Hate Speech and Incitement in Myanmar before and after the February 2021 Coup

In: Global Responsibility to Protect
Noel M. Morada Senior Research Fellow and Director, Regional Diplomacy and Capacity Building, Asia Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), School of Political Science and International Studies, University of Queensland St. Lucia, Queensland, Australia

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This article examines the use of hate speech and incitement by perpetrators of violence and atrocities in Myanmar against vulnerable populations like the Rohingya community from the outbreak of communal conflict in Rakhine in 2012 to the post-February 2021 coup. It argues that there is a clear link between hate speech and incitement, on one hand, and the escalation of violent attacks against the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities in the country, which presaged the atrocities committed by security forces. It draws some implications for R2P and atrocities prevention from the Myanmar case study, which includes the flawed democratisation process initiated by the military and the manifest failure of both the usdp and nld governments to uphold their primary responsibility to protect vulnerable populations in the country. As well, the international community led by the United Nations and asean have both failed in their responsibility to respond in a timely and decisive manner to protect the Rohingya from genocide as well as the larger civilian population from the junta’s violent crackdown after the February 2021 coup.

1 Introduction

The outbreak of communal violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State in 2012 between the persecuted Muslim Rohingya people and Buddhist Arakanese majority was precipitated by Burmese nationalist monks led by Ashin Wirathu. Wirathu launched his radical ‘969 movement’ in 2012 aimed at boycotting Muslim businesses and inciting hatred not just against the Rohingya people who have been deprived of citizenship since 1982 but also against other recognised Muslim minority groups in the country. The movement, which later became the MaBaTha, instigated riots and violent attacks in Rakhine and later in other parts of Myanmar. Using social media and other audiovisual tools to spread fake news and disinformation, Buddhist nationalists in Myanmar highlighted the threat posed by Muslims and the Rohingya to the Burmese race and the Buddhist religion. With the tacit support of the Myanmar military and the inability of the civilian National League for Democracy (nld) government to contain their influence, the MaBaTha contributed to the escalation of communal conflict in Rakhine, which later resulted in the military pogrom in August 2017 after pro-Rohingya militants attacked border security forces in that state.

This article examines the problem of hate speech and incitement in Myanmar from the outbreak of the communal violence in Rakhine in 2012 up to the time that the nld government was ousted in a coup on 1 February 2021. Specifically, it investigates the domestic context, the dynamics of, and the responses to the problem of prejudice and intolerance against religious and ethnic minorities. The primary vehicle in Myanmar for the spread of hate speech and incitement, including fake news or false information, is social media. The main perpetrators are Buddhist extremists, nationalist politicians, and members of the Myanmar military.

The Myanmar case shows a direct link between hate speech and incitement, on one hand, and the escalation of violence and atrocities against vulnerable populations such as the Rohingya, on the other hand. Specifically, the perpetrators of hate speech in Myanmar used both social media and offline platforms to spread fake news against the persecuted population in Rakhine and incite violence against them in 2012. This spilled over into other parts of the country where communal violence against other ethnic and religious communities in 2013 and 2014 were committed by Buddhist nationalists. Hate speech and incitement was again used by the same perpetrators to undermine the civilian government that took over in 2016, which resulted in atrocities committed by security forces following the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (arsa) militant attacks against border security forces in Rakhine in August 2017. As Buzi argued, the liberalisation of the telecommunications sector in Myanmar has not only led to human rights activism but also, and more importantly, incitement to human rights abuses against minority groups in the country. Specifically, the use of Facebook to foment violence and mass atrocities against the Rohingya and other vulnerable populations in Myanmar is well documented.1 In addition, Myanmar has been at very high risk for atrocities given factors that exacerbate existing prejudice, intolerance, and discrimination against minority communities. This includes a long history of internal armed conflicts, the military’s culture of impunity, economic and social inequality, and weak state institutions that fail to ensure accountability, rule of law, and protection of human rights.2 In the aftermath of the February 2021 coup, these factors continue play out in Myanmar as the military remains defiant amidst international calls to stop its atrocities against civilians who are resisting the return of military rule in the country.

The next section presents an overview of the domestic context in Myanmar, a discussion of the political dynamics involved in the rise of hate speech following the eruption of communal violence in Rakhine, the responses of the usdp and nld governments as well as non-state actors, and the responses of the international community and those of regional stakeholders to the situation in Myanmar.

2 Myanmar: An Overview

2.1 Ethnic and Religious Diversity

Myanmar (or Burma) is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in Southeast Asia. There are eight major groups called ‘ethnic national races’ that are further subdivided into 135 ethnic nationalities. The ethnic national races are Burmese/Bamar, Chin, Kachin, Kayin (Karen), Kayah, Mon, Rakhine, and Shan. These categories are based on regions of the country rather than ethnic or linguistic identity. There are other races in Burma that are not officially recognised, such as Burmese Chinese and Panthay (which together comprise 3% of the population), Burmese Indians (2%), Anglo-Burmese, and Gurkha.

