Rohingya: Ethnic Cleansing
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On Wednesday, May 7th, 2014 the House of Representatives passed a Resolution urging the Burmese government to end the persecution of ethnic minority Rohingya Muslims. This was made possible in part by our tremendous activists and supporters who contacted their Representatives in Congress and told them that the US will not condone the discrimination and violence inflicted on the Rohingya people.

House Resolution 418 implores the Burmese government to respect internationally recognized human rights for all ethnic and religious minority groups within Burma. The Resolution sends a clear message to the Burmese government that blatant racism will not be tolerated by the United States. The U.S. government is taking notice of the gross human rights violations happening in Burma.

"The U.S. must prioritize the protection of human rights in its engagement with Burma."- Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs Ed Royce (R-CA)

But what's next? The Rohingya are still suffering at the hands of an opprestive government implementing egregious, racist policies, causing untold human suffering.

Stay tuned for a campaign in the coming days that will press this issue in a big way.


Who are the Rohingya? 

The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic minority living in northern Arakan/Rakhine State in western Burma. They have faced severe persecution and violence at the hands of the state and national governments for decades.

There are approximately 1.33 million Rohingya in Burma, but the country's 1982 Citizenship Law denies them citizenship in spite of the fact that Rohingya have lived in Burma for generations. Burmese President Thein Sein outright denies the existence of the Rohingya as an ethnic group of Burma, calling them "Bengali" instead. Labeling the Rohingya "Bengali" is a discriminatory, xenophobic way of erroneously implying that Rohingya are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. 

photo: Anadolu Agency

A Current Crisis

On January 13, 2014, Rakhine mobs and security forces entered Du Chee Yar Tan, Maungdaw Township, and slaughtered over 40 Rohingya. A UN report confirms the gruesome deaths – severed heads of at least 10 Rohingya, some children, were found bobbing in a water tank. 

The international community has called on the Burmese government to commission an independent investigation. But Burmese Presidential Spokesman Ye Htut rebuked the UN for calling for an investigation: “It was sad to see a statement issued by the UN…These accusations are unacceptable. By acting like this, it will mean the local people will have more concerns, doubts and less trust in the UN.” 

The government also vehemently refused the US’ request to allow international officials to sit on an investigation into the incidents at Du Chee Yar Tan village. The government did eventually consent to commission two internal investigations, but these severely biased investigations concluded that no massacre had taken place whatsoever, and deliberately permitted perpetrators to go uncharged. 

The government’s insistence that there were no Rohingya deaths in Du Chee Yar Tan in January 2014 is just one recent example of the Government’s complicity in religious violence. Publicly rejecting UN counsel, the Government has refused to hold perpetrators to account or provide legal redress to the many displaced, imprisoned, raped, and murdered Muslims who have become victims of an avoidable, manmade humanitarian crisis. 

Stranded at Sea

UNHCR estimates that 130,000 Rohingya have fled Bangladesh and western Arakan state since the outbreak of violence in 2012. As a result, the Burmese Navy and local security forces are profiting off the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya in western Burma by demanding payments from smugglers who devlier Rohingya to human traffickers, as well as Rohingya desperately seeking passage. 

Forced to venture by boat to trafficking camps on remote Thai islands, the Rohingya are faced with violence, lack of food and water (often forced to drink their own urine), and those who have fallen victim to disease are thrown overboard if dead or close to dying. In Thailand Rohingya are held in internment camps until they can either pay thousands to human traffickers to be released or be sold as slaves to the highest bidder. Often Rohingya must resort to soliciting funds from their personal networks, and if successful, they are pushed back out to sea. Those who are unable to pay become slaves: women and young girls are forced into marriages and lifelong indentured servitude, and men sold to Thai fishermen. 

Recently, mass graves, mostly Rohingya, have been uncovered in Thailand. Now, ASEAN countries (specifically Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia) are refusing to allow Rohingya refugees to seek assylum. They instruct their respective military to take them back to sea, effectively abandoning the vulnerable Rohingya. It is suspected that thousands have died making the deadly voyage to escape the ethnic cleansing they face in Burma.

Escalating Violence

Since June 2012, several hundred Rohingya have been killed because of their religion and ethnicity in widespread, systematic attacks led by Rakhine Buddhists. Over 140,000 Rohingya have been displaced in inhumane internment camps, and thousands have fled the country. Hundreds more, mostly men and boys, have been arrested on false charges. 

