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R2P Ideas in Brief: ASEAN, the Rohingyas and Myanmar’s Responsibility to Protect
Asia-Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
November 2012
 
How can the central government in Myanmar be encouraged to do more in implementing its responsibility to protect the Rohingyas and affected communities in Rakhine state? What is the role of ASEAN and other international actors in preventing further escalation of the crisis between the Rohingyas and ethnic Rakhines? This policy brief identifies some recommendations on how Myanmar and ASEAN could work together with the rest of the international community in dealing with the crisis in Rakhine state following the renewed ethnic violence in the area.
 
Ethnic violence between the stateless Rohingyas and majority Rakhines in Myanmar’s Rakhine state erupted again in late October a few months after the first outbreak in early June this year. Based on media reports, thus far about 90 people were killed and close to 30,000 Rohingyas have been displaced by this new wave of violence after extremists vigilantes attacked and burned homes and boats in the predominantly Muslim town of Kyaukpyu. An undetermined number of Rohingyas have also taken to sea in houseboats, barges and fishing vessels in panic, with over a hundred people reported to have drowned after their boats capsized. Satellite images published by Human Rights Watch indicate that the arson attack on settlements of Rohingyas in Kyaukpyu was apparently premeditated and involved elements from the military, which affected some eight townships or districts that left over 4,000 homes destroyed as well as religious buildings. Kyaukpyu is said to be a strategic area where a multi-billion dollar China-Myanmar oil pipeline project is supposed to start. Since the outbreak of violence in June, close to 200 people have been killed and over 100,000 Rohingyas have been displaced in Rakhine. (…)
 
Myanmar is considered by a team of R2P experts as one of the most at-risk countries that may experience genocide or politicide between 2011-2015.25 Indeed, the renewed outbreak of ethnic strife in Rakhine state in October clearly demonstrates the weakness of the central government in implementing the principle of R2P, which it supported in the 2005 UN World Summit and expressed its commitment to in the UN General Assembly Interactive Dialogue on R2P in 2009 (see box). Although it quickly declared a state of emergency and implemented certain security measures to restore peace and order in the area since the first outbreak in June, there are strong indications that these remain inadequate in the face of local authorities and law enforcement agents failing to protect not only the Rohingyas but also other affect-ed communities from vigilante attacks. That the UN’s and other international organizations’ humanitarian assistance work has been hampered by threats from extremist groups also shows that the central government has not effectively contained the ethnic violence in western Myanmar.
 
While recognizing certain progress in democratic reforms in Myanmar since 2011, the international community however should remain vigilant in continuing to exert pressure on both President Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to do more in preventing the escalation of ethnic violence in Rakhine and the spread of anti-Islamic sentiments in the country. While international attention is focused on the plight of Rohingyas in light of recent developments, the central government should also be encouraged to continue in improving its record in protecting other ethnic groups in predominantly Burmese society. Failure on the part of the central government to contain the ethnic violence, as well as the inability of the international community to provide assistance in this regard, would only undermine the political reforms initiated by President Thein Sein. If this happens, this will benefit only the hardline elements in the military that are strongly opposed to his reforms. (…)
 
Overall, the international community should remain steadfast in exerting pressure on the government in Myanmar in meeting its obligations under the R2P principle even as it must be recognized that it also needs encouragement and assistance in building its capabilities to deal with ethnic violence in the country. Myanmar’s chairmanship of ASEAN in 2014 may prove to be a good incentive for the government to comply with international norms in dealing with the crisis in Rakhine. (…)
 
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