ADVOCATE: Myanmar, Rohingya, and What ASEAN Can Do with U Shwe Maung


ADVOCATE: Myanmar, Rohingya, and What ASEAN Can Do with U Shwe Maung

You’re now listening to “Advocate” by APHR, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights.

Hello,  I’m Karina Tehusijarana, Media Manager of APHR. I’ll be your host for today and currently I’m with APHR Board Member U Shwe Maung. Thank you for joining us today.

Hi. You’re welcome. Thank you.

U Shwe Maung is a Rohingya rights activist and former politician who served as a member of parliament in Myanmar’s House of Representatives from 2011 to 2016. As well as being a board member of APHR, he is also a founding member of the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of religion or belief or IPP Forb, and serves as president of the Arakan Institute for Peace and Development.

Today, we will be talking about the five point consensus, the current situation in Myanmar, as well as the current situation facing the Rohingya in Myanmar, and the role of Myanmar MP’s, as well as Southeast Asian MP’s.

U Shwe Maung

Thank you. Before we get started talking about the situation in Myanmar and the situation of Rohingya. We would like to maybe get to know you a little bit better. So can you tell us about your background and how you first entered politics?

Thank you. By training I am a mechanical engineer and a software engineer. But by situation, I joined politics in 2010 because we had a nationwide demonstration in 1988. Then also I was one of the student leaders. I formed a student union and I tried to maintain peace and stability and peaceful coexistence among the Rohingya and Rakhine community. Rather than the demonstration of the Myanmar military regime. Because my mother was an eyewitness of 1942 violence against Rohingya. And before independence my mother always talked about those stories. Horrible story. So I always remember that.

So in 1988 I saw a lot of instability among the community. So some movements, especially Rakhine community people are leaving from the Buthidaung to situate. Because they were scared of some kind of situation. Probably they recall 1942 conflict or violence against our community.

So what I did is I formed a student union together with my Rakhine friends and Rohingya friends. So we really are, we really achieved it, you see. So actually I am the chairman of the student union. I governed the northern Rakhine state force for like four months. Everything was okay. Especially I focus on peaceful coexistence to avoid similar violence that happened in 1942.

Royal Indian Navy landing craft carry Indian troops along a tributary of the Kaladan river during follow up operations by the 14th Army.

To make a long story short, after the military coup in 1988. So there was an organization called the Rakhine Nationality Protection Committee in Maungdaw. They wrote a memorandum to the military hunter chief. Basically those memorandum was saying that they are just writing anti-Rohingya. Not to grant Rohingya citizenship and to restrict movement travel and to ban access to university. And then also to make travel bans from one township to another. And so many things.

So everything the SLORC, which was the State Law and Order Restoration Council formed in 1980, September 18, implemented and harassed prosecution and violence including forced labor against Rohingya. Everything, according to that memorandum. So I have a copy of that.

So from 1988 to 2010, the situation at Rohingya was horrible. The whole community became poor, helpless because of daily persecution. Whenever we talk about persecution against Rohingya, people always think of the Myanmar military and government. As a matter of fact, it was not true. Of course, Governments and their regimes are primarily responsible. At the same time, almost all local authorities are by Rakhine community, Muslims and Rohingyas are very limited.

My father was the last high ranking police officer in Myanmar police. After that my father retired in 1978. After that there was no recruit of any police officer. Just some ordinary police member. So then people are under a lot of human rights violations. Finally there was a crisis between both people. So people are fleeing their violence. So by that time there was a lot of international pressure in the region.

So probably this is one of the reasons the Myanmar military and its political association approached me and a few Rohingya activists or elders, including me, to join. To join and to participate in the 2010 election. So that we could raise our human rights concern to the government through the parliament officer. So what I thought. So whatever it is their intent by that time, since people are suffering a lot. So I decided to join. Although I didn’t believe them fully because we didn’t have any other option.

So it becomes like a sip of water in the middle of the desert. Especially for the Rohingya people for their daily persecution. Then I agreed to join that military backed party. Then I participated in the election. And then I was elected, especially my fellow Rohingyas who were in Buthidaung constituency, like 80% of voters are Rohingya. So they elected me. Although there was a kind of accusation across Myanmar.

I believe in democracy. I did my best to have a free and fair election.

So I was elected by the people. Then I suffered for my Rohingya people. From 2010 to 2016, January.

Joined the APHR

Thank you for that background. Could you also tell us about how you first joined APHR?

I think I joined APHR in 2013. So APHR Executive Director, Mr. Ismail Wolff came to Myanmar. Then he approached me and explained to me the mandate of APHR. So I was quite interested. Then I decided to join.

Ismail Wolff

Challenges in Myanmar’s Parliament

Thank you. As you mentioned, you were a member of parliament from 2011 to 2016. Could you tell us a little bit about what kind of challenges you faced at the time in Myanmar’s parliament?

From day one of my office, I faced criticism and attacks from members of parliament from the Rakhine community. Especially Dr. Aye Maung, who was chairman of the Rakhine Nationality Development Party, from day one. So he started attacking five Rohingya MPs. So there were five Rohingya MPs, including me. They said we should not be in the parliament. And then if we are in the parliament, the Arakan state will be separated. And there are so many nonsense accusations. And then it will be governed by the Muslim. It could be a muslim state. And then also he joined the 969 movement.

