External Affairs

Timeline: Being Rohingya in Myanmar, from 1784 to Now

As Rohingya people continue to flee Rakhine State and allege widespread persecution, a look at their struggle through the years.

A Rohingya refugee girl collects rain water at a makeshift camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, September 17, 2017. Credit: Reuters/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

A Rohingya refugee girl collects rain water at a makeshift camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, September 17, 2017. Credit: Reuters/Mohammad Ponir Hossain

Arakan (now Rakhine State) is a state in Myanmar (the former Burma) adjoining Bangladesh. It is a strip of land along the eastern coast of the Bay of Bengal from the Naf river on the border of Chittagong to the cape Negarise. It lies between the Arakan Yuma range and the Bay of Bengal. It is separated from the rest of Myanmar by the Yuma range running north to south. The total area of Arakan is 13,540 square miles and its population almost 2,000,000. And it is here that politics and violence around the Rohingya and their identity has been playing out for centuries.

Eight century

The Rohingya, a people of South Asian origin, dwell in an independent kingdom in Arakan, known as Rakhine State in modern-day Myanmar (the former Burma).

Ninth to 14th century

The Rohingya reportedly came into contact with Islam through Arab traders. Ties forged between Arakan and East Bengal.

1057

King Anawrahta founds first unified Burmese state at Pagan and adopts Theravada Buddhism.

1784

Burman King Bodawpaya conquers Arakan and refugees flee to Bengal.

1790

Captain Hiram Cox sent as emissary to the Burmese king in Mandalay to secure British trading interests. He is told to settle the century-long conflict between Arakan refugees and local Rakhines by rehabilitating refugees in the area that later became East Pakistan and then Bangladesh. He established town of Cox’s Bazar, where groups with ties to Rohingya live today.

1824-26

First Anglo-Burmese war ends with the Treaty of Yandabo, according to which Burma cedes the Arakan coastal strip, between Chittagong and Cape Negrais, to British India.

1852

Second Anglo-Burmese war ends with British annexation of lower Burma, including Rangoon.

1885-86

Britain captures Mandalay after third Anglo-Burmese war; Burma becomes a province of British India.

1911

In the 1911 census, Rohingya are included with the Indian population as an ethnic group of Indian origin.

1921

Census of 1921 categorises Rohingya as Arakanese.

1937

Britain separates Burma from India and makes it a crown colony.

1942

Japan occupies Burma with help from the Japanese-trained Burma Independence Army (BIA). As the British retreat, Burmese nationalists attack Muslim communities whom they accuse of benefiting from British colonial rule. BIA later transforms into the Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League (AFPFL) and resists Japanese rule.

1945

Britain liberates Burma from Japanese occupation with help of Burmese nationalists led by Aung San (father of Aung San Suu Kyi) and Rohingya fighters, who feel betrayed as the British don’t fulfil their promise of autonomy for Arakan.

Aung San in the Burma National Army uniform. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Aung San in the Burma National Army uniform. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

1947

Aung San and six members of his interim government assassinated by political opponents led by U Saw, a nationalist rival. U Nu, foreign minister in Ba Maw’s government, which ruled Burma during the Japanese occupation, asked to head the AFPFL and the government.

1948

Burma becomes independent with U Nu as prime minister. In its first year, the new Republic of the Union of Burma is on the brink of collapse. In the east, ethnic Karen military units mutiny and turn their guns on the central government. Communist rebels with urban roots rise in the lowlands, around Rangoon. They become a rural insurgency later after a split between red and white flag movements (red flag becomes underground and long-term struggle), followed by an eventual shift to Shan State.

The Burmese military manages to hold key terrain, but the insurgencies have held out for generations beyond the lowlands, and even in some lowland areas (like the delta for a while with KNU), with profound implications for the subsequent development of the state.

Tensions exist with the Rohingya, many of whom wanted Arakan to join Muslim-majority Pakistan. The government retaliates by removing Rohingya civil servants. As a result of Rangoon’s preoccupation with insurgent groups in lower and central Burma, the Mujahid revolt grew rapidly. At one stage, most of Arakan was in the hands of this and other rebel groups.

1950

Some Rohingya resist the government, led by armed groups called Mujahids. The insurgencies gradually collapse.

1958-60

A caretaker government comes to power, led by army Chief of Staff General Ne Win, following a split in the ruling AFPFL party.

The official portrait of General Ne Win. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The official portrait of General Ne Win. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

1960

U Nu’s party faction wins a decisive victory in the elections, but his promotion of Buddhism as the state religion and tolerance of separatism angers the military.

1962

In March 1962, arguing that Burma’s squabbling politicians are unable to hold the country together, the military, or Tatmadaw, seizes power in a coup, initiating more than half a century of military rule. U Nu’s faction is ousted in the military coup led by General Ne Win, who abolishes federal system and inaugurates “the Burmese Way to Socialism” – nationalising the economy, forming a single-party state and banning independent newspapers. The junta takes a hard line against the Rohingya.

1963
Drawing on the Mujahid tradition (and some of its former members), the Rohingya Independence Force (RIF) is created  to protest against Ne Win’s military coup and the banning of Muslim organisations like the Rohingya Students’ Union and the Rohingya Youth League.

