On February 1, 2021 the military in Myanmar (Burma) staged a coup, streamed live for the world to see thanks to civilians using mobile devices. Military Commander Min Aung Hlaing proceeded to enact a year-long state of emergency and placed Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s recently re elected State Counsellor, under house arrest, charging her with “violating state secrets,” among other accusations. Following in the country’s long tradition of censorship, other prominent politicians, more than 125 journalists, and pro-democracy activists were also taken into custody by the military. Those in power now, including Hlaing, have played pivotal roles in the violence committed against the country’s minority Rohingya population.
In response to the coup, the citizens of Myanmar took to the streets. Students, business owners, teachers, doctors, and others ranging in age from children to grandparents are standing up against the regime. In turn, the regime has targeted them using brutal means including live ammunition and summary executions, and has also blocked the internet throughout the country. The death toll since February currently stands at more than 1,100 civilians, with more than 10,000 people detained. In addition to the killings, the military has also staged attacks on civilians at 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 ever more violent. A great deal of the violence today is occurring in upper Myanmar, an especially active area of resistance, where military forces, the Tatmadaw, are burning villages in places like Chin State.
Since the 2021 coup, more Burmese of various ethnic groups say they now better understand the plight of the Rohingya and believe the military junta has had the capability to have committed Genocide against them.
When • 1982 -Present
Location • Southeast Asia
Estimated Dead • Since the February 2021 coup: More than 1,100
Estimated Detained • Since the February 2021 coup: More than 10,000
Estimated Dead Rohingya • Unknown
Displaced Rohingyian Persons • 712,200
Internally Displaced Rohingyian Persons • *130,000
Internally Displaced Persons • Since the February 2021 coup: 230,000
*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 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 Myanmar 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 Myanmar. In addition, UN Human Rights Watch reports more than 130,000 Rohingya are held in internment camps throughout the country. Violence and oppression in Myanmar have forced many Rohingya to flee to neighboring Thailand and Bangladesh, where they live in abject poverty, and many die each year from disease and starvation. Those surviving 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 places such as Australia and New Zealand and seek asylum, however, few make it due to the incredibly dangerous nature of the journey across the Indian Ocean.
The Rohingya are an ethnic group who live primarily in the Rakhine state in southwest Myanmar. Most governmental officials in Myanmar claim the Rohingya are Bengali, despite having lived in Burma for generations. This is because, unlike the rest of Myanmar residents who are Buddhist, the Rohingya are majority Muslim. In addition, the Rohingya are not one of the 135 legally recognized ethnic groups within Myanmar, and therefore exist in a complicated legal limbo. In 1982, the government passed a nationality law strictly defining how one is considered a citizen of Myanmar. Under this law, to be a citizen one must have had ancestors living in Myanmar prior to 1823 (before British colonization), or be born to parents who are citizens. The Rohingya people migrated to Myanmar from neighboring Bangladesh sometime in the late 19th century in the midst of British colonization, making many ineligible to obtain citizenship under the nationality standard. The government has used this lack of citizenship to deny those Rohingya remaining in Myanmar basic human rights and made them the focus of horrific abuses. Rohingya in Myanmar are routinely attacked and killed by radical Buddhist militia as well as by government troops.
By late 2021, more than 500 civil rights and human rights groups called on the UN Security Council to address the junta and stop the violence in Chin state, which has been similar to that taking place against the Rohingya in Rakhine state since 2017. The Gambia is now 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.
Timeline of critical events in Burma/Myanmar
2012 – Aung San Suu Kyi was elected to parliament as a member of the National League for
Democracy (NLD) party.
2012 – Clashes in Rakhine state led to violence against the Rohingya community.
2014 – Word, “Rohingya” excluded from the census, requiring members of the community to
label themselves Bengali. Many responded by boycotting the census.
2015 – White Cards, which had been issued to Rohingya after the government’s denial of birth
certificates, were invalidated. A new ID was created for Rohingya labeling them immigrants.
2015 – Rohingya were denied voting rights, and blocked from participating in the 2015 general
2016 – Aung San Suu Kyi became State Counsellor under the NLD party.
2017 – UN Human Rights Council established a fact-finding mission after an attack on the
Rohingya community led to 86,000 fleeing to Bangladesh.
2017 -Violent attacks in August in Rakhine State led to approximately 9,000 dead and 700,000
more fleeing to Bangladesh.
2017 – In December, the U.S. imposed sanctions on 13 human rights abusers.
2018 – UN investigators called for genocide charges for the top Tatmadaw generals.
2019 – More than 900,000 refugees fled to Cox’s Bazar, a refugee “city camp” in Bangladesh.
2019 – The Gambia brought a case at the International Court of Justice against Myanmar, arguing
that the country had violated the Genocide Convention.
2019 – Aung San Suu Kyi denied accusations of a Rohingya genocide at the International
2020 – The NLD claimed victory in the tumultuous November 8 election, again placing Aung
San Suu Kyi in power as State Counsellor of Myanmar.
2020/2021 – Pro-military protests began with a few hundred protesters taking to the streets,
hoping to delegitimize the election.
2021 – On February 1 Aung San Suu Kyi and other officials were placed under arrest as the
military staged a coup, taking over the government and declaring a state of emergency.
2021 – Anti-coup protests began with upwards of 150,000 protesters taking to the streets of
Yangon, met with a violent response from the military.
2021 – More than 500 civil and himan rights groups call on UN Security Council to address
junta and stop violence in Chin state.
2021 – Daniel Fester, first American journalist arrested by junta for reporting on protests
following coup is released from prison.