Rohingya refugee crisis: Questions and answers on escalating violence in Myanmar

Rohingya refugee crisis: At least 400 people have been killed, and thousands of homes and villages have been torched, since the military launched a counteroffensive against Rohingya insurgents in late August.

By: Reuters | Updated: September 14, 2017 4:55 pm
Rohingya, Rohingya muslims, Rohingya crisis, Rohingya refugees, Myanmar rohingya, Aung San Suu Kyi, Rakhine state, Rohingya violence, Bangladesh, Smoke is seen on Myanmar’s side of border as an exhausted Rohingya refugee woman is carried to the shore after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border by boat through the Bay of Bengal, in Shah Porir Dwip, Bangladesh September 11, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

Myanmar stands accused by rights groups of ethnic cleansing and human rights violations after violence broke out in the northwestern state of Rakhine, triggering an exodus of about 400,000 Rohingya Muslims to southern Bangladesh. At least 400 people have been killed, and thousands of homes and villages have been torched, since the military launched a counteroffensive against Rohingya insurgents in late August. Myanmar does not recognise the roughly 1.1 million Rohingyas as citizens, leaving them effectively stateless. Also Read: ‘Guru ka langar’ begins at Bangladesh-Myanmar border, target 35,000 meals per day

The following are questions and answers on the violence:


The military says it is protecting Myanmar against attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), which it has labelled a terrorist group and accuses of killings and destruction in Rakhine state. Human rights monitors and fleeing Rohingya say the army and ethnic Rakhine Buddhist vigilantes have mounted a campaign of arson aimed at driving out the Rohingya. Rights groups say an independent investigation is required to determine possible abuses or violations by various parties. Also Read: As Rohingya flee Myanmar, leader Suu Kyi skips UN meeting because of ‘Rakhine terrorist attacks’

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Yes, according to United Nations officials and rights groups.

Top U.N. officials have said the violence in Myanmar is a case of “textbook ethnic cleansing”. The U.N. has in the past defined ethnic cleansing as “rendering an area ethnically homogeneous by using force or intimidation to remove persons of given groups from the area.” Ethnic cleansing is not recognised as a separate crime under international law. But allegations of ethnic cleansing as part of wider, systematic human rights violations have been heard in international courts against individuals – including former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, who was convicted of genocide.

Rohingya crisis Myanmar, UN, Un on Rohingya crisis, UN Mynamar, Rohingya news, Rohingya refugees walk on the muddy path after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in Teknaf, Bangladesh, September 3, 2017. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

Phil Robertson, deputy director for Asia at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said initial investigations in Myanmar were “indicative of an ethnic cleansing campaign”. “When an army is burning people out of their villages all over northern Rakhine state and using violence against civilians, it results in the kind of incredible refugee flows we’re seeing,” he added. Myanmar has denied allegations of ethnic cleansing.


Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has said the killing of hundreds of Rohingya amounted to genocide, but rights groups have so far stayed away from these labels, because all three categories are clearly defined and covered in international law. For the ongoing violence to be considered war crimes, the parties involved would have to be at war. Currently, experts say, Myanmar is not technically at war because it only has one party – the military – that is organised enough to carry out intensive fighting operations. Also Read: After Dhaka SOS on Rohingyas, New Delhi to send relief flight

Rohingya crisis, Rohingya, Myanmar, UN, UNSC, Rohingya Myanmar, Rakhine , Rohingya news, Rohingya refugees walk on the shore after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border by boat through the Bay of Bengal in Shah Porir Dwip, Bangladesh, on Monday. Danish Siddiqui/Reuters

“We have not yet been able to determine whether a ‘state of war’ is present in Rakhine state,” said HRW’s Robertson. Crimes against humanity and genocide could be taking place even in the absence of war, but, under U.N. definitions, there would need to be proof of other conditions such as broader, systematic attacks against the Rohingyas.


Human rights groups have accused Myanmar of laying anti-personnel mines along the border with Bangladesh to prevent Rohingya refugees from returning to Rakhine state. Because the crisis is not currently defined as a war, this cannot be considered a war crime, according to experts.

However it would violate other international human rights laws, even though Myanmar is not party to the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. “For nations that are not parties to the treaty, the use of anti-personnel mines violates customary international law, because the weapons are inherently indiscriminate and cause disproportionate long-term harm to civilians,” said Richard Weir, a legal expert at HRW.

Rohingya refugees walk on a muddy path after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh September 8, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

A Myanmar military source told Reuters that landmines were laid along the border in the 1990s to prevent trespassing and the military had since tried to remove them, but that none had been planted recently.


In international law, an individual can be held criminally responsible for when a state or military commits war crimes or crimes against humanity.

Rights groups have called for an independent investigation of abuses by all parties, including ARSA. Many believe the government and the military should be held responsible.

