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Religious Tolerance logo


Conflicts fueled by religious intolerance

2017 to 2020:
Myanmar army's genocide of the Rohingya.
A conflict between the Buddhist majority
and a Muslim minority.
International Court of Justice issues
unanimous ruling

Part 2:

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This article continues here from Part 1

2017-DEC: Two reporters were arrested in Myanmar:

On 2017-DEC-12, two Reuters reporters -- Wa Lone, 33 and Kyaw Soe Oo, 29 -- were detained after working on an investigation into the mass killing of Rohingyas in Rakhine state. During their trial, a Myanmar police officer, Moe Yan Naing, testified that he had witnessed a plot by senior police to frame the two journalists by planting secret documents on them.

During 2018-SEP. a Myanmar court in Yangon found them guilty of breaking the Official Secrets Act by reporting on a mass killing of Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state. 5 They were both sentenced to seven years in prison. The reporters' lawyer, Than Zaw Maung, said:

"This is disappointing -- and a blow -- to democracy, rule of law, and press freedom."

Knut Ostby, the United Nation's Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar. said:

"The United Nations has consistently called for the release of the journalists and urged the authorities to respect their right to pursue freedom of expression and information. Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo should be allowed to return to their families and continue their work as journalists."

Stephen Adler, Editor-in-Chief at Reuters, said that the court ruling was "a sad day" for the organization, for the two men, and for:

"... the press everywhere; [the verdict] must be corrected by the Myanmar government as a matter of urgency. ... This is a major step backward in Myanmar's transition to democracy and it cannot be squared with the rule of law or freedom of speech. ... [Reuters] will evaluate how to proceed in the coming days, including whether to seek relief in an international forum. "

Phil Robertson, the Deputy Asia Director for Human Rights Watch, tweeted:

"This conviction of the two Reuters reporters is a hammer blow against media freedom in Myanmar, showing just how afraid the Tatmadaw and Myanmar government are of investigative journalism and critical commentary [that are] customarily found in a real democracy."

Shawn Crispin, the senior Southeast Asia representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists said:

"Today's ruling against Reuters reporters ... on bogus charges marks a new press freedom low for Myanmar. The process that resulted in their convictions was a travesty of justice and will cast Myanmar as an anti-democratic pariah as long as they are wrongfully held behind bars. We call on Myanmar's civilian authorities to immediately release the journalists." 5

Stuart McDonald is the founder of independent guide Travelfish, one of the main travel guides for south-east Asia. He suspended his company's coverage of Myanmar in response to the genocide and the trial of the Reuters reporters. He said:

"When Burma experienced its democratic gains five years ago there was considerable optimism where the country would head, but those hopes were buried in the ashes of the genocide in the west of the country. ..."

"Travelfish [has] suspended our research to the country, as we felt that the popular support in much of the country for what was happening in Rakhine made travel there, for us, unconscionable. That the government has now elected to imprison those responsible for raising international awareness of what was actually happening has sadly only reinforced our belief that our decision was the best approach." 8

He indicated that revenue from hotel bookings in Myanmar made through the Travelfish website would be donated to the families of the journalists.

He said that:

"... the accusation of genocide being perpetrated in Myanmar -– against various groups -– has been raised repeatedly over the last two decades. It is essential that today the attempt to define whether genocide has been perpetrated does not continue to serve as a distraction to addressing the situation itself. ..."

The two reporters remained in prison for more than 500 days and were released during 2019-MAY.

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A suggestion that a genocide claim is not the best approach to resolving the tragedy in Myanmar:

Charles Petrie was a past assistant secretary general of the UN, and was the UN Deputy Humanitarian coordinator during the horrendous 1994 genocide in Rwanda. That inter-tribal conflict between members of the two main tribes in Rwanda resulted in the deaths of over 800,000 members of the Tutsi tribe who were killed by Hutus during 100 days of slaughter. The countries of the world and the UN itself did essentially nothing to stop it.

Writing for The Guardian newspaper (UK), he titled his article:

"Debating the definition of genocide will not save the Rohingya. The time for talk is over. The international community has to act, or it could fail in Myanmar just as it failed in Rwanda." 6

Pursuing a genocide charge could fracture international efforts to stop the atrocity. He recommends two simpler charges: war crimes, and crimes against humanity. These are simpler to understand, confirm, and accept. Making an airtight case for genocide would be difficult because the Government of Myanmar did not allow the UN access to on-the ground inspections of the areas where the atrocities were committed.

