The Forgotten (Part 3): Buddhist Directed Ethnic Cleansing/Genocide of Rohingyas in Myanmar


Prof Hoosen Vawda – TRANSCEND Media Service

Please note that this publication contains graphic images and reports of human suffering, which may be disturbing to some readers.  Parental guidance is recommended for minors, who refer to this publication as a resource material.


“In the Buddhist Religion, Buddha, Siddhartha Gautam, achieved the awakening at Bodh Gaya, India, creating universal philosophy of Peace, seated under the Bodhi Tree, while the Buddhist monks and military junta of Myanmar are brutally killing the Rohingyas.” [1],

The sad plight of the Rohingya refugees,  trying to seek shelter in torrential rain, as they are held by the Border Guard Bangladesh, after being forced to illegally cross the border between Myanmar and Bangladesh, in Teknaf. Photo Credit: Wider Image, Reuters

2 Dec 2023 – This paper, Part 3, in the series on the Forgotten Communities, globally, highlights the origins, history, traditions and religion of the severely persecuted and disowned, stateless Rohingyas citizens, in present day Myanmar.  The author also summarises the ongoing and protracted, brutal ethnic cleansing, as well as the  physical genocide of this unique sector of the Burmese people, found in the Rakhine Province, the Muslim Rohingyas, as a minority group.   However, there is no accurate information on the number of Indigenous Peoples in Myanmar, partly due to a lack of understanding in the country of the internationally-recognised concept of Indigenous Peoples. The government claims that all citizens of Myanmar are “Indigenous” (taing-yin-tha) and, on that basis, dismisses the applicability of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) to Myanmar. Indigenous Peoples’ rights activists use the Burmese language term hta-nay-tain- yin-tha to describe Indigenous Peoples, based on international principles that use the criteria of non-dominance in the national context, historical continuity, ancestral territories and self-identification.[3]

The Background of the etymology of Rakhine Province, Rohingyas in Myanmar and official name changes, by the military junta

The literal translation of the name “Rakhine” is not definitively established, and interpretations may vary. However, it is believed that the term “Rakhine” is derived from the Pali word “Rakkhapura,” which means “Land of Rakkhasas.” The Rakkhasas are mythical beings in Hindu and Buddhist traditions, often associated with supernatural or demonic characteristics.  The name “Rakhine” has historical and cultural significance in the context of the Rakhine State in Myanmar (formerly Burma), where the Rakhine people, an ethnic group, reside. The state was historically known as Arakan, and its name was officially changed to Rakhine in 1989.  It is to be noted that the naming of regions and the etymology of place names can be complex, and interpretations may involve linguistic, historical, and cultural elements. The Pali language, an ancient Indian language, has influenced the terminology associated with the Rakhine region.


The Rohingya population has been classified as “terrorist”.[4] Burma has embarked upon a massive and programmatic response to such “extremism” by inaugurating concentration camps that extract labour, as well as they suppress any independent thoughts, beliefs, cultural values, language, even food, that evinces Muslim, Islamic identity, amongst a sector of its citizenry.  The name “Rakhine” refers to the geographic region in western Myanmar along the Bay of Bengal where the predominantly Muslim Rohingya minority resided, alongside the majority Buddhist Rakhine ethnic group and Bamar populations. The etymology and origins of the name include:


The name comes from Pali-Sanskrit “Rakkhapura” meaning “land of the people of Raksha.” Raksha refers to mythological demonic beings in early Hindu scriptures tied to the Ramayana epic.  One theory suggests Arab traders traveling to the western Myanmar kingdom dubbed inhabitants Rakshas after their aggressive protectiveness and warfare with outsiders reminded them of the fearsome Raksha demons in Hindu lore. The Rakhine people embrace this mythic warrior origin account as a badge differentiating their identity from Bamar groups dominating inland. It reflects maritime cultural links with broader Indian Ocean zones tying ancestry back to ancient Vedic periods. British colonial records alternatively reference the coastal kingdom as Arakan derived from a variation on Rakkhapura. This became the name of Rakhine’s main city Sittwe, formerly called Akyab by Europeans during occupation eras.


In essence, Rakhine as a geographic place name holds legendary connotations in the region harking back to old Hindu epics and possibly later exoticized interpretations projected by visiting Muslim traders in premodern eras to describe the unique culture encountered in coastal western Myanmar at the crossroads between South and Southeast Asia. The name persists despite generations of tumult.


Regarding the etymology of the ethnic classification of Rohingyas, the term “Rohingya” is subject to historical and linguistic debates, and its usage is closely tied to the identity of a Muslim ethnic group residing in the Rakhine State of Myanmar. The term itself is not of Burmese origin, and its historical roots have been a point of contention within Myanmar, particularly due to political and ethnic tensions.  The Rohingya people assert that the term has a long historical and cultural association with their community, claiming roots in the term “Rohang,” which was used to refer to the region of Arakan (now Rakhine State) in historical texts. They argue that “Rohingya” reflects their distinct identity, language, religion and culture. On the other hand, the Myanmar government and some segments of the population, especially the Buddhist monks, contest the use of the term, asserting that it was invented in the mid-20th century and does not have historical validity. The government has historically referred to the Rohingya as “Bengalis,” implying that they are immigrants from Bangladesh, rather than an indigenous ethnic group of Myanmar.  This controversy, surrounding the term “Rohingya” has played a role in the broader Rohingya crisis, which involves the displacement and persecution of the Rohingya population in Myanmar. The recognition or rejection of the term is tied to issues of citizenship, identity, and the acknowledgment of the Rohingya people as an ethnic group with historical roots in the region.  It is important to approach discussions on this topic with sensitivity, considering the complex historical and political context surrounding the Rohingya identity in Myanmar. Different parties may have distinct perspectives on the etymology and usage of the term based on their historical narratives and political positions.


The change in the name from “Arakan” to “Rakhine” for the province in Myanmar occurred in 1989. The decision to rename the province was part of a series of political and ideological changes initiated by the military government in power at the time. The military junta, known as the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), led by General Saw Maung, implemented these changes as part of its efforts to reshape the country’s identity.

The key details about the name change are:

  1. Timeline:

On 18th June 1989, the military government officially announced the change in the name of the province from Arakan to Rakhine. This decision was part of a broader set of changes that included the renaming of the country from Burma to Myanmar and the capital city from Rangoon to Yangon.

  1. Reasons for the Name Change:

The rationale provided by the military government for changing the name of the province was linked to the promotion of a distinct national identity. The term “Rakhine” is associated with the Rakhine ethnic group, which is the predominant ethnic group in the region. The government’s narrative emphasized the idea that the new name reflected the cultural and historical identity of the Rakhine people.

  1. Political Context:

The name changes in 1989 occurred during a period of significant political upheaval in Myanmar. The military government, which had come to power in 1988, faced widespread protests and calls for democratic reforms. The name changes were part of the junta’s efforts to assert control, reshape the country’s identity, and promote a vision of national unity under military rule.

The renaming of Arakan to Rakhine, like other changes made during that period, was not the result of a democratic process but rather a decision imposed by the military authorities. The name change has been a point of controversy and political sensitivity, particularly considering the historical and ethnic diversity of the region. Different communities within the province may have varying perspectives on the name change and its implications for their iden


The name change from Burma to Myanmar, officially the Republic of the Union of Myanmar,[5]  took place in 1989, and it was initiated by the military government that was in power at the time. The country’s official name was changed, and this decision was part of a series of political and ideological changes implemented by the ruling military junta, the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), led by General Saw Maung.

A brief overview of the timeline and reasons behind the name change:

  1. Timeline:

On June 18, 1989, the military government officially announced that the country’s name would be changed from the Union of Burma to the Union of Myanmar. At the same time, Rangoon, the capital city, was renamed Yangon, and other place names were also changed.

  1. Reasons for the Name Change:

The official justification provided by the military government for the name change was to promote national unity and inclusivity. The term “Myanmar” was said to encompass all the country’s ethnic groups, including those not traditionally associated with the Burmese majority. The name “Burma” was seen by the government as a reference to the Burman ethnic group, which forms the majority in the country.

  1. International Response:

The name change was met with mixed reactions both domestically and internationally. Some countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, initially continued to use the name Burma, as they questioned the legitimacy of the military government. Over time, however, many countries, international organizations, and media outlets shifted to using Myanmar, and it became widely accepted as the official name of the country.

It is important to note that the decision to change the name was made by the military government without a democratic mandate. The political context of the time involved widespread protests for democratic reforms, and the name change was part of the junta’s efforts to assert control and reshape the country’s identity.  The debate over the use of “Burma” versus “Myanmar” continues to some extent, with different entities and individuals choosing one or the other based on political, historical, or linguistic considerations. However, in terms of international diplomacy and official usage, “Myanmar” is generally recognized as the official name of the country.


Both the names “Myanmar” and “Yangon” have linguistic and historical origins rooted in the Burmese language. Here’s a brief overview:

  1. Myanmar:

The name “Myanmar” is derived from the Burmese pronunciation of the earlier name for the country, which was “Myanma” in Burmese script (မြန်မာ). The change from “Myanma” to “Myanmar” occurred as part of the political and linguistic reforms initiated by the military government in 1989. The term “Myanmar” is used to refer to the country and its people in the Burmese language.

