While the World Sleeps, Myanmar Burns

The Latest Rohingya Crisis

Rohingya refugees arrive in Bangladesh, September 2017. Damir Sagolj / Reuters

Over the past month, 436,000 Rohingya have fled from their homes in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State to neighboring Bangladesh. This is the second exodus of Rohingya, members of a Muslim ethnic minority, in the past year. The current exodus, like the previous one in October 2016 that led 87,000 to flee, is being driven by a brutal government crackdown following attacks by armed Rohingya.

Despite calls from international rights groups for stronger action to stop the violence, there appears to be little appetite within the wider international community for more robust intervention. Permitting the current crisis to unfold, however, eats away at its credibility and threatens peace and stability in Southeast Asia.


On August 25, militants attacked 30 police posts and an army base in northern Rakhine State, killing ten police officers, a soldier, and an immigration official. Following this attack, the government designated the organization responsible, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), also known as Harakah al-Yaqin, a terrorist group.

Security forces have responded with indiscriminate force against the Rohingya community. They have razed entire villages to the ground and have killed, tortured, and raped civilians. The United Nations had previously described the October 2016 violence against the Rohingya as “very likely … crimes against humanity,” and on September 11 the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Raad al-Hussein, referred to the current situation as appearing to be “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

The government of Myanmar (also known as Burma) has denied these accusations. In August, Vice President Myint Swe, the leader of a 13-member government commission tasked with investigating the events of last fall, insisted that “there is no possibility of crimes against humanity [and] no evidence of ethnic cleansing, as per UN accusations.” Instead, Myint Swe—a former chief of military intelligence—said that “people from abroad have fabricated news claiming genocide.” In the same vein, Myanmar’s de facto leader, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, said in a September phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

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