The United Nations defines genocide as any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part...

According to the International Criminal Court, crimes against humanity are defined as any of the following acts committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack knowingly directed against any civilian population: murder; extermination; enslavement; deportation or forcible transfer of population...

In 2005, all member states of the United Nations came together to endorse and accept a shared Responsibility to Protect populations from genocide, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. The principle of protection anchored in three pillars: the essential responsibility of States to protect their own citizens, a shared responsibility to take appropriate steps to assist States in exercising that solemn duty, and preparedness to take timely and decisive action where national authorities manifestly failed to do so.


Following the forced displacement of more than 700,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh in 2017, up to 600,000 Rohingya were estimated to remain in Rakhine State. The US Secretary of State determined on 22 November 2017 that the situation in northern Rakhine state in Burma constituted ethnic cleansing. Rohingya refugees settled in squalid camps in neighboring Bangladesh. Although both countries have signed a repatriation deal, they refugees say they have a well founded fear of returning to Myanmar. Many refugees say they will not return without a basic guarantee of protection.

Rights groups on 21 Marach 2022 welcomed the U.S.’s declaration that the Myanmar military committed genocide and crimes against humanity against the Rohingya in 2017, but some advocates said the alleged perpetrators must actually be punished to deter more atrocities in the country. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the genocide determination was “based on reviewing a factual assessment and legal analysis prepared by the State Department,” including documentation from groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and his department’s “own rigorous fact-finding.”

Rohingya leaders taken to evaluate conditions on a Bay of Bengal island developed to house refugees reported the site is safe and well managed. The 40 Rohingya leaders, representing 34 refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, were taken to Bhashan Char by members of Bangladesh’s armed forces. Bangladesh officials want to relocate 100,000 refugees to the Bhashan Char site while international humanitarian organizations have questioned the suitability of the flood-prone islet for housing refugees. Bangladesh has spent about U.S. $280 million to construct housing, a large embankment, and other infrastructure on the island. An additional $92 million was allocated in December 2019 for raising the height of the embankment and to build an administrative building, a jetty and residential facilities for U.N. officials.

Authorities said the facilities on the island are better than in the refugee camps where more than 740,000 Rohingya who fled a brutal military crackdown in Myanmar three years ago, have been living. In all, about 1 million Rohingya live in the camps in and around Cox’s Bazar.

Myanmar's military said 25 June 2018 it sacked a top general who was named in fresh European Union sanctions against security officials accused of serious rights violations in the Rohingya crisis. The military said that Major General Maung Maung Soe, the former head of the Western Command in Rakhine, had been "purged" for poor performance. The announcement came after the EU said he was among seven security officials hit with travel bans and asset freezes, but Myanmar did not link his sacking to the new sanctions.

Major General Maung Maung Soe was the Commander of the Western Command of the Myanmar Armed Forces (Tatmadaw) from October 2016 to 10 November 2017 and oversaw the military operations in Rakhine State. In that context, he was responsible for the atrocities and serious human rights violations committed against Rohingya population in Rakhine State by the Western Command during that period. These include unlawful killings, sexual violence and systematic burning of Rohingya houses and buildings.

Maung Maung Soe oversaw the military operation in Burma’s Rakhine State responsible for widespread human rights abuse against Rohingya civilians in response to attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. The United States Government examined credible evidence of Maung Maung Soe’s activities, including allegations against Burmese security forces of extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, and arbitrary arrest as well as the widespread burning of villages.

The Myanmar government’s announcement that it had reached a framework agreement with two United Nations agencies to help with the repatriation of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh prompted mixed reactions from political observers inside the country. On 31 May 2018, State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi’s office said the government agreed to but had not signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) to assist with the “voluntary, safe dignified and sustainable” return of displaced persons verified as eligible for repatriation.