In June 2012, a Rakhine Buddhist woman was allegedly raped and murdered by three Rohingya Muslim men, and the western Rakhine state subsequently broke out in violence. Refugees accumulated from both sides of the violence, leaving thousands displaced and villages burned and abandoned. The Burmese military was called in to stop the violence by means of further violence, firing tear gas and shooting at the mobs. The fury was temporarily subdued.

In October 2012, a more targeted surge occured against the Rohingya Muslim population. Rakhine Buddhist communities formulated vigilante mobs, surrounding homes and razing them to flames, and Rohingya villagers fled. Many Rohingya attempted to escape by boat to Bangladesh; some boats capsized leaving many missing, and some reached the Bangladesh shore where they were told to immediately return to Burma.

Most alarming is the direct involvement of the local, state, and national government in the violence. Government officials have enforced explicitly racist policies for decades, and have failed to intervene and even participated in violent attacks against Rohingya. The government has been accused of implementing the crime against humanity of persecution against the Rohingya, and Rohingya are increasingly considered to be targets of potential acts of genocide.

But Government officials and security forces have refused to implement impartial investigations into the violence. They have instead subjected Rohingya and other Muslims to discriminatory restrictions and policies of apartheid and ethnic cleansing. Rohingya internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Arakan State are now languishing in what UN officials have called the most dismal and under-served IDP camps in the world. 

Government persecution has enabled Rakhine Buddhist nationalists to implement a reign of terror against the Rohingya with impunity. Hate speech directed against Rohingya Muslims appears regularly in state-run media, and some Buddhist monks have instigated vitriolic rumors and discrimination against the minority group. Hate speech has helped fuel waves of violence and systematic arson attacks in Rakhine State. 

Of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya that have fled to Bangladesh, Thailand, and Malaysia to escape persecution and adversity, approximately 300,000 Rohingya live in squalid conditions in Bangladesh where they are denied access to food supplies, medical aid, and education. In essence, the Rohingya are “Exiled to Nowhere.”

Take action with us and demand that the Rohingya Muslims be given citizenship, are treated with dignity as determined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and insist on an international investigation into systems of violence and impunity encouraged by the Burmese government.


UEG "Marching to Genocide in Burma"

by United to End Genocide – March 2014. Burma is on the verge of genocide, according to United to End Genocide's (UEG) new report. “Nowhere in the world are there more known precursors to genocide than in Burma today,” says UEG President and former congressman Tom Andrews. The report was compiled after a fact-finding mission witnessed increasing systematic human rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims, 140,000 of whom are forced to live in inhumane internment camps.


FRpolicies "Policies of Persecution"

by Fortify Rights – February 2014. Fortify Rights delivers a critical report implicating direct government involvement in violating the human rights of Rohingya Muslims. Based primarily on the analysis of 12 leaked official documents, this report shows both state and central government policies put in place to curtail basic freedoms of the Rohingya people.


hrwPray "All You Can Do is Pray"

by Human Rights Watch – April 2013. In this in-depth report, Human Rights Watch details crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people in Burma's Arakan state.


hrwrohingya "The Worst Has Yet to Come"

by Nora Rowley, MD MPH – June 2013. Dr. Rowley is a practicing medical physician and forensic science analyst dedicated to aleviating the Rohingya in western Burma. Read her August 2013 situation reports to learn more of the current situation facing the Rohingya today.


forcedlabour Forced Labour Still Prevails

by Arakan Project – May 2012. This report by the Arakan Project offers an overview of forced labour practices in Northern Arakan/Rakhine State over a 6-month period - from November 2011 to May 2012.


conflictmaplearn Crimes Against Humanity in Western Burma: The Situation of the Rohingyas

By Irish Center for Human Rights - June 2010


phrrohingya Stateless and Starving

by Physicians for Human Rights – March 2010. Bangladeshi authorities have waged an unprecedented campaign of arbitrary arrest, illegal expulsion, and forced internment against Burmese refugees who have fled persecution in their home states. In this emergency report, PHR presents new data and documents dire conditions for these persecuted Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh.


hrwkachinreport Untold Miseries

by Human Rights Watch – March 2012. This report describes how the Burmese army has attacked Kachin villages, razed homes, pillaged properties, and forced the displacement of tens of thousands of people. Soldiers have threatened and tortured civilians during interrogations and raped women. The army has also used antipersonnel mines and conscripted forced laborers, including children as young as 14, on the front lines.