The Failures Of The International Community: UN Response To Rohingya


The violence in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has been ongoing since its independence from the U.K. in the late 1940s. Since being granted sovereignty, the nation has been plagued by conflict traps which prevented it from establishing a stable government and presence both domestically and internationally. There has been an abundance of internal conflict in Myanmar, the violence against the Rohingya population, however, has become a genocide– one that no one is willing to acknowledge.

The dehumanization of the Rohingya population has been prevalent for decades, and was worsened after 2001. As a Muslim community, they’ve been villainized by Buddhist extremists who have likened them to reincarnations of snakes and insects. This hatred against them spread further than extremists communities, becoming commonplace and an absolute truth for many. The UN defines genocide as hostile acts committed with the intent to destroy an ethnic, racial, or religious group that is associated with the existence of a state or organizational plan or policy. The textbook definition of genocide is in the midst– the Rohingyas have been stripped of humanity and are being chased, jailed, and killed due to the reputation of their religion in efforts to eradicate them.

Communal violence erupted against the Rohingyas first started in 2012. The UN reported that at this point there were already 200,000 to 300,000 Rohingyas seeking refuge from their home country. This fact, which should have instantly been of great concern and attention to the international community, was promptly ignored after a 2015 “democratic” election signaled hope that this could be resolved domestically. The violence against the Rohingyas, however, has only gotten worse. Currently there are over 1 million Rohingya refugees in Southeast Asia seeking escape from the persecution of the Myanmar State until they are able to safely return to their homes. The response from the international community has been one that shows negligence and disconcern for the gravity of the situation, ultimately showcasing a priority to advance national interests above all.

With the large number of Rohingyas currently displaced due to ongoing prosecution, the UN was forced to take action. The Security Council, however, made this incredibly hard to do. The Permanent 5 consist of the U.S., France, Russia, China, and the U.K.– with the rise of economic power in China and Russia, there is a silent war raging between Western and Eastern ideologies. The international superpowers on both sides are intent on concretizing their power and socioeconomic advantages, desires that are being realized through strategic international policies and interactions. While there are temporary members of the Security Council as well, the P-5 are the only ones that have the power to veto, which means all resolutions or statements must be made to appease all powers. Ultimately, all actions made by the Security Council serve to advance the interests of both the east and west.

This is shown through the interests of the P-5 countries in Myanmar. China is economically invested in the nation and plans on building a branch of its New Silk Road infrastructure in Myanmar. With this in mind, the country cannot push for intervention or accuse the state of human rights violations without losing their alliance, and ultimately economic opportunity. The west, on the other hand, seeks ways to undermine the economic growth of China to preserve their own. With this in mind, it is expected that the superpowers push for military intervention and international sanctions under the guise of “spreading democracy” in regards to the Rohingya crisis. These interests were concretized when the UNSC published a presidential statement for how to deal with the conflict– a presidential statement, unlike a resolution, does not need to be enforced. Furthermore, the statement offered no concrete action to be taken in Myanmar, instead it only urged the government to comply with international law and cooperate with international bodies.

Western powers, however, have been pushing for concrete action. According to the BBC, the U.K. has cut off $393,000 in aid it was giving to the Myanmar military and the U.S. has been pushing to establish sanctions within Congress. While the Myanmar government has reported that the violence endured by the Rohingyas has been the result of domestic terrorists, western countries have been adamant about recognizing the fact that this violence is, in actuality, being perpetrated by the state. While the actions they have taken to stop this conflict are steps in the right direction, it is evident that they are not doing enough. The U.S. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, has recently spoken up about the situation and declared it “an ethnic cleansing”. We saw the same thing happen in regards to Rwanda– a genocide the international community declined until it was impossible to do so. The reality is that the Myanmar State is perpetrating a genocide– the only reason why it has not been labeled as such, however, is because doing so would make the U.S. and the UN required to further intervene.

The failures of the UN when it came to the Rwandan genocide are eerily similar to the present situation. The United Nations Security Council refused to call the killings in Rwanda genocide as it implied a need to enforce peace rather than maintain it, an action that promised failure as the situation on the ground worsened. Rather, language was manipulated that guaranteed firm action did not have to be taken– language that involved labeling the killings as “ethnic cleansings”. Here, we see the same things happening. The eastern powers continue to defend the right to sovereignty within the nation of Myanmar, state that foreign intervention would only worsen the situation, and have yet to fully acknowledge the involvement of the Myanmar government. The west, as much as it claims to want to promote peace and aid in the region, is concerned about the economic implication a peace enforcement mission implies, as well as the domestic implications. The UNSC’s presidential statement is a manifestation of the common interest to deny the gravity of the situation. The statement holds no purpose other than to serve as a symbol for what the nations aim to portray superficially– an involvement in the UN mission of peace. All of the governments can hide under the guise of a commitment to human rights even though their actions say differently.

It is time to be honest. The United Nations is failing the international community and, more importantly, the people that need its protection. It has been plagued by a bureaucratic culture that limits its scope, power, and actions in the name of self preservation and symbolic declaration for purposes of domestic advancement. The United Nations was established to ensure international peace by promoting dialogue, creating standards of international law, and outlining human rights. UN Peacekeeping was a manifestation of the recognition by the global community that there can be no international peace if there is not domestic peace first. As a result, all nations are indebted to creating this peace and maintaining it as not only acts of compassion, but also in the name of self preservation. This mission is one that has to be adhered to, however, the UN has neglected it. As long as it remains bureaucratic, it will not be able to serve at its full potential.

This gross mistreatment of the situation in Myanmar is not the result of an uncompassionate and cruel diplomatic world, but rather the result of the politics of the international playing field interfering and dictating the functionalities of the United Nations through bureaucratic infiltration. What needs to be reformed most urgently is the Security Council– while there is still a Permanent 5 in the Security Council, these failures will repeat themselves over and over again. It’s mere existence establishes a bureaucratic order and implies that the will of a select 5 nations is most valued. Not only are these P5 Countries not a current reflection of the powers of the global world, but they are in a position of power in the SC that builds resentment for them among other nations and motivates other nations to not comply to their will. As Annan said in his book Interventions, “the problem will not be that such countries will actively oppose the Security Council. It’s that they will ignore it” (142).

There can be no room for favoritism or political advantage in an organization that has a shared purpose. It can not be denied that the global superpowers have more international leverage and strength, however this should not be allowed to cross over in an institution where equality is a founding pillar. In regards to peacekeeping operations, the Permanent 5 should have no more of a say than the rest of the Security Council. In order for the UN to function as it is supposed to, there can be no infiltration of domestic political and economic interests from any nation. The first step in doing this is creating an equal playing field for all nations of the world, where they forget who has more power on the global scale, and remember that they are there for one purpose only: to ensure international security and peace for individuals and nation states. All nation state representatives in the UN need to sign on to and acknowledge the Responsibility to Protect Doctrine, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the reigning jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. We need a UN as removed from domestic politics as possible, and more entrenched in the community of wanting to ensure the peace and security of both the nation and the individual.