It is estimated that the Burmese/Bamar make up 68 per cent of the country’s population, followed by Shans (9%), Kayin (or Karen, 7%), Rakhine (or Arakanese, 1.7%), Chinese (2.5%), Mon (2.5%), Kachin (1.5%), Indians (1.25%), Rohingya (also referred to as Bengalis, 1.8%), and Kayah (0.75%). Other ethnic groups such as the Wa, Naga, Lahu, Lisu, and Palaung together comprise 4.5 per cent of Myanmar’s population. In Rakhine, there is a small number of indigenous peoples like the Mro and Daingnet, as well as the Muslim Kamans, who are recognised by the state as among the 135 ethnic nationalities.

Based on the 2014 census, 89 per cent of Myanmar’s population are Buddhists, 6.3 per cent Christians, 2.3 per cent Muslims, 0.5 per cent Hindu, and 0.8 per cent animists. If the non-enumerated populations in Rakhine (who are Rohingya Muslims) numbering over 1.2 million are included in the count, the Buddhist majority in Myanmar would be 87.9 per cent and Muslims 4.3 per cent.3

2.2 1982 Citizenship Law

In 1982, Burma passed a new law that defined who are entitled to automatic, associate, and naturalised citizenship. Under this law, a person must belong to any of the eight national races who settled in the country prior to 1824, which is the date of the first British occupation. Accordingly, because the Rohingya are not recognised as an ethnic or national race, the new law automatically revoked their Burmese citizenship based on the previous 1948 law and effectively rendered them ‘stateless’. Currently, they are also considered ‘foreigners’ or ‘illegal migrants’ if they fail to register as ‘Bengalis’ to acquire national verification cards (nvc s) that would theoretically allow them to move around the country.

In 2017, following the recommendation made by the Rakhine Advisory Commission for the Myanmar government to consider the granting of citizenship to the Rohingyas, hard-line Buddhist nationalists including the Arakan National Party staged a protest. They opposed changing the 1982 citizenship law that would recognise the Rohingya as an ethnic minority in Rakhine. Buddhist Arakanese and Burmese in general consider Bengali migrants from Bangladesh to be illegal.

2.3 Military Rule and Ethnic Armed Conflicts

For much of its history since independence from British rule in 1948, Myanmar has been under a military dictatorship.4 Some 21 ethnic armed organisations (eao s) in the country have been battling Myanmar military forces to assert their control over conflict areas that are rich in natural resources and to protect their respective communities from the military’s counter-insurgency operations, land-grabbing, extortion activities, and atrocities against civilians.5 Whereas General Aung San in 1947 promised autonomy to Shan, Kachin, and Chin states in a federal union under the Panglong Agreement, this deal was not implemented by successor governments in Burma. Ethnic armed rebellions in the country ensued after independence, and the fragile parliamentary democracy was ultimately overthrown in a coup led by Gen Ne Win in 1962.

Since the ratification of the 2008 Constitution drafted by the military, various peace talks and ceasefire agreements have been negotiated between the Myanmar military and eao s. However, these peace efforts failed to reach any political settlement of ethnic armed conflicts as the military remained adamant in refusing to give in to demands for autonomy by eao s under a federal union. For the military, any peaceful settlement of the armed conflicts must be within the framework of the Constitution, which still gives the military enormous power without any accountability. In fact, even after the National League for Democracy (nld) took over the government in 2016, the civilian government could not rein in the Myanmar military or gain its full support for Aung San Suu Kyi’s Panglong Conference ii in pursuit of peace with eao s. While the nld government was open to the idea of autonomy, the military insisted on eao s laying down their weapons, converting their forces into border guard troops, and supporting the union under the 2008 Constitution.

2.4 Religious and Racial Prejudice

Until the outbreak of communal violence in Rakhine in 2012, relations between the different ethnic and religious communities in Myanmar overall had been peaceful. In fact, the Arakanese and Rohingya communities were able to go about their daily lives in Rakhine, even as Buddhists and Muslims throughout the country were able to live in peace. In 2010, the Rohingyas were allowed to vote and even had a representative from Rakhine elected as a Member of Parliament under the Union for Solidarity and Development Party (usdp). However, peaceful coexistence and tolerance among these different communities were disrupted in the aftermath of communal violence in Rakhine that started in May 2012. This event was apparently not a spontaneous one because there was some alleged planning by local Rakhine Buddhist civil society groups, businessmen, and politicians to attack the Narzi village inhabited by Rohingya Muslims and raze it. Communal tension has been on the rise between ethnic Rakhines and the Rohingya, which is rooted in the former’s resentment against the latter after they were allowed to vote in the 2010 elections.6 In 2011, Buddhist nationalists held public seminars in Yangon and in northern Rakhine against what they claim as the ‘Rohingyanisation of Arakan’.7 The spread of communal violence outside of Rakhine was also due to incitement instigated by Buddhist nationalists led by Wirathu’s ‘969’ movement (a precursor to the MaBaTha), which were targeting the Rohingyas and other Muslim communities in Myanmar in the name of protecting the country’s predominant race (Burmese) and religion (Buddhism).

