In the aftermath of attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army and subsequent military clearance operations, two competing narratives have emerged. One frames the attacks as a critical threat to national security and the majority cultural-religious status quo. The second focuses on the human cost of the clearance operations, particularly for the largely stateless Rohingya. In any interpretation, it is clear that the situation is a threat to regional stability moving forward, necessitating a coordinated political and humanitarian response. This Brief discusses how the situation has evolved and ways forward for positive change.
Attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army on Myanmar military and police posts and an intensive security-sector response in northern Rakhine State have resulted in widespread displacement, allegations of severe human rights abuses, and the evolution of a new humanitarian crisis.
The current crisis and the broader Rakhine conflict are interpreted and represented distinctly by different ethnic and political groups, both within Myanmar and on the international stage. This narrative divergence has had tangible negative impacts on prospects for peace.
The space for constructive international engagement with Myanmar authorities has greatly diminished in recent months, at a time when the need for inroads into collaborative conflict prevention is critical.
The diverse positions and grievances of communities affected by the conflict have not been adequately represented in national and international media and strategy; correcting this is a prerequisite to positive change.
The Rakhine State conflict has shifted fundamentally since the emergence of a new armed actor, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). The group staged two rounds of attacks on military and police posts in northern Rakhine, first in October 2016 and again in August 2017. These attacks and the ensuing military clearance operations have resulted in tragic loss of life, destruction of property, and internal displacement of civilians, among other consequences.
The recent violence is a culmination of decades of structural discrimination by the central government and military. These actors have dispossessed the Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine minority groups in distinct ways and increased competition and grievances. Following outbreaks of intercommunal violence in 2012, political and human rights have been further circumscribed.