Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Preventing Mass Atrocities against the Stateless Rohingya in Myanmar: A Call for Solutions

Academic journal article Journal of International Affairs

Preventing Mass Atrocities against the Stateless Rohingya in Myanmar: A Call for Solutions

Article excerpt

This article constitutes a call for solutions to the prolonged and worsening plight of the Rohingya, a largely stateless, Muslim minority based in western Myanmar. Over the past year, a number of experts have invoked the possibility of genocide against this group, citing a dangerous combination of ethnic and religious tensions, discriminatory deprivation of basic rights, restricted access to food and medicine, hate speech, and large numbers fleeing the country. Yet up to now, domestic and international responses to the Rohingya crisis have been weak, with serious consequences for this community, the prospects of democratic transition and rule of law in Myanmar, and the integrity of international law. This article highlights the basis for why the possibility of genocide has been raised and argues that the international community has legal obligations to act. These considerations could contribute to sharpening focus on the urgent need for regionally coordinated solutions, based on enforceable principles of nondiscrimination and inclusion, specifically guarantees of citizenship rights and protection. These are critical elements of democratic development in divided societies like Myanmar.

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A number of human rights concerns accompany Myanmar's historic transition from authoritarianism to democracy, such as the recruitment of child soldiers, the continued imprisonment of political critics, restrictions on freedom of expression, land grabs, and police abuses, among others. (1) Some observe that any one of these issues, alone or in concert with others, threatens to undermine the success of reform. (2) Others tacitly suggest that the process of transition will not be smooth, and that it is only realistic to compromise and adjust expectations with respect to human rights. (3)

This article does not presume to rank or evaluate the importance of each human rights concern in Myanmar. Ideally, they should be treated together to maximize the prospects for the country's long-awaited transition, as well as the normative values of human rights, consistent with the country's constitution

and international obligations. Yet one issue requires a certain level of moral and legal clarity in light of international law and public discourse: the prolonged and worsening persecution of the Rohingya, a largely stateless, Muslim minority group based in western Myanmar. Over the past year, a number of experts have invoked the possibility of genocide against this group, citing a dangerous combination of ethnic and religious tensions, discriminatory deprivation of basic rights, restricted access to food and medicine, hate speech, and large numbers fleeing the country. (4) Deepening discrimination and hatred against this group, including among certain Burmese democracy activists, precludes democratic principles from taking root, and increasingly complicates the international community's engagement with the country. (5) As Buddhist nationalist groups drum up support in the lead-up to general elections in October and November this year, the lives of the Rohingya, along with those of other Muslims and minorities, seem to hang ever more in the balance. (6)

Yet up to now, domestic and international responses to the Rohingya crisis have been weak, with serious consequences for this community, the prospects of democratic transition and rule of law in Myanmar, and the integrity of international law. This article constitutes a call for solutions, based on the gravest obligations of international law and shared interest in supporting a credible and sustainable transition in Myanmar. In short, greater political will, imagination, and resources are needed to protect the Rohingya and resolve their predicament once and for all.

This article begins with some background that illustrates how, under current dynamics, the plight of the Rohingya will continue to worsen. As the Rohingya face an increasingly desperate situation in Myanmar, the conditions they face in other countries also deteriorate. …

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