Fears for Rohingya Muslims after Myanmar coup

Fears for Rohingya Muslims after Myanmar coup
Myanmar's sanctioned military chief, accused of directing the Rohingya 'genocide', is now the country's de-facto ruler.
3 min read
02 February, 2021
Around 600,000 Rohingya Muslims remain in Myanmar [Getty]
The United Nations has expressed fears over the fate of persecuted Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar after a military coup on Monday.

The Burmese military has been widely accused of mass killings of the ethnic and religious minority, with human rights groups describing Myanmar's actions as ethnic cleansing and a potential genocide.

The military crackdown, beginning in 2017, has forced more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh. The Muslim minority are denied citizenship by Myanmar, which claims they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Around 600,000 Rohingya remain in Myanmar's Rakhine state, according to the UN, with around 120,000 "effectively confined to camps" with little-to-no access to healthcare or education.

The UN fears that this week's coup "may make the situation worse for them", spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

The UN Security Council is due to discuss the seizure of power by the Burmese military in a closed meeting on Tuesday.

Amnesty International has urged the council to impose sanctions on the military's top brass and refer the Rohingya crisis to the International Criminal Court.

But any significant action will likely be impeded by China and Russia, who hold veto powers and have previously shielded Yangon from sanctions over its treatment of the Rohingya.

Chinese state news agency Xinhua has described the military coup as a "cabinet reshuffle".

The Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim rights organisation in the US, separately called on Washington to take action and protect the Rohingya from potential increased repression.

"Burma's military and elected government are both directly responsible for the genocidal campaign and systemic state discrimination that targets Rohingya Muslims and other minorities," said Nihad Awad, national executive director of CAIR.

"American Muslims are calling on President [Joe] Biden to prioritise the safety and security of Rohingya Muslims and other ethnic and religious minorities in Burma [Myanmar] following the military coup in that country," Awad said in a statement on Monday.

Sanctioned military chief to lead Myanmar

The coup comes less than a decade after Myanmar launched a fragile democratic transition after decades of direct military rule.

The army claims it took power this week to restore democracy, alleging widespread fraud in a November election.

Myanmar's electoral commission has repeatedly rejected claims of fraud. The military's political proxy, the Union Solidarity and Development Party, performed poorly in the election last year.

The takeover comes against the backdrop of military chief Min Aung Hlaing's impending mandatory retirement.

The commander-in-chief is said to have long harboured presidential ambitions, which could not be fulfilled with November's election results.

Myanmar's vice president, a military ally who was propelled to the leadership after the arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi, has transferred power to Min Aung Hlaing, making him the country's de-facto leader.

Rights groups accuse Min Aung Hlaing of primary responsibility for the killing of thousands of Rohingya Muslims.

The Burmese military has also been accused of torching Rohingya villages and raping women as part of the crackdown in Rakhine state.

In 2018, a UN fact-finding committee called for Min Aung Hlaing to be investigated and prosecuted on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

The top general has been sanctioned by the US and the UK over alleged human rights violations and ethnic cleansing.

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