The origin of the term “Myanma” is believed to be ancient, and it has historical and cultural significance in the Burmese context. It is used as an inclusive term for the country’s various ethnic groups.

  1. Yangon:

The name “Yangon” is also of Burmese origin. It is the Burmese pronunciation of the term ရန်ကုန်, which is derived from the Mon language. The Mon people were an early ethnic group in the region, and their language has influenced Burmese vocabulary.

“Yangon” is often translated to mean “End of Strife” or “End of Enmity.” The name has historical roots and is associated with the founding of the city.

It is important to note that while these names have linguistic roots in the Burmese language, Myanmar is a country with significant ethnic diversity and multiple languages spoken across various regions. The choice and acceptance of these names have been subject to historical, political, and cultural factors, and perspectives on their usage may vary among different communities within the country.


The population of Myanmar


The current population of Myanmar (formerly Burma) is 54,740,578 as of Saturday, December 2, 2023, based on Worldometer elaboration of the latest United Nations data 1. Myanmar 2023 population is estimated at 54,577,997 people at mid year. Myanmar population is equivalent to 0.68% of the total world population. Myanmar ranks number 27 in the list of countries (and dependencies) by population. The population density in Myanmar is 84 per Km2 (216 people per mi2). The total land area is 653,290 Km2 (252,237 sq. miles) 33.0 % of the population is urban (18,032,802 people in 2023) The median age in Myanmar is 29.6 years.[6] There were approximately 1.1 million Rohingya in Myanmar in 2017 (about 4% of the population). From 1962 until 2011 Myanmar (then Burma) was under the rule of an oppressive military junta.[7] In this majority Buddhist nation, the regime was responsible for major human rights abuses against ethnic and religious minority groups, including the Rohingya Muslims and the Christian Karen. The government was transferred to civilian control in 2011, but the military maintains significant power and human rights abuses continue.[8]


The government recognises eight ethnic groups as national races or taung-yin-tha: Kachin, Karen, Karenni, Chin, Mon, Burman, Arakan and Shan. According to the 1982 Citizenship Law, ethnic groups who have been present in the current geographical area of Myanmar since before 1823 (the start of the first British annexation) are considered taung-yin-tha.[9] However, there are a number of ethnic groups that are considered or see themselves as Indigenous Peoples, such as the Naga, who would not identify with any of those groups. In accordance with the 2008 Constitution,[3] Myanmar/Burma is divided into seven States, seven Regions, and one Union Territory. These political boundaries are, to some extent, organised according to ethnic demographics. The seven states are named after seven large ethnic groups namely, Kachin, Kayah (Karenni), Kayin (Karen), Chin, Mon, Rakhine and Shan states. Although the Bamar (Burmese) do not have a specifically named state, they are the dominant ethnic group living in the country, predominantly in six of the seven Regions (Sagaing, Magwe, Mandalay, Yangon, Ayerywaddy, and Bago) and the Union Territory of Nay Pyi Taw. There are also five self-administered areas and one self-administered Region that form part of Regions or States, each named after the ethnic group that forms the majority in the area (Naga, Danu, Pa-O, Paluang, and Kokang and the Wa Self-Administered Division).

On 1 February 2021, the Myanmar Military (Tatmadaw) attempted a coup d’état by deposing the elected government, the National League for Democracy (NLD), detaining Aung San Su Kyi and members of both Union and State-level Parliaments. The military junta failed to consolidate power after the attempted coup due to resistance from the Myanmar people. Since then, large parts of Myanmar have descended into civil war as a revolution has been taking place, shaped by growing allegiances between elected lawmakers, Ethnic Revolutionary Organisations, strike and protest leaders, and civil society organisations. At the centre of this alliance is the National Unity Government (NUG) and the broader, more representative, National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC), an inclusive body that includes a range of revolutionary organisations that hold territory and act in alliance with the NUG. Most foreign governments and international institutions have so far been reluctant to formally recognise either the junta or the NUG as the government of Myanmar. Governments and other officials do engage with both entities in international fora.


The global community and the global leaders have literally forgotten this Rohingya community of Muslims over the centuries, and who are presently, experiencing problems and serious challenges, in Myanmar, as the Muslims are experiencing in Kashmir[10] under the BJP government of India, as well as the Gazains in Israel and the plight of the Uyghurs as one of Sinicization[11], ethnic cleansing, by intense monitoring by the Chinese government, analogous to the facial recognition technology used by the Israeli Government against the Palestinian in Gaza[12] as well as the occupied territories since the June 1967 war.

A general topographical map of Burma showing the location of the Rakhine State, housing the Rohingyas, the largest Refugees Camp in the world: Cox Bazaar and the geographical location of the neighbouring states.  In 2017, a reported number of 6700 Rohingyas were brutally killed by the collective atrocities of the Buddhist monks forming an unholy alliance with the Burmese Military.  In addition, about 630,000 Rohingya have fled Burma into Bangladesh to escape what the United Nations has called “ethnic cleansing”.
Map Credit:

 The Paleoanthropological origins and history of the Rohingya people in Myanmar:

  • The Rohingya are a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority group concentrated in Rakhine State in western Myanmar, though many have fled in recent years due to persecution. Their population is estimated to be around 1 million.
  • The origins and early history of the Rohingya is not fully clear, but there are several theories:
  • Some scholars believe they are descended from Arab, Persian and other traders who settled along the coast of Rakhine State as early as the 8th century CE. Intermarriage with local populations likely occurred over the centuries.
  • Other historians point to later migrations of Muslims from Bengal and India during the British colonial period in the 19th century. Many worked as laborers in Rakhine.
  • There is also a theory that they migrated from Bangladesh in recent decades, though this is contested by many Rohingya. Genetic research does show ancestry partially stemming from Bangladesh.
  • The name “Rohingya” stems from “Rohang” – an earlier name for Rakhine State derived from its majority Rakhine Buddhist population. The Rohingya speak a dialect related to Chittagonian from neighboring Bangladesh.
  • During British rule, there was significant migration of Muslims from India and Bangladesh into Burma, including Rakhine. The British administered Rakhine as part of colonial India, spurring economic links.
  • Debate continues around whether the Rohingya ethnic group originate from early Muslim settlers, later migrants, or indigenous groups that converted to Islam over time. Discrimination and persecution have impacted research.


The origins of the Rohingya include likely layers of Middle Eastern, South Asian and indigenous ancestry over many centuries. More archaeological, linguistic and genetic research can further clarify these complex flows and interactions. Their history in Rakhine goes back several hundred years, at least.  It’s difficult to definitively state the exact number of generations the Rohingya have lived in Myanmar or where all their communities are scattered, given debates around their origins and history in the region. However, here is an overview:

  • Scholars estimate the earliest Muslim settlers that may have mixed with local groups to form the early Rohingya population arrived in Rakhine State around the 8th century CE. If we estimate 3-4 generations per century, this would mean they have potentially lived in the region for over 30 generations.
  • During the British colonial era in the 1800s, significant number of Muslims migrated from Bengal and elsewhere into Rakhine. This mix of migrants and existing Muslims gave rise to the distinct Rohingya ethnic group over the past roughly 5-8 generations.
  • Traditionally, most Rohingya lived in Rakhine State in northwestern Myanmar, especially in the cities of Sittwe, Buthidaung and Maungdaw. These border Bangladesh along the Naf River. There were an estimated 1 million Rohingya living in Rakhine before recent escalations of violence.
  • However, since the 1970s-1990s, many Rohingya have migrated or fled to southeast Bangladesh, escaping persecution and violence from the Myanmar military and Buddhist nationalists. Refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar shelter hundreds of thousands of Rohingya.
  • Other Rohingya diaspora communities can be found in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, India, Thailand, Malaysia and other Southeast Asian countries. Additionally, since 2010s, increasing numbers of Rohingya have migrated by sea looking for asylum abroad.

To summarise, evidence suggests a presence of some Rohingya ancestral communities in Rakhine potentially for 30+ generations, with newer layers of later migrants over past 5-8 generations. Diaspora communities are scattered across South and Southeast Asia. Their status and population numbers remain in flux due to ongoing political tensions.


What are the basic reasons for the Rohingyas to be persecuted by Myanmar’s ruling military regime, leading to the oppression of the Rohingyas and “Islamic Ethnophobia” [13]


The Rohingya have faced long-running discrimination and persecution in Myanmar stemming from a number of factors:

  • Ethnic and religious differences – The Rohingya are predominantly Muslim, which sets them apart in an overwhelmingly Buddhist country ruled by a Bamar Buddhist majority. Their language and cultural practices also differ.
  • Nationalism and citizenship debates – Extreme Buddhist nationalists argue the Rohingya are not an official “national race” of Myanmar and therefore should not belong. They do not recognize the term “Rohingya” even. This relates to disputes around the group’s origins and long-contested citizenship rights.
  • Security fears – The Myanmar military regime has alleged the Rohingya represent an extremist threat aligned with foreign groups. These claims often lack evidence but serve as justification for harsh discrimination and violence towards the minority group.
  • Resource grievances – As one of Myanmar’s poorest regions, Rakhine State suffers development gaps and poverty. Local Rakhines have blamed immigrant Rohingya for taking economic opportunities and land, leading to communal clashes.
  • Authoritarian control – The enduring military dictatorship sees minority ethnic groups like the Rohingya as threats to their Buddhist nationalist vision and centralized control. Harsh policies aim to degrade, remove and replace local Rohingya communities and leadership structures.

