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The Role of the International Community in the Rohingya Crisis

After a recent visit to Bangladesh, Andrew Gilmour, the UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, reported that “the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya from Myanmar continues”. [1] Gilmour added that “the nature of the violence has changed from the frenzied blood-letting and mass rape of last year to a lower intensity campaign of terror and forced starvation that seems to be designed to drive the remaining Rohingya from their homes and into Bangladesh." [2] For decades, the Rohingya have been denied citizenship under Burmese law. [3] Since last August, the Burmese military has carried out an ethnic cleansing campaign and more than 688,000 Rohingya have fled Burma’s Rakhine state as a result. [4] Unfortunately, Gilmour does not believe the refugees will be able to return any time soon. [5]

With no end to the Rohingya’s woes in sight, how should the international community respond to the crisis? The UN has not conducted a humanitarian intervention since the operations in Kosovo and Iraq. [6] In order for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to conduct a criminal investigation into the persecution of the Rohingya, the UN would need to refer the situation to the ICC. [7] However, this would be difficult considering that China and Russia – both veto-holding members of the Security Council’s Permanent Five – are opposed to such action. [8]

Failing UN action, individual state action is possible. [9] In February, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee unanimously voted to support new legislation to address Burma’s human rights violations. [10] If passed, the bill would further enable the U.S. government to impose sanctions and travel restrictions on military and other security personnel involved in abuses against the Rohingya. [11] So far, Burma’s leadership has ignored diplomatic pressure. [12] Hopefully this bill, and similar measures taken by other countries, can provide much-needed pressure to end the discrimination and abuse against the Rohingha.

This post is a student blog post and in no way represents the views of the Fordham International Law Journal.