1974

The new constitution comes into effect, transferring power from the armed forces to a People’s Assembly headed by Ne Win and other former military leaders.

A writer for the Far Eastern Economic Review writes that the “Burmese Way to Socialism” and its dominant characteristics – ethnic chauvinism and economic autarky – were a reaction to the British colonial period, when migrants and ethnic minority peoples had been empowered at the expense of the lowland Burman majority.

The Rohingya Patriotic Front (RPF), a later version of the RIF, is created. It seeks the creation of an independent Muslim state near Bangladesh. It also champions the cause of the disadvantaged Muslims in Arakan, but has little real impact on events and later splits into several factions.

Body of former United Nations secretary-general U Thant is returned to Burma for burial. In response to the Burmese military’s refusal to give him a state funeral, student activists from the Rangoon Arts and Sciences University (RASU) take away his body from the official procession. The government storms the university grounds and seizes the body. Citywide riots follow this crackdown, and the government declares martial law.

U Thant. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

U Thant. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

1975

Opposition National Democratic Front is formed by regionally-based minority groups, who mount guerrilla insurgencies.

About 15,000 Rohingya flee into Bangladesh to escape persecution.

1977

The junta begins Operation Nagamin or Dragon King, which they say is aimed at screening the population for foreigners. More than 200,000 Rohingya flee to Bangladesh, amid allegations of army abuses. The army denies any wrongdoing.

1978

A massive military operation forces another 200,000 Rohingya to flee into Bangladesh. This operation includes the forced relocation of Muslim villagers and is accompanied by widespread looting, rape, arson and the desecration of mosques.

Bangladesh strikes a UN-brokered deal with Burma for the repatriation of refugees, under which most Rohingya return. Many are later resettled in Arakan State, but similar operations are staged in 1989, 1991-92 and again in 2002.

1981

San Yu. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

San Yu. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Ne Win relinquishes the presidency to San Yu, a retired general, but continues as chairman of the ruling Socialist Programme Party.

1982

Myanmar nationality law recognises three categories of citizens: citizen, associate citizen and naturalised citizen. Citizens, as defined by the 1947 constitution, are persons who belong to an “indigenous race”, or lived in British Burma prior to 1942. Non-citizens are given a Foreign Registration Card. Citizens whose parents hold FRCs are not allowed to run for public office. The law does not recognise the Rohingya as one of the 135 legally-recognised ethnic groups of Myanmar, thus denying most of their Myanmar citizenship.

A faction of the RPF founds the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO).

1986

RSO splinters, and Arakan Rohingya Islamic Front (ARIF) is formed.

1988

Saw Maung. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Saw Maung. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Thousands of people are killed in anti-government riots after currency devaluation wipes out many people’s savings. The powerful State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) is formed by General Saw Maung.

1989

SLORC declares martial law, arrests thousands of people, including advocates of democracy and human rights and renames Burma ‘Myanmar’, with the capital, Rangoon, becoming Yangon. National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter of Aung San, is put under house arrest.

Aung San Suu Kyi. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Aung San Suu Kyi. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

1990

NLD wins landslide victory in general election, but the result is ignored by the military.

1991

Suu Kyi awarded Nobel Peace Prize for her commitment to peaceful change.

More than 250,000 Rohingya refugees flee what they said was forced labour, rape and religious persecution at the hands of the Myanmar army in Rakhine. On this occasion the plight of the Rohingya sparks rare public comment from the Association of South East Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) three Islamic member states, some Middle Eastern countries and non-governmental organisations like the Mecca- based Rabita-al-Alam-I-Islami (Muslim World League).

1992

General Than Shwe replaces General Saw Maung as SLORC chairman, prime minister and defence minister. Several political prisoners are freed in bid to improve Myanmar’s international image.

Rangoon is forced to cut another deal with the UNHCR and agree to take the refugees back. Between 1992-2004, about 230,000 Rohingya are voluntarily repatriated to Burma under the auspices of the United Nations, but serious problems remain.

1995

Suu Kyi is released from house arrest after six years.

RSO and ARIF merge again to become the Rohingya National Alliance.

1996

Suu Kyi attends first NLD congress since her release; SLORC arrests more than 200 delegates on their way to party congress.

1992 – 1997

Around 230,000 Rohingya returned to Arakan, now known as Rakhine, under another repatriation agreement.

1997

Burma admitted to the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN); SLORC renamed State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).

Rohingya National Alliance becomes the Arakan Rohingya National Organisation (ARNO).

Than Shwe. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Than Shwe. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

1998 – 300

NLD members released from prison; ruling council refuses to comply with NLD deadline for convening of parliament; student demonstrations broken up.

1999

Suu Kyi rejects ruling council conditions to visit her British husband, Michael Aris, who dies of cancer in the UK.

Aung San Suu Kyi and Michael Aris. Courtesy: Mount Holyoke College

Aung San Suu Kyi and Michael Aris. Courtesy: Mount Holyoke College

September 2000 

Ruling council lifts restrictions on movements of Suu Kyi and senior NLD members. Suu Kyi begins secret talks with ruling council.