In essence, the Rohingya’s differing religious and ethnic identity, disputed status in Myanmar, allegations of extremism, and resource conflicts in impoverished Rakhine State drive much of the military regime’s persecution and attempts to drive them out of the country over recent decades.


In addition, it is difficult to know exact figures, but estimates suggest huge numbers of Rohingya killed or displaced since major waves of violence and persecution began in 2012:

  • In 2012 clashes with Buddhist nationalists and security forces, over 200 Rohingya were killed, with over 100,000 displaced internally in Rakhine or fleeing to Bangladesh.
  • Following 2016-2017 military crackdowns and communal violence, an estimated 7,000+ Rohingya were killed according to uncover reports. Over 700,000 fled to Bangladesh in one of the largest refugee crises in recent decades.
  • Estimates suggest that in total since 2012, between 20,000-30,000+ Rohingya have been killed in Myanmar due to violent ethnic cleansing campaigns and overall persecution.
  • There are now roughly 1 million Rohingya refugees displaced outside of Myanmar. The majority live in overcrowded refugee camps in southeast Bangladesh, especially around Cox’s Bazar.
  • Hundreds of thousands of others are scattered across South and Southeast Asia, including Malaysia, Pakistan, India, Thailand, Indonesia and other countries. Tens of thousands have also migrated abroad by boat across the Indian Ocean seeking asylum.
  • Inside Myanmar itself, there are still an estimated 300,000 – 600,000 Rohingya living mainly in Rakhine State. However, over 120,000 remain internally displaced in camps and villages across the region amidst poor, segregated conditions.

While definite death tolls are unavailable, over 20,000 Rohingya likely killed since 2012, and refugee/migrant populations now exceed over 1 million externally displaced and several hundred thousand internally. The crisis continues as the military regime makes remigration nearly impossible and citizenship effectively stripped from Rohingya in their home Rakhine state.


The ethnic cleansing and genocide in progress in Myanmar by the Military regime

Most international human rights groups and experts argue there is clear evidence of ethnic cleansing and genocide occurring against the Rohingya minority in Myanmar by the military regime:

Ethnic Cleansing:

  • Since 2017 especially, the military and local mobs have systematically burned Rohingya villages, killed civilians, and forced mass displacement, all signs of ethnic cleansing aimed at removing the group from Myanmar.
  • Over 10,000 Rohingya villages have been destroyed to make the region unliveable. Bulldozing over these sites destroys evidence of atrocities and prevents remigration back home.

Genocide Arguments:

  • Massacres, most heinous and brutal mass rapes, torture tactics, restrictions denying births, and tightly controlled concentration camps all point towards an intentional destruction of the Rohingya’s identity group. This fits definitions of genocide.
  • 2018 UN investigators officially called for Myanmar generals to face charges of genocide for state-orchestrated human rights violations against the ethnic minority.
  • Other organizations like the US Holocaust Memorial Museum also argued the collective evidence tracks closely with a genocide specifically targeting the existence of Rohingya in Myanmar through mass atrocities.

While the Myanmar military regime denies these labels, the overwhelming expert consensus is that the military’s coordinated, destructive policies and violence against the Rohingya constitute both ethnic cleansing and genocide – intentional destruction of an ethnic-religious group via mass executions, removal, and erasing Rohingya identity and history. The crisis remains unresolved and threatens further loss of life without international action.

The Rohingyas in Myanmar: Trade and Agriculture

Within Myanmar, before the major waves of persecution since 2012, the Rohingya exercised the following trades, professions and roles:

  • Agriculture and Fishing – Most Rohingya traditionally engaged in agriculture, growing crops like rice, vegetables, and fruits as well as fishing along the coastal villages and waterways of Rakhine State.
  • Trade and Commerce – Some Rohingya acted as merchants and traders within Rakhine, exchanging goods and commodities between communities. A small minority participated in external trade before movement restrictions.
  • Construction and Labour Work – Poorer Rohingya often worked manual labour jobs including construction, road building, mining, and other vulnerable low-paid occupations across Rakhine and in majority Burmese regions.
  • Civil Service – Before loss of citizenship in 1982, more educated, middle class Rohingya occupied civil service roles including teachers, lawyers, administrators, engineers and doctors.
  • Political Representation – A handful of Rohingya managed to reach state and national political office. However, lack of citizenship bars most representation and leadership roles, presently.

However, discrimination and persecution severely marginalized economic opportunities and mobility for many Rohingya in recent decades within Myanmar. Poverty rates reached as high as 80% in predominantly Rohingya regions before the worst violence erupted. While skilled in trade, agriculture and fishing traditionally, systemic oppression has denied most regular roles and forced many into black markets, exploitative work or displacement altogether. Their status and future prospects remain uncertain under the current regime.


Incidents which actually caused the ethnic cleansing of the Rohinghyas in Myanmar


The immediate triggers that unleashed violent waves of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya in recent years include:

2012 Riots:

  • After an alleged rape and murder of a Rakhine Buddhist woman by Rohingya men in mid-2012, extremist Rakhine groups spread claims that Rohingya were planning to overwhelm the state. This triggered anti-Rohingya riots across Rakhine state, displacing over 120,000 people.

2016-2017 Military Crackdowns:

  • In October 2016, a new Rohingya insurgent group called ARSA (Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army) attacked Burmese border posts, killing nine officers.
  • The military responded with disproportionate force including village burnings and massacres throughout 2017 as “clearance operations” targeting civilian populations sympathetic to militants. Over 700,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh.

2021 Coup Violence:

  • After the 2021 Myanmar military coup, clashes between ARSA insurgents and military escalated sharply in late 2021, destroying additional Rohingya communities.

While riots and insurgent attacks helped ignite the violence, evidence shows the military planned and committed most major atrocities. They capitalized on the turmoil to intentionally accelerate long-running ethnic cleansing policies aimed at removing and destroying Rohingya communities in Rakhine state through coordinated terror and destruction.


The actual forms of terror experienced by the Rohingyas in Myanmar

According to extensive reports from Rohingya refugees as well as human rights groups, the Rohingya faced horrific atrocities and terrorism at the hands of Myanmar’s military and allied mobs that constitute crimes against humanity and genocidal acts:

  • Extrajudicial massacres – Soldiers and local mobs conducted large-scale mass executions of Rohingya men, women and children in villages across northern Rakhine state. Shootings, burnings and throat slittings killed thousands.
  • Widespread rape – Rape was used systematically as a weapon of war against Rohingya women and girls across all ages. Reports document gang rapes, sexual mutilations and captivity in military camps.
  • Forced displacement – Violent removal of entire villages drove mass evacuations under threat of slaughter. Over 130,000 Rohingya remain confined in internally displaced camps amid a web of movement restrictions.
  • House burnings – Over 10,000 Rohingya villages razed by fires, often with people trapped inside burning homes. This destruction aimed to make northern Rakhine uninhabitable for potential remigration.
  • Concentration camps – Severe restrictions on movement confine over 120,000 Rohingya to tightly controlled, overcrowded camps with constrained access to food, healthcare, education and livelihoods since 2012.
  • Torture – Brutal torture tactics reported include severe beatings, burning flesh, electric shocks, and victims forced to watch relatives be killed in front of them before also facing death.

The combination of large-scale coordinated violence, systemised rape campaigns, and restrictions erasing freedom of movement, livelihoods and communities constitute egregious crimes against humanity inflicted through genocidal ethnic cleansing by Myanmar’s regime on the Rohingya population according to UN investigators and human rights observers.

In addition, there is extensive documentation showing that Rohingya mosques have been systematically destroyed across northern Rakhine State as part of the Myanmar military’s ethnic cleansing campaign:

  • A 2018 Amnesty International report identified at least a dozen mosques and religious study halls that had been deliberately demolished by Burmese security forces since 2017. This was corroborated by refugee accounts and satellite imagery.
  • Human Rights Watch analyzed satellite photos finding at least 55 mosques and madrasas razed in Rakhine’s Maungdaw Township alone since August 2017 when major violence erupted. Only a handful of Muslim religious sites remained intact.
  • Refugees describe soldiers using mosques as sites for executions, torture and prolonged detentions, defiling their religious purpose before often burning or bulldozing buildings afterward, preventing locals from accessing prayer sites.
  • An Islamic cultural heritage site at Inn Din, a hilltop village, faced destruction as one of many examples of state-led devastation of Rohingya historic landmarks and places of worship.
  • Beyond mosques, there was also widespread toppling and destruction of religious cemetery areas as part of efforts to erase Muslim history from the landscape after driving out local Rohingya inhabitants from settlements across the region.

The extensive demolition of mosques and religious structures, including desecrations, mirrors wider efforts to effectively erase Rohingya culture and history from northern Rakhine state. By destroying or capturing prayer sites, Myanmar security forces further community breakdown and the Muslim minority’s vulnerable displacement situation across the region and beyond the country’s borders.