Prejudice among different religious communities in Myanmar remained strong despite the ongoing democratic transition. In 2018, the People’s Alliance for Credible Elections (pace) published a report based on a survey of the democratic values of citizens in Myanmar, which included tolerance and respect for diversity in the country. According to the report, people across the country felt more comfortable with those who shared the same religion. In particular, 81 per cent of more than 2,800 respondents said that they felt more comfortable having a Buddhist boss compared to 23 per cent if their boss was Christian, 12 per cent if Hindu, and only 8 per cent who said that they would be comfortable if their boss was a Muslim.8 The same level of comfort was reflected when respondents were asked about having neighbours from different religions: 84 per cent said they would be comfortable with a Buddhist neighbour vis-à-vis neighbours who were Christian (26%), Hindu (14%), or Muslim (9%).9

2.5 Democratic Transition and Abuse of Freedom of Expression

In 2010, Myanmar embarked on a democratic transition that saw the installation of a quasi-civilian government following its first general elections since 1990. The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party led by former military general Thein Sein won in a landslide and was the dominant party in the two houses of the national parliament where 25 per cent of the seats are allocated to appointed military representatives. President Thein Sein’s cabinet was made up mostly of former military officers who previously occupied key positions in the military junta’s State Peace and Development Council (spdc). The key priorities of the usdp government upon assumption into office in 2011 were: 1) good governance and clean government; 2) promotion of democratic practices in government and society; 3) rule of law; and 4) efficiency in government and public services.10

However, the opening of political space in Myanmar under the usdp to some extent also contributed to the rise of hate speech and incitement in the country. Access to the internet and the use of social media platforms became more widespread, with half of adults in the country regularly using Facebook by late 2013. By mid-2014, Facebook had become the principal platform for media organisations, government agencies, and politicians to reach the Burmese public. According to a Burmese historian, Facebook not only added to the ‘transparency of political life’ but also to ‘a sudden coarseness in public discourse’, as well as an easy means to mobilise violence.11 Freedom of speech or expression was abused primarily by Buddhist nationalists and their supporters through the use of social media to spread hate speech and rumours or fake news that incited violence against the Rohingya and the Muslim community.

Notwithstanding the political and economic reforms pursued by the usdp, Myanmar remained under the strong rein of the Myanmar military whose power was unchecked even as it continued to operate with impunity. Its economic interests and business activities were protected, including those in illicit drug trade, land grabs, and other forms of extortion. The Rohingya issue under the usdp also became a major regional concern after communal violence in Rakhine erupted in 2012 and spread in other parts of the country in 2013–2015, resulting in deaths, injuries, and destruction of properties and houses of worship. It was also during this time that the Buddhist nationalist group MaBaTha emerged (ostensibly with the support of the military), which was primarily responsible for spreading rumours that led to violent attacks against the Muslim community in Rakhine and elsewhere in Myanmar.

The usdp was overwhelmingly defeated by the nld in the 2015 elections, which led to Suu Kyi taking over as de facto leader of the country despite her being barred under the 2008 Constitution from assuming the post of president. During her campaign sorties, Suu Kyi promised to revive the Panglong Conference in order to pursue peaceful settlement of ethnic armed conflicts in the country. This idea was not supported by the Myanmar military because it revived the grant of autonomy to ethnic armed groups as originally envisioned by her father Gen Aung San in 1947 to get the support of ethnic minority leaders to join the new union of Burma after independence. Under the nld government, peace negotiations with the eao s did not make any progress even as the Myanmar military sustained its assault on ethnic armed groups, particularly in the northern part of Myanmar.

Meanwhile, amid strong international pressure, Suu Kyi was careful in dealing with the communal conflict in Rakhine. However, she took the bold step of setting up the Rakhine Advisory Commission headed by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to generate a set of recommendations that would address the root causes of the communal conflict, which erupted once more in October 2016 following the attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (arsa) that killed several border policemen and civilians. On 25 August 2017, another arsa attack was launched in Rakhine the day that Kofi Annan submitted the Commission’s report to Suu Kyi. It resulted in a mass exodus of Rohingyas into Bangladesh following the Myanmar military’s violent clearance operations against arsa militants and their sympathisers. It is estimated that more than 6,000 Rohingyas were killed in the military’s clearing operations, which included women and children. Some 700,000 fled to Bangladesh, bringing the number of Rohingya refugees in that country to over a million.

The next section of this article investigates the Rohingya crisis and hate speech in Myanmar.

3 Hate Speech and the Rohingya Crisis

Notwithstanding the peaceful and orderly election in Myanmar in 2010, which was won by the pro-military United Solidarity and Development Party, the outbreak of communal violence in Rakhine in June and October 2012 not only overshadowed the achievements of the usdp in fostering political reconciliation but also presaged further escalation of violence against the stateless Rohingya people and the Muslim community in general. There were two outbreaks of communal violence in 2012 that resulted in close to 200 people being killed and over 100,000 Rohingyas displaced in Rakhine.12 Of these, 90 people were killed and close to 30,000 Rohingyas displaced in October 2012 after Buddhist extremist vigilantes attacked and burned homes and boats in the predominantly Muslim town of Kyaukpyu.13

Further communal strife erupted in Rakhine and in central Myanmar in 2014, mainly due to continuing anti-Muslim campaigns by Buddhist nationalists. The central government did not seriously take efforts in cracking down on the activities of this group. In fact, the ruling usdp and the military tolerated the rise of the MaBaTha led by the notorious monk Wirathu, who was primarily responsible for pushing for the passage of four discriminatory laws under the ‘Protection of Race and Religion’,14 which were enacted by the union parliament in 2014.

