Burma has long been the perpetrator of many human rights violations. Ever since 1962 when the Burmese military government took control of the country, many different ethnicities within the country have fallen victim to counter-insurgency campaigns, leaving many civilians either dead or displaced.
In the past few years one particular minority has become at risk of mass atrocity crimes. The Rohingya, a Muslim minority group, have been ethically and religiously persecuted and officials are saying the spread of this violence if left unchecked, will “ultimately mean the extermination of the Rohingyas.”
The discrimination and violence against Rohingyas has been continuous since 2012 starting with clashes that killed 200 people. Here, security failed to protect, and were sometimes part of the attacks and the government is preventing humanitarian aid from reaching the people.
The past years in Burma can be seen as taking steps forward but always falling back into ethnic violence and discrimination practices. Many phrases like, “building blocks of genocide,” and “risk of genocide and mass atrocities” color discussion about Burma. The country is on the precipice of genocide and already huge numbers of people are displaced and have no legal rights.
In September of 2014, the “Rakhine Action Plan,” which basically ordered Rohingyas to become reclassified as “Bengali” so they could get citizenship. The alternative to this is forced internment in detention camps.
The Rohingyas are not the only minority within Burma that is in peril. Violence and persecution has been especially heavy in the Kachin state where close to 100,000 people have been displaced from their homes in fear of violence. The violence in Kachin briefly ceased in 2003 before beginning again and forcing an estimated 130,000 people to seek refuge in Thailand.
Ethnic and religious persecution in the country has led to countless refugees and displacements as well as deaths amongst the nations minorities. The government’s forces have used all manner of human rights violations to inflict damage upon the minority groups like rape as a form of forced “Burmanization,” the use of child soldiers, refusing Rohingyas to self-identify on the national census, use of land mines throughout the country, forced labor, burning homes, and the stripping of all legal rights of ethnic minorities. To date, there are 85,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) in the Northern part of the country and 75,000 Kachin IDPs, with many more in other minorities being displaced daily. Further struggles arise when civilians seek refuge in other countries and become forced into further abuse like human trafficking and refoulement.
So what needs to happen? Peace talks have been attempted numerous times in Burma with very little progress made in recent years. While cease-fires have been negotiated at different point, the continued ethnic persecution creates doubts that Burma is on the right path to ending the violence. The international community says that in order for peace to happen, the government needs to be held accountable for the abuses, neighboring countries need to offer protection to fleeing ethnic minorities, and the government’s reform process must include a constitutional reform that addresses the needs of ethnic minorities and no longer strips them of their rights.