Minors make up at least 60 per cent of the Rohingya refugees who have crossed the border to Bangladesh over the past few weeks. Highly traumatized, they are arriving malnourished and injured after walking for days. Photo: UNICEF/Brown

War Crimes and Ethnic Cleansing Were Committed Against the Rohingya of Myanmar. They Deserve Justice. But How?

In August 2017, hundreds of thousands of ethnic Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar fled across the border to Bangladesh. The Rohingya are a minority population that have long faced discrimination by the Buddhist Burmese majority. In the summer of 2017, things got very bad, very quickly.

A Rohingya militant group attacked some police outposts in Myanmar. The government and military responded by attacking Rohingya towns and villages, unleashing massive violence against a civilian population. This drove over 600,000 Rohingya to refugee camps in a region of Bangladesh known as Cox’s Bazar.

Some 700,000 Rohingya refugees remain there to this day.

The violence that drove these people from their home was certainly a crime against humanity — a UN official called it “a text book example of an ethnic cleansing.”  It could also have been a genocide.

That of course demands the question: who will pay for these crimes? What does accountability look like in a situation like this? And can perpetrators of these crimes even be brought to justice in the first place?

On the line with me to discuss these questions in the context of the current plight of the Rohingya refugees is Param-Preet Singh, Associate Director, International Justice Program of Human Rights Watch.

We kick off discussing the events of August 2017 before having a longer conversation about possible avenues for justice for these crimes.

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This episode pairs well with my conversation last week with former Obama administration official Ben Rhodes, who discusses the fall from grace of Aung San Suu Kyi, the nobel peace prize winner who was the de-facto head of state of Myanmar while these crimes against humanity occurred–and who remained a notably silent bystander to ethnic cleansing.