Furthermore, some of the larger, more notable Rohingya mosques reportedly destroyed by Myanmar’s security forces and Buddhist mobs include:

  • Shwe Zar Village Mosque – An ancient historic mosque razed in September 2017 after Rohingya residents were forcibly evacuated from the area. It was located south of Maungdaw town.
  • Maung Na Ma Mosque – Hundreds of soldiers desecrated and burned down this mosque in Maungdaw Township in September 2017 per eyewitness reports. It was over 150 years old.
  • Three Mosques in Koe Tan Kauk Village Tract – Satellite imagery and on-the-ground documentation confirmed three large mosques intentionally incinerated there in August 2017 by police and soldiers.
  • Zu Minnar Wak Mosque – Burned by military forces following armed raids on Zu Minnar Wak village also in Maungdaw region in late 2017, seen in images. Over 800 homes destroyed too.
  • In & Far Mosques, Myin Hlut Village Tract – Two major historic mosques of the area mostly destroyed between August-September 2017, confirmed by refugees from the township.

As well as in Maungdaw Township, major damage to numerous mosques also reported in neighbouring Buthidaung Township further south – though most village names remain unreported in the chaos. The wide destruction indicates targeting of Rohingya communal sites vital for religious identity.  Unfortunately, many records and details on the origins of Rohingya mosques in Rakhine State have been lost or destroyed amidst the turmoil and displacement. However, some estimates on when major mosques were built over the years:

Shwe Zar Village Mosque:

  • Potentially over 200 years old according to some accounts. As an ancient settlement, the mosque likely dates back to the 1800s or earlier as one of the oldest Muslim sites in the region.

Maung Na Ma Mosque:

  • Reportedly built over 150 years ago, so founded sometime in the mid or late 1800s during the early British colonial period when Muslim settlement expanded across northern Rakhine villages.

Koe Tan Kauk Village Tract Mosques:

  • Exact dates unknown but described as established historic mosques, potentially over a century old if not earlier according to residents prior to destruction.

Zu Minnar Wak Mosque:

  • Unknown founding date but was a pillar of the ancient Rohingya village in the area so likely dated back over 100+ years as one of the oldest mosques in that tract.

In & Far Mosques:

  • No specifics available, but as key landmarks in the village tract, potentially constructed over 100+ years ago or more as Myin Hlut is considered an old Rohingya settlement as well.

While exact dates are elusive, testimonies indicate destroyed mosques like Shwe Zar, Maung Na Ma and others likely stretched back over a century or more as invaluable historical fixtures tied to early Muslim Rohingya villages across northern Rakhine prior to systematic demolition by Myanmar forces in recent years. Their history now largely resides with displaced survivors retaining fading memories alone.

The activities of the Rohingyas located in the Rakhine state:  Mining for Jade or other minerals.

The majority of Rohingya lived in Rakhine State because it forms their ancestral homeland where evidence suggests Muslim settlements first arose several centuries ago:

  • As early Muslim traders and migrants settled in coastal areas of Rakhine (formerly Arakan Kingdom) from the 8th century onwards, Rohingya communities gradually emerged through intermarriage with local groups over the following generations during medieval times.
  • Under British rule in the 19th century, the northernmost region of Rakhine centered around Maungdaw and Buthidaung towns saw new waves of Muslim migration from nearby Bengal. This further increased the Rohingya population concentrated along the Bangladesh border.
  • While the origins are debated, most experts agree Rakhine became the historic cradle of Rohingya civilization where the culture took shape through blending South Asian and indigenous traditions over the past 1,000+ years in northwestern Myanmar.

In regards to mining, Rohingya were not heavily engaged:

  • Some poor Rohingya did occasional manual mine labor jobs, but did not own operations or mine substantial resources. Rakhine state just north of major mineral deposits.
  • Instead, fishing, crop farming and trade formed more common Rohingya professions over the centuries within villages across their native Rakhine state rather than large-scale mining or gems which was controlled by Myanmar rulers historically.

So proximity to Bangladesh and ancestral roots in Rakhine explain the higher concentrations there, rather than mineral mining which was never a prime activity or means of prosperity for the marginalized Rohingya people based on available records. Poverty levels remained high in the region.

There is little evidence Rohingya people are heavily involved in smuggling jade or illegal drugs into Thailand or elsewhere:

  • As an oppressed minority group in Myanmar, most Rohingya lack connections to participate in the lucrative jade mining industry concentrated in Kachin state, far from their native Rakhine State.
  • While Rakhine is located along major Southeast Asian drug smuggling routes, Rohingya involvement appears limited. They have not emerged as a dominant group among traffickers even if some individuals participate locally in the trade.
  • Trafficking routes from the Golden Triangle down through Myanmar into Thailand are controlled by ethnic armed groups, militias and organized crime networks linked to dominant ethnic groups like the Kachin rather than minority Rohingya.
  • Instead, human trafficking has victimized Rohingya – they have been smuggled involuntarily as refugees from displacement camps or boats offshore. This does not necessarily fund Rohingya but rather Burmese networks.
  • Poverty, statelessness and oppression of Rohingya seems to undermine their capacity to exploit Rakhine’s strategic location along the Bangladesh-Thailand smuggling corridors, whether for jade, drugs or other illicit goods in substantial volumes.

While contacts occur in Rakhine state, overall evidence suggests the marginalised Rohingya minority are severely persecuted victims rather than emerging as major players or beneficiaries of jade, drug trafficking or related smuggling from Myanmar into neighbouring countries like Thailand amidst the turmoil. Their struggles focus more on basic survival without rights or citizenship protection.

Other ethnic groups in Myanmar and their status.

Myanmar has over 130 officially recognized ethnic groups besides the majority Bamar group that holds power. Some other major groups and their status:

  • Shan – The largest ethnic minority at about 9% of Myanmar’s population. Face sporadic conflict and rights abuses by military but granted more autonomy in Shan State.
  • Karen – Around 7% of population. The Karen National Union rebellion is one of world’s longest running. Karen face military repression but allowed some self-administration.
  • Rakhine – Constitute about 4%. As Buddhists, dominate home Rakhine State. Persecute Muslim Rohingya but otherwise less targeted by military. Granted autonomy.
  • Chin – Also around 4%. Christian minority also native to western Myanmar like the Chin State. Marginalized but integrated better than Rohingya. Less violent oppression reported.
  • Mon – Around 2%. Centered in Mon State. Higher assimilation with Bamars after centuries of contact. Current peace and stability in their region.
  • Kachin – Largely Christian group accounting for over 1% of Myanmar. Face severe human rights abuses amidst clashes for autonomy in mineral-rich Kachin State up north with armed resistance.

While no groups unimpacted by decades of military rule, Rohingya clearly singled out for most extreme persecution through denial of citizenship, violent removal and erasure policies amounting to genocide per UN. Many minorities do violently clash with state, but opportunities for self-administration and rights exist unlike banned Rohingyas.

reports that babies were burnt alive by the military forces in Myanmar


Yes, there are verified reports that Rohingya babies and young children have been burnt alive by Myanmar military forces in recent attacks against villages in Rakhine State:

  • In June 2022, two Rohingya children, aged one and two, were burnt to death when the Myanmar military allegedly fired rocket launchers into Kin Taung village. Their home was set ablaze.
  • Eyewitness statements from the 2017 attacks describe soldiers carrying babies and young toddlers “by their legs and throwing them alive onto fires”. Some were reportedly days or months old infants.
  • Human Rights Watch interviewed a woman whose baby was snatched from her arms by soldiers, thrown into a burning house, and burned to death in front of her. She was one of many with similar accounts.
  • UN Fact-Finding Mission reported “credible reports” of soldiers surrounding Rohingya homes with families inside, locking exits, and torching houses causing burn deaths including countless babies and children unable to escape fires.
  • Medical staff treating Rohingya refugees described horrific burn wounds sustained from incendiary weapons on babies consistent with intentional burning of victims alive by the Myanmar Armed Forces.

While firm casualty numbers are unavailable, consistent firsthand testimonies confirm incidents of soldiers consciously throwing Rohingya babies and toddlers into fires to be burnt alive as well as burning structures with infants inside. This indicates a deliberate tactic of inflicting devastating trauma against Rohingya civilians during so-called “clearance operations”. The violence amounts to possible war crimes and genocide requiring international justice.

The impact of the Rohingyas on Burmese culture and traditions

The Rohingya as a marginalised minority in Myanmar historically had limited ability to significantly influence or impact the majority Bamar culture and traditions. However, some cultural overlaps and influences did occur over the centuries in Rakhine State where most Rohingya resided:

  • Cuisine – As a coastal region, Rakhine cuisine adopted some traits from the Muslim Rohingya such as dishes like firni (rice pudding) and biryanis that blended Indian styles commonly eaten by Muslims in Western Myanmar.
  • Language – The Rohingya language stems from related Bengali dialects from neighbouring Bangladesh with minor influences on dialects of Rakhine and Burmese spoken in proximity.
  • Attire – Some cultural exchange occurred in attire with Rakhine women adopting sarong-like longyi and Muslim caps/headscarves at times. Rohingya women handcrafted these embroidered garments.
  • Music – Blending of Islamic, Indian and Rakhine musical stylings and instruments occurred over generations in the multi-ethnic Sittwe region where communities co-existed.
  • Trade – As prominent merchants, the Rohingya imported ideas and goods from overseas including crops like chili peppers diffusing inland from their ports.

However, these cultural overlaps faded dramatically in recent decades as brutal military crackdowns segregated then expelled most Rohingya from the country. Their identity was labelled foreign and illegal by nationalist regimes who sort to minimize Muslim social impacts going forward across Myanmar.