A survey release in late May 2018 by Xchange Foundation, a migration research group, found that nearly all Rohingya are pleased to be in Bangladesh. It found 98.65 percent of 1,700 Rohingya surveyed said they felt welcome. Even more respondents, 99.41 percent, said they felt safe during the day – a figure that dropped to 95.89 percent at night. Of those, 80 percent were women whose concerns included wild animals, potential robbery, “murderers” and human traffickers.


The law defines “national ethnic group” only as a racial and ethnic group that can prove origins in the country dating back to 1823, the year prior to British colonization. In practice the government has granted or withdrawn “national ethnic group” status from ethnic groups throughout the country on various occasions. Because the Rohingya are not on the list, and due to other government action, they are stateless.

In Rakhine State local authorities prohibited Rohingya families from having more than two children, although this prohibition was inconsistently enforced. Also in Rakhine State, local authorities required members of the Rohingya minority to obtain a permit to marry officially, a step not required of other ethnicities. Waiting times for the permit could exceed one year, and bribes usually were required. According to human rights organizations, in April 2016 Border Guard Police in Buthidaung Township issued new instructions to village administrators outlining additional requirements for members of the Rohingya community to obtain a permit to marry. The new required documents included: a letter from the district immigration authorities verifying the couple were of legal age to marry; a letter from a station commander showing the couple was free of criminal offenses; a letter from a health assistant assuring the couple was free of communicable diseases; and a letter from village administrators confirming the individuals were single, unmarried, and that any previous marriage was dissolved at least three years prior. Unauthorized marriages could result in prosecution of Rohingya men under the penal code, which prohibits a man from “deceitfully” marrying a woman, and could result in a prison sentence or fine.

The Annan commission’s final report issued in August 2017 called for a review of the country’s 1982 Citizenship Law, which prevents the Rohingya from becoming citizens, an end to restrictions on the Muslim minority in order to prevent further violence in the region, and the closure of internally displaced persons camps in Rakhine state.

A day after the report was publicly released, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a Muslim militant group, carried out deadly attacks on 30 police outposts in northern Rakhine, sparking the violent campaign against the Rohingya, which included indiscriminate killings, rape, torture, and arson.

During the year 2017 there were multiple reports of alleged ARSA members killing civilians in northern Rakhine State for collaborating with the government; however, it appeared two of these reports were not credible. On August 1, the government reported “extremists” killed six ethnic Mro villagers in northern Rakhine State. Civil society organizations reported ARSA was not likely active in that village and suspected the deaths were related to methamphetamine trafficking. In September the government organized a trip for journalists to see the alleged mass graves of 45 Hindus whom the government said ARSA killed in northern Maungdaw Township on August 25, but civil society organizations and some local villagers were unable to corroborate the claim of the government, and other local villagers suggested instead they were killed by security forces or vigilante groups that were not associated with Rohingya. Four human rights organizations on 08 May 2018 called on the U.N. Security Council to refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court over a military campaign that drove 700,000 Rohingya Muslims to Bangladesh, saying the violence amounted to crimes against humanity. The four rights groups – Fortify Rights, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Global Center for Responsibility to Protect – made the appeal a week after the Security Council visited Myanmar and Bangladesh to investigate the plight of the Rohingyas.

“Impunity is entrenched in Myanmar,” said Matthew Smith, Chief Executive Officer of Fortify Rights. “Domestic remedies have been exhausted—the government failed to properly investigate the heinous crimes that have taken place, and that’s precisely why a referral is warranted.”

In early 2017 there were "only" 400,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, but by late 2017 there were over 1,000,000 refugees - out of a total population of 1,200,000. In Myanmar's northern Rakhine state, an estimated 180,000 Rohingya remained, the International Committee of the Red Cross said on 13 December 2017. Almost all Rohingya now reside in Bangladesh, not their native Myanmar. The UN has called the mass displacement of Rohingya “ethnic cleansing".

