STAND Statement on a Global Arms Embargo on Burma (Myanmar)
STAND, an international coalition of student and youth organisations working to end genocide and mass atrocities, calls for an immediate global arms embargo on Burma in order to help end the atrocities currently taking place in Rakhine state against the Rohingya minority population. This is only the most recent military campaign targeting minorities in the country, and must be understood in the context of decades of systematic oppression and violence perpetrated by the Burmese military towards minorities, including the Rohingya. In 1982, the Burmese government enacted a law denying Rohingya citizenship and rendering them effectively stateless. Shortly thereafter, military operations began targeting the Rohingya, and violence against them has continued since. Violence against the Rohingya escalated in 2017 after a small group of Rohingya insurgents, called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), attacked Burmese security forces, leaving nine police officers dead. Burma’s armed forces used this as an excuse to immediately launch indiscriminate attacks on Rohingya civilians. The recent attacks, according to human rights watchdogs such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have included widespread killings, torture, sexual violence, and mass arson of entire Rohingya villages, and have led to mass displacement.
Stopping the flow of weapons into the country is an essential step to ending this pattern of violence. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights commented in a 9th March news conference that acts of genocide may have taken place, and the UN Security Council has called on Burmese authorities to “end excessive violence” and human rights abuses. Recent evidence gathered by The Arakan Project, an Asia-based human rights organisation, suggests that Burmese authorities are destroying evidence of these mass atrocities, and are even building military installations on land previously inhabited by Rohingya who were forced to flee.
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, a total of nearly 650,000 refugees have fled Rakhine state, mostly to neighbouring Bangladesh. It was announced late last year that a controversial process of repatriation would begin, a terrifying prospect for Rohingya who have fled for their lives and whose safety upon arrival is not guaranteed. The UN has further warned that over 100,000 refugees in Bangladeshi camps face deteriorating conditions with the approaching monsoon rains as they live in cramped, temporary shelters.
Despite international outcry, violence has only escalated against the Rohingya. First State Consular and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the most influential figure in Burmese politics, has received international criticism for maintaining a passive stance on the crisis. Several fellow Nobel Laureates have condemned her for her inaction; Bob Geldof returned his Freedom of the City of Dublin award in protest of his fellow recipient’s actions, labelling her ‘a handmaiden to genocide’; and, most recently, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum revoked her prestigious Elie Wiesel Award, citing her lack of leadership on the issue.
The global community has consistently failed to take definitive action for the Rohingya, who have been identified as an at-risk population for years. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the vast majority of Burma’s military imports since the 1990s have come from China and Russia, and many other countries maintain economic interests in the region. Immediate action by these countries and their allies is therefore required in implementing global sanctions on the export of military ammunition, weapons, and goods of warfare to Burma.
While each of our governments have taken some steps to sanction individuals in Burma or condemn the violence, the urgency of this crisis calls for action rather than words - in the form of an immediate arms embargo.
The UK government publicly condemned the violence in Burma by officially suspending training of and funding for the Burmese armed forces in September 2017, and Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson have both publicly condemned the actions of the armed forces and Suu Kyi. Boris Johnson has further urged Suu Kyi to ensure the repatriation process be supervised by the UN in order to facilitate safe return of the Rohingya.
The French government has released a number of diplomatic statements calling on Burmese security forces “to ensure the protection of the civilian populations without discrimination, in accordance with their responsibility, and to ensure the swift re-establishment of safe humanitarian access.” It has provided over €3 million in financial aid and has condemned the actions of the Burmese government in detaining and indicting two Reuters journalists reporting from Rakhine state.
The U.S. government has similarly denounced the violence in Rakhine state, and has placed sanctions on fifty-two high ranking Burmese generals. The first was a sanction on Maung Maung Soe, freezing his assets and banning U.S. citizens from engaging in business with the General.
The Canadian government has denounced the violence against the Rohingya, imposed targeted sanctions against Burmese officials, and contributed $37.5 million CAD towards humanitarian relief. However, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has spoken little about the crisis since September 2017, after a phone call and letter to Suu Kyi.
The UK, France, and the US are standing with five other countries in asking the UN Security Council to discuss the crisis at forthcoming meetings. The UK and France further support the EU embargo that is already in place. However, the international community as a whole must support the extension of a mandated global arms embargo in order to prevent further atrocities from taking place. It must be clear that as a global community we condemn such crimes against humanity.
STAND Canada: A World Without Genocide
STAND France: Le Mouvement Étudiant Contre les Génocides et la Violence de Masse
STAND UK: The Student-Led Movement to End Mass Atrocities
STAND USA: The Student-Led Movement to End Mass Atrocities
Note: “Burma” was the name given to the country by the British; it was renamed “Myanmar” in 1989 by the military junta. Many Burmese diaspora and human rights organisations choose to use “Burma” in solidarity with the Burmese still suffering at the hands of the government.
This statement was written by Shereen Nassuna, one of STAND UK's Regional Organisers, with the help of STAND's global leaders.