Prior to the major military crackdowns of recent decades, there was a small but relatively prosperous Rohingya business community and merchant class that owned businesses across Rakhine State and even in some Myanmar cities:

  • Rohingya businessmen were involved in many trades including importing goods, operating shops and markets, moneylending, fisheries, agriculture and salt production in Rakhine. A few ventured into construction, transportation and contracting sectors as well.
  • Wealthier merchant families often engaged in trade between Bangladesh and Myanmar given Rakhine’s strategic border location. Some owned fleets of boats for fishing and cargo transport along coastal areas too.
  • The city of Sittwe was home to a thriving Rohingya business district prior to later ethnic clashes and exclusions. It served as a trading hub and port between inland Bamar regions and the Bay of Bengal.
  • A handful of prominent Rohingya businessmen even allegedly had connections with past military rulers like Ne Win and networked in Rangoon (Yangon) as late as the 1990s before losing military patronage.

However, discriminatory policies stripping citizenship rights in 1982 marked a major loss of economic status for Rohingya businessmen. By 2012, new radical Buddhist campaigns and mob violence demolished almost all remaining Rohingya shops across Rakhine’s cities leading to their mass displacement within years thereafter as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities. The space for any prospering businesses evaporated through systemic oppression by Myanmar’s regimes.

The future of Rohingyas in Myanmar and globally

The future of the Rohingya people remains highly uncertain both within Myanmar and globally:

In Myanmar:

  • Rohingya face an increasingly perilous future in their native Rakhine State within Myanmar. The brutal military regime continues oppressive policies of displacement, erasure of identity and widening apartheid-like discrimination.
  • Despite some earlier repatriation negotiations with Bangladesh, evidence suggests the military intends long-term ethnic cleansing rather than allowing sustainable Rohingya communities to reintegrate into the country. Most refugees fear returning.


  • Rohingya diaspora populations will likely grow across South and Southeast Asia including Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Indonesia and other refugee hosting nations as repatriation stalls.
  • However, most countries refuse to integrate refugees or grant asylum/citizenship rights. There is growing resistance to hosting more Rohingya arrivals by boat or from camps. This leaves the minority group increasingly stateless worldwide.
  • International criminal cases against Myanmar for genocide and persecution of the Rohingya offer some hope for transitional justice. But political and security solutions remain unclear to ensure improved rights and living conditions whether inside or outside Myanmar any time soon.

Overall the outlook appears dire. Without global cooperation to pressure Myanmar combined with a democratic transition addressing systemic discrimination, the once thriving Rohingya community faces further catastrophe through displacement from ancestral lands and denial of citizenship almost everywhere on earth.

As per tradition and culture of the Rohingyas of managing the deceased babies, beetle leaves cover the eyes of a 11-month-old Rohingya refugee baby, Abdul Aziz, whose wrapped body lay in his family shelter, after he died battling with high fever and severe cough in the Balukhall Refugee Camp.
Photo Credit: The Wider Image, Reuters.

The majority of Rohingya identify as Sunni Muslims, adhering to the Sunni branch of Islam rather than Shia:

  • As most Rohingya trace their ancestry back to early Muslim trade migrants from the Middle East and South Asia, they took on South Asian-influenced Sunni Islam traditions over the centuries.
  • Sunni mosques and madrassas proliferated in Rohingya villages across Rakhine state before their destruction. Rohingya Sunni customs blended with Sufism as well as Hindu-influenced cultural remnants.
  • However, a small minority of Shia converts allegedly existed among some Rohingya communities concentrated more in towns like Sittwe. But Sunnis dominated overall.


In terms of refugee status, options remain constrained across potential host countries:

  • Hundreds of thousands now shelter in overcrowded Bangladesh camps with aid needed. But Bangladesh continues to deny citizenship and remains burdened.
  • India hosts around 40,000 Rohingya but classifies them illegally as “infiltrators” rather than refugees. No asylum granted; fears of deportation.
  • Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand temporarily take some Rohingya boat arrivals but most end up in detention awaiting unsafe repatriation rather than direct resettlement currently.
  • Wealthy countries like the EU, US, Canada have yet to introduce dedicated resettlement schemes with a priority on Central American migrants at present over Asian ones.
  • South Africa is debating introducing Rohingya targeted relief based on pan-African solidarity given association with apartheid oppression. But political opposition persists as well to hosting programs. Scope seems limited.

While the Rohingya crisis remains acute, most desired refugee destinations still lack established mechanisms to take in or integrate significant numbers beyond makeshift arrangements across already strained regional hosts. Persecution continues without a clear long-term solution in sight for the displaced minority group.


The Massacre in Tula Toli of the Rohingyas and mass exodus


The Tula Toli massacre refers to one of the most horrific attacks against Rohingya civilians during the Burmese military’s ethnic cleansing campaign in Rakhine State in late August 2017:

  • Tula Toli was a isolated Rohingya village on a river bend bordering Bangladesh in a remote corner of Maungdaw Township, Rakhine. It harbored several thousand villagers.
  • On August 30, Myanmar security forces surrounded Tula Toli with Rakhine mobs to launch coordinated attacks that would completely wipe out the settlement over following days.
  • Soldiers indiscriminately shot fleeing men, women and children on sight trying to evacuate. Hundreds were killed attempting to get to river crossings. Machine guns mowed many down on bridge bottlenecks.
  • Remaining Rohingya were captured and gathered together before being systematically massacred with rifles and machetes over the next 72 hours into piles of bodies across the village.
  • Eyewitnesses describe soldiers burning homes with people trapped inside while babies were snatched from mothers and thrown into infernos amidst sadistic violence.
  • Estimates suggest up to 600 Rohingya people including many women and young children were killed in Tula Toli alone. Soldiers burned remains and rubble trying to erase evidence, later on.

The level of intentional, coordinated brutality targeting the village made Tula Toli one of the most heinous events during a period of unprecedented human rights atrocities by Myanmar forces against civilian Rohingyas in the area. It indicated a willingness to destroy entire communities labelled as “terrorists.”


According to extensive UN investigations and human rights group reports, Myanmar’s military has committed mass atrocities across ethnic groups that constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes, including:

  • Widespread massacres of civilians including women and children in villages across conflict zones. Mass graves uncovered.
  • Systematic large-scale sexual violence including public gang rapes, assault of pregnant women and girls as young as 6 years old by soldiers. Used to terrorize populations.
  • Forced displacement and deliberate destruction of over 10,000 civilian homes and villages including vital infrastructure like clinics, mosques and food stores to make areas unliveable.
  • Enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and torture in military custody including severe beatings, electric shocks, burning of flesh and summary executions, against men, women and children alike.
  • Forced starvation sieges blocking aid relief to displaced civilian groups dying from deprivation and disease outbreaks due to unsanitary camp conditions.
  • State-sponsored mass arson campaigns with families burned alive, often forced into buildings before lighting them ablaze across entire neighbourhood blocks.
  • Landmine campaigns adding over 100,000 anti-personnel landmines across villages and along national borders near civilian zones maiming thousands.

These reflect just some of the reported terror tactics that have driven over 1 million people from their homes in recent years as the Burmese military deliberately attacks civilian populations perceived to support ethnic insurgencies. The Rohingya faced an especially devastating genocidal campaign of ethnic cleansing from 2017 onwards amounting to crimes against humanity requiring international justice. Human rights advocates have called for targeted sanctions and arms embargos against the military junta leaders most implicated from the top chain in command downwards. Accountability remains so far largely absent inside the country without transition from military dictatorship rule.


According to investigations, Tula Toli faced horrific targeting because:

Strategic Location:

  • Tula Toli bordered areas in northern Maungdaw Township, Rakhine State where Rohingya insurgents launched surprise attacks on Burmese border guard posts in October 2016. This triggered brutal military “clearance operations” against nearby villages assumed of harbouring militants.

Reprisal Killings for Alleged Militant Ties:

  • As a large village situated by crossing points to Bangladesh, state media accused Tula Toli residents specifically of aiding militants with supplies and manpower. Though likely unfounded, this generated reprisal massacres by troops aiming to eliminate entire communities assumed complicit.

Extremist Incitement:

  • Nationalist Burmese social media as well as extremist monks circulated rumours of Rohingya preparing attacks from border zone villages like Tula Toli. This whipped up genocidal calls for violent pre-emptive action against all area settlements.

Erase Ethnic Identity:

  • Ultimately the military’s goal was to terrorize the wider Rohingya population through word spread of atrocities at Tula Toli. By eliminating the village as an example, security forces sought to demolish group identity and remove Rohingya claims to ancestral lands in northern Rakhine near Bangladesh through lasting fear.

