Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of South, Southeastern, and Central Asia

The Rohingya Crises in Bangladesh and Burma *

Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of South, Southeastern, and Central Asia

The Rohingya Crises in Bangladesh and Burma *

Article excerpt


The Rohingya-a predominately Sunni Muslim minority of northern Rakhine State in Burma (Myanmar)-are facing several concurrent crises precipitated by the reported attack on August 25, 2017, on Burmese security facilities near the border with Bangladesh. The attacks, allegedly conducted by a relatively new and little known Rohingya nationalist group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), and an ensuing "clearance operation" conducted by Burma's security forces have resulted in the rapid displacement of more than 600,000 Rohingya into makeshift camps in eastern Bangladesh, and the internal displacement of an unknown number of people within Rakhine State. These events have created two immediate humanitarian crises in Bangladesh and in Rakhine State.

In addition, long-standing policies and attitudes in Burma regarding the Rohingya are creating major challenges to the possibility of their voluntary return. Starting in the 1960s under Burma's military juntas and continuing until today under a mixed civilian/military government, Burma's laws and policies have deprived most of the Rohingya of many of their human rights, including their citizenship. According to some observers, it is likely that many of the displaced Rohingya will not wish to return to Burma unless their safety can be secured, the discriminatory laws and policies are changed, and their human rights restored. If conditions in Burma are not suitable for repatriation, the international community may need to consider other assistance for the Rohingya, including longer-term accommodation in camps in Bangladesh and exploring local integration and resettlement options.

Allegations of organized, systematic, and severe human rights abuses by Burmese security personnel, ARSA and its supporters, and local Rakhine "vigilantes" have given rise to claims of possible crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, or genocide taking place in Rakhine State. Beyond ensuring that such violence stops, the allegations of human rights abuse present Burma and the rest of the world, including the United States, with the challenge of adequately investigating and documenting the possible human rights abuses, and if necessary, establishing suitable measures for accountability of those found responsible. The ongoing violence in Rakhine State reportedly is another factor contributing to the reluctance of many Rohingya to return to Burma.

Role of the Burmese Military in Burma's Government

Under Burma's 2008 constitution, which was largely written by members of Burma's military, also known as the Tatmadaw, Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing has ultimate authority over all security forces in the country, including the military, the Border Guard Force, and the Myanmar Police Force. The security forces are constitutionally responsible for the protection of Burma from all threats internal and external. The 2008 constitution also provides that the Commander-in-Chief has "final and conclusive" authority over the adjudication of military justice.

In addition, the 2008 constitution grants the Commander-in-Chief the authority to appoint 25% of the members of both chambers of the Union Parliament, as well as the Ministers of Border Affairs, Defense, and Home Affairs. The Minister of Home Affairs has authority over the General Administration Department, which oversees the work of Burma's civil servants at all levels of government. Because of these powers, and others provided by the 2008 constitution, some experts maintain that the Commander-in-Chief is the most powerful political figure in Burma. In addition, the 2008 constitution limits the ability of the civilian side of the government to control or oversee the activities of Burma's security forces.

The displacement of the Rohingya, combined with the alleged violence of the Burmese security force's clearance operation, has also created an environment that could give rise to the radicalization of portions of both the Rohingya and predominately Buddhist Rakhine population. …

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