Under the civilian nld government, violations of international human rights and humanitarian law continued, not just in Rakhine but also in other areas of the country. In the aftermath of the militant attacks against border policemen in Rakhine in October 2016 and subsequently on 25 August 2017, the military conducted clearing operations that resulted in more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees fleeing to Bangladesh; over 1,000 killed, which included militants and other non-Muslim civilians; and some 40,000 internally displaced persons. Médicins sans Frontières reported that over 6,700 Rohingyas were killed in the first week of violence in Rakhine in August 2017 based on the survey of 2,300 refugee households in Bangladesh. Of these, 69 per cent were killed by bullet wounds, 9 per cent were burned alive, and 5 per cent by fatal beatings.15 The humanitarian organisation also reported allegations of rape committed by Myanmar soldiers against some Rohingya women and girls below 18 years old (including one as young as nine).16

3.1 Perpetrators and Targets of Hate Speech and Incitement

The main perpetrators of hate speech and incitement against the Rohingya community and other minorities in Myanmar are Buddhist nationalists led by U Wirathu’s MaBaTha (the organisation’s name translates to ‘Protection of Race and Religion’). His 969 movement was primarily responsible for spreading rumours and hate speech through social media, which have contributed to incitement and violent attacks against Rohingyas in Rakhine since 2012. The MaBaTha was also responsible for instigating attacks against the Muslim community outside Rakhine that led to the eruption of intercommunal violence in 2013 in Meiktila and central Myanmar, as well as in 2014 in Mandalay. Specifically, in June 2014, a false report about the rape of a Buddhist woman by Muslim men resulted in two people being killed in Mandalay.

Apparently, the MaBaTha’s actions were tolerated if not overtly supported by the pro-military usdp. The usdp, composed mainly of retired military officers, and the Myanmar military cultivated strong ties with Buddhist nationalists in the country from 2011. In exchange for financial support and donations, the MaBaTha led by U Wirathu helped to enhance the image and popularity of the military.17 No criminal charges were filed against Wirathu and his followers up until the end of Thein Sein’s term. If anything, the usdp supported the initiative of the MaBaTha in enacting four laws on protection of race and religion, which were passed in 2014. These laws aimed to regulate inter-faith marriages, population control, and promote monogamy. In the 2015 elections, the MaBaTha campaigned for the usdp and attacked nld supporters using hate speech and incitement. Wirathu’s resentment against the nld springs from the latter’s opposition to the four laws on protection of race and religion that were initiated by MaBaTha.18

Wirathu continued to use hate speech against Muslims even after the nld took over the government in 2016. Specifically, he attacked the nld government’s policies aimed at curbing the MaBaTha’s influence as well as the creation of the Rakhine Advisory Commission headed by Kofi Annan.

3.2 Other Platforms and Targets of Hate Speech

Apart from the use of social media, hate speech and incitement in Myanmar also utilise print media, videos, and music. According to a report by pen Myanmar, various forms of hate speech took place in the country between January and December 2015, which were based on political beliefs, ethnicity, religion, and gender.19 For example, opposition groups and ethnic armed organisations were branded by government as ‘warmongers’, ‘border smugglers’, and ‘black marketeers or stooges’.20 Authorities also played up ethnic and religious differences in the country to divert the public’s attention from economic mismanagement, failure of the peace process, and human rights abuses.21 In the run-up to the November 2015 elections, there was a significant increase in the use of hate speech against the National League for Democracy (nld), which also targeted Suu Kyi and other women candidates who were characterised as ‘similar to prostitutes’.22

The pen report identified the following patterns in the use of hate speech and incitement in Myanmar in movies or videos: 1) in the context of politics, movies characterised certain groups of people as animals (e.g. dogs), opposition or critics of government as enemies of the state and axes of foreign powers; movies produced by the state labelled ethnic armed groups or militias as terrorists; and action movies used hate speech and incitement that justified the use of violence against armed rebel groups as part of protecting the nation; 2) in the context of ethnic differences, movies produced by the military portrayed ethnic armed organisations used hate speech that characterised them as enemies of the state; they also used language that likened ethnic minority people as animals (e.g. Karen rebels as cobras and vipers); Shans as thieves, rape perpetrators, and robbers; people of Indian ethnic origin as rape perpetrators, landowners, and loaners; and 3) in the context of religion, indirect speech acts portrayed Christian girls as ‘naughty’ and Muslims as ‘rape perpetrators’.23

In September 2018, the UN Independent and Impartial Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar (iiffmm) report pointed out that the MaBaTha’s hate speech has at its core theme the ‘Muslim threat’ that undermines the nation’s Buddhist identity. Specifically, the group portrays Muslims and the Rohingyas in particular as: 1) an existential threat to the country due to ‘mass illegal migration’ and ‘invasion’; 2) a threat to Burmese racial purity due to interracial marriages, population growth of the Rohingya, and the practice of polygamy; and 3) as a threat to Buddhist religious sanctity because Muslim values and practices are incompatible or offensive to Buddhism.24 These messages were based on various narratives that were spread through social media, videos, printed materials, and sermons by made by nationalist Buddhist monks.