The RSO name is claimed by three factions that emerged from the breakup of ARNO.

2001

Ruling council releases some 200 pro-democracy activists. Government says releases reflect progress in talks with opposition NLD leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who remains under house arrest.

February 2001

Burmese army, Shan rebels clash on Thai border.

June 2001

Then Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra visits, says relations are back on track.

May 2002

Suu Kyi released after nearly 20 months of house arrest.


Also read: India’s Long-Standing Asylum Practices Contradict Modi Government’s Stand on Rohingya


August 2003

Khin Nyunt becomes prime minister. He proposes holding a convention in 2004 on drafting a new constitution as part of the “road map” to democracy.

November 2003

Five senior NLD leaders released from house arrest after visit of UN human rights envoy.

The junta’s ‘Roadmap to Discipline-Flourishing Democracy’ and President Thein Sein’s tweaks represented not a capitulation but an orderly withdrawal to the 2008 Constitution. This guarantees the Tatmadaw a quarter of the seats in parliament, and thus a de facto veto on any amendments, which require a 75% vote. It also bars Suu Kyi from the office of president, due to her marriage to a foreigner.

January 2004

Government and Karen National Union – the most significant ethnic group fighting the government – agree to end hostilities.

May 2004

Constitutional convention begins, despite boycott by NLD whose leader Suu Kyi remains under house arrest. The convention adjourns in July.

October 2004

Khin Nyunt. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Khin Nyunt. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

General Khin Nyunt is replaced as prime minister amid reports of a power struggle. He is placed under house arrest.

November 2004

Leading dissidents are freed as part of a release of thousands of prisoners, including Min Ko Naing, who led the 1988 pro-democracy student demonstrations. Later becomes one of the anti-Rohingya politicians.

January 2007

China and Russia veto a draft US resolution at the UN Security Council urging Myanmar to stop persecuting minority and opposition groups.

April 2007

Myanmar and North Korea restore diplomatic ties 24 years after Rangoon broke them off, accusing North Korean agents of staging a deadly bomb attack against the visiting South Korean president.

May 2007

Suu Kyi’s house arrest is extended for another year.

August 2007

Wave of public dissent is sparked by fuel price hikes. Dozens of activists are arrested.

Buddhist monks come out on the street, in a move prematurely dubbed the “Saffron Revolution.”

September 2007

The military government declares 14 years of constitutional talks complete and closes the National Convention.

October 2007

Normality returns to Rangoon amid heavy military presence. Monks are absent, after thousands are reportedly rounded up.

January 2008

A series of bomb blasts hits the country. State media blames “insurgent destructionists”, including ethnic Karen rebels.

April 2008

Government publishes proposed new constitution, which allocates a quarter of seats in parliament to the military and bans opposition leader Suu Kyi from holding office.

May 2008 

Cyclone Nargis kills approximately 300,000, referendum on the 2008 constitution is held the same week, “passed” at 98% amid international condemnation of the process being a fraud.

November 2008

Dozens of political activists given sentences of up to 65 years in series of secretive trials.

December 2008

Government signs deal with consortium of four foreign firms to pipe natural gas into neighbouring China, despite protests from human rights groups.

A Rohingya man carrying his belongings approaches the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in Bandarban, an area under Cox's Bazar authority, Bangladesh, August 29, 2017. Credit: Reuters/Mohammad Ponir Hossain/File Photo

A Rohingya man carrying his belongings approaches the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in Bandarban, an area under Cox’s Bazar authority, Bangladesh, August 29, 2017. Credit: Reuters/Mohammad Ponir Hossain/File Photo

January 2009

Thailand expels hundreds of members of the Muslim Rohingya minority who appeared off its coast. Myanmar denies the minority’s existence. Several hundred Rohingya are subsequently rescued from boats off the coast of Indonesia.

April 2009

NLD, the main opposition group, offers to take part in planned elections if the government frees all political prisoners, changes the constitution and admits international observers.

August 2009

Suu Kyi is convicted of breaching conditions of her house arrest following a visit by an uninvited US national in May. The initial sentence of three years’ imprisonment is commuted to 18 months’ house arrest.

September 2009

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton announces plans for engagement with military rulers.

October 2009

Suu Kyi begins talks with Myanmar’s military leaders and is allowed to meet Western diplomats.

February 2010

The authorities free NLD vice-chairman Tin Oo. Suu Kyi’s deputy had spent more than a decade in prison or under house arrest.

Tin Oo and Aung San Suu Kyi at the opening of the NLD's headquarters in Yangon in 2012. Credit: Reuters

Tin Oo and Aung San Suu Kyi at the opening of the NLD’s headquarters in Yangon in 2012. Credit: Reuters

March 2010

Government announces that the long-awaited election laws have been passed, with provisions for an electoral commission handpicked by the junta.

October 2010

Government changes country’s flag, national anthem and official name

November 2010

Military-backed party Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) claims victory in first election in 20 years. Opposition groups allege widespread fraud and the election is condemned as a sham. A week after the election, Suu Kyi – who had been prevented from taking part – is released from house arrest.

