Military operations in the Rakhine State of Myanmar, have been declared as war crimes after recent investigations. Amnesty International’s report ‘“No one can protect us”: War Crimes and abuses in Myanmar’s Rakhine State’ released on May 29, found that since January 2019, Myanmar military has been conducting acts of violence with complete disregard for civilian lives, resulting in innocent people being injured or killed. The report details military activity including “extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests, torture and other ill-treatment, as well as enforced disappearances”.
These increasingly violent military operations are in response to attacks on Myanmar police in January, carried out by the Arakan Army, a Rakhine ethnic group. Soldiers have since been acting on instructions from the government to “crush” Arakan rebels. Through conducting interviews, analyzing photos, videos and satellite footage, Amnesty International has documented at least seven unlawful military attacks which resulted in over 40 civilian casualties. Furthermore, there were also seven cases of arbitrary arrests and subsequent torture of Rakhine men with the intention of extracting information about the Arakan Army. In addition, details of the enforced disappearance of six men in February by Myanmar authorities have been uncovered during the investigation.
The Human Rights Council has condemned the situation, as authorities have cut off civilian access to medicinal supplies, food and other humanitarian relief. It is estimated that over 30,000 people have been displaced by these most recent displays of violence—this is in addition to the 70,000 Rohingya Muslim people who have also fled Myanmar since 2017. UNICEF, have also expressed their concern for Rakhine children following these civilian attacks. They have called for the immediate end to the danger being imposed upon civilians, occurring both through direct targeting and indirect actions such as landmines and improvised explosive devices. Children are also being mistreated by being held in detention, and not being able to access education, with schools being overtaken and used for military purposes over the past several months.
The Advisory Commission on Rakhine State was commissioned by the UN in 2017, to address the structural issues impairing peace in the Rakhine State; “unless concerted action—led by the government—is taken soon, we risk the return of another cycle of violence and radicalization, which will further deepen the chronic poverty that afflicts Rakhine”, stated by Kofi Annan, UN Secretary-General, after the release of the Commission’s Final Report. Despite the UN and many other international humanitarian organizations condemning the actions of Myanmar authorities, none of these recommendations has been upheld—in fact, since the report’s release, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar has been banned from entering the country.
In February, the United Nations Security Council expressed their growing concern about the rising number of refugees fleeing Myanmar, predicting that the generosity of Bangladesh and other surrounding states in their humanitarian intake could soon be exhausted, as this migration influx puts an added demand on their resources. This is particularly alarming with tensions rising ahead of the 2020 general election in Myanmar. In light of this, the UN has also called for increased funding for the United Nations Joint Response Plan (UNJRP), developed this year. The UNJRP is hoping is raise $920 million USD to meet the needs of both refugees and hosting communities in the face of this humanitarian crisis.
Amnesty International’s report has suggested serious violations of human rights occurring at the hands of Myanmar authorities, and calls on the UN Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court, to invoke an arms embargo and impose sanctions against senior officials, Aljazeera reports. Nicholas Bequelin, Regional Director of Amnesty International East Asia, says that it is crucial that international pressure on Myanmar intensifies—“again and again, the international community has failed to stop the Myanmar military’s crimes and protect the civilian population”, he says, stressing the need for this responsibility to be taken seriously to end these atrocities, and to protect the lives of innocent people in Myanmar.