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The Rohingya Crisis and the Risk of Atrocities in Myanmar : An ASEAN Challenge
A Report by ASEAN Parliamentarians For Human Rights ( APHR )
The longstanding persecution of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar has led to the highest outflow of asylum seekers by sea since the U.S. war in Vietnam. Human rights violations against Rohingya have resulted in a regional human trafficking epidemic, and there have been further abuses against Rohingya upon their arrival in other Southeast Asian countries.
This protracted culture of abuse threatens Myanmar’s political transition, puts strains on regional economies, and supports the rise of extremist ideologies that pose potential security threats throughout the region. Ongoing human rights abuses against Rohingya pose a threat to regional peace and security and must end.
Broader anti-Muslim rhetoric and violence has also flared up in locations across Myanmar in recent years. These incidents, as well as ongoing abuses against ethnic minority groups throughout the country, pose similar risks for Myanmar and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
In April 2015, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), an organization of members of parliament from several ASEAN countries, conducted a fact-finding mission in Myanmar. APHR is deeply concerned about the current dynamics there and how they affect the region and the broader global community. APHR is equally concerned with the failure of ASEAN nations to adequately respond.
Critical national elections in Myanmar are slated for the end of 2015. APHR has found an alarmingly high risk of atrocities against Rohingya, other Muslims, and other ethnic minority groups in the lead up to the election. These risks constitute a regional concern, not only due to potential cross-border spillover effects, but also because ASEAN member states share a moral responsibility to take all possible measures to prevent the commission of atrocities within ASEAN.
Despite these troubling realities, the Rohingya issue remains conspicuously absent from the agenda of the ASEAN Summit. ASEAN and other global leaders ignore these dynamics at their own peril. The Rohingya crisis and broader animosity toward other Muslims and ethnic minorities in Myanmar are not just a Myanmar problem—they are an ASEAN problem.
Nearly every common risk factor for atrocity crimes identified in the United Nations’ Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes is present in Myanmar today. This report draws upon APHR’s collective knowledge to analyze the situation in Myanmar within the context of this United Nations’ Framework. Based on this analysis, it is clear that there is a high risk of ongoing atrocity crimes in Myanmar in 2015 and beyond.
The report represents a call to action. It demonstrates that the escalating human rights crisis in Myanmar and Southeast Asia more broadly is exacerbated by the failure of ASEAN to take effective action. ASEAN should:
- Recognize the escalating crisis in Rakhine State and the plight of Rohingya as a serious danger to both Myanmar and ASEAN by prioritizing the issue in Summit meetings.
- Conduct an independent investigation of conditions and risks of increased violence and displacement in Myanmar, as well as associated risks to ASEAN, including greater refugee flows to countries like Malaysia and Thailand.
- Expand the mandate of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) to include country visits, inquiries, complaints, and emergency protection mechanisms, and ensure adequate independence and staffing support for its members.
Engage AICHR to conduct a follow-up investigation into the Rohingya crisis.
- Deploy ASEAN monitors well ahead of the Myanmar elections to observe and report on the Rohingya crisis and broader anti-Muslim and ethnic minority dynamics.
- Utilize existing mechanisms in ASEAN, such as the ASEAN Troika, AICHR, the office of the ASEAN Secretary General, and the role of the ASEAN Chair, to respond appropriately to humanitarian crises in member states in accordance with the principles of the ASEAN Charter and the ASEAN Declaration on Human Rights.
- Commit to protecting those fleeing the crisis in Rakhine State, including by granting prima facie refugee status to Rohingya and providing the UN refugee agency with unfettered access to asylum seekers.
- Ratify the 1951 Refugee Convention.
- Strengthen and expand the mandate of the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC) to help combat threats to Women’s rights, including those presented by the “Protection of Race and Religion Bills” and other Myanmar government policies that restrict rights, particularly for ethnic and religious minority women.
- Call upon the Mya nmar government to adhere to regional and international human rights and humanitarian standards, including rejecting the “Protection of Race and Religion Bills.” Call upon the Myanmar government to address the root causes of the Rohingya crisis by amending the 1982 Citizenship Law to provide Rohingya with equal access to full citizenship, promoting reconciliation initiatives, denouncing hate speech and propaganda, and holding perpetrators of violence, including government officials, accountable.
The Rohingya Crisis
The persecution of the Rohingya Muslim minority at the hands of national and regional government authorities and local actors in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State has forcibly displaced hundreds of thousands of people since the outbreak of widespread violence in 2012. Some 150,000 Rohingya Muslims remain in more than 80 internal displacement camps in Rakhine State with limited access to humanitarian aid, while more than 100,000 others have fled by sea to other countries, often at the hands of abusive human traffickers.
The government of Myanmar continues to impose severe restrictions on all Rohingya, including restrictions on freedom of movement, marriage, childbirth, and other aspects of everyday life. It is estimated that over 100,000 Rohingya refugees are now living in Malaysia, and several hundred thousand are in Bangladesh, Thailand, and other ASEAN countries combined. State security forces and non-state actors in Myanmar have already committed serious human rights violations against Rohingya with impunity, some of which have been qualified by human rights groups as crimes against humanity, and indicators of additional atrocity crimes, including genocide, are present.