March 2011

Thein Sein is sworn in as president of a new, nominally civilian government.

Myanmar's former President Thein Sein speaks at the Mekong-Five Economic Forum hosted by Japan External Trade Organization in Tokyo, July 3, 2015. Credit: Reuters/Toru Hanai

Myanmar’s former President Thein Sein speaks at the Mekong-Five Economic Forum hosted by Japan External Trade Organization in Tokyo, July 3, 2015. Credit: Reuters/Toru Hanai

September 2011

Bowing to protest, the regime cancels a controversial Chinese hydropower project in Kachin State in the north.

October 2011

Some political prisoners are freed as part of a general amnesty. New labour laws allowing unions are passed.

November 2011

Suu Kyi says she will stand for election to parliament, as her party rejoins the political process

January 2012

Government signs ceasefire with rebels of Karen ethnic group. Partly-free elections held. Government also cancels a major coal-fired power plant in Dawei after large-scale opposition on the ground, the second major victory for civil society in the Thein Sein period.

April 2012

NLD candidates sweep the board in parliamentary by-elections, with Suu Kyi elected. The EU suspends all non-military sanctions against Burma for a year.

June 2012

Sectarian violence in June is sparked by the rape and murder on May 28, 2012 of a 28-year-old Arakanese woman by three Muslim men in Ramri Township. On June 3, a large group of Arakanese villagers in Toungop town, southeast of Ramri, stopp a bus and beat and kill ten Muslims on board.

Deadly violence erupts between ethnic Arakanese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Arakan State, with sectarian clashes in four townships. President Thein Sein declares a state of emergency after the death of 88 people and displacement of 90,000.

A man walks though a burnt Rohingya village during fighting between Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya communities in Sittwe June 10, 2012. Credit: Reuters/Staff

A man walks though a burnt Rohingya village during fighting between Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya communities in Sittwe June 10, 2012. Credit: Reuters/Staff

Rohingya are refused citizenship by successive Burmese governments, including the new NLD administration, who assert they are all illegal “sneak ins” from Bangladesh. This sentiment is inflamed by radical nationalists in the Buddhist sangha, who argue that a rising Muslim population threatens to swamp the country.

July 2012

President Thein Sein tells the UNHCR that the government will take responsibility for its own ethnic nationalities, but it is “not at all possible to recognise the illegal border-crossing Rohingya who are not our ethnicity.” He says the Rohingya pose a threat to national security and that they should be resettled in any third country that is “willing to take them.”

July 2012

The UN high commissioner for human rights Navi Pillay expresses concern over reports of human rights violations committed by security forces in Arakan/Rakhine State against Muslims, particularly the Rohingya, and calls for a prompt, independent investigation.

August 2012

UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar Tomás Ojea Quintana calls for an independent investigation into allegations of human rights abuses and excessive use of force by security and police in response to the June violence

August 2012

President Thein Sein sets up a commission to investigate the violence between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in the west, in which dozens have died. Myanmar abolishes pre-publication media censorship.

September 2012

Moe Thee Zun, the leader of student protests in 1988, returns from exile after Burma removed 2,082 people from its blacklist.

Moe Thee Zun. Credit Youtube

Moe Thee Zun. Credit Youtube

October 2012

The All-Arakanese Monks’ Solidarity Conference is held in Sittwe. The monks, who hold very high moral authority among the Arakanese Buddhist population, issue a virulently anti-Rohingya statement that urges townships to band together to “help solve” the “problem.”

Sectarian violence reignites across nine townships in Arakan/Rakhine State, displacing another 35,000 people, mostly Muslims. Human Rights Watch reports that the October attacks against Rohingya and Kaman Muslim communities were organised, incited and committed by local Arakanese political party operatives, the Buddhist monkhood and ordinary Arakanese, at times directly supported by state security forces. Rohingya men, women and children are killed, some buried in mass graves, and their villages and neighbourhoods are razed.

“First the soldiers told us, ‘Do not do anything, we will protect you, we will save you,’ so we trusted them,” a 25-year-old survivor told Human Rights Watch. “But later they broke that promise. The Arakanese beat and killed us very easily. The security did not protect us from them.”

ASEAN secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan says that the government of Myanmar has rejected an offer by ASEAN to open tripartite talks between ASEAN, the UN and the government aimed at quelling the violence in Arakan/Rakhine State.

The violence since June displaced at least 125,000 Rohingya and other Muslims, and a smaller number of Arakanese, to internally displaced persons (IDP) camps.

Rohingya people rest by the road with their belongings as they move from their village after violence in Sittwe, June 16, 2012. Credit: Reuters

Rohingya people rest by the road with their belongings as they move from their village after violence in Sittwe, June 16, 2012. Credit: Reuters

November 2012

Navi Pillay calls upon the government of Burma/Myanmar to review the 1982 Citizenship Law, which rendered Rohingya Muslims stateless, “to ensure that Rohingya have equal access to citizenship.”

