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Mass Atrocities

Escalating Violence

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In 2012, violent attacks, fanned by a campaign of virulent anti-Muslim hate speech, destroyed numerous Rohingya communities, killed hundreds, and displaced approximately 140,000. According to both Rakhine and Rohingya witnesses, Buddhist monks and local Rakhine politicians incited and led many of the attacks, with state security forces failing or refusing to stop the violence and sometimes participating in it. While both Rohingya and Rakhine civilians suffered during this episode of violence, the Rohingya population was particularly targeted, and most of those killed and displaced were from the Rohingya minority group.

An attack on police officers in October 2016 by a group of Rohingya men was followed by a brutal and disproportionate crack-down by security forces on Rohingya civilians. Simon-Skjodt Center staff interviewed survivors of this violence, who reported extrajudicial killings, rape, torture, and the burning of villages. Another attack by a Rohingya armed group in August 2017 spurred another, even greater, wave of violence by the Burmese military and other security forces, who targeted Rohingya civilians and forced approximately 700,000 to flee to Bangladesh. Now in Bangladesh, those who fled now face a humanitarian crisis with limited ability to access sufficient services.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights published a report in February 2017 that included evidence of mass gang rape, killings—including of children and babies—and disappearances that were committed as part of the security forces’ response to the initial attacks on police. The United Nations Human Rights Council established a Fact-Finding Mission in March 2017 to gather information about these crimes, but the Burmese government vowed not to cooperate nor allow investigators access to the areas in which mass atrocities allegedly took place. The Fact-Finding Mission issued a report in August 2018 that called for senior Burmese military leaders to be investigated and prosecuted for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. The same month, the US Treasury Department imposed economic sanctions on four Burmese military and border guard commanders and two military units for their involvement in the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya. In December 2019, the US levied sanctions against Burmese commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing and three other high-ranking military officials for their role in committing serious human rights violations.

Spreading Anti-Muslim Hate Speech

The lack of accountability in Burma has likely contributed to the outpouring of anti-Muslim hate speech that has been accompanied by sporadic violence targeting Muslim Burmese citizens residing in other parts of the country. While Buddhist monks have been among the most visible instigators, there is ample evidence of security forces’ complicity in the violence, which has claimed scores of lives and destroyed thousands of properties. The Buddhist "969" movement has used anti-Muslim hate speech and intimidation to force boycotts of Muslim businesses and is now seeking to criminalize marriage between Muslim men and Buddhist women. The escalating segregation and discrimination against Rohingya and other Muslims in Burma leave them in well-founded fear for their safety and livelihoods.

This page was last updated in June 2023.