Meanwhile, Buddhist nationalists continued to denounce the nld government as being too soft on Muslims in Myanmar. They attempted to disrupt several religious ceremonies in urban centres. In 2017, a group of Buddhist hardliners attempted to stop a Muslim ceremony in Yangon in honour of Muhammad’s birthday. The organisers claimed that the police refused to intervene after they were called in.25 In May 2019, a group of about 100 armed people that included Buddhist nationalists shut down Ramadan ceremonies in three temporary houses of worship also in Yangon.26 Apart from Muslim communities, and the Rohingya in particular, Buddhist nationalists also targeted other minority groups.

4 Responses to Hate Speech and Incitement

4.1 usdp Government (2010–2015)

Following the outbreak of communal violence in Rakhine in 2012 and its subsequent spill over into other parts of Myanmar, President Thein Sein mainly pursued a security-oriented approach in dealing with the problem. Specifically, he declared a state of emergency and mobilised security forces to restore peace and order in the state by imposing a curfew in major townships. He also created a Rakhine Commission of Inquiry to investigate the root causes of the communal conflict, examine efforts in restoring peace and order, outline means to provide relief and implement resettlement programs, develop short- and long-term strategies to reconcile differences between affected communities, and create opportunities for fostering mutual understanding and peaceful coexistence among different religious and ethnic groups. In its report submitted to the government in April 2013, the Commission’s recommendations among other things highlighted the importance of: 1) strengthening border security and immigration control; 2) ensuring the continued presence and capability of Myanmar military forces in Rakhine to prevent further eruption of violence; 3) expanding and strengthening the presence of the navy in coastal areas to monitor and patrol the security of the state; and 4) for all affected communities to abide by existing laws of Myanmar as part of restoring peace and order, including compliance with immigration laws.27

The Commission also stressed the importance of protecting the human rights of all affected communities, including the rights of illegal immigrants. Recognising the concerns of Buddhist Arakanese, it also called on the government to ‘urgently initiate the process of examining the citizenship status of people in Rakhine’ and to ensure the implementation of the provisions of the 1982 Citizenship Law. More importantly, the Commission also said that the government ‘needs to ban the use of hate language against any religion’ including ‘extremist teachings and activities’.28

The usdp government’s main strategy was ‘stability first’ and focused on restoration of peace and order, rehabilitation and resettlement, and socio-economic development. While effectively containing the violence until 2015, it failed to implement rehabilitation and resettlement because of the strong opposition of the Buddhist Arakanese to allow the Rohingyas to leave the 42 camps even as the Rohingyas refused register as ‘Bengalis’.29 Until the end of his term in 2016, President Thein Sein failed to resolve the communal conflict in Rakhine and stop the campaign of hate speech and incitement against the Rohingyas and the larger Muslim community by Buddhist nationalists led by MaBaTha. The growing radicalisation of Buddhists and Muslims in Rakhine also led to a number of conspiracy theories that explained away the inability of the government to handle the situation. These include allegations that: 1) the communal violence was instigated by the hard-line faction of the usdp to thwart Thein Sein’s reform process; or 2) it was intended to allow the Myanmar military to return to power.30

Eventually, the usdp increasingly became reluctant to deal with the communal conflict in Rakhine and failed to stop the Buddhist nationalists from their incitement activities against the Rohingyas and Muslims throughout the country. In fact, the government accommodated the MaBaTha’s push for the passage of the four laws in 2014 aimed at protecting race and religion in Myanmar.

4.2 nld Government (2016–2021)

Preventive actions to counter hate speech by Buddhist nationalists gained public support after the nld took over the government in 2016. At the forefront of these efforts were local civil society groups, human rights defenders, journalists, and advocates of interfaith dialogue. Moderate Buddhist monks also played an important role in calling out MaBaTha’s Wirathu inflammatory speeches. A revised draft of the anti-hate speech law (titled Interfaith Harmonious Coexistence Bill) was submitted to the union parliament in September 2017 by the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture. It was originally drafted by Inter-Faith Dialogue Group in 2016 to counter incitement by Buddhist nationalists against the Rohingyas, Muslims in general, and other minority groups.31 The draft law was reviewed by Suu Kyi with inputs from other countries before its submission to parliament for debate.32 Some issues related to the drafting of the anti-hate speech law are discussed in a separate section below.