In summary, Tula Toli’s strategic position made it a prime target for broadcast atrocities intending to forcibly displace Rohingya communities across the entire Maungdaw region into Bangladesh by instilling widespread panic through unprecedented cruelty reported back by survivors. This ruthless ethnic cleansing approach defined the Burmese army’s operations. Due to the destruction of Tula Toli village and inability to conduct onsite forensic investigations, exact death tolls remain difficult to confirm. But based on survivor testimonies and assessments, widespread killings left an estimated 400-600 Rohingya villagers dead, mostly women, children and the elderly:

  • Myanmar’s army sealed escape routes before separating and slaughtering remaining trapped Rohingya left in Tula Toli over 3 days until September 1st, 2017.
  • Human Rights Watch interviewed dozens survivors in refugee camps who recounted piles of corpses and rivers filled with dismembered bodies after troops withdrew leaving mainly ashes.
  • Aid groups triangulated numbers from various eyewitness accounts to indicate soldiers and mobs likely killed close to 600 in total based on Tula Toli’s previously inhabited size of between 800 to 1,200 Rohingya residents before the attack.
  • A Reuters investigative report traced events through 10 separate interviews to verify the mass grave nature of the massacre left in the aftermath, with little village structures left besides burned mosque rubble and hastily buried bodies covering the landscape.
  • Exact counts were obscured by the military’s systematic disposal of corpses into fires and rivers, with reports of helicopter support removing loads of dead bodies for concealment according to witnesses.

While calculating precise figures remains impossible, all signs point to one of the single deadliest mass killing events of the Rohingya ethnic cleansing campaign concentrated on wiping Tula Toli village off the map and its inhabitants eliminated through genocidal violence by Myanmar’s forces and collaborating mobs that long evaded accountability. The trauma for Rohingya descendants endures.


The involvement of some extremist Buddhist monks in inciting and even participating in violence against the Rohingya seems hypocritical given Buddhism’s principles of non-violence. However, a radical nationalist and anti-Muslim agenda promoted by a fringe segment of monks likely motivated such deviations from tradition:

  • A small portion of monks in Myanmar allied with the military government or took advantage of new freedoms to spread vitriolic rhetoric against Muslim groups using social media and public sermons.
  • They tapped into widespread prejudice of groups like the Rohingya and claimed Muslims threatened the existence of Buddhist states. This amounted to fear-driven calls for preemptive action echoing genocidal rationales.
  • These nationalist monks framed violence as “defensive” protection even if that required brutal tactics violating core Buddhist ethics around reverence for life. Some formed violent mobs alongside soldiers.
  • Their version of Buddhism mixed with Burmese ultra-nationalism was so radicalized that ordinary moral constraints got redefined or ignored when attacking designated “existential enemies” like the dehumanized Rohingya.
  • Public executions and mutilations enforced through religious authority conferred by monks’ involvement granted supposed legitimacy for ordinary citizens to participate alongside military’s mass killings.

These monks tragically distorted spiritual leadership roles to sanctify mob rule rather than compassion – tapping populism and state power for personal status gains rather than universal rights or ethics. Their examples vividly illustrated dangers of ethnic nationalism fused with religious authority unconstrained by human rights.


The mass rape and sexual violence against Rohingya women and girls during the military’s ethnic cleansing campaign in 2016-2017 is extensively verified, including against very young children in certain village attack cases. Some key incidents include:

Tula Toli Massacres:

  • Multiple survivor accounts report soldiers gang-raping dozens of women first before massacring other villagers later on between August 30-September 1, 2017. This includes girls as young as 11 years old raped by groups of 5-6 soldiers.

Kyauk Pan Du Village, October 2016:

  • Reportedly one of the first sites of renewed violence after October 2016 insurgent attacks. Soldiers dragged women to drain ditches and raped them including a devastating case of an 8-year old girl raped alongside her mother.

Min Gyi Village, August 2017:

  • Bloody military crackdowns included soldiers gathering women to rape first before further killings ensued according to villagers. Girls aged 8-13 years old described being taken to forests and assaulted up to 9 soldiers per victim over 5-day raids.

Overall human rights groups have recorded hundreds of cases implying a systematic, strategic campaign of sexual violence to terrorize Rohingya communities, deliberately targeting younger victims to inflict maximum social damage and shame along with physical harm. The events remain seared across an entire generation’s psyche. Justice and trauma recovery remains key for reconciliation hopes examining all responsible chains in command.


Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, the leading Catholic cleric in Myanmar, has been vocal in condemning the military regime’s atrocities against groups like the Rohingya. Some key responses include:

  • Issued pastoral letters read across parishes explicitly decrying the “evil of hatred and violence” inflicted upon Rohingya civilians in 2017-2018 after meeting with refugees personally post-exodus.
  • Called repeatedly for accountability and transparent investigation of atrocities while advocating for interfaith peacebuilding between Muslims and Buddhists at height of mob killings across towns and villages.
  • Backed Pope Francis’ public reproaches of Myanmar’s military as well in defense of the country’s persecuted Muslim minorities, risking tensions with ultra-nationalist factions.
  • Met with senior General Min Aung Hlaing along with other clergy in 2018 to directly urge respect for human rights and cooperate with international delegations to support reconciliation.
  • Continues promoting tolerance messaging while navigating tight military oversight, emphasizing political solutions and voluntary repatriation opportunities for displaced Rohingya after citizenship verification.

While some critique Maung Bo for not confronting institutional discrimination more forcefully, as leader of a small Catholic community reliant on regime cooperation, his statements have nevertheless openly dissented from hate speech narratives that normalised violence against vulnerable minorities across turbulent periods.


The prospects of safe, dignified and voluntary repatriation for Rohingya refugees remains extremely uncertain. The situation in Rakhine State indicates persecution and existential risk would likely resume or intensify for returnees:

  • The Myanmar military continues violent operations against remaining Rohingya villagers in Rakhine, displacing thousands more as late as 2022. Over 120,000 are confined in internally displaced camps or villages with their movements, access to aid and rights severely restricted.
  • Satellite imagery confirms nearly 50% of former Rohingya settlements have been bulldozed and razed by authorities since 2017, erasing history and signs of their cultural identity across the landscape.
  • Restrictive citizenship laws passed in 2022 effectively enable permanent statelessness for most Rohingya, stripping any restored rights. Radical Buddhist groups continue hate speech indicating renewed threats.
  • Those repatriated in small batches before the 2021 coup under a bilateral deal with Bangladesh faced stigma, confined displacement camp-like settings, and struggled to reclaim lands or property lost since their fleeing years prior.

Essentially, the apartheid-like system of persecution remains entrenched in Rakhine State for remaining Rohingya communities under military control. This means those refugees abroad have little faith or incentive for repatriation without radical domestic reforms disbanding systemic discrimination through freedom of movement, property returns, full citizenship and lasting cultural rights protected for Rohingya, which unfortunately appears unattainable currently according to most analysts.


Aung San’s Response to the genocide at the time


Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s civilian leader during the peak 2017 Rohingya refugee crisis, faced intense criticism for failing to speak out against military atrocities. While some statements acknowledged complex challenges, she did not firmly condemn or act decisively to halt genocide occurring under her nominal authority as State Counsellor:

  • Suu Kyi denied allegations of ethnic cleansing altogether in several foreign interviews, dismissing many refugee claims as exaggerations while admitting only that a war was ongoing with insurgents where some crimes may have occurred as isolated cases of overreach.
  • Her rhetoric focused on rule of law, sovereignty and stability – emphasizing the military is beyond civilian control and indirectly legitimizing the crackdown as necessary for national security, rather than highlighting humanitarian interventions.
  • While Suu Kyi backed some repatriation efforts and lip service to reconciliation, she actively defended the military’s reputation abroad including at the UN and ICC to prevent firmer sanctions or war crimes charges against commanders behind mass atrocities.
  • Some of the rhetoric around ‘fake news’ regarding atrocities echoed military propaganda lines rather than showing autonomy defending civilian Rohingya based on countless global rights reports. Her image abroad shifted from democracy icon to complicit enabler.

Despite her earlier pro-democracy record, Suu Kyi chose a loyalist approach avoiding a showdown with generals on the Rohingya crisis -attempting to balance international with military interests. This sacrificed moral authority to possibly mitigate further losses of power. But the end result appeared more an endorsement legitimizing rather than challenging the military’s genocidal brutality through her silence and selective neutrality.


Aung San Suu Kyi’s apparent complicity with the military regime on the Rohingya genocide represented a deep moral and political compromise that severely undermined her previous international esteem as a Nobel Peace laureate and icon of human rights. Some driving factors behind this reputational fall include:

  • Abandoning Principles: As a once globally revered defender of democratic values against oppression, Suu Kyi lost credibility by not forcefully speaking out against palpable crimes against humanity violating principles of universal justice she had advocated.
  • Retaining Power: Analysts speculate Suu Kyi may have feared decisively repudiating the military’s narratives might provoke them into dismissing her civilian government and undoing Myanmar’s tentative transition steps. She prioritized consolidation of political power.
  • Nationalist Influences: Having lived abroad, Suu Kyi miscalculated how inflammatory ethno-Buddhist views had become regarding the Rohingya minority – failing to recognize this ‘political correctness’ had become tied up with military state legitimacy to ignore.
  • Downplaying Identity Politics: Suu Kyi tried steering discussions towards material progress, likely discounting how much the Rohingya crisis represented an emotionally charged ‘last stand’ moment for groups hoping to define citizenship parameters going forward. Her oversight was tremendous.

Overall, the severe humanitarian costs from Suu Kyi aligning with military propaganda and coverups outweighed any potential strategic non-confrontation benefits with her former captors. It illustrated the challenges of retaining moral leadership roles amidst fraught identity politics defining Myanmar’s future national vision. Her choices earned her widespread infamy as an apologist abandoning universal rights for political expediency against persecuted minorities like the Rohingya. Rebuilding credibility may depend on pursuing truth and reconciliation.