Dr. Aye Maung

Also he has a lot of followers who are extremists. So on social media and then by interviewing with the various local media and then international media, by print media. So they have started attacking me. And also they try to removed from the seats by complaining to the Union Election Commission. But they failed because there was no law by that time. So how to remove an elected member of parliament from the office? But they kept trying. They keep trying to make a problem. But finally, I was appointed by my party to have a local election in Maungdaw district inter party election

969 Movement Flag

The Maungdaw district means it includes three townships by that time. Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung. So I was like a district election commissioner. So although I was appointed, I did have a very free and fair election in 2012, May, if I remember correctly. It was in my constituency as well as in Maungdaw and Rathedaung. So mostly over there since Rohingyas are the majority.

Although Rohingyas are the majority in some villages, there are Rakhine majority. So from the Rohingya majority village the election winners are Rohingya. From the Rakhine majority villages the Rakhines are the winner. 

So by that time I have a lot of information that the Rakhine Nationality Development Party led by Dr. Aye Maung had a meeting in Sittwe. So they are quite upset and uncomfortable. Because according to some reports from my sources who have very close ties, the high ranking officers and party officials of RNDP. They told me that there was some kind of discussion about how to stop that election, and what I have been doing in my region. But finally they took advantage of an incident which happened in Ramree township regarding a drug. So still as of today is although twelve years now nobody know who raped her and who killed her.

A man walks through a burnt Rohingya village. ©ALJAZEERA

But however, the propaganda in the newspaper and then Rakhine politicians and all these Rakhine extremist activists. They are just accusing. They said that Rakhine girl was raped and killed by a Rohingya man. In fact it was not Rohingya. It was a local. So he is not a Rohingya. He’s just a Muslim in that area. 

But according to sources, what we received, that the accused, the murderer, he was suicide in prison. Also his wife conducted suicide in prison. And probably therefore nobody knew what was the reality. But by the excuse of that incident, the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party led by Dr. Aye Maung and their followers conducted an anti Rohingya movement. According to the term this is an Anti Bengali movement. So they started to create problems in Sittwe and also Maungdaw in other Rathedaung areas in June 2012.

Then the second episode of the violence was in October 2012. So because of that, you see we have as of today more than 120,000 IDPs are still outskirted in the Sittwe. So that’s how Dr. Aye Maung and his followers conspirated for this violence against the Rohingya. But people mostly understand that, so they want to be noted.

So these things are, although there was a police and soldiers, they were only left with a few police forces, a few military. Whenever they went to a village to do an assault and to set fire on Rohingya homes, only a couple of police force. Most of them are the Rakhine extremist youth with a long sword. So they set fire and then they kill the people.

So according to my interview with a lot of local people in my constituency, Sittwe and Maungdaw, after that violence. So they explained to me that they were mostly killed by those extremists. You see that long sword holder who is Rakhines. So also it means they are vigilantes. They are collaborators with the Myanmar police force.

When we talk about the Myanmar police force, one thing to be noted very importantly. In Rakhine state. So 99% of the police force are Rakhine ethnic people. Only a handful of police forces are of other ethnic from other states. So whether they receive orders from the Yangon or Naypyidaw, they themselves are well determined to conduct these kinds of crimes against humanity, atrocity against the Rohingya people. This was 2012.

Even after that, I received a lot of challenges in the parliament when I submitted proposal, questions. So based on my question, the Home Minister and Immigration Minister need to answer in the parliament that they always blame our Rohingya people. They are always highlighting that these Rohingyas are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

So this is why after the 2012 conflict, there was an international convention at the International Convention Center in Naypyidaw in September 2012. So there was a huge gathering together with all ambassadors, head of the UN Missions and most of the prominent international NGOs. But at that meeting, everybody was invited, Rohingya were not invited.

It’s a joke. They were talking about reconciliation and the social harmony between the community. But they invited only the Rakhine community and all government ministers, Vice President, Head of the mission in Myanmar, ambassadors and that’s all.

When I heard about that, I called the Border Affairs Ministry. I said, minister, how is it possible? So the government of Myanmar was doing a conference for reconciliation and social harmony. So how can it be one sided without my community? But finally I said, oh, what a mistake. So I will tell my director general to send 50 invitation cards. Finally I was able to bring 49 more Rohingya, my fellow Rohingyas activists together with me to attend that meeting. Otherwise we’ll never know.

Even in that meeting, the Director General of Immigration was always talking about illegal immigration during the world war, during the colonial period and then blah blah blah. Also, he mentioned that after the colonial period that a million people left, from Myanmar to India. But he mixed up the general colonial system and Rakhine state.

In Rakhine state or Arakan state, we Rohingyas are indigenous people. We never migrate from anywhere. The Arakan state’s official name is Rakhine, but we changed it. He said. Politically it’s Arakan. The Arakan states belong to the Rohingya, Rakhine, and other indigenous people. So we never migrated from anywhere.

In Rakhine state or Arakan state, we Rohingyas are indigenous people. We never migrate from anywhere. The Arakan state’s official name is Rakhine, but we changed it. He said. Politically it’s Arakan. The Arakan states belong to the Rohingya, Rakhine, and other indigenous people. So we never migrated from anywhere.

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But however politically, they always play divided rule policy, and always accuse us blatantly. So for that I also raise my voice over there, which is not true. Even before the 2012 violence, the Home Minister and Immigration Minister even accused our people as if they were illegal immigrants.

