation of Bangladesh as the “Western gate” of the Union of Myanmar. These systematic attempts at the erasure of Rohingya identity and presence are anchored in the military’s revisionist historical discourse — that Rakhine was a “purely Buddhist” land “contaminated” by the unwelcome intrusions and immigration of Muslims, as openly stated in The State’sWestern Gate (Yangon, 2016),[19] by retired General Khin Nyunt, former chief of the military intelligence services and one of the architects of what Amartya Sen calls “the slow genocide.”[20] 

This official and popular discourse of “Fortress Myanmar” is not applied in the equally porous borderlands with the country’s two giant neighbors, China and India.[21] Inside Myanmar, it is public knowledge that the country has received hundreds of thousands of Chinese migrants from the bordering Chinese state of Yunnan — with some estimates putting the number at roughly one million. The Burmese military and political class, including Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD party leadership were acutely aware of this illegal Chinese immigration[22] into what is known as “Upper Myanmar,” but both have kept quiet since Myanmar’s relations with China solidified after the post-Cold War Western bloc took punitive measures against the formerly non-aligned State on grounds of the well-documented egregious and pervasive human rights abuses. As a matter of fact, under the previous military-backed government of ex-General Thein Sein (2010-15), Myanmar had even created a new ethnic name — Mong Yang Myanmar — exclusively for the almost 90,000 ethnic Han which assisted the military’s operations against restive Myanmar ethnic nationalities such as the Kokant.[23] 

The fact that Myanmar continues to deny its own official documentation supporting the Rohingyas’ claim of Western Myanmar as their homeland and to categorically dismiss their irrefutable historical and official group identity as Rohingyas[24] while imposing on the group a false identity of “Bengali,” that is, citizens of Bangladesh can only be understood within the framework of genocide.[25] It is not the lack of knowledge on the part of Myanmar leadership that ethnic identities are not simply innate or DNA-based, but are invented by political organizations and communities, states or sub-state level entities.

The overwhelming majority of the UN member states — save India, Japan, Russia and China — have been vocal in condemning Myanmar’s “gravest crimes in international criminal and humanitarian law,” as the UN Fact Finding Mission on Myanmar put it. But the public condemnations have not been matched by an equal amount of tangible support for the one million Rohingya genocide survivors in Bangladesh in terms of humanitarian funds, human resources (e.g., trauma counsellors, social workers, etc.), or livelihoods opportunities. Less than half of the need for humanitarian aid has been met.[26] Consequently, Dhaka feels enormous pressure to feed and house, however unsatisfactorily, such a large pool of refugees.

Against this background, the idea and schemes of repatriation, as well as Bangladesh’s anxiety over the need to begin the repatriation, need to be understood. Beyond the calls for justice and accountability in the form of ICC or ad hoc International Criminal Tribunal on Myanmar (i.e., International Criminal Tribunal on Yugoslavia or International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda), Rohingya repatriation is correctly seen as the only viable, peaceful solution to one of the contemporary world’s greatest humanitarian challenges.[27] 

Importantly, repatriation is interpreted and pursued by different key players for different strategic and policy ends. 

Bangladesh advocates repatriation of Rohingyas, as they put enormous strain on Bangladesh government resources, on society and on the Environment.[28] 

The guilty party of Myanmar agree, largely in principle, to receive the returning Rohingyas back as Aung San Suu Kyi and her foreign ministry strategists regard repatriation as a tactic to placate the outraged UN and other state players calling for the establishment of the international tribunal on Myanmar and supporting the ICC’s criminal investigation of Myanmar’s crimes of deportation and other high crimes. This is an open secret among the politically conscious Burmese. In fact, in a recent interview with the Radio Free Asia Burmese Service, Tun Tin, a well-known member of the Myanmar Chamber of Commerce and a Burmese crony, explicitly stated that repatriation is a way of alleviating the pressure of the international campaign for criminal accountability around Myanmar genocide. 

China is pressuring both Bangladesh and Myanmar to start large-scale repatriation because the Communist leadership do not welcome the deepening of Western involvement in the resource-rich country which Beijing considers an integral component of its long-term strategic scheme of power projection into the Indian Ocean. 

