Timeline: Five years of Rohingya refugee crisis

August 25 marks the fifth anniversary of the military crackdown that the UN said was carried out with ‘genocidal intent’.

An elderly Rohingya refugee waits in the aid distribution line in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh
An elderly Rohingya refugee waits in the aid distribution line in Kutupalong-Balukali refugee camp, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh [File: Showkat Shafi/Al Jazeera]

Myanmar’s military launched a ferocious crackdown against the country’s mostly Muslim Rohingya in 2017, driving more than 740,000 refugees into neighbouring Bangladesh.

August 25 marks the fifth anniversary of the military crackdown that a United Nations report found was carried out with “genocidal intent”.

Here are the key dates in the five-year crisis:

Army operations

On August 25, 2017, a shadowy Rohingya armed group, called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), stages coordinated attacks on dozens of police posts in Myanmar’s coastal Rakhine state, killing at least a dozen officers.

The army retaliates with operations in Rohingya villages, ostensibly to flush out ARSA members. It says it killed 400 armed fighters but critics say most of the dead are civilians.

The United Nations says at least 1,000 people were killed in the first two weeks of the military operations.

Refugee exodus

By September 5, 2017, more than 120,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh, overwhelming its ill-equipped refugee camps.

There are already at least 200,000 Rohingya in Bangladesh from previous waves of violence.

Aung San Suu Kyi breaks silence

International anger mounts against Myanmar. Soldiers are accused of razing Rohingya homes and some world leaders allege “ethnic cleansing”.

In her first statement on the crisis, Myanmar’s civilian leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi pledges on September 19, 2017 to hold rights violators to account but refuses to blame the army.

Possible ‘genocide’

Bangladesh and Myanmar on November 23, 2017 agree to start repatriating refugees.

But the UN High Commissioner for Refugees says conditions are not in place for their safe return and the process halts.

UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein on December 5 warns of possible “elements of genocide” and calls for an international investigation.

Courts and sanctions

On August 25, 2018, tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees stage protests to mark the first anniversary of their exodus.

UN investigators call for the prosecution of Myanmar’s army chief and five other top military commanders for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

In November, an attempt to repatriate 2,260 Rohingya fails as they refuse to leave without guarantees for their safety.

Reporters jailed

On September 3, 2018, two journalists of Reuters news agency, accused of breaching Myanmar’s state secrets law while reporting on a Rohingya massacre, are jailed for seven years.

They go on to spend more than 500 days behind bars before being released on a presidential pardon.

US sanctions

On July 16, 2019, Washington announces sanctions against Myanmar’s army chief and three other top officers.

About 3,500 Rohingya refugees are cleared to return home but no one turns up to make the journey on August 22.

Legal challenges mount

On November 11, 2019, The Gambia files a lawsuit at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) accusing Myanmar of genocide over its treatment of the Rohingya.

Three days later, The Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) approves a full investigation into the persecution of the Rohingya.

In the same week, a third case is filed by rights groups in Argentina under the principle of universal jurisdiction.

Aung San Suu Kyi in court

On December 11, The Gambia lays out its case at the ICJ with Aung San Suu Kyi personally leading Myanmar’s defence.

She refutes accusations of genocide, denying “misleading and incomplete” claims and insisting Myanmar is dealing with an “internal armed conflict”.

She admits the army may have used excessive force.

Court ruling

Delivering its ruling on January 23, 2020, the ICJ orders Myanmar to take urgent steps to prevent alleged genocide and to report back within four months.

Coup d’etat

Myanmar’s military seizes power on February 1, 2021, deposing the civilian government and later waging a bloody crackdown on dissent.

Aung San Suu Kyi is put under house arrest and later jailed for 17 years following a closed-door trial in a military court.

With several charges still hanging over her, the 77-year-old faces the possibility of lengthier sentences.

US calls genocide

The United States on March 21, 2022 officially declares the 2017 violence amounted to genocide, saying there was clear evidence of an attempt to “destroy” the Rohingya.

The ICJ rules on July 22 that the case filed by The Gambia can proceed.

In the same month, the military government executes four prisoners, the country’s first use of capital punishment in decades.

Camp killings

On August 10 this year, two Rohingya community leaders are shot dead in one of the refugee camps in Bangladesh, the latest in a string of killings in the settlements.

Rohingya sources tell the AFP news agency that ARSA was behind the killings.

The ARSA is accused of running narcotics, murdering political opponents and instilling a climate of fear in the camps.

Source: News Agencies