This is why finally some extremist people get a chance to create more hate speech against the Rohingya. So when I raised that issue, from that day on, I became a full fledged enemy of the Myanmar quasi civilian government as well as the USDB party. Since then, they have been trying to remove me from the office. But they cannot do that. They are telling me to go under the scrutiny of immigration again if I am a citizen. I said, hey, why? I was already scrutinized by your good office.

In the 2010 election, I was elected officially from the clearance of immigration. Why again I need to go. It is illegal. It’s not including the law. Then I was quite aggressive. And then I stand with my because I am very confrontational because my fathers, my ancestors, everybody were indigenous people of the land. So I didn’t have any concern, any worry. So I kept doing it. But however, when we had another time, the 2015 election, the Election Commission did not allow me to run again from my office.

Even before that, in 2014, November 14, there was a visit by US President Barack Obama. I was invited on behalf of the Rohingya community. On that day in the Myanmar parliament, there was an important proposal. The proposal said there was no Rohingya in Myanmar. And except me, because I was absent on that day as I had a meeting with President Obama, So almost all parliamentarians, 99% of the parliament, voted for that resolution. The resolution was that there were no Rohingya in Myanmar.

President Barack Obama walks towards Air Force One past honor guards and a group of representatives from Burmese ethnic groups before departing from Naypyitaw International Airport in Burma. November 14, 2014. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

But when I went to the office the next day, I was quite shocked. On the same day, November 14, 2014, I was having a meeting with President Obama. But since then I have again become a target of Myanmar, not only the government, but also the Myanmar police department.

But in that situation also there was another problem of Duchiradan fire. The Myanmar foreign minister accused the Rohingya people of setting fire to their own villages. I told that it was not true. Villagers told me that that village was under fire, the fire was set under the supervision of border police in Maungdaw. So when I talk to the media like that and the President thinks in, send an arrest warrant for me to the speaker of the parliament. But I was able to convince the speaker of the parliament not to sign an arrest warrant for the voice of an MP.

So I requested the speaker of the parliament. Sir, if you endorse the arrest warrant, this will be a very ugly history of Myanmar democracy. Because of the voice of an MP on behalf of his constituents. So if an MP is sent to jail and then hanged to the death, that would be a very ugly history. So I know you are a very good speaker. We are trying to build genuine democracy in our country. So I talk. I am an officially elected member of parliament. I have the right to talk on behalf of people, what people told me.

But without doing any proper investigation, how come President Thein Sein sent an arrest warrant blindly for me, which is not fair and which is not legal. Then in front of me, the speaker of parliament called President Thein Sein. He said, Mister president, my representative was accusing you of not conducting any proper investigation. Then you are accusing a member of parliament that he did defame the Myanmar police force. In fact, my father was a police officer. I didn’t have any intention to defame, but to highlight the truth. As foreign minister accused that villager Rohingya themselves set fire, which is a make believe story. I said that was not true. Then finally, President Thein Sein was not able to arrest me. 

President Thein Sein (Photo: International Rice Research Institute)

After that, In September 2015, I came together with the APHR mission to have advocacy with the US Congress State Department. And since then, I interviewed with the Voice of America primary section. So I simply told them that the Myanmar election in 2015 would be unfree and unfair. Because the Myanmar government disenfranchised a million Rohingya people. Because of my death statement to the VoA interview, President tension released another arrest warrant to arrest me upon my return to Myanmar.

So finally, because of that, I remain in the USA. Then I decided to remain in the USA until the situation becomes normal. But as of today, it’s not normal. Even the worst in history. This is why I’m here today in the USA. This is my brief, the story of my parliamentary period from 2010 to 2016.

Five Point Consensus

Thank you very much for sharing your experience. As you mentioned, in 2010-2011, there was a period of an attempt of democratization in Myanmar. And then there was the formation, as you called it, the quasi civilian government, which was nevertheless very flawed, especially in its treatment of Rohingya, as you have shared. But of course, as you know, in February 2011, the Myanmar military junta attempted to stage a coup to take over the government and overthrow the civilian parts of the government. And shortly after, in April 2021, ASEAN signed the Five Point consensus, which was supposed to lead to a peaceful resolution of that conflict. Can you share with us what your view of the current situation in Myanmar is and how you view ASEAN’s role as of now?

After the military coup in 2021, the situation of our country was the worst in the history before. In 2012 and 2017, Myanmar military conducted mass atrocities against humanity only against the Rohingya. By that time, nobody was able to sympathize with us. So as a truth, if I need to tell you, I am one versus 50 million. I am the only person officially in the parliament and the whole Myanmar who was talking about this was a violation of my right.

These atrocities, violent prosecutions were happening against the Rohingya conducted by Myanmar military police and other vigilantes in Sittwe, Mrauk-U, Buthidaung, Maungdaw and the whole Arakan state. But nobody believes us.

But when there was a military coup in February 2021, these same military did the same thing. Even in some areas worse than in the Rohingya, what they did against Rohingya. So I must say there are now 50 million people in Myanmar, except the supporters of the Myanmar military and blah blah. Yes, there’s always the system. But almost all Myanmar population are under the persecution and daily violence of the Myanmar military.

So regarding this Five Point Consensus, when I heard about the Five Point Consensus from the day one, it came to my mind that it could be a total failure. Because I know this Myanmar military junta very well. They are world class liars. They never keep their promise. They are always named seekers.