The UN General Assembly adopts a resolution on the human rights situation in Burma/Myanmar, expressing concern about ongoing violations and calling upon the government “to address the continuing armed conflict in Kachin State and the outbreak of deadly violence in Rakhine State, and the discrimination and human rights violations affecting ethnic minorities, especially the Rohingya.”

The ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus releases a statement welcoming the November 26 General Assembly resolution and saying that the government’s refusal to recognise the Rohingya could exacerbate inter-communal tensions and the spread of violence.

Rohingya men accused of raping and killing a Buddhist woman. Buddhist nationalists respond by burning Rohingya homes, killing more than 280 people and displacing tens of thousands. Human Rights Watch characterised the anti-Rohingya violence as “crimes against humanity” carried out as part of a “campaign of ethnic cleansing.”

US President Barack Obama visits to offer “the hand of friendship” in return for more reforms. He urges reconciliation with the Rohingya minority.

Rioting between Rohingya and Rakhine Buddhists killed more than 100 people, mostly Rohingya. Tens of thousands of people were driven into Bangladesh. Nearly 150,000 were forced into camps in Rakhine.

January-February 2013

The army surrounds Laiza, the biggest town controlled by Kachin rebels. The government and rebels agree to disengage and start a political dialogue after China-sponsored talks.

A soldier from the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) puts on his shoes as he and his comrade cross a stream towards the front line in Laiza, Kachin state, January 29, 2013. Credit: Reuters/David Johnson

A soldier from the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) puts on his shoes as he and his comrade cross a stream towards the front line in Laiza, Kachin state, January 29, 2013. Credit: Reuters/David Johnson

March 2013

Inter-communal violence between Buddhists and Muslims engulfs the town of Meiktila and sweeps through several other regions, killing at least 40 and displacing another 12,000. President Thein Sein declares a state of emergency in Meiktila.

Satellite images obtained by Human Rights Watch from just five of the 13 townships that experienced violence since June 2012 show 27 unique zones of destruction. Images of affected areas in Sittwe, depicting destruction that occurred in June 2012, show 2,558 destroyed structures. Those from four of the nince townships that experienced violence in October show 2,304 destroyed structures. This partial picture of the violence means that at least 4,862 structures were destroyed in Arakan State since June, altogether covering 348 acres of mostly residential property.

The UN Human Rights Council adopts a resolution urging the government to ensure accountability for those responsible for violence in Arakan/Rakhine State, facilitate effective humanitarian assistance and end discrimination against Rohingya.

UN special papporteur on human rights in Myanmar expresses concern over the spread of violence between Muslim and Buddhist communities and calls upon the government to take immediate action to stop it from spreading. He says the government has not done enough to address the spread of discrimination and prejudice against Muslim communities.

A man in Meiktila, Myanmar, where Buddhists led a rampage through the Muslim quarter to avenge the death of a monk. Credit: Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters

A man in Meiktila, Myanmar, where Buddhists led a rampage through the Muslim quarter to avenge the death of a monk. Credit: Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters

April 2013

The EU lifts all sanctions against Burma/Myanmar with the exception of the arms embargo and the embargo on equipment which might be used for internal repression.

Human Rights Watch releases a report after an investigation into the role of the central government and local authorities during the June and October 2012 violence in Arakan/Rakhine State, finding that “the criminal acts committed against the Rohingya and Kaman Muslim communities in Arakan State beginning in June 2012 amount to crimes against humanity carried out as part of a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

The Rakhine State Conflicts Investigation Commission releases its report on the June and October 2012 sectarian violence, calling upon the government to increase humanitarian support to displacement camps and ensure that the human rights of all groups are protected.

May 2013

President Thein Sein visits Washington. President Obama praises Myanmar’s political and economic progress, but criticises violence against Rohingya Muslims. Six Muslims are jailed over the Meiktila clashes in March. No Buddhists are convicted.

Obama extends current US sanctions against Burma/Myanmar for one year, while lifting the 1996 visa ban.

Government authorities in Maungdaw district, Arakan/Rakhine State impose a two-child limit on Rohingya families.


Also read: What Role Can India Play to Resolve the Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis?


Anti-Muslim violence breaks out in Lashio, Shan state. Buddhist rioters destroy a mosque, orphanage and Muslim-owned businesses, displacing at least 1,400 Muslims.

UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar calls upon Myanmar’s central government to respond to the revival of the local order limiting Rohingya families to two children, saying the order “is a clear-cut human rights violation targeting a particular ethnic and religious group.”

June 2013

The EU adopts a resolution condemning the grave violations of human rights and the violence perpetrated against Rohingya Muslims and urging the government to ensure the protection of Rohingya and to authorise the establishment of a UN human rights office within the country to allow for adequate monitoring of the human rights situation.

The UN Human Rights Council expresses deep concern at the gross violations of human rights in Burma/Myanmar, in particular against Rohingya and other Muslims in Arakan/Rakhine State, urging the government to take immediate measure to end all acts of violence and to grant full citizenship rights to the Rohingya.

Buddhist monks meet at a Buddhist leaders’ conference in Yangon and propose an interfaith marriage law to impose restrictions on Buddhist women seeking to marry a Muslim man, including making it necessary to obtain permission from authorities and for the Muslim man to convert to Buddhism.

