Burma. According to Countryaah.com, the Burmese government was subjected to widespread criticism during the year because of the crisis in the state of Rakhine and reports of widespread persecution by the Muslim minority Rohingya. The fiery conflict escalated sharply in August. The military then went on the offensive since rebels killed twelve policemen in attacks on police posts and military missions in Rakhine. The Arsa rebel group (Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army) took on the attacks. The military and Buddhist citizenry responded by burning villages and attacking civilians.
Within a few weeks, half a million Rohingya were estimated to have moved to Bangladesh. It was referred to as one of the fastest growing refugee crises since the Second World War. Tens of thousands of people were also displaced inside Burma. Hundreds of villages are set on fire and observers, such as UN Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, warned that the Rohingya was being subjected to ethnic cleansing. Aid organizations, foreign diplomats and journalists were long denied access. Satellite images published by several human rights groups documented the devastation. Another source was the testimony of refugees.
As the crisis intensified, an international commission, led by former UN chief Kofi Annan, presented suggestions on how to improve the situation of the Rohingy. Among the proposals presented in August were that stateless Rohingy would be granted citizenship, the right to school and that more would be invested in jobs and infrastructure. Rakhine is considered to be Burma’s poorest state.
Burma civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is titled Chancellor of the State, decided not to travel to the UN General Assembly in September as a result of the Rohingya crisis. In a speech to the nation that month, she pointed out that Burma did not fear “international scrutiny”. But critics pointed out that the government did not allow international investigators to visit the conflict-affected areas.
Suu Kyi was also criticized for not condemning the army’s violence. Claims were raised that she would be deprived of her 1991 Peace Prize, but the Norwegian Nobel Committee said it was not possible. However, she lost honors elsewhere, for example in the UK. Other reviewers pointed out that Suu Kyi must balance his role; according to the constitution that the former military junta passed through, the military is responsible for internal security. Not until November did Suu Kyi visit several cities in Rakhine.
However, Suu Kyi’s ruling party National Democratic Alliance (NLD) was pleased with forecasts from the International Monetary Fund that growth would be just over 6.7% for the fiscal year ending March 2018, almost a percentage point higher than last year. One explanation was the severe floods that hit the agricultural sector in 2016 and lower natural gas prices.
At the end of October, the military offensive was reported to have been suppressed, but more than 600,000 people are estimated to have moved to Bangladesh. The same month, a donor conference was held in Geneva, which promised $ 344 million in aid.
Burma and Bangladesh agreed in November that the refugees should return in early 2018. Bangladesh’s foreign minister said the UN refugee agency UNHCR would support the program. However, uncertainty prevailed as to what degree of voluntariness prevailed and whether Burma would truly accept the refugees as most of them are not recognized as citizens.
In November, Burma hosted a meeting between 51 countries in Europe and Asia, known as ASEM (Asia-Europe Meeting). In connection with it, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, EU Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini and Sweden’s Margot Wallström visited both Burma and Bangladesh. Pope Francis visited the two countries later. The visit to Buddhist-dominated Burma was the first one a pope conducted. In order not to clash with the rulers of Burma and prevent the country’s small Christian minority from being subjected to violence, the pope avoided mentioning the Rohingy by name during the visit. Burma’s OB, General Aung Min Hlaing, stated that there was no religious persecution.
In Bangladesh, however, the Pope used the word “Rohingya” at a meeting and asked Rohingya who fled Burma for forgiveness for the treatment they were subjected to.
In December, Burma announced that the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Burma was no longer welcome and cooperation would cease. In July, Yanghee Lee had described how she was prevented from traveling freely and expressed concern about the human rights situation.
After several weeks of delay, at the end of May a new large meeting was held between the government, the military and representatives of several of the country’s 20 largest ethnic groups. The Panglong Conference is part of a process to fulfill the government’s promise to end many years of civil war and to give ethnic minorities such as Kachin, Shan and Wa greater self-government. China intervened and ensured that seven armed groups could participate in the inaugural session.