India is following suit out of a different logic: New Delhi has recently begun de-nationalizing the several million Muslims in the country’s restive northeast region of Assam, a first step towards Myanmar-style expulsion and deportation. Additionally, India is vying with China for influence over the ruling Burmese military since the early 1990s, which necessitates Delhi’s unconditional support for Myanmar’s policies towards Rohingyas.

Japan is pushing repatriation out of its own strategic calculations, lending Aung San Suu Kyi’s government media and money support,[29] in an effort to counteract China’s growing influence over Myanmar.

ASEAN is split between reformist Malaysia[30] which is openly pushing for strong measures to end the genocide and the rest of the Southeast Asian bloc, made up of largely authoritarian regimes. 

Meanwhile, inside Myanmar, all the key pillars of Myanmar society and politics remain deeply genocidal in their outlooks. Nationally organized Buddhist monks continue to promote venomous anti-Rohingya view while rallying behind the main perpetrator, namely Myanmar Armed Forces. Anti-Rohingya public opinion has largely crystalized, as the direct result of the Myanmar military’s psychological warfare or mass propaganda campaign, using traditional media and, since 2012, Facebook, depicting Rohingyas, falsely as “Islamicists” and “Illegal Bengali invaders” hell-bent on taking over “Buddhist Myanmar.” 

Aung San Suu Kyi herself and her ruling NLD party share the public view that Rohingya identity is “fake” — a political invention dating from the 1950s — and that Rohingyas really belong in Bangladesh. Even if Suu Kyi and her civilian government have the political will — and there is no indication they do — they have no control over the most powerful organ of the State, the Security Sector, and the most culturally influential pillar of Myanmar, the Buddhist Order. Locally in Rakhine, the shared homeland between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingyas, Rakhine nationalists continue to mobilize openly against any large-scale repatriation.

Against this overwhelmingly hostile background — not to mention Myanmar’s state’s policies of persecution, including laws and regulations, which remain completely unchanged — no repatriation without guaranteed safety for Rohingyas is conceivable. The majority of Rohingyas may be illiterate, poorly educated or disorganized. This is in spite of Suu Kyi’s disingenuous public statement that her government has implemented 81 of 88 recommendations by the Rakhine Commission chaired by the late Kofi Annan.[31] 

The 40 years of life under genocidal conditions have taught a bitter lesson: the Rohingyas’ physical safety in Myanmar — whether they be future returnees (1.2 millions) from Bangladesh, the estimated 400,000 trapped in Rohingya villages and Rakhine’s southern regional town of Buthidaung, or those in IDP camps — cannot be assured without international protection. It is inconceivable that without this requisite safety any repatriation will be voluntary or sustainable.

Just one week before the planned bilateral repatriation, Myanmar continues with its official — and non-credible — framing of the human rights and humanitarian catastrophe as a direct result of (Muslim) “terrorism.” UN Ambassador Hau Do Suan told Fox News that “the root cause of this humanitarian issue is because of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) — the Muslim terrorist group. They attacked against the government in Rakhine State in October 2016 and again in August 2017. This humanitarian problem was ignited by those terrorist attacks.”[32]

It is therefore urgently necessary for the issue of the guaranteed safety for Rohingyas in Myanmar to be placed at the center of all international policy discussions on Myanmar’s ongoing genocide. 

However, no meaningful discussion which rightly prioritizes Rohingyas’ need for protection and guaranteed basic human and citizenship rights can take place in the face of the repeated refusals by the powerful Asian governments (such as Japan, China and India) and the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to accept the UN Fact-Finding Mission’s dire warning that Myanmar genocide is “ongoing.”

To overcome this obstacle, the Rohingya people urgently need an international coalition of UN member states prepared to pool their respective diplomatic, commercial, political and even military influences in order to bring an effective end to Myanmar’s slow genocide. In his October 4, 2018 talk at the Council on Foreign Relations,Prime Minister of Malaysia Dr. Mahathir Mohammad stated openly that military intervention (in Myanmar) may be needed.[33] 

Such interventions may not be in the cards, but certainly some form of coordinated and collective protection and guaranteed human rights for the Rohingya is fully warranted. In the attempts to set up protection mechanisms, churches and other non-Christian religious and civil society institutions can play more proactive and strategic roles, particularly given the fact that the religious and group identity of the Rohingya minority is a major driver behind Myanmar’s genocide.

