The brutality that began in Myanmar’s Rakhine state on August 25, 2017, marked a crescendo in a decades-long, state-led campaign of physical and structural violence, discriminatory policies and practices, and dehumanizing hate speech targeting the Rohingya.
In just a few weeks, the Tatmadaw, as Myanmar’s military is known, murdered thousands of Rohingya civilians, torched hundreds of villages, and forced more than 740,000 Rohingya to flee to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.
Three years later, the world continues to fail the Rohingya people.
With security guarantees, protection of fundamental rights, meaningful justice and accountability, and a promising future no closer, Rohingya face an impossible choice between an ongoing risk of genocide at home, a life of inertia crammed into the world’s largest refugee camp in Bangladesh, or perilous journeys by sea in the hopes of reaching a destination that accepts them.
The international community must do more to ensure that these are not the only options available.
First, the United States should recognize the crimes committed against the Rohingya as genocide, and others should follow suit. The UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, and countless others have already made such a determination. A declaration by the US and others would serve as a call to action, galvanizing much-needed attention and resources for the crisis.
Second, the international community must compel a change in Myanmar’s behavior toward the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities.
Since 2017, Myanmar has done nothing to address the root causes of the crisis in Rakhine. Myanmar continues to deny Rohingya citizenship, instead coercing them to accept National Verification Cards that provide no legal protections and requires that they self-identify as foreigners.
Rohingya face onerous restrictions to freedom of movement, limiting livelihood opportunities and access to education, health care, and critical humanitarian assistance. And Rohingya are excluded from civic life, disfranchised and barred from running for office in parliamentary elections this November.
A significant escalation in conflict between the ethnic-Rakhine-led Arakan Army and the Tatmadaw has only made matters worse. Government-imposed restrictions on Internet access across much of Rakhine since June 2019 and recently extended through at least October have further impeded access to humanitarian assistance, planning for the elections (which may be canceled in parts of Rakhine), and accurate information about Covid-19.