He concluded:

"... immense crimes have been and are being committed in Myanmar. It is time for the world to stop debating how to categorize them and focus on finding the necessary resolve to act." 6

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2018-SEP-06: International Criminal Court (ICC) declares that it has jurisdiction:

Myanmar is not a member of the ICC. However, the court decided that the cross-border nature of the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees was sufficient to create jurisdiction. A three-judge panel at the ICC said:

"The court has jurisdiction over the crime against humanity of deportation allegedly committed against members of the Rohingya people. The reason is that an element of this crime – the crossing of a border – took place on the territory of a state party [Bangladesh]. ... The court may also exercise its jurisdiction with regard to any other crime set out in article 5 of the statute, such as the crimes against humanity of persecution and/or other inhumane acts." 10

Kevin Jon Heller, a University of Amsterdam international law expert, said that with this decision, the prosecutor:

"... has no choice but to submit a request [to open a preliminary examination.]"10

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2019-FEB-AUG: Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh:

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that over 909,000 stateless Rohingya refugees reside in Bangladesh. Most live in one of 34 very congested camps, including the world's largest refugee camp, the Kutupalong-Balukhali Expansion Site, which is home to approximately 626,500 Rohingya refugees.

A Joint Response Plan was launched on 2019-FEB to raise US $920.5 million to provide support for 1.2 million people: Rohingya refugees and local host communities. 12

During August, Bangladesh organized an arrangement by which the refugees could return to Myanmar. The total number of refugees taking part in the return was zero.

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2019-DEC-28: UN condemns human rights abuses:

The Gambia, a largely Muslim nation in west African nation, brought the Rohingya case to the International Court of Justice on behalf of dozens of other predominately Muslim countries.

The United Nations General Assembly approved a resolution condemning human rights abuses "against Muslim Rohingya and other minorities "... by the security and armed forces of Myanmar. In response, Myanmar claims that it was responding to an extremist threat at the time.

The resolution quoted an independent international mission which studied:

"... gross human rights violations and abuses suffered by Rohingya Muslims and other minorities ... the gravest crimes under international law." 13

The resolution passed by a vote of 134 member countries in favor, 9 opposed, and 28 abstaining.

Hau Do Suan, the UN ambassador for Myanmar, said that the resolution is:

"... another classic example of double-standards [and] selective and discriminatory application of human rights norms."

He said it was designed to exert "unwanted political pressure" on Myanmar and did not attempt to find a solution to "the complex situation in Rakhine state." 13

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2020-JAN-23: The International Court of Justice (ICJ) issues ruling:

A seventeen-judge panel of the ICJ at the Hague in the Netherlands unanimously declared that the Rohingyas must be protected against genocide.

The panel ruled that:

  • The ICJ has the right to hear the case.

  • Gambia was within its rights to launch the case in the ICJ which was filed on 2019-NOV-11.

  • Myanmar must protect the remaining 600,000 Rohingyas who have remained in Myanmar from harm by military or paramilitary forces.

  • Myanmar must preserve all evidence of genocide.

  • Myanmar must issue a report within four months.

  • Justice for All commented:

    "... pressure must be kept on Burma to ensure the regime abides by the ruling. The Netherlands and Canada have set a great example by publicly claiming their support for the Gambia in its case at the ICJ." 14

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The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

The following information source was used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.

  1. Tim MclaughLin, "Origin of ‘most persecuted minority’ statement unclear," Myanmar Times, 2013-JUL-08, at:
  2. "Press Release," Free Rohingya Campaign, 2012-OCT-28, at:
  3. Camila Domonoske, "Myanmar's Military Leaders Should Be Tried For Genocide, U.N. Investigators Say," National Public Radio, 2018-AUG-27, at:
  4. " 'Bangladesh Is Not My Country'," Human Rights Watch, 2018-AUG-05, at:
  5. Euan McKirdy and James Griffiths, "Myanmar: Reuters journalists investigating Rohingya killings sentenced to 7 years in prison," CNN, 2018-SEP-03, at:
  6. Charles Petrie, "Debating the definition of genocide will not save the Rohingya," The Guardian, 2018-SEP-04, at:
  7. Hannah Beech, "Myanmar’s Military Planned Rohingya Genocide, Rights Group Says," New York Times, 2018-JUL-19 at:
  8. Hugh Morris, "Myanmar boycott announced by travel guide – will tour operators follow suit?," The Telegraph, 2018-SEP-10, at:
  9. "Human Rights Council opens special session on the situation of human rights of the Rohingya and other minorities in Rakhine State in Myanmar," Office of the High Commissioner, United Nations Human Rights, 2017-DEC-05, at:
  10. "ICC rules it can investigate crimes against Rohingya," Independent, 2018-SEP-07, at:
  11. "Rohingya: UN calls for Myanmar generals to be prosecuted for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity," Independent, 2018-AUG-27, at:
  12. "Rohingya Refugee Crisis," United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 2019, at:
  13. "Myanmar Rohingya: UN condemns human rights abuses," BBC News, 2019-DEC-28, at:
  14. "Provisional Judgement, Justice for All, 2020-JAN-23, at:

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Copyright © 2018 to 2020 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance 
Originally posted: 2018-SEP-05
Latest update: 2020-JAN-25
Author: B.A. Robinson




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