On February 1, 2021 the military in Burma/Myanmar staged a coup, filmed live for the world to see thanks to a streaming fitness instructor. Military Commander Min Aung Hlaing proceeded to enact a year-long state of emergency, placing Aung San Suu Kyi, who had recently been re-elected as State Counsellor of Myanmar, under house arrest. She was charged with “violating state secrets,” among other things. Following in the country’s long tradition of censorship, other prominent politicians, journalists, and pro-democracy activists were also taken by the military. Those in power now, including Hlaing, played pivotal roles in the violence committed against the Rohingya population. Their coup came at a moment when the National League for Democracy had won 83 percent of the seats in parliament, effectively stopping the civilian-led party from taking its seats.
In response to the coup, the citizens of Myanmar have taken to the streets. Students, business owners, and even grandparents are standing up against the regime. In turn, the regime has targeted them with live ammunition, and blocked the internet throughout the country. The death toll since February currently stands at more than 888 civilians, with an estimated 5,200 detained. In addition to the killings, the military has also been attacking funerals, desecrating the bodies of the dead, and making it impossible for communities to mourn. As the citizen-led opposition movement grows, the government crackdown becomes evermore violent.
When • 1982 -Present
Location • Southeast Asia
Estimated Dead • 888 (current crisis)
Estimated Dedtained • 5,200 (current crisis)
Estimated Dead Rohingya • Unknown
Displaced Rohingyian Persons • 712,200
Internally Displaced Rohingyian Persons • *130,000
*in detention camps according to Human Rights Watch
“If the international community, the UN General Assembly and Security Council does not stop the military by taking actions, this country, we are at the brink of collapse.” – Wai Wai Nu, Rohingya Activist
What preceded the current coup, was the attempt by the Burmese government, along with radical Burmese Buddhists, to exterminate the Rohingya people through direct violence and denial of rights. Since 1982, the Rohingya people have been denied citizenship and basic human rights both inside their native Burma and in refugee camps throughout southeast Asia. They are not allowed to travel without official permission, subjected to routine forced labor, and have been resettled on unfarmable land while their previous lands were confiscated and given to Buddhist settlers from elsewhere in Burma. In addition, almost 140,000 Rohingya have been illegally put in internment camps throughout the country. Violence and oppression in Burma have forced many Rohingya to flee to neighboring Thailand and Bangladesh, where they live in abject poverty and where many die each year from disease and starvation.
The Rohingya are an ethnic group who primarily live in the Rakhine state in southwest Burma. Most Burmese governmental officials claim the Rohingya are Bengali, despite having lived in Burma for generations. This is because, unlike the rest of Burma residents, the Rohingya are majority Muslim whereas most Burmese are Buddhist. In addition, the Rohingya are not one of the 135 legally recognized ethnic groups within Burma and therefore exist in a complicated legal limbo. In 1982, the Burmese government passed a nationality law strictly defining how one is considered a citizen of Burma. Under this law, to be a citizen one must have had ancestors living in Burma prior to 1823 (before British colonization), or be born to parents who are citizens. The Rohingya people migrated into Burma from neighboring Bangladesh sometime in the late 19th century in the midst of British colonization, making many ineligible to obtain Burmese citizenship. The government has used this lack of citizenship to deny the Rohingya of their basic human rights and made them the focus of horrific abuses. Rohingya in Burma are routinely attacked and killed by radical Buddhist militia as well as by government troops.
The Rohingya that still live in Burma have little-to-no rights, and face daily persecution at the hands of the Burmese government and Buddhist militia. Many Rohingya have fled to neighboring countries in which they live in permanent refugee status because no nation in the region is willing to grant them citizenship. In recent years, many Rohingya have also attempted to flee to nations such as Australia and New Zealand to seek asylum. However, few make it due to the incredibly dangerous nature of the journey across the Indian Ocean.
The fight for justice is slow going, but on the horizon. Gambia is in the process of bringing a case against the government of Myanmar in the International Court of Justice on the charge of violations of the Genocide Convention. Additionally, the International Criminal Court has opened an investigation, specifically into those crimes that crossed international borders into Bangladesh.