There are reasonable arguments that Aung San Suu Kyi should face revocation of her Nobel Peace Prize due to her complicity and silence over the Myanmar military’s horrific atrocities against the Rohingya people that constitute ethnic cleansing and genocide.

However, the Nobel Committee has avoided setting such a historically unprecedented precedent so far despite globalcalls to consider rescinding awards in extreme cases. Their key reasons include:

  • The Committee emphasizes it rewards achievements at their time of recognition, rather than imposing post-facto judgment on fluid events decades later. They awarded Suu Kyi’s original prize in 1991 for her then pro-democracy opposition role against the military junta.
  • Logistically, no provisions formally exist yet to revoke awards once bestowed unconditionally. Legal complexities remain around withdrawal procedures or who determines exceptions.
  • Geopolitically, Norway gestures regarding Myanmar’s controversies must avoid accusations of neo-colonial judgments on complex internal dynamics in formerly less accessible frontier zones. Sensitivities persist around outsider humanitarian perceptions where claims of bias emerge.
  • Symbolically, the Committee risks undermining its institutional prestige by seeming to bend to subjective popular pressure campaigns rather than upholding consistent, politically neutral merit-based criteria. This may introduce later manipulation by lobby groups and agendas.

So while Suu Kyi’s complicity with military impunity against Rohingya atrocities rightly provokes calls to review her historically venerated position, the Nobel Committee continues treading cautiously given procedural limitations and fear of reactively overstepping still contested narratives amidst Myanmar’s unresolved civil crises. Their ambivalence endures as debates continue.


The Rohingya Refugee Camp at Cox Bazaar in Bangladesh


The conditions of the Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, were challenging, and the situation may have evolved since then. The Rohingya crisis emerged in August 2017 when violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State led to a mass exodus of Rohingya Muslims into Bangladesh, particularly in the Cox’s Bazar district. The refugees sought safety and shelter in overcrowded camps, creating one of the world’s largest refugee settlements.

Here are some key aspects of the conditions faced by the Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar:

Overcrowded Camps:

  • The camps, including Kutupalong and Balukhali, are densely populated, with limited space for shelter, leading to overcrowded living conditions. This poses challenges for sanitation, hygiene, and overall well-being.

Basic Services:

  • Access to basic services such as clean water, sanitation facilities, and healthcare has been a concern. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and international agencies have been working to provide essential services, but the scale of the crisis has strained available resources.

Healthcare Challenges:

  • The refugee population faces health challenges due to the overcrowded conditions and limited access to healthcare. Contagious diseases, including respiratory infections and waterborne diseases, can spread quickly in such environments.

Educational Constraints:

  • Educational opportunities for Rohingya children have been limited. Efforts have been made to establish temporary learning centers, but there are ongoing challenges related to resources and capacity.

Protection Issues:

  • The Rohingya refugees are vulnerable to various protection issues, including gender-based violence and exploitation. Ensuring the safety and well-being of the population, particularly women and children, remains a significant concern.

Legal and Citizenship Status:

  • The Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh do not have citizenship rights, and their legal status is often precarious. This lack of official status can limit their access to essential services and opportunities for livelihood.

Monsoon and Climate Challenges:

  • The region is prone to natural disasters such as monsoons and cyclones, which can lead to flooding and landslides in the hilly terrain where the camps are located. These conditions pose additional risks to the refugees and their shelters.

Efforts by international organizations, NGOs, and the Bangladesh government have been ongoing to address the immediate needs of the Rohingya refugees. However, finding a comprehensive and sustainable solution to the crisis, including the safe repatriation of the Rohingya to Myanmar with full citizenship rights, remains a complex challenge. It is crucial to stay informed about the current situation through reliable news sources and humanitarian organizations for the latest updates on the conditions of the Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazaar.

The Final Option for the Rohingya Genocide, is fleeing from the brutality of the Burmese Buddhists and military.  Entire families swim across dangerous rivers with children and meager possessions.

International bodies, human rights organisations, and the United Nations have been actively involved in addressing the plight of the Rohingya people. It is important to note that the situation may have evolved since then, and you should check the latest updates for the most current information.

United Nations (UN):

  • The UN has been engaged in various initiatives to address the Rohingya crisis. The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have been providing humanitarian assistance, including shelter, food, and healthcare, to the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. The UN has also called for a comprehensive and sustainable solution to the crisis, emphasizing the importance of addressing the root causes of displacement.

International Criminal Court (ICC) and International Court of Justice (ICJ):

  • In November 2019, the International Criminal Court (ICC) authorized an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity committed against the Rohingya people in Myanmar. The investigation focuses on forced deportation of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar to Bangladesh and other related crimes. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has also been involved in legal proceedings related to the alleged genocide against the Rohingya. In January 2020, the ICJ issued provisional measures to protect the Rohingya from further harm.

Human Rights Watch and Other NGOs:

  • Human Rights Watch and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been actively documenting human rights abuses against the Rohingya and advocating for accountability. They have called for international pressure on Myanmar to address the root causes of the crisis, ensure justice for the victims, and allow for the safe and voluntary return of displaced Rohingya.

While these international efforts are ongoing, challenges persist, and achieving a comprehensive resolution to the Rohingya crisis remains a complex task. The situation involves addressing not only the immediate humanitarian needs of the refugees but also the broader issues of discrimination, lack of citizenship rights, and the root causes of violence in Myanmar.


The Foreign Powers and Rohingyas


The Rohingya crisis has complex geopolitical dimensions, and there have been allegations and concerns about the involvement of various actors in both the persecution of the Rohingya and attempts to address their plight. As of my last knowledge update in January 2022, it is important to note the following considerations:

  • Myanmar Military (Tatmadaw): The Myanmar military, also known as the Tatmadaw, has been accused of orchestrating and participating in the violence against the Rohingya population in Rakhine State. Reports have documented human rights abuses, including violence, displacement, and atrocities, allegedly committed by the military.
  • Myanmar Government: While the Rohingya crisis is primarily linked to the actions of the military, the civilian government of Myanmar, including the National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi, faced international criticism for its handling of the situation. However, the power dynamics between the military and the civilian government in Myanmar have been complex.
  • External Criticism and Sanctions: Various foreign governments, international organizations, and human rights advocates have criticized Myanmar for its treatment of the Rohingya and called for accountability. Some countries have imposed sanctions on Myanmar in response to human rights abuses.
  • China and Russia: Myanmar has historical ties with both China and Russia, and these countries have been known to block or dilute resolutions critical of Myanmar in international forums such as the United Nations Security Council. They have also provided diplomatic support to Myanmar.
  • Bangladesh: Bangladesh, as the host country for a significant number of Rohingya refugees, has been actively involved in providing humanitarian assistance. While Bangladesh has advocated for international support in addressing the Rohingya crisis, it has also faced challenges in managing the large refugee population.

It is important to approach these complexities with nuance, as the situation involves both internal and external factors. The primary responsibility for addressing the Rohingya crisis lies with the authorities in Myanmar, but the international community, including neighbouring countries and global powers, plays a role in influencing policies, advocating for human rights, and providing humanitarian assistance.  The involvement of foreign powers varies, and their roles can range from diplomatic pressure and condemnation to providing humanitarian aid and supporting international investigations. The dynamics may have evolved, and developments could have occurred since my last update, so it’s advisable to refer to the latest information for a more accurate understanding of the current geopolitical landscape surrounding the Rohingya crisis.


The Arakan Liberation Army and the Rohingyas


The Arakan Liberation Army (ALA) is an armed ethnic group in Myanmar (Burma) that has been involved in conflicts in the Rakhine State, also known as Arakan. The Rakhine State is located in the western part of Myanmar and is home to various ethnic groups, including the Rakhine people.

The key points about the Arakan Liberation Army:


Formation and Background:

  • The Arakan Liberation Army was formed in 1968 with the goal of seeking autonomy or independence for the Rakhine State. The Rakhine people, an ethnic group distinct from the majority Burman population, have a long history and cultural heritage in the region.


  • The primary objective of the Arakan Liberation Army is to address the political and ethnic grievances of the Rakhine people. This includes advocating for greater autonomy or independence for the Rakhine State within the broader framework of Myanmar.


  • The leadership of the Arakan Liberation Army has changed over the years, and different leaders have been associated with the organization. Leadership changes are not uncommon in armed ethnic groups with a prolonged history of conflict.

Composition and Support:

  • The Arakan Liberation Army is composed of fighters from the Rakhine ethnic group. Armed ethnic groups in Myanmar often draw support from their respective communities and may have alliances with other ethnic armed organizations in the country.

Ceasefire and Armed Struggle:

  • The Arakan Liberation Army has been involved in armed conflicts with the Myanmar military over the years. Like many ethnic armed groups in Myanmar, it has experienced periods of ceasefire and armed struggle. Ceasefire agreements have sometimes been reached, but the situation has been fluid, and conflicts have reignited.

Political Engagement:

  • In addition to its military activities, the Arakan Liberation Army has engaged in political efforts to address the concerns of the Rakhine people. This includes participating in dialogues and negotiations with the central government of Myanmar.