The reason why the Myanmar junta signed the Five Point Consensus is just to get support from ASEAN. That’s all. So Min Aung Hlaing, he doesn’t have any political willingness to have a Federal Democratic Union of Myanmar.

Myanmar military Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing (L) participates in a parade during the 77th Armed Forces Day in Naypyidaw, Myanmar, 27 March 2022.  EPA-EFE/NYEIN CHAN NAING

Although they have been telling all the time through the newspaper and TV, it was a skyful of lies. It’s not true. Their ultimate goal is in their mind, the military must be forever the ruler of Myanmar. This was in their mind. It was painted in their mind. Nobody can remove them. But sometimes politically they said several things. But I never believed them.

So to make a long story short. So this Five Point Consensus is now we can see very clearly it is a total failure. Because the junta doesn’t have political willingness. Even that junta led by Min Aung Hlaing. They become, you say, terrorists. They are terrorizing the whole population. Initially Rohingya, now the whole population of Myanmar. And they will still persecute everywhere. Killing, attacking and war crime. So in my view, these Five Point Consensus is no more meaningful. It’s a total failure. They don’t have any willingness to implement. It will never happen.

ASEAN Five Point Consensus

What Should ASEAN and the International Community Do?

Given that, your view on the five point consensus. What do you think that ASEAN and maybe the rest of the international community should do instead? About the situation in Myanmar?

Thank you. It’s a very good question.

APHR is the first human rights organization which raised concern for potential genocide of Northern Arakan, for the events of Buthidaung. After that the US government and some European Union and other countries. Even though as of now, as a human organization, Only APHR, not any other human rights organization are raising their voice for the Rohingya, I mean the genuine voice for a lack of potential genocide.

I personally believe that APHR statements, especially our APHR chairperson Mercy comments, hit some kind of level to the US State Department. So I share with them. Also, I submitted a lot of reports to the US State Department. So probably this is a kind of document which could be referred to very concretely and as an evidence. So Thanks again APHR for taking first place to raise concern for the potential genocide against Rohingya.

I was thinking for a long time. What should ASEAN do? I am very familiar with the ASEAN Charter. Which is very inappropriate and illogical. This is the most illogical charter in the world.

So first of all, ASEAN needs to amend their charter. Especially they need to remove the non interference policy. If they don’t interfere, what is the purpose of it? There will always be good interference and bad interference. You should interfere for the betterment of humanity.

If you fail to interfere or intervene in the human rights violation, you are against humanity. There’s no way. So if ASEAN wants to promote human rights. If ASEAN member states want to have a peaceful region, sustainable development in the region and human rights violations, a free region. First of all, they need to amend and remove that non interference policy.

And secondly, especially in this situation in Myanmar. ASEAN should think to set up a peacekeeping mission. Even force is not possible. A peacekeeping mission. Because every block in the world has the right to do that. NATO is a block they have been doing for the security and stability of their region. Also, we have the Quad block.

ASEAN is one of the important blocks on this planet. Also it plays a great role for the peace and stability and security of the region. So ASEAN member states must call a meeting, an emergency meeting. And it is very important to set up a peacekeeping mission to intervene in Myanmar.

Because the Myanmar military junta is no more valid. They lose the majority of their land. Most of the lands are controlled by the revolutionary forces. Especially those led by people defense forces in ERO. Under the guidance of the National Unity Government

ASEAN members should recognize NUG as a legitimate government of Myanmar. But so far I can see only East Timor is recognizing NUG. No other country. So still they are just dancing with Min Aung Hlaing on international events. It’s a shame for the ASEAN association as well as member states.

So they should have a clear that it is not only Myanmar, but by taking advantage of the situation in Myanmar.

If ASEAN wants to implement or to end persecution and violence against 50 million people, including Rohingya, they must intervene with their power. We have examples of intervention in the case of Cambodia by the Malaysian military. That is for the betterment of humanity. It was okay. Also in East Timor we have some kind of intervention.

So I think that is the only solution now. Otherwise Myanmar military junta leader, he will not listen to anyone on this planet. So that is what ASEAN should do. If ASEAN really wants to help and end violence against Myanmar people and also for the crisis of Rohingya.


Thank you very much, U Shwe Maung. As you have spoken about, the Rohingya people in Myanmar have faced persecution and violence for years now. I mean like decades. But of course, more recently there has again been an escalation of violence, as you know, against Rohingya in Rakhine state. Last month there were reports of violence in your home township of Buthidaung. And then more recently it has also spread to Maungdaw. Could you maybe tell us a little bit about what’s going on right now there?

Yeah, so let me start with my township. Now. Buthidaung has more than 200,000 of, I will not use the term IDP, they are not Internally Displaced Persons, they are FDP, Forcibly Displaced Persons by the Arakan Army in 2012 and 2017. Myanmar military soldiers, security forces, police forces and some extreme Rakhine youths. They jointly committed this crime against humanity, violences, persecution, atrocity.

But in 2024, although the Arakan Army was outcrying that they are fighting for freedom, fighting against the Myanmar military junta, that is true, I don’t deny. But at the same time, they are also trying to accomplish their unfinished business in terms of the Rohingya, Myanmar military junta and Arakan Army having the same thought.