[1] “Marzuki Darusman (Chairperson of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar) on the situation in Myanmar - Security Council, 8381st meeting,”, October 24, 2018,…; See also “Rohingya genocide is still going on, says top UN investigator,” The Guardian, October 24, 2018,….

[2] “China fails to stop U.N. Security Council Myanmar briefing,” Reuters, October 24, 2018,…. See also “8381st Security Council Meeting: Situation in Myanmar,”, October 24, 2018,

[3] “Ms. Yanghee Lee, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar and Mr. Marzuki Darusman, Chair of the UN Fact-finding Mission in Myanmar,”, October 24, 2018,….

[4] Ibid.

[5] International Commission of Jurists, “Myanmar: Government’s Commission of Inquiry cannot deliver justice or accountability,” September 7, 2018,….

[6] Personal communications with Bangladeshi authorities including the Speaker of the National Parliament of Bangladesh and the Foreign Minister, between November 2017 and Fall 2018.

[7] Ibid.

[8] “Aid groups say Rohingya ‘terrified’ about Myanmar repatriation,” AFP, November 9, 2018,…. See also “Exclusive: ‘Can’t eat, can’t sleep’ - Rohingya on Myanmar repatriation list,” Reuters, November 9, 2018,…;

[9] Our 5-point proposal can solve Rohingya crisis: PM,” The Daily Star, October 17, 2017,…. See also “PM Hasina at UNGA: UN-Myanmar deal must end Rohingya crisis,” The Daily Star, September 28, 2018,….

[10] International Criminal Court, “Statement of ICC Prosecutor on opening a Preliminary Examination concerning the Rohingya,” September 18, 2018,

[11] “Myanmar Calls ICC Request For Jurisdiction Over Rohingya Expulsion ‘Meritless,’” Radio Free Asia, August 9, 2018,….

[12] “Bangladesh’s PM at UN urges ‘safe zones’ for Myanmar's Rohingya,” Agence France-Presse, September 22, 2017,….

[13] Dr. Jeff Crisp, former head of Policy Development and Evaluation at UNHCR, shares his first-hand knowledge of ‘the shameful history of Rohingya repatriation since 1978. See “We must not repeat the shameful history of returning Rohingya refugees,” Refugee Studies Centre, Oxford University, January 17, 2018,…" style="color:#0563c1; text-decoration:underline. 

[14] See Natalie Brinham, “Breaking the cycle of expulsion, forced repatriation, and exploitation for Rohingya,” Open Democracy, September 26, 2017,…; and Maung Zarni and Natalie Brihnam, “Waves of Genocidal Terror against Rohingyas by Myanmar and the Resultant Exodus Since 1978,” Middle East Institute,….

[15] Members of the Rohingya community are protected under the UN Declaration on the Right of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities. See “Report of the detailed findings of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar,” Human Rights Council, September 18, 2018, p. 15, #45.

[16]See Maung Zarni and Natalie Brinham, “An Evolution of Rohingya Persecution in Myanmar: From Strategic Embrace to Genocide,” Middle East Institute,….

[17] Official Encyclopedia of Burma (Burmese), Literary House, Union of Burma Government Press, V. 9, under “Mayu District” (of Rohingya), 1964. See also Gregory Poling, “Separating Fact from Fiction about Myanmar’s Rohingya,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, DC, February 13, 2014,…; and Brigadier General Aung Gyi, Vice-Chief of Staff - Army, Myanmar Armed Forces, “Rohingyas are equal and full citizens and an ethnic minority integral to the Union of Burma,” Khit Yay (Current Affairs), Ministry of Defence, Rangoon, July 4, 1961,….