Accordingly, the nld government shelved the anti-hate speech law after 2017, ostensibly because of the decline in the MaBaTha’s influence after the group was banned by the Buddhist State Sangha and sedition charges were filed against Wirathu.33 The focus of the government apparently shifted from hate speech to fake news or deliberate falsehood, which had become a more urgent problem in recent years according to authorities.34 It created a Social Media Monitoring Team (smmt) in February 2018 with a budget of about usd 4.5 million. However, it has not made public its reports on its activities and its impact on containing hate speech and fake news in the country.35

The nld government also filed sedition charges against Wirathu in 2019 and other Buddhist nationalists. He has been on the run and was tried in absentia for his attempts in inciting disaffection with the government.36 This included those who instigated communal violence between Buddhists and Muslims in Yangon in 2017 and those that forced the shutdown of temporary Muslim houses of worship in South Dagon township. Wirathu was eventually arrested in June 2019 after being a fugitive for two years.37

4.3 Non-state Actors

Various civil society groups and non-state actors in Myanmar have responded to the use of hate speech and incitement by Buddhist nationalists in the country. These include moderate Buddhist groups, interfaith religious leaders, human rights organisations, and even some parliamentarians.

4.3.1 Interfaith Groups

In March 2017, the Buddhist State Sangha of Myanmar – the MaHaNa – banned nationalist monk Wirathu from delivering public sermons for a year and distanced itself from the group. It also ordered the MaBaTha to disband and cease all activities by 15 July 2017, with a threat of legal action if it failed to comply.38 The ban was precipitated by protests made by MaBaTha against the Minister of Religious and Cultural Affairs whom they accused of being biased in favour of Muslims in the country. These actions clearly signified the determination of the nld government, the State Sangha, and civil society groups to put an end to the violent anti-Rohingya/Muslim campaign of the MaBaTha, which was to a large extent tolerated by the previous usdp government since the outbreak of violence in Rakhine in 2012.

Despite the ban on the MaBaTha, Wirathu and his supporters remained defiant and continued to hold protests against the nld government in Yangon and Mandalay.39 He even accused Suu Kyi of being a threat to the national religion and identity of Myanmar. He also said that his group will oppose any effort to change the 1982 Citizenship Law to conform with the Rakhine Advisory Commission’s recommendation to restore citizenship to the Rohingyas.40

Interfaith solidarity groups composed of moderate Buddhist monks and Christian and Hindu religious leaders have also banded together in combatting hate speech and incitement. Cardinal Charles Bo has also been at the forefront of combatting religious intolerance in Myanmar and has consistently called on religious leaders to be cautious and to avoid the use of hate speech. In 2015, he called upon the usdp government to do more to prevent the spread of hate speech and to do more to help the Rohingya refugees who were fleeing Rakhine.41 Accordingly, an interfaith group of 100 community leaders from different religions throughout Myanmar held a three-day meeting in 2016 on ‘Interfaith Understanding and Peace Advocacy’ in Yangon to combat hate speech and incitement by coordinating work between civil society groups and law enforcement to address interreligious conflict in Myanmar through enacting laws. They argued for taking legal action against those who ignite religious tensions.42

4.3.2 Civil Society Organisations

Civil society groups and human rights advocates in Myanmar were active in countering hate speech in the country. In 2014, activists and former political prisoners led by Nay Phone Latt launched a campaign called Panzagar (literally flower speech) to tackle hate speech against Muslims in the country.43 A poet and executive director of the Myanmar ict for Development Organisation (mido), he ran for a seat in the regional parliament in Yangon under the nld and continues to work in combatting hate speech in Myanmar. Panzagar is supported by Burmese artists and journalists who have called on the local media to stop being used as ‘mouthpiece’ for nationalist politicians and religious extremists.44

In 2017, some 23 local civil society groups and international non-governmental organisations (ngo s) working in Myanmar met to share their methods of best practice and evaluate the impact of their counter-hate speech initiatives in the country. They developed a toolkit that identified some common strategies and initiatives, and recommendations on how to sustain and improve their work.45 This includes monitoring online hate speech and intolerance, and promoting interfaith dialogue, youth outreach, and education and training. They also engage with local public officials, media practitioners, and social media influencers as part of a strategy to mitigate fake news or false information. Some of them coordinate with critical stakeholders such as members of parliament, journalists, civil society advocates, activists, and social media influencers to develop capacity for early response to potential violence.46

In 2018, six civil society organisations working on hate speech in Myanmar wrote an open letter addressed to Facebook ceo Mark Zuckerberg and in it complained about the inability of the company to moderate content on its platform. Specifically, they criticised Facebook’s efforts for its heavy reliance on third parties, absence of a proper mechanism for emergency escalation, reluctance to engage local stakeholders around systemic solutions, and absence of transparency. They also raised concerns that Facebook does not have enough moderators who understand the Myanmar language and its nuances, as well as the context in which comments are made.47

Overall, the impact of efforts by civil society groups in Myanmar in building awareness about the importance of preventing the use of hate speech and incitement remains to be seen. Currently, there are no published studies or reports that provide an analysis of the impact or positive outcome of various initiatives aimed at countering hate speech. International donors and stakeholders might consider setting up a mechanism that would aid in capacity building for local advocates in Myanmar to enable them to monitor and measure the impact of their efforts in preventing the use of hate speech and incitement in the country. Although this may not be possible at this time following the coup of 1 February 2021, it should be considered a priority for the international community once the political crisis in Myanmar comes to a peaceful resolution.