As I mentioned earlier, the youth, the people, the fighters, vigilantes, who were involved with Myanmar military soldiers in 2012 and 2017. Today they are active forces of the Arakan Army. I have reported several times to Myanmar, but nobody cared.

So being an elected member of parliament from Buthidaung, I reach everywhere. I interview a lot of people. So this is the gentleman. Also, I reminded Arakan Army high ranking officials to be very careful with the recruits in the Northern Rakhine state. Because in northern Rakhine state, majority of Arakan Army forces are the companion and collaborators with Myanmar military police during the genocide and the violence in 2012 and 2017.

But they didn’t listen to me. But this is why this thing is happening. Although they have been raising their voice. That fight was against Myanmar, the southern part of Rakhine state, that’s true, but not for the case of Buthidaung. Maungdaw is also situated because they have two missions. First mission is to occupy the Northern Rakhine state, also to defeat the Myanmar military. Their second mission is to drive out the Rohingya, from the town to the remote area.

So their ultimate policies, they will kill less people. They will create such a situation so that Rohingya will lift themselves with the fear and persecution that the Arakan Army has done. This is their plan. Even a couple of years ago, the elder brother of Arakan Army chief Tun Myat Naing, said through a video, we have a record for them. I watched that video several times.  So that is exactly the policy that they implemented in my hometown, Buthidaung township.

On the eve of 17 May 2024. So they started this thing. But when I was talking about a month ago, I had some kind of difficulty because. Because of the Internet outage, telephone lines are not clear. It’s very difficult for us to verify. But today is very clear. A lot of eyewitnesses have now reached the jungle. 

Recently I interviewed five eyewitnesses of Buthidaung violence against Rohingya. So they told me very clearly. Now I will start telling you the situation, what the eyewitness told me on the evening of the 17 May. So a lot of people approached some Arakan Army outposts to the south of the Buthidaung, near the Ba Gone Nar bridge.

He said, what shall we do now? He said, you are too late announcing with the loudspeaker. He said to leave the people by 10:00 a.m. on May 18. But now the situation is so bad. A lot of people are now killed. A lot of arson attacks. All the arson attacks, killing drone attacks are committed by the Arakan Army. Nobody else.

AA Brig-Gen Tun Myat Naing attends the ethnic armed organizations’ peace conference in Kachin State in July 2016.  / Hein Htet / The Irrawaddy

Because according to eyewitnesses by that time, with the telephone call as well as eyewitness statement by the 15 May, there were no single Myanmar military soldiers in Buthidaung town. Even you say the airplane attack. Airplane attacks are in Sittwe and Maungdaw, that’s how we know the truth because people never lied to us. Everybody knows that.

But in Buthidaung, there was no single issue of the bombing because they didn’t do that. I don’t know why they didn’t do that. Because if there was a shell. People are very familiar. One of the eyewitnesses told me that they recognize the shell as the Arakan Army shell. Heavy artillery or Myanmar military. Because Myanmar militaries are stationed western part of the city. The Arakan Army stationed the southern part and eastern part of the Buddha town. Even they recognize the sound of gunshot, is the gunshot of the Myanmar military or Arakan Army.

It has been fighting. Fighting was not only in May, it has been happening like two years ago. They are very familiar. So they are very quite sure. All eyewitnesses consistently told me that they are quite sure. Even during the day of 17 May, they started drone attacks on the hospital where a lot of Rohingya forcibly displaced persons. I am not using IDP, they are FDP, forcibly displaced persons caused by the Arakan Army. They are temporarily refuged Buthidaung township hospital and high school.

The Arakan Army launched with heavy weapons from Buthidaung south and east where they were stationed. If there was an attack from the Myanmar military. Because we know our Rohingya people also don’t believe Myanmar military, whenever they attack previously, the shells or weapons come from the eastern side or from the western side. So direction is different.

On 17 May, all the directions of the heavy artillery were from the south and east. It means the place on the east side of Mayu river. And the people called me on that day from the villagers, and also Ka Kyet Bet, which is the border of Ka Kyet Bet village and Buthidaung South. They started. It means they are threatening the people. They are threatening the people.

Before the sunset of 16-17 May, some elders approached the Arakan Army at the bridge. They said, is it possible for us to leave, not to wait until the 18 may. Let us leave by now to a safe place where we should go. He said no. He said not allowed to leave. Even during the night of the 17 May or the 18 may. You all are allowed to leave only at 06:00 a.m. of 18. Maybe by that time they are confused.

Arakan Army Flag

My eyewitness number five is a very intelligent man. He has some kind of suspect. The way the Arakan Army soldiers explain to them not to leave the whole night is very risky. If somebody tries to leave the house, they say they will be shot dead. That is very clear. I have a statement from them. So I will share this statement with the US government and EU, the European Union, of course, with APHR, with all stakeholders. Because by that time, we didn’t get a chance to get those eyewitness statements.

And then people are waiting, waiting for the sunrise so that they can leave. But at the same time, the Arakan Army was telling them that they sent the release and noticed it in a timely manner. Because they didn’t leave. They accused that all arson attacks and killings were committed by the Myanmar soldiers. Which is an absolute lie. It’s not true.

Then on the 17 May, starting from 09:00 a.m. according to all my five eyewitnesses, they consistently told me that the Arakan Army entered block by block. If there are four Arakan Army soldiers, a group, some group, they have ten soldiers or ten forces. Five of them have guns. It’s a gun like the AK 47. Other five have a fire stick with the kerosene, with the clothes and at the end of the stick, this kerosene. And then with the fire, they are set on fire.

