By Zaw Win in DVB

As the Myanmar military is losing its grip on the country to resistance groups which have made continual gains on the battlefield since the 2021 coup, it is now rolling out a new conscription scheme to force men and women on to the frontline. 

One of the first groups of victims under the conscription law is the Rohingya, a primarily Muslim ethnic minority facing decades of genocide committed by the Myanmar military itself.

In recent weeks, my colleagues and I have documented cases of the regime in Naypyidaw forcing Rohingya into the lowest ranks of the same military intent on destroying them.

As a human rights defender from Myanmar, I have long tracked the various methods of destruction against the Rohingya. Over many years of documentation, I’ve learned this: genocide begins long before instances of mass violence and killings, and without accountability, it will continue.

The Rohingya are an indigenous ethnic minority from Myanmar. Despite significant evidence to the contrary, successive Myanmar regimes have viewed Rohingya as descendants of migrant labourers imported by the British colonial administration. 

This view persists among the military elite.

Although many will be familiar with the genocidal attacks launched by the Myanmar military and its supporters against the Rohingya in 2017, the signs of genocidal intent can be seen in restrictions on freedom movement, reproductive rights, marriage rights, and access to public services imposed on the Rohingya decades before the dreadful events of 2017.

Previous military regimes up to the current one in Naypyidaw have adopted “laws” and policies with genocidal intent which has helped advance the plot to destroy Rohingya in whole or in part.

Under General Ne Win, who overthrew Myanmar’s democratically-elected government in 1962, implemented the 1982 Citizenship Law, which has fundamentally changed the definition of citizenship. 

The 1982 Citizenship Law, which is still in place today, makes race a fundamental qualification for full citizenship.

To implement it, the military regime launched a nationwide citizenship scrutiny process in 1989. It began issuing three different official colour-coded identity documents in line with the three-tiered citizenship categories specified under the law. 

With few exceptions, the authorities denied full citizenship rights to Rohingya.

Later, in 2012, the Myanmar authorities initiated efforts to identify Rohingya in official documents as “Bengali,” implying Rohingya are not indigenous to Myanmar and are instead from Bangladesh. 

Since 2015, Myanmar has been coercing Rohingya to accept National Verification Cards, which identify Rohingya as foreigners, mostly as “Bengali,” and erases their identity.

Previous military regimes have restricted the Rohingya’s movement, as well as access to education and livelihoods.

In 1992, the military formed a special border immigration force – created primarily to control and monitor the Rohingya community – known in Burmese as the Na Sa Ka

It conducted regular population checks on Rohingya families using government-enforced household registration lists and began requiring Rohingya to pose for household registration photos.

During these household checks, all family members had to be present. If a family member was missing without pre-approval from the state, then Na Sa Ka would remove them from the household list. 

That person would be effectively banished from Myanmar and subject to arrest should they attempt to return.

Another part of their role was to implement the local orders restricting the Rohingya in their ability to marry through a strict marriage permission process and a two-child policy, which was in place for years.

Thankfully, the Na Sa Ka was disbanded in 2013; however, the checks on Rohingya households in northern Arakan (Rakhine) State are still taking place today under the current regime formed after the 2021 coup.

In tandem with these “policies of persecution,” the Myanmar military also conducted campaigns of violence. 

In 1978, General Ne Win launched Operation “Dragon King” to identify and register residents as either citizens or foreigners. Taking advantage of this operation, in 1978, the military destroyed Rohingya homes and displaced more than 200,000 – in the first of what would be a string of genocidal campaigns.

History repeated itself every decade since, and in 2016-17, the military targeted the Rohingya for destruction following attacks against police by militants. 

My colleagues and I at Fortify Rights documented extensive evidence of massacres, mass rape, and the widespread destruction of native villages, forcing more than 700,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh

At the time, it was the fastest refugee outflow since the 1994 Rwandan genocide.

The Rohingya experience of genocide – an ongoing genocide – shows that violence is usually just the tip of the iceberg. 

While genocide is commonly presented as a dramatic period of frenzied and horrific violence, it is often precipitated by the slow but steady erosion of personhood brought about by discriminatory laws, policies, and practices.

The international community can do more to prevent future genocides and end the mass atrocities in Myanmar. 

Since the 2021 coup, the Myanmar military has acted with complete impunity, attacking civilians nationwide while continuing the Rohingya genocide. And now, it is enlisting civilians, including the Rohingya, into its criminal enterprise.

To help ensure accountability and change the behaviour of the generals in Myanmar, member states of the International Criminal Court (ICC) should urgently refer the situation to the Chief Prosecutor. 

In turn, the prosecutor should launch a full investigation into the post-coup situation in Myanmar. The fact that this has yet to happen only illustrates the beleaguered state of international justice.

It’s time for the ICC member states to do their part to help end these attacks and ensure justice for the Rohingya and all people of Myanmar. 

This article was originally published in DVB here.

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