Rohingya Crisis

This year, The International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights in Geneva welcomed Barbet Schroeder’s documentary The Venerable W.  Trough his work, he denounces human rights abuses towards the religious and ethnic minority in Myanmar, the Rohingya. Moreover, this community, according to the United Nations, is considered as the world most persecuted minority. Who are the Rohingyas and what is happening to them exactly? The International Centre for Peace and Human Rights have participated in many events hold in Geneva that concerned this issue and will attempt to clarify the situation of the Rohingya in Myanmar.


Rohingya is an ethnic group who has lived for centuries in Myanmar. Majority of them are Muslim. Currently, there are approximately 1.1 million Rohingyas in the Southeast Asia. This community has its own culture and language. Many other ethnic groups are well integrated in Myanmar, nevertheless Rohingyas are not considered belonging to the country. Consequently, the government has denied their citizenship since 1982, which leaves them stateless. It claims that they came with the British colony throughout the colonization period. In addition to that, the government considers the Muslim minority present in the country as illegitimate. Almost all of this community in Myanmar lives in the western coastal state of Rakhine and they are not allowed to leave the area without an official permission of the government. Besides, this state is one of the poorest parts of the county. Recurring persecutions and discriminatory laws against them force hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas to flee to neighboring countries either by land or by boat. [1] The crisis in Myanmar is not something recent. The persecution and the flight of Rohingyas to Bangladesh has started in the 1970s. However, according to the National Geographic, in the recent months, the crisis has intensified; at least 500’000 Rohingyas have fled to the neighboring country since August 2017. [2]

After the independence of Myanmar from the British in 1948, the new state passed the Union Citizenship Act, that defines which ethnicities could obtain the Burmese citizenship. According to a 2015 report  done by the International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School, the Rohingyas were not included. [3] After the military coup in 1962, the situation changed dramatically for them in the country. The laws were tightened and the government limited the access of many jobs and of educational opportunities to the Rohingyas. Twenty years later, the new citizenship law officially renders them stateless. As the result of this law, their fundamental rights have and continue to be restricted. “Since the 1970s, a number of crackdowns on the Rohingya in Rakhine State have forced hundreds of thousands to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh, as well as Malaysia, Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries. During such crackdowns, refugees have often reported rape, torture, arson and murder by Myanmar security forces.” [4] In 2013, Human Rights Watch, conducted a campaign in order to alert the international communities and the social society about the situation of the Rohingya in this part of the world.[5] Since then, the plight of this community is still not resolved, although many international and private actors seek to stop this human disaster.  

With his project The Venerable W., the director, Mr. Schroeder, plunges us into the Myanmar society mostly populated by Buddhist, a religion based on tolerance, pacifism and non-violent, where islamophobia and racist speeches reign. This documentary is a part of the “Trilogy of Evil” which began in 1974 with the self-portrait of the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin (General Idi Amin Dada: a Self Portrait) and the controversial lawyer Jacques Vergès (Terror’s Advocate) in 2007. All these projects have the same starting objective. They seek to understand the vision and the motivation of these men behind those atrocities. The director went to Mandalay, a region in Myanmar, to interview one of the initiator of the persecution of the Rohingya, the Buddhist monk Ashin Wirathu. He is also known as the leader of the nationalist movement 969 and the radical party Ma Ba Tha. The documentary focuses on the messages of the monk in order to understand one of the worst human crises happening in our century. Through his works, Mr. Schroeder desires to awake the conscience of the Western countries and the civil society about the situation in Myanmar. [6]

The Venerable W. consists of interviews of Wirathu and others members of the Sanga (community of monk), his outspoken speech, as well as some footage of burning houses, riots, beatings and killings since 1970. Through his hate speech, Wirathu propagates his xenophobic and bigoted ideas into the Myanmar society against a group that represents only a fraction of the local population. During decades, they have been persecuted by the monk’s followers and the military-controlled government which causes of hundreds of deaths, thousands of homes burned and tens thousands of Rohingyas displaced. Who is he exactly? He is a Buddhist monk and an anti-Muslim activist who campaigns with the aim of “purifying” his country.  According to the article of Jay Weissberg, a journalist of Variety, “[w]hat’s especially troubling for the director is that the monk’s dehumanizing sermons seem to run counter to everything we associate with Buddhism, the religion of peace and enlightenment. Yet Wirathu’s Buddhism is a nationalist, racist and bloodthirsty ideology, leading to Time magazine placing him on their July 1, 2013 cover with the headline, “The Face of Buddhist Terror.” ” [7] In this documentary, the public can see how Wirathu spreads fears of racial infiltration through noxious vocabulary that he uses to describe the Muslim minority people. He also claims that the Rohingya does not have any legitimacy in Myanmar nor citizenship, as what is written in the law. This documentary turns the light on of the ethnic cleansing of the Muslim minority present in the country. The international community has to take action to end this disaster. At the time Islamophobia is in constant rise around the world, this film reminds us that even the most peaceful religious doctrine can encourage to the worst atrocities. [8]