I asked my witness, did you see if they set fire to your houses? He said, I saw with my own eyes, how can I make fire? This is why I left home. So I asked him, are you sure the person who set the fire was the Arakan Army? He said, Sir, it’s not Myanmar. I asked him, how do you know that? He explained to me that I saw their badge here. Arakan Army badge, also Arakan Army Logo, also speak Rakhine language.

Myanmar soldiers never speak Rakhine. They are not fluent in Rakhine. But the Arakan Army, they never speak in Burmese. Because they are very chauvinist. They mostly speak their Rakhine language. They know them very well. They are 100% sure.

So to make a long story short, all of my five witnesses are very consistent. Starting from that, they do assault attacks and people are leaving. Then they are also shooting who are leaving their home. They are killing also. Whenever people try to take pictures, they shoot them. Because they know when the people took the pictures, it may reach the outside world. They’re trying to destroy evidence which is also a violation of ICJ provisional measures.

And then also my own sister, my own sister in law who is living at my home, they are forced to leave. My house was set on fire. Also my aunt, a lot of my relatives, my friends, almost everyone, they are forced to leave. And then they are told to leave the town immediately. Then they set fire.

Also they confirm there was no single Hindu’s house burned. Although they are doing propaganda. They say even there were no 1,600 Hindu families. I know. I am a member of parliament from my constitution. All of the hindu people live in my ward too. They are very peaceful people. They are very friendly to the Rohingya. Rohingya never provoked them. We never have any problems. They are just trying to get the attention of the media, probably by the government of India. Because recently the government of India and the Arakan Army have had some kind of relationship. Yeah, I read some media.

Rajya Sabha member K. Vanlalvena meeting with the Arakan Army. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Probably for that reason. Arakan Army Chief Tun Myat Naing himself shared this nonsense article of the hostage of 1,600 Hindu family and Buddhist families. It was not true. Even there were no 5,000 Rakhine houses. Because I am a member of parliament for the Buthidaung. There were no 5,000 Rakhine in the downtown. There were only a few houses. My eyewitness told me that not more than 500 maximum. But most of them are Rohingyas.

On the night of the 17 May and night of the 18 May they set fire to the whole town. Also they forcibly deported all the people. Southern part of the Buthidaung which is at the mouth of Bay of Bengal. This is their policy. So they could leave. This is why a lot of people have already left for Maungdaw. A lot of people left for Sittwe. According to my source, now more than 1,000 families are in Ramree. It means they are kind of implemented. Implementing unfinished business of mayonnaise as well as unfinished business of the Arakan Army to annihilate Rohingya from the town as well as from the area. And the same thing they are implementing now in Maungdaw.

Same thing they are doing. They are shooting. They are killing. As of now according to my report, more than two dozen innocent Rohingya civilians are killed by their heavy weapon and drone attack. Maung Hna village of Maungdaw. And then in Aye Tar Li Yar village of Maungdaw there were no Myanmar military forces. Only civilian people.

Myanmar military and police are four miles away from Maungdaw Town. The eastern side of Maungdaw Town. There was a border police battalion fighting around that area. There was no reason for the Arakan Army to launch heavy artillery into the Maungdaw town. So you can ask me why they are doing they are doing. They are implementing their plan.

According to a secret report, they have a plan to create Buthidaung and Maungdaw Rohingya-Free City. And then they will bring the Rakhine people from other areas. So Maungdaw and Buthidaung became a Rakhine majority area. So we can conclude that this is a kind of annihilation of Rohingya.

And then also it is another method of genocide. Genocide without killing a lot of people. Genocide not necessarily required to kill everyone. If there was nobody on the land of, soil of Arakan that is genocide according to Genocide Prevention Convention. So they are doing the same thing they have already done in Maungdaw North and Maungdaw South. So they always force all villagers to leave. Even they are not allowed.

There was no fighting between the Myanmar military and Arakan Army. Even those villages are not allowed to return their villages in Maungdaw north and south. Therefore they sought refuge in the Maungdaw town. So when they are attacking Maungdaw town, they are attacking the whole population of Maungdaw township.

So they are not allowed to go back to their villages and home. Even if they are supposed to leave Maungdaw Town, where will they go? Bangladesh government to close their border. I wrote in my tweet, there was nowhere except jumping into the Naf river. If they jump under the Naf river, there was no other thing except you see dying in the river because Bangladesh crossed the border. Even somebody was swimming in the Naf river. Also Myanmar military, of course Myanmar military jet fighters bombed. They bombed some of the Rohingya villagers because the Arakan Army was never stationed in Rakhine villages.

Naf River. Photo by Shahnoor Habib

So one thing we learned in Buthidaung and Maungdaw, although Rohingyas are the majority, there’s also some Rakhine and others. Because in 2012-2017, a lot of people left even though the majority said they were Rohingya. But in Maungdaw also some are Rakhine, some villages are in Rakhine.

The Arakan Army never made a launchpad in the Rakhine village. They always make a launchpad for the Rohingya village. This is why Myanmar military bomb is to that area. In this time, all this began. Rohingyas is not target of Myanmar military in this only. But Rohingyas are their main target in 2012 and 2017. That is true, but not at this time. Because at this time they are struggling. They are fighting against the Arakan Army, so they are more focused on the Arakan Army. However, both are against the Rohingya. Nobody has sympathy. No Myanmar military or Arakan Army has sympathy.

