The Escalating Crisis of the Rohingya People of Myanmar

By: Camila Torres Jaramillo

March 14, 2023

The Rohingya people of Myanmar have long been subjected to persecution and human rights abuses, which have been widely condemned by the international community.[1] This article will explore the legal implications of the situation in Myanmar, focusing on the human rights violations committed against the Rohingya people.


The Rohingya are an ethnic minority group with their own language and culture that has lived in Myanmar, also known as Burma, for centuries. [2] The Rohingya Muslims represent the largest percentage of Muslims in Myanmar. [3] They descend from Arab traders and other groups that have inhabited that area for centuries. [4]However, the government of Myanmar, which is predominantly Buddhist, does not recognize them as citizens or people, and they have been subjected to discrimination and violence for decades. [5] In 2017, the situation reached a crisis point when the Myanmar military launched a brutal crackdown on the Roshingya, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee the country. [6]

The Myanmar government has repeatedly denied allegations of human rights abuses and claims that the military operation was aimed at rooting out terrorists.[7] However, the international community has condemned the actions of the government and military, with the United Nations describing the situation as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”[8]

Legal Implications

The persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar has several legal implications, including violations of human rights law, international criminal law, and refugee law.

Human Rights Law

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, recognizes the right to life, liberty, and security of person.[9] The persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar violates these basic human rights.

The Rohingya have been subjected to extrajudicial killings, torture, rape, and other forms of violence. [10]They have also been denied access to education, healthcare, and other essential services. These actions are in violation of their right to life and security of person. [11]

The right to freedom of movement is also a fundamental human right. [12] However, the Rohingya have been subjected to severe restrictions on their movement, including being confined to camps and villages.[13] This is a clear and indisputable violation of their right to freedom of movement, as guaranteed by Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

International Criminal Law

The persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar may also constitute crimes against humanity, as defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. [14] A report by Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar revealed that children are being tortured, conscripted, and detained, even as proxies for their parents. [15]  The military has been accused of carrying out mass killings, rape, and other forms of violence against the Rohingya. [16] These offenses constitute crimes against humanity which are part of a widespread or systematic attack against the Rohingya. [17] To make matters worse, no one has been held accountable for the atrocious crimes against humanity. [18] After five years Rohingya continue to be victims of a devastating military campaign that has brutalized them and displaced them. [19]

Refugee Crisis

The persecution of the Rohingya has also led to a refugee crisis, with hundreds of thousands fleeing to neighboring countries such as Bangladesh. [20] The Bangladesh government has responded generously considering the influx and pressure it places on the host community. [21] Under international law, refugees are entitled to protection and assistance. [22]

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has called for greater protection for the Rohingya refugees, including the provision of shelter, food, and healthcare.[23] The UNHCR has also called for the international community to provide support to countries that have taken in Rohingya refugees. [24] “While the Rohingya consistently express their desire for a safe and dignified return to Myanmar, this will be very difficult to achieve unless there is accountability for the atrocities committed against them, including through prosecutions of the individuals most responsible for those crimes,” Nicholas Koumjian, explained in the Independent Investigative Mechanism report. [25]

Food Crisis Today

As Rohingya move into the sixth year of their plight, their struggles come back into the headlines as the UN reports that food rationing begins for Myanmar’s Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. [27] UN World Food Programme announced that it would be rolling back assistance because of funding. [28] “These rations cuts are a stain on the conscience of the international community,” said Tom Andrews, UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar. [29] The cuts will impact nearly one million Rohingya refugees. [30] Andrews calls for support from UN Member states. [31] UN experts warned that food shortages foster more violence and unrest in the camp along with increased risks of human trafficking. [32]

While the Bangladesh government is playing host, their generosity isn’t as broad as you could imagine. The Bangladesh government “restrict refugees from seeking paid work, leaving them almost entirely dependent on humanitarian assistance.” [33] The cuts in food ration “will only make us more vulnerable because we cannot go out to look for jobs,” said one Rohingya woman. [34]

While UN Member states can contribute monetarily to the food crisis, they should also be supporting the lifting of livelihood restrictions on the Rohingya by the Bangladesh government. [35]

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