4.4 November 2020 Elections

In the run-up to the November 2020 elections, the nld government came under pressure to address the problem of hate speech and incitement, which was then expected to intensify amidst growing concern among various stakeholders in the country. The government however said that it would adopt a hands-off policy on hate speech and not take action against people who post such material online, including fake news. Instead, it would leave everything up to the social media companies to police their own platforms. The only exception in which government would take action and ask social media companies to take down posts was when they violated specific domestic laws, such as against pornography and gambling.48

For its part, Facebook said that it put in place an improved system of detecting and removing hate speech and content that incites violence, as well as preventing the spread of misinformation in preparation for the general elections that year. Specifically, it adopted a policy of removing from its platform verifiable misinformation and unverifiable rumours that were considered as potentially suppressing votes or damaging the integrity of the electoral process in Myanmar. For example, it would remove posts that falsely claim that a candidate is ‘a Bengali, not a Myanmar citizen, and thus ineligible’.49 The company also acted against 280,000 pieces of content in Myanmar for violating standards against hate speech in the second quarter of 2020, which was up from 51,000 pieces that it acted against in the previous quarter.50

4.5 Hate Speech after the February 2021 Coup

In the aftermath of the 1 February 2021 coup and the Myanmar military’s violent crackdown against protesters, hate speech and incitement to violence perpetrated mainly by the military forces increased significantly in Myanmar. This forced Facebook to remove accounts by the military from its platforms (including WhatsApp and Instagram) amid threats of violence, bullying, harassment, and misinformation against activists, human rights defenders, journalists, and deposed political leaders who were protesting the coup. Facebook also indefinitely prohibited Myanmar military-linked commercial entities from advertising on its platform using the UN Fact Finding Mission’s report in 2019 as a guide.51 The social media company also disabled the Myanmar military True News Information Team Page, mrtv, and mrtv Live pages for continuing to violate the social media platform’s policies ‘that prohibit coordinating harm and inciting to violence’.52 Accordingly, social media accounts linked to the military that promote false claims of widespread election fraud and foreign interference in the November 2020 elections were removed by both YouTube and Facebook.53 Armed soldiers and police in Myanmar were also using the video platform TikTok to deliver death threats to protesters against the coup, which also forced the Chinese video-sharing app to remove content that incites violence.54

Despite the unrelenting violent crackdown against coup protesters, civilians continue to defy the junta and have supported the parallel government against the coup – the National Unity Government (nug) – which has called for the creation of a federal army and people’s defence forces to fight the Myanmar military forces. As the anti-coup protest evolves into an urban armed struggle, hate speech and incitement to violence by protesters against Myanmar military forces and police are also increasing. The use of dehumanising language against soldiers and police (e.g. calling them dogs) because they inflict violence against civilians may be justified by some. However, one Burmese-American and Pulitzer Prize winning journalist living outside of Myanmar considered this wrong and only perpetuating the cycle of hate and violence in the country. Her tweet (Figure 1) captures succinctly her views on the use of dehumanising language against soldiers.

Figure 1
Figure 1

Aye Min Thant (@the_ayeminthant), Twitter, 12 May 2021.

Citation: Global Responsibility to Protect 15, 2-3 (2023) ; 10.1163/1875984X-20230003

source: twitter.

Since the February coup, the Myanmar military increased its use of hate speech and incitement to stave off defections within its rank. According to the United States Institute for Peace (usip), the security forces deployed four main narratives to enhance its moral authority and instigate fear that Burmese Buddhism and the country’s sovereignty could be destroyed. Specifically, the four narratives were: 1) the Myanmar military is ‘a pious institution with deep support from the Buddhist monastic community’; 2) the military ‘protects and promotes the Buddhist practice and philosophy’; 3) coup leader Gen. Min Aung Hlaing is ‘a Buddhist warrior-king’; and 4) that Myanmar is ‘vulnerable to Muslim takeover’ and linking the ousted nld government and the anti-coup movement to Islam. The Myanmar military also compared the People’s Defence Forces (pdf) to the Taliban.55

The military’s narratives were echoed in other social media platforms by soldiers and other supporters of the military. For example, some troops resorted to the use of TikTok videos to threaten violence against anti-coup protesters. Digital rights group Myanmar ict for Development (mido) claimed that it found more than 800 pro-military videos that showed soldiers threatening to kill protesters.56 While TikTok has removed these videos, the company remains slow and inconsistent in enforcing its own community standards even as new videos containing hate speech and incitement are posted in the platform every day.57 Meanwhile, the Myanmar military and its supporters have also moved to another social media platform, Telegram, after their channels were taken down from Facebook and YouTube. There were several pro-military accounts on Telegram that were engaging in hate speech and disinformation targeting the Rohingya community and the nld, ethnic minorities, and the anti-coup civilian protesters.58

The next section of this article focuses on international and regional responses to the crisis in Myanmar, including the issue of hate speech and incitement.