If the Rohingya are killed by any attack by the Arakan Army or Myanmar military, they don’t care. So there is the situation in Maungdaw. But also I could foresee a similar situation in Sittwe. As per the statement of the Arakan Army and the recent press conference made by a spokesperson of the Arakan Army, they will do the same thing in Sittwe.

Also in Sittwe, the Rohingya population, Buthidaung and Maungdaw, are creating Forcibly Displaced Person when people need to leave the rural area. But now the problem is I received several calls from my constituency in Buthidaung. They said last week they told me that they have only a little food left only for a couple of days. By now, probably they may have died.

Because for the last three days, I didn’t receive any. Any call. Probably my own sister, probably my own relative, probably my own niece and sister in law. They could have died now because they don’t have food. So the Arakan Army says, we have requested the international community. International community didn’t send the Russian. Therefore they died.

But there is no excuse that because of the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army, the Myanmar military did not force Rohingya out of the town. They fight with the Arakan Army. The Arakan army is responsible for creating this FDP. So if these people are dying from starvation, the Arakan Army is fully responsible. International community must make the Arakan Army responsible, accountable for that. This is the situation.

But in Rangoon, we have a lot of Rohingya. But we have three kind of, actually four different situations. Buthidaung is now the worst. Maungdaw is almost approaching the situation of Buthidaung. After that, Sittwe will become the same thing. I hope it does not happen. But also I request the international community to prevent those kinds of atrocities.

But in Rangoon, who are originally living there and who have already reached there, are still at a safe place. Because the Myanmar military government is not doing anything against the Rohingya living in Yangon and other areas. But, all of their relatives, their own parents, siblings in those townships Sittwe, Buthidaung, and Maungdaw, they’re suffering. So suffering is the same.

What can ASEAN do?

Thank you very much, U Shwe Maung, for giving us that detailed explanation of what is going on in Rakhine state against the Rohingya and between the Arakan Army and also the Myanmar military junta, as you mentioned. Of course, this kind of violence has created many forcibly displaced persons. And a lot of these forcibly displaced rohingya have also been forced to seek refuge in neighboring countries such as Bangladesh. From there, thousands of rohingya have also, due to the desperate conditions that they face, put themselves in the hands of human smugglers. Sometimes to seek a better life in other countries by getting on boats that are very unsafe in countries like trying to reach countries like Malaysia. But then they get stranded and some have been stranded in Indonesian waters, for example. And this has been happening over the years, as you mentioned, 2012, 2017. And also more recently, there have been a few boats that have become stranded. Again, how do you see the situation? And how do you think that ASEAN and ASEAN member states should respond to this refugee crisis?

I must say it is very crucial now for the ASEAN as well as the international community to prevent mass atrocities and violence and persecution against Rohingya. According to pillar three of the Responsibility to Protect. Because the Myanmar military junta is, although it’s a defective government, still it was a government. So the Myanmar military junta is clearly failing to protect the Rohingya. On top of that, the Rohingya were under the persecution and genocide in 2012 and 2017 at this time by the Arakan Army.

So it is very important for the international community, especially the United Nations Security Council, to implement pillar three. The pillar three clearly mentioned if a state failed to protect its own people, it becomes responsible to the international community.

So instead of doing that, if we keep waiting, that will be the ugly history of our period. So at the same time, ASEAN also should cooperate or initiate sending or creating a peacekeeping postal mission. In collaboration with the United Nations General Assembly, United Nations Security Council, in close cooperation with regional stakeholders, including Bangladesh, to create a safe place or a safe zone for the Rohingya. So that Rohingya people could live peacefully, peacefully side by side with other communities on their homeland forever.

Otherwise, we will not be able to. Nobody will be able to end this thing. So there will be a question. But to implement pillar three of R2P. that the United Nations Security Council must approve it. Suppose if it is approved by the UN Security Council, it is very highly likely that either China or Russia will be too. We know that. So even in that situation we should not give up. 

And in that situation, I would like to request the international community, especially NATO led by the United States government in cooperation with ASEAN and regional stakeholders and close cooperation with the prime minister of Bangladesh who initiated and proposed the General assembly for a safe zone for Rohingya.

So the US government, especially NATO, is led by the US government. Because NATO is, I understand it is their primary responsibility for the peace and security of 30 countries in the NATO region. But however, this Rohingya issue has become not only a regional issue, but also a global issue. All donor countries, including the EU, are tired of supporting the Rohingya. They are tired of tackling this issue. So this is not only regional for me, this is also global.

So therefore, my last call to end this crisis is regionally and then globally. If the UN Security Council fails or is unable because of a veto from China or Russia, NATO must take initiative under the leadership of the US government and in the cooperation of ASEAN.

Also, I would like to request ASEAN to cooperate with either UN Security Council resolution or the United States government initiative. This is, in my opinion, the only solution. Otherwise Rohingya will face a full fledged genocide. Like Rwanda, like Cambodia. We should not wait for such a situation to happen.

We need to prevent this potential, very highly likely genocide of the Rohingya. So at the same time, I’m not talking about the Rohingya. When the international community will intervene for the Rohingya, at the same time they can implement or as a peacekeeping mission for the 50 million people of Myanmar. Out of 50 million people, their highest risk is now for the Rohingya, because others have only one enemy. Only Myanmar military junta. Myanmar military junta as well as the Arakan Army. So this is why this is the only option or only endeavor I could see to end the Rohingya crisis.