“Myanmar is systematically violating the rights of the Rohingya … and both the government and the military now need to suffer serious consequences for this,” said HRW’s Robertson.

rohingya muslims news, Jamat-e-Islami Hind, rohingya muslims in India, Myanmar rohingya crisis, Myanmar Rohingya muslim crisis, India news, National news, Latest news, India news, Rohingya children, above. Some 16,500 Rohingyas from Myanmar are registered with the United Nations Human Rights Commission(UNHRC) in India. About 40,000 are said to be staying illegally. (AP/File)


This depends on the findings of an independent investigation, if the Myanmar government allows one to take place, experts say. Rights groups have called for the U.N. Security Council to also reprimand Myanmar in other ways, for instance, by imposing sanctions such as an arms embargo. They have also urged countries, including the United States and Australia, to suspend bilateral military ties.

A Rohingya refugee girl sits next to her mother who rests after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, in Teknaf, Bangladesh, September 6, 2017. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui


The 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner has faced widespread international criticism for not doing enough to protect the Rohingya community.
Suu Kyi has no direct control over the military, which remains powerful under Myanmar’s army-written constitution. But she is Myanmar’s foreign minister and de facto civilian leader and has defended the military operation.

“It’s premature to speculate,” said Robertson, adding that individual responsibility should be based on an impartial investigation.


The International Criminal Court (ICC), based in The Hague, Netherlands, has the jurisdiction to prosecute crimes of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

Myanmar is among the countries, which also include the United States and China, that are not signatory to the treaty that created the ICC, so it is not obligated to cooperate. But if the U.N. Security Council were to refer a case to the court then Myanmar, being a member of the U.N., would be subject to its jurisdiction.

Ad hoc tribunals and commissions have been set up in the past to hear cases of mass human rights violations. For instance, the United Nations established the International Criminal Tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda to deal with crimes that took place there.


Rights groups say they are protected by various U.N. human rights treaties, primarily the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Myanmar voted for in 1948. The document includes provisions for the right to life and right to a nationality – particularly relevant to the Rohingyas, who are effectively stateless.

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  1. Zen Bhatia
    Sep 15, 2017 at 5:25 am
    Thanks for shedding the crocodile tears on this grave inhumane situation currently being continued in our backyard for the last 2 months, and still we are analysis whether it is a genocide, war crimes or not!!! Rather than stand-up to stop this killings and ethnic cleansing forcing our own government to provide human relief and political help to these unfortunate human beings forgetting whether they are Hindus or not!! If other than Modi government was in India, India would have been leader of the International platform on this matter to force Myanmar to stop at once all atrocities and establish law and order without further loss of lives. but it is next to impossible to expect such gesture from the known person, who had closed his eyes and ears before allowing similar human killings doing nothing.
    1. ሆልይ ትርንትይ
      Sep 15, 2017 at 12:12 am
      I think India should allow Rohingyas to settle in India. In preparation for near imminent Civil War in India, one Rohingya a day should be brought into every Shakha of the RSS. Then fully indoctrinated and cerebrally lobotomised Hindu Swayam Sewaks should practice their Lathi Mar Work until the condemned vermin is dead. It is my understanding that there would be enough supply until a full fascist regime has been established in India. Bhagwat Mata Ki Jai.
      1. H
        Sep 15, 2017 at 12:03 am
        Hindus( and all non muslim Indians ) are now melting their hearts for rohingyas . The demand for a separate islamic state for rohingyas are 70 years old . Had the burmeese been passive like the hindus then burma would have been separated and Pakistan would have got another third land . But it did not happen due to the uprightness of the Burmeeses . I am not of that age , but search in google or going to library will tell this thing . even Jinnah was involved in it and Jinnah said that look burmeese are not like Hindus so I cannot do anything . This is good for Burma that the rohingyas are gone otherwise they would perhaps get what they wanted through demographic divident . As far as India is concerned today one in every four child born is islamic because the muslim population is tilted at the bottom . If things carry on like this the day is not far when India will be islamic country. It will happen at a tipping point when the muslim population will become 45 percent or so .
        1. C
          Sep 14, 2017 at 11:04 pm
          In Hindu area, the women were slaughter by the unknown cloth covered men with sharp sword and p ered everything of them. Why will the Myanmar Army do like this. off course not. This is the task of the Jihadists because in the same way they did riots in India, Pak, Afgan and Bangladesh. I am 200 percent sure that these are all Jihadists. So Myanmar should uproot all Jihadis(Muslims) from their soil at any cost because these bloody s cause disturbances everywhere in the world. This is the final chance to oust all these Bangladeshi Rohinga Muslim . They should take shelter to Saudi Arabia or Pakistan and produce 25 babies each woman in a confined area. They don't want to live in peace in Muslim majority countries and not to live others in peace. India, China, Rusia, UK, Germany, Australia everywhere they are creating unrest and terrorism because Quranic verseses/Satanic verses is full of Jihad and are fully motivated by it. Last 14 hundred years the same cases in India.
          1. Amy Jones
            Sep 14, 2017 at 7:13 pm
            Why ARE Muslims spread everywhere?? There are 50 other muslim majority countries..why dont they take thes rohingyas in?? Why is it every non-muslim country's obligation to take the refugees in ?? Be it Rohingyas OR Syria or from Africa?? WHY?? Myanamar is doing the right thing..kick them out !!
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