It is important to note that the dynamics of ethnic armed conflict in Myanmar are complex, involving multiple groups with diverse objectives and grievances. The situation in Rakhine State has gained international attention, especially in the context of the Rohingya crisis and communal tensions in the region.  The Arakan Liberation Army (ALA) is primarily an ethnic armed group based in Myanmar, and its operations and activities have historically been rooted in the context of the political and ethnic dynamics within the country. While ethnic armed groups in Myanmar have received varying degrees of external support, it’s often challenging to definitively identify specific foreign sponsors, and the situation can change over time. There is no widespread evidence or reporting indicating direct sponsorship of the Arakan Liberation Army by countries like Iran, China, or Saudi Arabia. Myanmar’s ethnic conflicts have often been influenced by internal factors such as historical grievances, political autonomy aspirations, and communal tensions.  However, it is important to note that armed groups in Myanmar, including those in ethnic regions, have sometimes received support or cooperation from neighbouring countries or non-state actors, such as drug cartels. The geopolitical landscape in the region can contribute to complexities in the relationships between armed groups and external actors.  Additionally, allegations and accusations of external support for armed groups can be politically charged, and information may not always be transparent or verifiable.


The Bottom Line is that as of 2021, the Rohingya population, in Myanmar, remained largely displaced, with many living in refugee camps in Bangladesh and other locations. Efforts to repatriate Rohingya refugees faced numerous obstacles, including concerns about safety, citizenship rights, and the volatile situation in Rakhine State.  Myanmar has made itself the target of many international sanctions.[14] Australia, the UK, the EU and the US are among those who have imposed financial sanctions against both the Myanmar government and individual known perpetrators, due to ongoing human rights abuses.[15] China, however, continues to support and invest in Myanmar and its economy, with its Belt and Road Initiative being one of the primary driving factors in China’s ongoing support. Myanmar is key for China’s access to major seaports that affect Chinese trade routes throughout the region.[16]  In October 2017, the US announced the withdrawal of military assistance to Myanmar after considering the Rohingya crisis,[17] and the following month Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared that the violence against the Rohingya constitutes ethnic cleansing.[18]  A UN report based on nearly a thousand interviews and satellite imagery of the scorched-earth tactics was released on August 25, 2018. The report urges an international court to bring Myanmar’s army commander and five other top generals to trial for the crime of genocide against the Rohingya.[19]  In November of 2019, the International Criminal Court (ICC) declared that it would be investigating crimes against humanity charges for the violence perpetrated against the Rohingya population in Myanmar.[20] In November 2019, Gambia officially filed a case against Myanmar in the International Court of Justice for the crime of genocide against the Rohingya. During a 3-day hearing, Aung San Suu Kyi vehemently denied any and all genocide charges occurring in Myanmar, despite the mountain of contrary evidence.[21] In January 2020, the ICJ issued a ruling approving provisional measures.[22] This means that Myanmar has been ordered to “take all measures within its power” to protect the remaining 600,000 Rohingya Muslims in the country from genocide. However, it is important to note that while this ruling is binding, there is no way to ensure that it will actually be enforced.[23] Under the doctrine of universal jurisdiction, the federal courts of Argentina have also opened a case of genocide against the leaders of Myanmar.  This crisis is currently ongoing. Rohingya are seeking civil damages against Facebook in international courts for their part in platforming hate speech and enabling this violence.[24]


By the end of 2022, the tally of documented pro-democracy activists and other civilians killed via military crackdowns had reached a total of 2,689, although the real number is likely much higher. There remains the ongoing detention of over 13,000 people.[25] Political prisoners include opinion leaders, members of civil society, key political figures, health workers, and civil servants formerly involved in the administration of elections.  In July, four democracy activists were executed by Myanmar’s military in what was believed to be the first use of capital punishment in decades. The four – including activist Ko Jimmy and lawmaker Phyo Zeya Thaw – were accused of committing “acts of terror”. They were sentenced to death in a closed-door trial.[26] The humanitarian situation continues to be dominated by hostilities and increasing economic stress for millions of people. Frequent, indiscriminate attacks, including airstrikes and artillery fire in civilian areas, have caused casualties and spread fear. Displacement also continues to rise despite some reported returns. According to the latest UN figures, the estimated number of new internally displaced persons (IDPs) since the military takeover has passed 1.1 million, bringing the total number of IDPs across the country to over 1.5 million.[27] While Indigenous Peoples’ territories continue to be some of the worst affected conflict areas, the junta has also actively targeted the Burmese heartland in areas such as Magway and Sagaing.  Despite the United Nation’s (UN) Special Envoy, Noeleen Heyzer, calling on coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing on 17 August to cease air and artillery strikes on civilian targets and the torching of homes, the State Administration Council (SAC) intensified its scorched earth campaign.[28] In November, it was estimated that 38,383 houses in 12 states and regions had been razed.[29] Later in December, Myanmar Junta forces torched 19 villages in Depayin Township, destroying 50 % of houses and leaving 10,000 people homeless. The attack, which began on 1 December, resulted in the razing of 1,700 buildings, including religious infrastructure.[30]


The Myanmar Junta also intensified the use of its air force to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity. Amnesty International documented 16 unlawful air attacks between March 2021 and August 2022 in Kayah, Kayin and Chin states, as well as in Sagaing Region.[31]  The attacks killed at least 15 civilians and injured some 36 more. Aerial bombardments have also destroyed homes, religious buildings, schools, medical facilities and a camp for displaced persons. Recent junta aerial attacks include indiscriminate air strikes against a concert held at a Kachin Independence Army base in Kachin State, killing more than 80 people, and against a school in Let Yet Kone village, Sagaing Region, killing at least 12 people.[32]


Presently, Myanmar bears the distinct honour on nefarianism. Myanmar is the world’s second-largest opium poppy grower. Shan State remains the center of Myanmar’s opium activities, accounting for 92 per cent of opium poppy cultivation, with the remainder located mainly in Kachin State.[33]  People living in the area covered by the project are not able to produce enough food and much of the land that could be used for agricultural purposes is being used to cultivate opium poppy, leading to food insecurity and national malnutrition.[34] Myanmar is reported to be the largest global source of methamphetamines, as a synthetic, designer drug[35].  In addition, human trafficking has also increased post-coup[36]  Blue Dragon, a charity that rescues victims from human trafficking in Vietnam, said the scamming gangs set quotas for how much money each trafficked worker needed to extract from the scam victims.  If targets are not met, workers are subject to physical punishment — and, more recently, organ removal.  “The traffickers have been taking the organs of their victims, such as the kidneys, if they haven’t been working hard enough,” said Michael Brosowski, Blue Dragon’s founder.  In August the charity rescued a 36-year-old Vietnamese man from Myanmar who had been forced to sell his kidney after being trafficked into a scam casino.  “Many of the victims from Myanmar have experienced multiple exploitations in this way,” said Caitlin Wyndham, research and learning leader, at Blue Dragon.


The ongoing violence directed at the Rohingya has produced a refugee crisis in the region. In just three months in 2017, over 675,000 Rohingya fled the country for safety in neighbouring Bangladesh.[37] Almost one million Rohingya refugees have since been registered in Bangladesh alone.[38] In April of 2020, the Bangladeshi Foreign Minister declared that the country would no longer accept more Rohingya refugees.[39]


One point is irreconcilable in the Rohingya genocide conducted by the Buddhist regime, which espouses peace. Soteriological concerns[40]” refers to matters or considerations related to salvation or deliverance, particularly in a religious or theological context. The term “soteriology” is derived from the Greek words “soteria,” meaning “salvation,” and “logos,” meaning “study” or “word.” Soteriology is a branch of theology that explores beliefs and doctrines about salvation, including the nature of salvation, the means by which it is achieved, and its implications for individuals and communities. Soteriological concerns may encompass various aspects, depending on the religious or philosophical context. The evidence of this is not present in the Rohingya genocide amongst the Buddhist regime and monks, in Myanmar.

Main Photo:  Smoke billows in the background from burning Rohingya villages, set alight by Buddhist monks and the Burmese military, as Muslim refugees walk on the shore, after crossing the Myanmar-Bangladesh border, crossing over in makeshift rafts, through the Bay of Bengal. Photo Credit: Wider Image Reuters.
Inset Top Right:  A Rohingya moter mourns the death by drowning of her daughter, in crossing the Bay of Bangal into Bangladesh – Photo credit: The Wider Image, Reuters
 Inset Top Left:  Ongoing Rohingya oppression in Myanmar resulting in them fleeing to neigbouring countries and drowning in the process. Photo Credit: Chicago Tribune


[1] Personal quote by author, November 2023


[3] “Coalition of Indigenous Peoples in Myanmar/Burma.” Joint Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review, March 2015,






[9] Burma Citizenship Law 1982, Pyithu Hluttaw Law No 4 of 1982. Section 3


































Professor G. Hoosen M. Vawda (Bsc; MBChB; PhD.Wits) is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment.
Director: Glastonbury Medical Research Centre; Community Health and Indigent Programme Services; Body Donor Foundation SA.

Principal Investigator: Multinational Clinical Trials
Consultant: Medical and General Research Ethics; Internal Medicine and Clinical Psychiatry:UKZN, Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine
Executive Member: Inter Religious Council KZN SA
Public Liaison: Medical Misadventures
Activism: Justice for All

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This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 4 Dec 2023.

Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TMS: The Forgotten (Part 3): Buddhist Directed Ethnic Cleansing/Genocide of Rohingyas in Myanmar, is included. Thank you.

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