The Role of MPs and Regional Solidarity

Thank you very much, U Shwe Maung. Maybe just for the last question for this podcast. As you know, since the coup in 2021, many Myanmar members of parliament are now in exile. What do you think that Myanmar MP’s in exile can do? To what role can they play to help bring about a resolution to both the Rohingya situation as well as the Myanmar conflict as a whole? And what do you think other MP’s from other Southeast Asian countries can do in solidarity with the Myanmar people?

That is a very good question. Actually, we APHR, are also an association of members of parliament. It’s also a kind of solidarity, although I understand it’s incomplete or not perfect. So we need a perfect one. So it would create a perfect task force incorporating the main major, the parliamentarian from all ASEAN countries, let’s say United Parliamentarian for Ending Human Rights Persecution Task force. 

So if we could do that, if APHR could initiate that, it would be good. But I understand it is very challenging. This is one part of the solidarity, because relatively speaking, in every country, members of parliament’s voices are relatively stronger than any other individual or human rights organization. Most of the governments listen to, not only respected members of parliament, but also regional parliamentarians.

So this is why the task force was made by the regional lawmakers from ASEAN member states. So that will help a lot to promote peace and stability and to end violence and persecution in the region. So regarding Myanmar MPs who are in exile, I also, I have great sympathy for that. Because I was an exile MP, I was even worse than their situation. I was forced, by violation of law in 2015, then I have been staying in the US. But after that, our fellow member of parliament became our MP’s in exile. But they are doing a very good job to create a future Federal Democratic Union in cooperation with the National Unity Consultative Council and National Unity Government. They play a great role.

And also at the same time so they have some kind of thing. I have been also advocating for the CRPH and I’m in exile. So in cooperation with NUCC and NUG to create a legislation to recognize the Rohingya ethnic as an official ethnic of Myanmar.

Because we are although indigenous people, 1982 Citizenship Law and a lot of military instruction led to some kinds of acts. You see they have something that makes them Rohingyas like aliens. So although we are indigenous people since there was a lot of criticism and attack, it is very important to make legislation. It’s a small resolution. Only one sentence says “We recognize the Rohingya as a legitimate and indigenous people of Myanmar.” That’s it. Period.

But although I have been calling for more than three years, it still hasn’t happened yet. But the NUG minister as well as the MP in exile gave me a lot of positive thoughts. It could happen in the future when they are in power. But I said, without reaching power it is better to do it now. Because in the future all stakeholders can not deny it.

But recently I learned that I even heard with my own ears during this public assembly hosted by NUCC, some Rakhine community. There are NGO who are supporters of the Arakan Army and United Liberal Arakan. Even they disagree with the amendment of the 1982 Citizenship Law, point to be noted. ULA has been telling their opposing military junta, how come they like the 1982 Citizenship Law.

Whenever the media asked the question about citizenship they said according to law. They are opposing the whole Myanmar military junta which law they are referring to. It’s a joke. They are referring to 1982  Law indirectly. But during the people’s assembly conducted by NUCC, I heard they were like the Arakan National Congress or something. When I checked their profile in the website at Wikipedia, they are a strong supporter of, It’s like a branch of the Arakan Army.

Also the Arakan Army being an Ethnic Revolutionary Organization. They are member of NUCC. So I learned from several sources that in the NUCC because of objections by ULA, NUCC and/ NUG or CRPH is unable to make legislation for the Rohingya.

Even now. Even during the recent interview with the Arakan Army Chief and also at a press conference made by the Arakan Army. When we analyzed that even they are like super powers in Myanmar. This is their strongest ERO among the ERP. Even they don’t care. It looks like they don’t care. They will not care if NUG asks them to or accept Rohingya to make a dialog with Rohingya, etcetera.

So although we appreciate and we feel their Myanmar MP’s exile are like colleagues, also Rohingya are in line with 50 million people. We stand with NUG and 50 million people for a future Federal Democratic Myanmar. But according to my 30 years experience in the region and then my political career, I am quite confident that the ULA and the Arakan Army will not allow that to happen. Because the home of the Rohingya is inside the Arakan, not in the other part of Myanmar. In Yangon it’s like a handful among the people in other areas.

So therefore, although there will be a further democratization union. But in a situation where NUG will be able to govern physically, even at that time, the Rohingya issue will be a big challenge. So therefore, we should not only wait for the restoration of human rights by the fall of the Myanmar military only for the rise of the energy government. But because now the Arakan Army is a very bully to the Rohingya. The more powerful they become, the more they become sort of, you see more and more now they’re bullied. So in that situation the only solution will be a safe zone and the implementation of pillar three of R2P.

Thank you very much, U Shwe Maung. And thank you very much again for taking the time to speak with us for this podcast today.

That was an episode of ADVOCATE by APHR, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights. Drop your ideas for podcast topics or interview subjects through and let us know your thoughts on this episode. Before we sign off, I would like to thank you for your support and for tuning in. I’m Karina Tehusijarana. See you soon.

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ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) was founded in June 2013 with the objective of promoting democracy and human rights across Southeast Asia. Our founding members include many of the region's most progressive Members of Parliament (MPs), with a proven track record of human rights advocacy work.

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