Violations of International Human Rights and Criminal Law: Should Myanmar Generals Face Genocide Charges for Rohingya persecutions?

By Sona Movsisyan

For over a year now, nearly 600,000 Rohingya people have fled the northern Rakhine province of Myanmar, also known as Burma, due to the destruction of their homes and persecution.[1] The United Nations proclaims that it is “the fastest displacement of a people since the Rwanda genocide.”[2] As a result, the United Nations Human Rights Council conducted an independent international fact-finding mission to report the atrocities committed by Myanmar Generals.[3]

The Rohingya comprise one of the many ethnic minorities in Myanmar, with the majority living in Rakhine state.[4] They speak their own language, have their own cultural traditions, and they predominantly practice Islam.[5] The Rohingya population represents the largest Muslim population in Myanmar, which has been the main source of conflict because Myanmar is a majority Buddhist country.[6] The Myanmar government has refused to recognize or provide citizenship to the Rohingya people and even excluded them from the 2014 census.[7] Despite the fact that Rohingya people have roots in Rakhine that can be traced for generations, and they were once considered citizens of Myanmar; when the military junta took over in 1962, they began to strip their rights away.[8] Since 1982, most Rohingya have been stateless, voiceless, and vulnerable.[9] Therefore, Myanmar improperly identifies the Rohingya population as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.[10]

The crisis the Rohingya people have been experiencing in Myanmar has been labeled as ethnic cleansing, genocide, and gender-based sexual violence committed by the Myanmar military.[11] Reports illustrate mass burning of their villages and attacking and killing civilians.[12] According to satellite images by Human Rights Watch, 288 villages were partially or totally destroyed by fire after August 2017.[13] In only a month, at least 6,700 Rohingya, including approximately 730 children under the age of five, were killed.[14] Additionally, women and girls have been gang-raped and abused.[15] However, “government officials, opposition politicians, religious leaders and even local human-rights activists have become unified behind this narrative: The Rohingya are not rightful citizens of Buddhist-majority Myanmar.”[16] Therefore, in Myanmar, there is a clear denial that ethnic cleansing is taking place.

Many Rohingya refugees have been pouring into Bangladesh and are sharing their experiences and stories. One man stated, “on the way, we saw many dead people. Their heads and limbs chopped off. The slaughter took place house by house.”[17] Another woman was seen running through a field naked and covered in blood. She had just been a victim of a violent gang-rape right after the military soldiers took her son from her arms and threw him into a fire.[18] She now is going from one refugee camp to another.[19] So what is the international community’s response to this humanitarian crisis?

The United Nations created a Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar to investigate the atrocities committed that “undoubtedly amount to the gravest crimes under international law.”[20] In an 18-page report, the panel of investigators described “the Rakhine operations as a ‘foreseeable and planned catastrophe’ building on decades of oppression of Rohingya Muslims.”[21] The Mission conducted 875 in-depth interviews with victims and eyewitnesses and the investigators traveled to Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and the United Kingdom.[22] Additionally, it held over 250 consultations with other stakeholders and corroborated the statements with satellite imagery, documents, photographs, videos, as well as other credible and reliable secondary information.[23] The findings in Northern Rakhine State estimate that 392 villages were partially or totally destroyed, 70% of which were in Maungdaw Township, where most Rohingya lived.[24] Over 725,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh by August 2018 following the ‘clearance operations’ in August 2017.[25] Estimates of 54 violent ‘clearance operations’ verified by first-hand accounts, including: targeted executions; rounding up men and taking them away; indiscriminate killings; targeting killings of children; gang-raping women and girls; burning villages; people burning alive, especially women and children who were too vulnerable to escape; and creating mass grave sites.[26] Thousands of Rohingya continue to flee each month as the violence escalates.[27] The mission has verified and described in depth the events of 9 mass killings, in total resulting in a conservative estimate of 10,000 deaths.[28] The crimes committed in Kachin and Shan States amount to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity.[29] The reports indicate that the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s armed forces, are responsible for committing unlawful killings; destroying, appropriating or looting civilian property and objects; arbitrary detention and arrests; sexual and gender-based violence; enforced disappearance; forced labor; torture and other ill-treatment; conduct of hostilities in “flagrant disregard” of civilian life and property.[30] The sole purpose of these attacks is to wipe out the ethnic Rohingya people due to their culture and religion.

Additionally, “the panel found evidence of genocidal intent in the operation, citing the prevailing rhetoric of hate directed at the Rohingya and statements by military commanders as well as ‘the level of organization indicating a plan for destruction; and the extreme scale and brutality of the violence.’”[31] The reports point to the fact that the crimes committed by the military groups would never necessitate or justify “killing indiscriminately, gang-raping women, assaulting children and burning entire villages.”[32] The tactics employed by the Tatmadaw were “consistently and grossly disproportionate to actual security threats” in the regions.[33] Who is to blame for these human rights violations? Senior General Min Aung Hlaing has been Commander-in-Chief since 2011.[34] The Tatmadaw command “exercises effective control over its own soldiers as well as other armed actors deployed in military operations . . . [illustrating] that individual criminal liability extends to the hierarchical commanders.”[35]

Therefore, the report calls for the Commander-in-Chief and the Senior Tatmadaw commanders to be investigated and prosecuted by an international tribunal for crimes against humanity and war crimes in the Kachin and Shan provinces and genocide in the Rakhine State. The panel is hoping that the United Nations Security Council will refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court or establish an international tribunal like those created to investigate genocide committed in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.[36] Additionally, the United States stated that they have a new set of targeted sanctions against military officers who are believed to have directed the violence against the Rohingya.[37] However, top commanding officials, such as General Min Aung Hlaing, have yet to face any sanctions or consequences from their orders or commands.[38] The humanitarian crisis continues and the plight of Rohingya worsens as they wait for a response from the international community.


[1] Myanmar Rohingya: What you need to know about the crisis, BBC News (Apr. 24, 2018),

[2] Hannah Beech, Across Myanmar, Denial of Ethnic Cleansing and Loathing of Rohingya, N.Y. Times (Oct. 24, 2017),

[3] Report of Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, U.N. Hum. Rts. Council (Aug. 27, 2018), [hereinafter OHCHR Report].

[4] Myanmar Rohingya, supra note 1.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Beech, supra note 2. 

[9] Id.

[10] Myanmar Rohingya, supra note 1.

[11] Beech, supra note 2.

[12] Myanmar Rohingya, supra note 1.

[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] Id.

[16] Beech, supra note 2.

[17] Rohingya crisis: Refugees tell of ‘house by house’ killings, BBC News (Oct. 18, 2017),

[18] Jeffrey Gettleman, Rohingya Recount Atrocities: ‘They Threw My Baby Into a Fire’, N.Y. Times (Oct. 11, 2017),  

[19] Id.

[20] Myanmar Rohingya, supra note 1.

[21] Id.

[22] OHCHR Report, supra note 3, at “Fact-Finding Mission Methodology” Infographic.

[23] Id.

[24] Id. at “Northern Rakhine State” Infographic.

[25] Id.

[26] Id.

[27] Id.

[28] Id.

[29] Id. at “Kachin and Shan States” Infographic.

[30] Id.

[31] Beech, supra note 2.

[32] Id.

[33] Id.

[34] OHCHR Report, supra note 3, at “Tatmadaw- The armed forces of Myanmar” Infographic.

[35] Id.

[36] Beech, supra note 2.

[37] Id.

[38] Id.