Frustration over Myanmar's handling of the Rohingya crisis boiled over into an argument between Aung San Suu Kyi and her former friend, now critic, Bill Richardson. The former US ambassador to the UN resigned 25 January 2018 from an advisory panel set-up by the government after accusing members of trying to "whitewash" the crisis. And in his resignation letter, Richardson accused members of being a "cheerleading squad" for the government. Officials reacted by accusing Richardson of having his own agenda. His criticisms raised further doubts about a deal to repatriate the Rohingya refugees stuck in Bangladesh.

Richardson said he got into an argument with Aung San Suu Kyi during a meeting on Monday with other members of the board, when he brought up the case of two Reuters reporters who are on trial accused of breaching the country's Officials Secrets Act. He said Aung San Suu Kyi's response was "furious", saying the case of the reporters "was not part of the work of the advisory board". The Advisory Board for the Committee for Implementation of the Recommendations on Rakhine State was set up by Myanmar in 2017, to advise on enacting the findings of an earlier commission headed by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

Richardson said he was also "taken aback by the vigour with which the media, the UN, human rights groups and in general the international community were disparaged" during the last three days of meetings the board held with Myanmar officials. "She's not getting good advice from her team," Richardson said of Aung San Suu Kyi, whom he said he has known since the 1980s. "I like her enormously and respect her. But she has not shown moral leadership on the Rakhine issue and the allegations made, and I regret that."

Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed 16 January 2018 on a Rohingya repatriation plan. Two countries have agreed to complete process of returning Rohingya Muslims in Bangladesh to Myanmar within two years after repatriation began. A statement by the Bangladesh foreign ministry did not say when the process would begin. But it said the return effort envisaged "considering the family as a unit," with Myanmar to provide temporary shelter for those returning before rebuilding houses for them.

The statement said Bangladesh would set up five transit camps which would send Rohingyas to two reception centres on the Myanmar side of the border. "Myanmar has reiterated its commitment to stop outflow of Myanmar residents to Bangladesh." it said.

Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay said that returnees would be able to apply for citizenship "after they pass the verification process." A Myanmar agency set up to oversee repatriation said in a statement that two temporary "repatriation and assessment camps" and one other site to accommodate returnees had been set up. Myint Kyaing, permanent secretary at Myanmar's Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population, said Myanmar would be ready to begin processing least 150 people a day through each of the two camps by 23 January 2018. [That would be a bit fewer than 5,000 per month - at which rate about 200 months, or 17 years, would be needed to repatriate all one million refugees].

In all likelihood, returning Rohingya will face the same miserable, apartheid conditions that they so recently fled. Specific parts of the deal seem to confirm this. For example, it states that the Rohingya's freedom of movement will be based on "existing legislation and regulations" - in other words, a return to a status quo which discriminates against the Rohingya, segregates them in poverty-stricken townships and forbids them from travelling. The conditions Rohingya want met before the repatriation process begins include demands that they are granted citizenship and given back the land they used to occupy, and that the military is held accountable for the violations committed against them.

China has blocked most efforts to internationalize the Rohingya refugee crisis, instead positioning itself as a mediator between the two countries involved. China wnats to protect its US$7.3 billion investment in the Kyaukpyu deep sea port project in Rakhine State. The port is expected to advance China’s One Belt One Road initiative, offering a link to the Bay of Bengal.

China called for a ceasefire in Myanmar’s Rakhine State so that Rohingya Muslim refugees can return from Bangladesh, proposing a three-stage approach to the crisis as diplomats from 51 mostly Asian and European countries gathered in Myanmar 20 November 2017 at the long-scheduled thirteenth Asia-Europe Meeting of foreign ministers. Once a ceasefire is seen to be working, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said talks between Myanmar and Bangladesh should find a workable solution for the return of refugees, and the final phase should be to work toward a long-term solution based on poverty alleviation.

But human rights campaigners were sceptical about the durability of any repatriation effort that fails to resolve the issue of citizen rights, as Myanmar’s government and many in the country consider the Rohingya to be illegal Bengali immigrants. Otherwise the repatriation game is essentially a replay of previous repatriation programs dating from the 1990s. The plan is very vague, and it’s pretty much what the government of Burma itself had been proposing.

Join the mailing list