UN resident and humanitarian coordinator for Myanmar Ashok Nigam reports that 140,000 people remain displaced since the June and October 2012 violence in Arakan/Rakhine State which caused the death of 167 people and destroyed over 10,000 buildings.

A Muslim girl watches from the doorway of her home as soldiers walk by in Thapyuchai village, outside of Thandwe in the Rakhine state, October 2, 2013. Credit: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun/Files

A Muslim girl watches from the doorway of her home as soldiers walk by in Thapyuchai village, outside of Thandwe in the Rakhine state, October 2, 2013. Credit: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun/Files

Navi Pillay calls upon the government of Burma/Myanmar to tackle the continuing discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities.

Organisation for Islamic Coorperation secretary-general Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu urges the government of Burma/Myanmar to assume its responsibility to eradicate all incitement and discrimination against Muslims, including the law limiting Rohingya families to two children.

President Thein Sein announces the disbandment of the border security force, NaSaKa, which was long-accused of committing grave human rights violations against the Rohingya, including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrest and detention, and torture.

January 2014 

New waves of state-sponsored violence perpetrated against the Rohingya in Maungdaw and Sittwe (Rakhine’s State capital).

Government withdraws staff and medicine from the only state-run hospital for the Rohingya Thae Chaung refugee camp near Sittwe.

February 2014

President Thein Sein announced his support for a Bill to restrict interfaith marriage between Muslim men and Buddhist women.

Government expels the medical aid NGO Médecins Sans Frontières, effectively removing all available emergency and health care services in northern Rakhine State.

Thailand announces it has deported around 1,300 Rohingya refugees since November 2013 back to Burma/Myanmar.

UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar concludes his final visit to the country, raising concerns about the “campaigns to incite hatred against the Rohingya community,” the ongoing segregation of Muslim communities and impunity for perpetrators of anti-Muslims abuses and killings. Protesters complain about his sympathy to “Bengalis”, refusing to acknowledge Rohingya identity.

MSF releases statement about the fate of tens of thousands of patients currently under its care after the government of Burma/Myanmar orders MSF to cease all activities in the country.

March 2014

Rakhine nationalists attack foreign aid groups providing assistance to Rohingya communities.

Government Investigation Commission releases its final report on the events in Du Chee Yar Tan village, finding “no evidence” of deaths and dismissing all allegations that anti-Rohingya violence occurred.

UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar releases his final report, saying that there has been no “clear action at the State and Union level to address the widespread discrimination and human rights violations occurring” in Arakan/Rakhine State and that the pattern of “widespread and systematic human rights violations” committed against Rohingya, in particular since the June 2012 violence, may amount to crimes against humanity.

Buddhist groups begin two days of attacks on the offices and homes of international aid groups and UN agencies working in Sittwe, forcing over 120 international staff to temporarily flee the region.

A boat is framed by the ruins of a destroyed mosque in a part of Pauktaw township that was burned in recent violence, in this October 27, 2012 file picture. Credit: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun

A boat is framed by the ruins of a destroyed mosque in a part of Pauktaw township that was burned in recent violence, in this October 27, 2012 file picture. Credit: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun

The UN Human Rights Council unanimously adopts a resolution on “the human rights situation in Myanmar,” extending the mandate of the special rapporteur for one year, reiterating serious concern about the situation of the Rohingya and other minorities, and requests and independent investigation into all reported incidents of violence and abuses.

The ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) calls uponMyanmar’s legislators to vote down a proposed law that would place restrictions on interfaith marriage, calling the draft law “discriminatory” and “in direct conflict with international treaties on fundamental rights to liberty and religious beliefs.”

Myanmar begins conducting its first census since 1983 after announcing it will not recognise “Rohingya” as an ethnic group.

April 2014

Muslims prohibited from registering as ‘Rohingya’ in the country’s April 2014 census, the first to be held in three decades.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that humanitarian operations in Arakan/Rakhine State have been “severely affected” by the disruption of assistance following the Sittwe attacks.

UNFPA (now UN Population Fund) says the country’s census is nearly complete, with an estimated 90% of the population counted. Those excluded were the Rohingya in Arakan/Rakhine State and people in conflict areas controlled by the Kachin Independence Organization in Kachin state.

At least 22 people are killed in fighting between government troops and ethnic Kachin rebels in the north

May 2014

US extends some sanctions for another year, saying that despite the recent reforms, rights abuses and army influence on politics and the economy persist.

Queen Mary College of London research group writes to UK Prime Minister David Cameron: “State practice surrounding escalating violence and discrimination against the Rohingya reflects that observed in Rwanda, Germany and Bosnia in the periods preceding mass killing.”

June 2014

UNHCR says it is receiving increasing reports of abuse and exploitation of Rohingya and other Muslims who flee Myanmar by boat to escape persecution and violence in Arakan State, estimating that over 86,000 people have fled on boats since June 2012, including 55,000 during 2013 and 15,000 between January and April 2014.

UN deputy humanitarian affairs coordinator Kyung-wha Kang says that the current capacity of the humanitarian community in Arakan is “still less than 60 percent of previous levels,” since the March attacks on aid workers.