On the 5th December 2017, during the 27th special session on the human rights situation of the Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar, the Human Rights Council formulates his concerns about the humanitarian plight and the violation of fundamental rights in this part of the region. “[It] expressed grave concern at consistent allegations of widespread sexual violence, including rape and gang rape, and called for those allegations to be investigated, for those found responsible to be held to account, and for access by victims of human rights violations, including victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence, killings and other attacks, to long-term health services and psychosocial support to be ensured.” [9]

Furthermore, The Council also requested the High Commissioner for Human Rights to follow the progress concerning the situation of Rohingya people in the region. It had also planned an interactive dialogue, at the 38th, 41st and 44th sessions of the Human Rights Council, in order to reach a comprehensive solution of the crisis within three years through the full implementation of the present resolution and Council resolution 34/22. [10]

On the 12th March, the Human Rights Council held an interactive dialogue with Special Rapporteur and the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the situation of human rights in Myanmar. They both agreed to underline the fact that the situation in Myanmar is extremely alarming and they asked a full cooperation of the Myanmar government, which did not collaborate before according to the rapport of the Special Rapporteur (A/HRC/37/70)

Then, the Myanmar delegation took the floor. It claimed that the present democratic Government had been able to make progress in the peace process and in the establishment of democratic principles. It also underlined the fact that the government is still implanting a sustainable solution as defined by the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine state. However, the country has been struggling with terrorist attacks in the state, which delayed the progress in the region. The delegation also claimed: “Restoring law and order to provide security for all was necessitated, while the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army terrorist attacks and their instigation had impacted the population.  Daily lives and the future of all ethnic groups, including Rakhine, Daing-net, Mro, Thet, Mramagyi and people belonging to Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu faiths, had been adversely affected.  This had also led to the displacement of people internally within Rakhine state, and beyond the borders.” [11] It is essential to find a sustainable solution to end the perpetual violation of human rights in Myanmar. [12]

End of March, the 37th Session of the Human Right Council and the International Film Festival and Forum on Human Rights closed their doors. However, the persecution of minorities all over the world is still a reality that we have to take heed in order to bring a sustainable solution for them. Indeed, the atrocities will not stop without a full implication of the international community and the civil society.

By Milinda Wannakula Aratchilage

[1] AL JAZEERA. (2018, 5 February). Myanmar: Who are the Rohingya? Al Jazzera. [online]. available on : (accessed March 26, 2018)

[2] GIBBENS Sarah. (2017, 29 September). Myanmar’s Rohingya Are in Crisis – What You Need to Know. National Geographic. [online]. available on : (accessed March 26,2018)

[3] AL JAZEERA. (2018, 5 February). Myanmar: Who are the Rohingya? Al Jazzera. [online]. available on : (accessed March 26, 2018)

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] SCHROEDER Barbet. (2017, 7 June). The Venerable W. [Documentary]. Les films du Losenge.

[7] WEISSBERG Jay. (2017, 20 May). Cannes Film Review: “The Venerable W.”. Variety. [online]. available on: . (accessed March 20, 2018)

[8] Ibid.

[9] HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL OF THE UNITED NATIONS. (2017, 5 December). Council concludes twenty-seventh special session on the human rights situation of the Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar. Human Rights Council of the United Nations. [online]. available on : . (accessed March 20,2018)

[10] HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL OF THE UNITED NATIONS. (2018, 12 March). Human Rights Council discusses human rights situation in Myanmar. Human Rights Council of the United Nations. [online]. available on : . (accessed March 20, 2018)

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.