By Pinehas Danu Arvito
In the early hours of 9 October 2016, a small group of Rohingya people, armed with sticks, knives and a few firearms, launched simultaneous attacks on three border guard police posts in Northern Rakhine State in Myanmar. The attack was a kind of retribution for the Myanmar government’s persecution of the Rohingya people. (ICJ, 2019, p.20)
In that skirmish, nine police officers were killed, more than a hundred civilians were either killed or went missing, and 68 firearms and more than 10,000 rounds of ammunition were stolen. This was the start of the armed conflict between Myanmar’s security services and the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), which styles itself as the protector of the Rohingya ethnic minority against abuses and persecution by the Myanmar government. (ICJ, Verbatim Record [CR 2019/19, p.13])
Within hours the Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw, retaliated with fury. In coordination with the police, the Tatmadaw cracked down on the local Rohingya population, killing thousands, raping many women and girls and razing entire villages. The crackdown would be later reported in the media as an overreaction with genocidal characteristics.
The ARSA was not cowed by the brutality of the Tatmadaw and police response. Less than a year later, in August 2017, the ARSA launched another flurry of attacks against more than 30 police posts in northern Rakhine, killing 10 police officers and one soldier. The reaction of the security authorities that time was even more savage. Elite troops of two light infantry divisions, the 33rd and the 99th went on an orgy of killing, rape and arson that drove some 700,000 Rohingya across the border into Bangladesh.
The Rohingya exclusion
A predominantly Buddhist country, Myanmar refuses to recognize the Muslim Rohingya as one of its ethnic minorities, denies them citizenship and even excluded them from the 2014 national census. Since the 1970s when persecution and discrimination against them were already intensive, some Rohingya began to migrate to Bangladesh in significant numbers. Bangladesh denies that they are its citizens but they were safe there. The Bangladeshi people, themselves poor, have been helpful and kind to the Rohingya.
Elsewhere, Indonesian and Malaysian authorities rescued boatloads of Rohingya who had escaped by sea. There are today more than 14,000 Rohingya in Indonesia’s Aceh province, and more than 100,000 in Malaysia. Some 3,000 took a longer land route and walked all the way to Thailand.
In November 2019, the Republic of The Gambia, a predominantly Muslim country in West Africa, 11,548 kilometers away from Myanmar, brought a case of genocide before the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The Gambia launched the case on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a grouping of 57 nations with predominantly Muslim populations. The OIC is committed to protecting the rights and welfare of Muslim minorities everywhere.
Within the OIC a ministerial committee has been formed to look into and act on human rights violations against the Rohingya in Myanmar, using all international legal instruments to hold accountable the perpetrators.
Lawsuits against Myanmar
The ICJ recognized The Gambia’s lawsuit and provisionally ordered Myanmar to take all measures within its power to prevent the commission of all acts within the scope of the Genocide Convention (Article 2). Since then the government of Myanmar had filed two reports to the ICJ on its compliance with the provisional order. And yet Myanmar has actually done nothing to implement the order.
On 20 January 2021, days before the coup d’état in which the military grabbed power in Myanmar, the government officially questioned the jurisdiction of the court and the validity of the lawsuit, to which The Gambia must provide an answer. That is the status of the case at this writing.
Since the ICJ’s authority applied only to state-to-state cases and has nothing to do with individuals, The Gambia apparently found it advisable to also bring the case before the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has the authority to try cases of individual crimes against humanity. On 14 November 2019, the judges of the ICC gave The Gambian Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda authorization to open an investigation against humanity carried out against the Rohingya in Myanmar.
Myanmar is not a party to the ICC statute but the ICC ruled that since Bangladesh, to which the Rohingya were violently deported, is a party to the statute, it therefore had jurisdiction over the case.
More litigation would follow. In November 2019 the Burma Rohingya Organization United Kingdom (BROUK) brought before an Argentinian court a case of genocide, naming Senior General Min Aung Hlain, now de facto head of government of Myanmar, and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, now ousted from her position as head of government, as perpetrators. This case was lodged under the principle of universal jurisdiction— where a national court may carry out criminal proceedings against individuals for serious violations of international law, such as genocide, regardless of where the crime was committed and the nationality of accused.
Members of Rohingya community in Bangladesh. There are now 860.000 Rohingya people living in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. (Photo: DFID)
At this point, kindly insert a photo of Rohingya people in a refugee camp in Bangladesh. The idea is to show how miserable they are, even where they are safe from the Tatmadaw.
The situation today
Since these litigations were launched, the situation in Myanmar has greatly changed. The Tatmadaw has grabbed power after its proxy political party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) lost badly to Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) in the 2020 general elections. Suu Kyi and her close political allies have been arrested and detained. In outrage, the citizens of Myanmar erupted into a frenzy of protests and civil disobedience. Many of the ethnic minorities have joined the Bamar majority in a grim resistance against the usurper regime.
The military and police repression that followed has been cold-blooded and murderous. Some 500 protesters have been killed at this writing. Needless to say if the Tatmadaw is Brutal with the Bamar majority and the other ethnic minorities who are citizens, it is even more sadistic with the Rohingya who are not citizens—and not even human in the eyes of the military.
Meanwhile in the refugee camps of Bangladesh, the Rohingya who have escaped the Tatmadaw’s talons are suffering all sorts of privations and a bleak future that could not be remedied by the kindhearted efforts of their Bangladeshi hosts and international organizations that regularly bring them humanitarian aid.
At the moment the most truthful thing that can be said of the Rohingya crisis is that no solution is in sight.
Editor’s note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PinterPolitik.