Three UN special rapporteurs on freedom of religion, minority issues, and the human rights situation in Myanmar call upon the government of Burma/Myanmar to discard a draft bill on “Religious Conversion,” warning that the bill may lead to discrimination against religious and ethnic minorities and “signals the risk of Myanmar going off-track on its path to being a responsible member of the international community that respects and protects human rights.”

APHR reportS that many Rohingya have died of preventable causes since the government banned MSF.

July 2014

In Mandalay, Muslim-owned shops, homes and a mosque were attacked, leaving two dead.

August 2014 

UNHCR reports that some 87,000 people, mostly Rohingya, fled from Arakan/Rakhine State by sea from the Bay of Bengal since the June 2012 outbreak of violence, during which at least 200 people died.

October 2014

UN special rapporteur on Myanmar addresses the UN General Assembly, warning against signs of backtracking on Burma/Myanmar’s reform process, including the “profoundly disturbing” situation in Arakan/Rakhine State, where “restrictions on freedom of movement severely affect basic rights such as access to health services, livelihoods, water, food and sanitation,” and “the long history of discrimination against the community that identifies themselves as Rohingya further compounds human rights violations.”

Parliamentary elections set for October-November 2015. Government announces release of 3,000 prisoners. Myanmar watchers say they include ex-military intelligence officers imprisoned along with former Prime Minister Khin Nyunt, who was freed in 2012.

November 2014

US President Obama tells press during East Asia Summit in Nay Pyi Taw that the US “would like to see a new plan that will allow the Rohingya to become citizens through a normal process without having to do that type of self-identification.”

UN General Assembly’s Third Committee adopts a resolution expressing serious concern about the situation of the Rohingya and calling upon the government of Burma/Myanmar to allow freedom of movement, grant equal access to full citizenship, and allow self-identification for the Rohingya.

 

January 2015

Rakhine National Party spokesperson declares in interview, “When the international community give them [Rohingya] a lot of food and a lot of donations, they will grow fat and become stronger, and they will become more violent.”

February 2015

Flare up in fighting with Kokang separatists in Shan State near the border with China leaves nearly 50 soldiers dead. Government puts Kokang region under temporary martial law.

Rebel soldiers of the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) examine weapons and ammunition at a military base in Kokang region in this March 10, 2015 file photo. Credit: Reuters/Stringer/Files

Rebel soldiers of the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA) examine weapons and ammunition at a military base in Kokang region in this March 10, 2015 file photo. Credit: Reuters/Stringer/Files

Government withdraws temporary voting rights from Muslim Rohingya ahead of proposed constitutional referendum, following street protests by Buddhists.

March 2015

UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar releases a statement following her visit, reporting on the “severe curtailment of the rights” of Muslim IDPs in detention, with “limited access to essential services.” She reiterates that the government should allow “equal access to full citizenship for the Rohingya minority.”

Myanmar invalidates the identification cards (“white cards”) held by many Rohingya, forcing them to apply for citizenship as “Bengalis,” suggesting their illegal migration from Bangladesh.

A draft ceasefire agreement is signed between the government and 16 rebel groups.

May 2015

Queen Mary University of London-based research group reports that 100,000 Muslims, formerly living in mixed communities, forced into squalid camps in an overcrowded and isolated detention complex on the outskirts of Sittwe. A further 4,250 Rohingya live a precarious existence in downtown Sittwe’s militarised ghetto, Aung Mingalar.

Hundreds of Muslim Rohingyas migrants leave by sea in flimsy boats, along with migrants from Bangladesh. UN criticizes failure of south-east Asian states to rescue them.

Rohingya people pass their time in a damaged shelter in Rohingya IDP camp outside Sittwe, Rakhine state on August 4, 2015. Credit: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun/Files

Rohingya people pass their time in a damaged shelter in Rohingya IDP camp outside Sittwe, Rakhine state on August 4, 2015. Credit: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun/Files

The UN high commissioner for refugees, International Organization for Migration and the UN special representative of the secretary general for international migration and development release a statement urging the leaders of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand to protect migrants and refugees stranded on vessels in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, to facilitate safe disembarkation and to give priority to saving lives, protecting rights and respecting human dignity.

Five UN special rapporteurs release a statement expressing alarm at the enactment of the Population Control Healthcare Bill, the first of four so-called “Protection of Race and Religion” bills, saying the bills “particularly discriminate against ethnic and religious minorities and have the potential to fuel existing tensions in the country.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu warns of a “slow genocide being committed against the Rohingya people.”

Oslo Conference to End Myanmar’s Persecution of Rohingya held.

July 2015

UN Human Rights Council adopts a resolution urging the government of Burma/Myanmar to grant the Rohingya citizenship and address the spread of discrimination and prejudice against Muslims.

October 2015  

UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar releases a report to the UN General Assembly, finding “no major improvement in the human rights concerns previously highlighted, in particular the long-standing and institutionalized discrimination against the Rohingya community.”

