Hate speech in Myanmar (since early 2010s)

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Date The exact date of the beginning of the campaign is unknown but it is said to have started in the early 2010s.[1]
Suspected actor The government of Myanmar, especially the military (the “Tatmadaw”).[2]
Victims Individuals belonging to the Rohingya ethnic group (mostly located in the Rakhine State, Myanmar) and Muslims in Myanmar generally.[3]
Target systems N/A
Method Launching an alleged “systematic campaign on Facebook” against the Muslim Rohingya minority group and allegedly condoning hate speech against the Rohingya on Facebook by private users.[4] This reportedly included the creation of troll accounts and popular Facebook pages dedicated to Burmese celebrities to post inflammatory anti-Rohingya information, such as sham photos of dead bodies that were described as supposed evidence of Rohingya-committed massacres.[4] As reported by the New York Times, “[o]ne of the most dangerous campaigns came in 2017, when the military’s intelligence arm spread rumors on Facebook to both Muslim and Buddhist groups that an attack from the other side was imminent” using the anniversary of 11 September to 2001 to warn of imminent “jihad attacks”.[4] From January 2019, the violence escalated between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army, an ethnic Rakhine armed group, escalated further.[5] In this context, the Myanmar authorities shut down the internet in ten conflict-affected townships in the Rakhine and Chin States with “severe and varied effects on the civilian population”.[6]
Purpose In a case brought before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), The Gambia alleged that the spread of anti-Rohingya and anti-Muslim hate speech by the government of Myanmar was part of a genocide committed against the Rohingya.[7] The Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar reached a similar conclusion in a 2019 report.[8]
Result According to the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, the spread of hate speech provided ‘fertile ground for incitement to violence’.[9] As of 2019, more than 900,000 Rohingya sought refuge in the neighbouring Bangladesh.[10] In November 2019, the International Criminal Court (ICC) decided to open an investigation into the situation in the People’s Republic of Bangladesh/Republic of the Union of Myanmar.[11] In January 2020, the ICJ, while taking into account the Fact-Finding Mission’s reports, found that there was “a real and imminent risk of irreparable prejudice to the rights” invoked by The Gambia under the Genocide Convention and ordered provisional measures.[12]
Aftermath Facebook took down many pages of individuals and organisations associated with the Myanmar military, including that of the Commander in Chief.[13] The fighting between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army continued in 2019.[14]
Analysed in Scenario 19: Hate speech

Collected by: Christiane Rexilius

  1. Paul Mozur, ‘A Genocide Incited on Facebook, with Posts from Myanmar’s MilitaryThe New York Times (15 October 2018) (“a systematic campaign on Facebook that stretched back half a decade”).
  2. Report of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, UN Doc. A/HRC/39/64 (12 September 2018). See also ‘Myanmar: UN blames Facebook for spreading hatred of RohingyaThe Guardian (13 March 2018).
  3. See e.g. the Reports of Report of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, UN Doc A/HRC/39/64 (12 September 2018) and A/HRC/42/50 (8 August 2019). See also the Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the ‘Situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslim minority and other minorities in Myanmar’ UN Doc A/HRC/43/18 (27 January 2020) [English advance unedited version].
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Paul Mozur, ‘A Genocide Incited on Facebook, with Posts from Myanmar’s MilitaryThe New York Times (15 October 2018).
  5. See Amnesty International, Myanmar 2019.
  6. Detailed Findings of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, UN Doc A/HRC/42/CRP.5 (16 September 2019) para 454. See also HRC Res 42/3 (26 September 2019) UN Doc HRC/RES/42/3, para 9 (‘Situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar’).
  7. Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (The Gambia v Myanmar), Application instituting proceedings and Request for the indication of provisional measures, 11 November 2019.
  8. Report of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, UN Doc A/HRC/42/50 (8 August 2019) para 18 (affirming “that Myanmar incurs State responsibility under the prohibition against genocide”).
  9. Report of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, UN Doc A/HRC/42/50 (8 August 2019) para 73.
  10. UNHCR, Joint Response Plan for Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis (2019) 10.
  11. Authorisation of an Investigation into the Situation in the People’s Republic of Bangladesh/Republic of the Union of Myanmar (Decision Pursuant to Article 15 of the Rome Statute) No. ICC-01/19 (14 November 2019).
  12. Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (The Gambia v Myanmar), Order of 23 January 2020, [2020] ICJ Rep, para 75.
  13. Report of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, UN Doc A/HRC/42/50 (8 August 2019) para 72.
  14. See Amnesty International, Myanmar 2019.