[18] A former military intelligence divisional head of the inter-agency Na Sa Ka based in Rakhine State capital of Sittwe openly admitted in a Burmese language essay that the peaceful means designed to change the demographic character of Muslim region of N. Rakhine failed because the military was not devoting enough financial resources

[19] See ex-General Khin Nyunt, The State’s Western Gate Problem (in Burmese, hereafter cited as “The State’s Western Gate Problem”) (Yangon: One Hundred Flowers Press, 2016). This is the single most detailed account of Rohingya persecution from the perspective of a key perpetrator, openly explaining different schemes, strategies and rationales, adopted by Myanmar military in order to change the demographic and ethnic character of the predominantly Muslim and Rohingya N. Rakhine State of Myanmar. Khin Nyunt was a young major who had played different roles since the very first state-directed terror campaign against Rohingyas under the false disguise of “illegal immigration” checks in February 1978 until his ouster as chief of military intelligence in October 18, 2004. In 1992, he founded Na Sa Ka, the border affairs inter-agency instrument of persecution made up of the ministries of Immigration, Customs, Religious Affairs, Justice, Home Affairs, Defence, and Foreign Affairs, which was formally dismantled only in 2013: for the agency came under a close scrutiny by international researchers and media as it came to be known as the main instrument of Myanmar genocide. Despite its formal dissolution the same repressive mission and institutionalized practices of persecution continue.

[20] Amartya Sen, “The Slow Genocide of the Rohingya,” Harvard University, November 4, 2014,…; See also Maung Zarni and Alice Cowley (aka National Brinham), “The Slow-Burning Genocide of Myanmar’s Rohingya,” Pacific Rim Law & Policy Journal 23, 3 (June 2014): 683-754,

[21] Myanmar shares over 1,000 miles of borders with each of these neighbors in the West, Far North and the East. 

[22] Personal communications with a former member of the National League for Democracy party team which screened public letters sent to the party leader Aung San Suu Kyi who answered written questions in her well-publicised weekly “Democracy Forum” which she held at the entrance of her house in Rangoon. Myanmar military intelligence has been widely blamed for “selling citizenship” to thousands of Han Chinese immigrants, residents and traders from the Sino-Burmese border province of Yunnan.

[23] “The Mong Wong, Burma’s newest citizens, face backlash,” ReliefWeb, May 6, 2016,…" style="color:#0563c1; text-decoration:underline.

[24] At his invitation-only official talk at Chatham House in London in July 2013, the then Myanmar President and ex-General Thein Sein repeated the institutionalized denial: ”We do not have a group named Rohingya.” David Mepham, Dispatches Burma: “Excuse me, Mr. President…”, Human Rights Watch UK, July 19, 2013,… .

[25] As part of the systematic destruction of a targeted racial, ethnic, religious or national group, in whole or in part, Raphael Lemkin, who coined the term genocide, conceived genocide as a two-phase process with respect to the group’s identity or “national pattern”, as he called it: first, the destruction of the group’s identity/pattern and second, the imposition on those group members, who survive the destruction, of a new identity/pattern as chosen by the perpetrators. This crucial point is often overlooked. See Raphael Lemkin, Axis rule in Occupied Europe, (Clark, NJ: Lawbook Exchange, Ltd., 2008), specifically Chapter IX, “Genocide”: 79.

[26] “Int’l humanitarian appeal for Rohingya crisis underfunded: UN chief,” China Daily, August 29, 2018 ;

[27] For a thoughtful essay on putting the rights, safety and well-being of the Rohingyas at the center of policy discussions, see Bill Richardson, “Accountability Alone Will Not Solve Myanmar's Rohingya Crisis,” TIME, November 5, 2018,….

[28] Mehdi Chowdhury, “Rohingya refugees remain a heavy burden on Bangladesh,” The Conversation, August 20, 2018,…. >

[29] Writing in a Washington Post op-ed, Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kono exhorts the international “not to criticize, but to patiently support Myanmar’s own efforts for the early, safe, voluntary and dignified repatriation of refugees.” See Taro Kono, “The world must support Myanmar and Bangladesh,” Washington Post, September 25, 2018,

[30] PM Mahathir Mohammad, “The world needs to draw the line. Military actions may be necessary (to end Myanmar genocide)," Council on Foreign Relations, New York City, October 4, 2018, (Hereafter “The world needs to draw the line.”)

[31] Aung San Suu Kyi, “Democratic Transition in Myanmar: Challenges and the Way Forward,” The 43rd Singapore Lecture, Singapore, August 21, 2018,….

[32]“Burma doubles down on claims to justify treatment of Rohingya minority,“ Fox News, November 10, 2018,….

[33] “The world needs to draw the line.”

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]

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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

Rohingya Exodus