November 2015 

Burma/Myanmar holds its first general elections since 1990. The opposition NLD – led by Aung San Suu Kyi – wins enough seats in parliamentary elections to form a government.

February 2016 

The UNHCR reports that some 2,000 people, mostly Rohingya Muslims, died trying to cross the Bay of Bengal since 2012.

March 2016

Htin Kyaw sworn in as president, ushering in a “new era” as Suu Kyi’s democracy movement takes power after 50 years of military domination.

October 2016 

Police claim three border-guard posts were attacked by hundreds of Islamic militants, killing nine policemen. Police initially claimed the attackers had links to a group called the Rohingya Solidarity Organization, a militant group believed to have been defunct for decades. The area is declared a counterterrorism “operation zone.” Later, the government claimed the assailants were members of a jihadist group, Aqa Mul Mujahidin, led by a man who was trained by the Taliban in Pakistan. A few days later, while on a trip to India, Suu Kyi told the Hindustan Times, “That is just information from just one source, we can’t take it for granted that it’s absolutely correct.”

Internally displaced Rohingya women and children look from behind the fence of their temporary home at Thae Chaung IDP camp on the outskirts of Sittwe, February 15, 2015. Credit: Reuters/Minzayar

Internally displaced Rohingya women and children look from behind the fence of their temporary home at Thae Chaung IDP camp on the outskirts of Sittwe, February 15, 2015. Credit: Reuters/Minzayar

Troops deployed to the areas surrounding Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung towns in northern Arakan state. Within days of the lockdown, more than 800 Arakanese Buddhists arrived in the state capital Sittwe. More than 1,200 Muslims fled their villages and sought shelter in Buthidaung town. State media reports that Buddhists were being evacuated by helicopter citing safety concerns. New York Times reports that a dozen people may have been extrajudicially killed since the initial attacks.

Fiona MacGregor, a Scottish investigative journalist for the Myanmar Times, reports that rights groups had documented dozens of sexual-assault cases committed by Burmese security forces against Rohingya women in the operation zone. MacGregor is then fired for “damaging the good name of the paper.” Her editor, Douglas Long, is fired two weeks later for “undermining the mission of the paper” shortly after he spoke about the incident with a representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists.

November 2015

Arakan state police chief Colonel Sein Lwin says that local police would begin arming and training a civilian security force of non-Muslim residents. International Commission of Jurists has referred to it as “a recipe for disaster.” Reuters reports that the plan is already under way in the state capital Sittwe.

Burmese army opens fire with helicopters near villages in Maungdaw. The two days of ensuing violence displaced an estimated 15,000 people. Some observers have compared it to the “four cuts” strategy used throughout the decades to isolate the country’s myriad armed ethnic insurgent groups.

Burma’s state media introduced the True News Information Team of Defense Services, which singled out local and regional media outlets for publishing “fabrications” about casualties and damaged property. At least one local Muslim journalist has since been subjected to extreme online harassment, including death threats.

December 2015

US President Obama lifts sanctions against Myanmar, saying that the country had made strides in improving human rights. The move comes amid a crackdown on Rohingya and is criticised by some as premature.

August 2017

Rohingya insurgents attack 30 police stations, triggering a massive military response. Thousands of Rohingya flee from Rakhine state.

September 2017

Bangladesh initially deploys Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) with guns to turn refugees back. Hundreds die as they try to cross the Naf River, which runs along the border of Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Hamida with her baby's body. Credit: Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters

Hamida with her baby’s body. Credit: Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters

As images of dead children and sunken boats in Naf circulate, Bangladesh is set alight with protests demanding the refugees be allowed in. The government reverses stance and starts allowing Rohingya in.

As the crisis unravels at high speed, international community struggles to respond. The United Nations convenes emergency sessions, but China makes clear it will veto any resolution.

Suu Kyi dismisses reports of atrocities: “That kind of fake information … was simply the tip of a huge iceberg of misinformation calculated to create a lot of problems between different communities and with the aim of promoting the interest of the terrorists.

UN report indicates that 125,000 Rohingya have fled the country to Bangladesh on foot. A second UN reports that nearly 30,000 of the refugee Rohingya are trapped in the mountains of Rakhine State, not having any access to food or water.

UN states up to 300,000 Rohingya could flee violence in northwestern Myanmar to Bangladesh, warning of a funding shortfall for emergency food supplies for the refugees. Internal private estimates say final number will be 500,000.

Rohingya who made it to Bangladesh are reporting rapes, massacres and mass burning of men, women and children. Satellite images suggest the Rohingya villages have been burned to the ground.

Police stop left political party Gana Sanghati Andolan’s attempt to seize the UN’s office in Dhaka.

In the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Bangladesh’s indigenous Jumma community, themselves waging a three-decade long struggle for autonomy, fear reprisal attacks due to their Buddhist faith. The parallels with the 2012 Ramu attacks in Bangladesh worry Jumma activists.

UN rights chief accuses Myanmar of “textbook” ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims.

The Alal O Dulal Collective is a coalition of authors who have written on various issues in Bangladesh, including precarious workers in garments industry, stranded migrant labour in the Middle East and the struggles of indigenous Jumma Buddhist people in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.