By Sharon Zea Rincon, Blog writer

The conflict between the military and the ethnic Rakhine armed rebel group, the Arakan Army, has reached new levels of violence. The Arakan Army abducted ethnic Rohingya men and took them to remote locations in the forest. Local villagers were unable to protect themselves or interfere because the Arakan Army had intimidated the village administrators and business people. In response to these actions, the Myanmar military carried out extrajudicial arrests and killed those identified as Arakan Army members.  

Intervention was necessary in order to help innocent Rohingya men and protect other civilians from the Arakan Army. However, the method of intervention chosen by the Myanmar military has brought more violence to these villages. In order to prevent the Arakan Army from continuing their abductions of Rohingya men, the Myanmar military carried out arbitrary arrests, torture, and executions of Rakhine men of fighting age in villages throughout the Rakhine state. This violent tactic has resulted in 14 arrests and 29 civilian deaths, including children in multiple villages, such as Tha Mee Hla, and Ywar Haung Taw. Because of this conflict between the Arakan Army and Myanmar military,  historical and cultural property has been damaged in the complexes of the Mrauk-U Township, directly violating international humanitarian law,  which prohibits the destruction of ancient temples in Myanmar. 

The Myanmar government has yet to respond to the actions of the military. Military spokesperson Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun denied all allegations of harming civilians, claiming the military was acting within the law. This cover up comes at the same time as the release of seven Myanmar soldiers who were convicted of murdering Rohingya Muslim civilians. The soldiers were given a 10 year sentence but were freed after a mere 8 months in jail. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, the journalists who exposed and covered this story, faced a harsher punishment and were jailed for over 15 months

These actions demonstrate the inconsistent nature of the Myanmar government. In order to maintain credibility in the international sphere, they are taking action against the Arakan Army.  However, in doing so, the Myanmar military has taken innocent civilians lives and desecrated sacred temples, ultimately causing a comparable amount of harm to the population as done by the Arakan Army. The government could protect the Rohingya people by punishing members of the Myanmar military who commit atrocities against ethnic minorities. By pardoning the crimes of the soldiers who were convicted of murdering Rohingya Muslim civilians, it encourages others to follow suit, since they know they will likely evade punishment. 

From the 1982 Citizenship Law to the 2017 military crackdown towards Rohingya people, which the de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi refused to publically condemn, there has been consistent aggression towards the Muslim minorities in Myanmar. In 2012 the Myanmar military was coordinating attacks with Arakanese groups on Muslim communities. Organized armed civilian groups, such as the Arakan Army, appear to be a result of the government’s rejection of Muslim minorities and the encouragement of violence towards them. What was once joint attacks between the military and Arakanese civilians has grown into armies who are intending to eradicate the Rohingya population from the country. The Myanmar government must work to correct the damage it has inflicted upon the Rohingya people. If the Rohingya were granted full citizenship, it would set a standard for proper treatment of Muslim minorities and potentially lessen the violence towards them from other ethnic groups.

International pressure to grant the Rohingya people full citizenship and sanctions on military leaders could influence the Myanmar government to change. The United States has already instituted sanctions on military leaders to show that their crimes have not gone unnoticed and do have repercussions. If the Canadian government were  to join this movement, it could inspire other members of the international community to act similarly and lessen the human rights violations in Myanmar. Canada should be taking action against military leaders under the Justice for Victims of Corrupt Foreign Officials Act (also known as the Magnitsky Act) which prohibits Canadians from dealing with, entering financial transactions with, or providing financial services to any foreign nationals affected by the act. As of February of 2018, only one official from Myanmar, Major General Maung Maung Soe, has been sanctioned under the Magnitsky Act as a response to the human rights violations. By imposing sanctions on other military leaders responsible for genocide in Myanmar, the Canadian government could help hold these government officals accountable for their actions and show that they are serious about taking a stand against human rights violations in Myanmar.

To read more about STAND Canada’s policy recommendations, click here!

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