Understanding the Rohingya Crisis and the Failure of Human Rights Norm in Myanmar: Possible Policy Responses

Date01 December 2019
DOI10.1177/0973598419862482
Published date01 December 2019
Subject MatterArticles
Article
1 Department of International Relations, University of Rajshahi, Bangladesh.
Corresponding author:
Md. Shariful Islam, Department of International Relations, South Asian University, Akbar
Bhawan Campus, Chanakyapuri, New Delhi, Delhi 110021, India.
E-mail: shariful_ruir@ru.ac.bd
Understanding
the Rohingya
Crisis and the
Failure of Human
Rights Norm
in Myanmar:
Possible Policy
Responses
Md. Shariful Islam1
Abstract
How can one understand the genealogy of the Rohingyas? How did the
Myanmar state frame the Rohingyas? What factors led to the failure of
the human rights norm in the case of the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar?
How can this crisis be addressed? This article investigates these ques-
tions and argues that Rohingyas were living in the Rakhine state of
Myanmar throughout centuries. They were dehumanized and system-
atically excluded by the government of Myanmar over a long time. The
article also argues that Myanmar state was not interested in complying
with the international norms of human rights in case of Rohingya crisis
due to the prevailing domestic structure of the country, lack of political
opportunities at the national, regional, and global levels, and the narrowly
defined national interests of the major powers. In this context, possibili-
ties need to be created to address the Rohingya crisis. Thus, the role of
the international community, including China, India, Russia, the United
Nations, and the European Union, becomes critical.
Jadavpur Journal of
International Relations
23(2) 158–178, 2019
2019 Jadavpur University
Reprints and permissions:
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DOI: 10.1177/0973598419862482
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Islam 159
Keywords
Rohingya crisis, genocide, Myanmar, human rights, norms
Introduction
‘Rohingya crisis’ or ‘Rohingya genocide’ has become a buzzword to the
policy world or academic community or civil society organizations
(CSOs) today. The violence against the Rohingyas started in June 2012,
and the recent crisis committed by the Myanmar military has been
identified as the ‘textbook case of Genocide’ by the United Nations (UN
News 2017). On August 28, 2018, in a Security Council meeting on
Myanmar, UN Secretary-General António Guterres contends that ‘The
massive refugee emergency that began one year ago in Rakhine State,
Myanmar, has become one of the world’s worst humanitarian and human
rights crises’ (United Nations 2018). According to the Bangladesh
foreign minister Abdul Momen, over 24,000 people were killed, 18,000
women raped, and 1,20,000 house destroyed, 1,15,000 houses were
burnt in Myanmar Rakhine state (Daily Star 2019b). Approximately
1,000,000 Rohingyas have taken shelter in neighboring Bangladesh.
Against the backdrop of such genocide, this article investigates: how can
one understand the genealogy of the Rohingyas? How did the government
of Myanmar project them? What factors led to the failure of human
rights norm in the case of the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar? How can this
crisis be addressed?
Before going to investigate the failure of the human rights norm, it is
pertinent to understand the theorization of norms first through looking at
scholarly literature. Norm is seen as ‘shared expectations about appropriate
behaviours in a given situation’ (cited in Hirsch 2015). Edna Ullmann-
Margalit contends that ‘a social norm is a prescribed guide for conduct or
action which is generally complied with by the members of a society’
(Ullmann-Margalit 2015: 12). Ann Florini maintains that ‘Norms govern
much state behavior’ (Florini 1996: 367). Gary Goertz and Paul F. Diehl
add that ‘norm means normative, that there are issues of justice and rights
of a moral or ethical character’ (1992: 638–639). At the same time, it is
also important to unpack human rights. As a human being, everyone is
entitled to have certain fundamental and inalienable rights acknowledged
by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 by the United
Nations. In the case of the Rohingyas, it was their human rights to live,
life, food, housing, health care, education, and social insurance, equality

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