5 International and Regional Responses

5.1 UN and Related Agencies

The so-called ‘clearing operations’ conducted by the Myanmar military against arsa militants in 2017 that led to atrocities committed against the Rohingya community were met with strong international outrage and condemnation. The UN Security Council and General Assembly were the main forums in which most member states expressed their condemnation of the Myanmar military’s systematic human rights violations in Rakhine that resulted in the exodus of Rohingyas to Bangladesh. While there was failure in the Security Council in passing a resolution condemning Myanmar’s action due to lack of consensus among the permanent members, the General Assembly was able to pass non-binding resolutions in 2017 and 2019 in which most member states overwhelmingly condemned the continuing atrocities being committed against the Rohingyas in Myanmar. Nonetheless, as this author argued,59 the UN and the larger international community failed to respond effectively to atrocities in Rakhine despite the strong outrage over the killings and exodus of the Rohingya since August 2017.60

The creation of the iiffmm panel in 2017 was part of the UN Human Rights Council’s efforts to respond to the international community’s outrage against the nld government’s and the military’s lack of cooperation in investigating atrocities committed in Rakhine. The panel’s detailed report on the use of hate speech in Myanmar to incite discrimination and violence against Muslims and the Rohingyas served as an important record of the inadequate response by the nld government to hold accountable those who perpetrate hate, discrimination, and violence against minority groups in the country. In September 2019, the iiffmm handed over to the International Investigative Mechanism on Myanmar (iimm) its evidence for serious crimes under international law. The iimm is mandated by the Human Rights Council to follow up and prepare files for criminal prosecutions.

In August 2020, Facebook said that it had shared data with the iimm from pages and accounts associated with the Myanmar military that it removed in 2018 in effort to stop hate speech against the Rohingya people. Earlier, the company blocked a bid by The Gambia, which brought a genocide case against Myanmar in the International Court of Justice (icj), from obtaining posts and communications by members of Myanmar’s military and police. Earlier in 2018, Facebook removed 18 accounts and 52 pages associated with the Myanmar military, including the page of its Commander-in-Chief Minh Aung Hlaing, but preserved these data.61

The iiffmm’s comprehensive documentation of atrocities against the Rohingya and other minorities were significant inputs that could strengthen the cases filed against Myanmar in the icj by The Gambia and in the International Criminal Court (icc) by Bangladesh. In January 2020, the icj unanimously indicated four provisional measures that Myanmar should comply with under the 1948 Genocide Convention, to wit: 1) ‘in relation to the Rohingya group within its territory, take all measures within its power to prevent commission of all acts within the scope of Article ii of the Convention’; 2) ensure that the Myanmar military and all groups under its control, direction, or influence do not commit acts under Article ii of the Convention, including ‘of conspiracy to commit genocide, of direct or public incitement to commit genocide, of attempt to commit genocide, or of complicity of genocide’; 3) ‘take effective measures to prevent the destruction and ensure the preservation of evidence related to all allegations of acts within the scope of Article ii of the Convention’; and 4) ‘submit a report to the Court on all measures taken’ to give effect to its order within four months, and every six months thereafter, until the Court renders its final decision on the case.62

In response to the icj’s order, the nld government reiterated that there had been no genocide in Rakhine even as it argued that it was important that the Court ‘reaches a factually correct decision on the merits of the case’. It also accused some human rights groups of ‘presenting a distorted picture of the situation in Rakhine’, which affected Myanmar’s relations with some countries and ‘hampered [its] ability to lay the foundation for sustainable development in Rakhine’.63 Subsequently, it submitted its first report to the icj on the steps it was taking to protect the Rohingyas from killings and other atrocities as part of complying with the Court’s provisional measures. For its part, the Myanmar military provided inputs to the nld’s report asserting that it had begun court-martial proceedings against soldiers accused of committing atrocities against the Rohingya community in 2017.64

Earlier, the civilian government issued an order to all civil servants to stop using hate speech in social media even as it required them to monitor and report online behaviour to the central government. The directive also covered security forces and military servicemen who were ordered to refrain from engaging in hate speech or incitement to violence even as they were encouraged to participate in anti-hate speech campaigns. Human rights defenders and other civil society groups in Myanmar cautiously welcomed the government’s directive, which they viewed as a direct outcome of international pressures following the icj ruling. For them, these measures must be effectively implemented on the ground and should not be aimed at easing international pressure on Myanmar.65

In the aftermath of the February 2021 coup, it is unlikely that the junta in Myanmar will follow through with the submissions to the icj made by the ousted civilian government. In fact, Myanmar under the junta may face more criminal charges for atrocity crimes being committed against civilians as it continues to pursue a violent crackdown against anti-coup protesters in defiance of international appeals by the UN and asean to stop the killings, arbitrary arrests, and use of lethal weapons against unarmed civilians.

5.2 asean and Other Regional Stakeholders

asean’s main preoccupation in engaging with Myanmar on the Rakhine crisis was primarily about the safe, voluntary, and dignified repatriation of Rohingya refugees. However, this has been stalled by continuing conflict in northern Myanmar between the Myanmar military and Arakan Army (aa) forces, including asean’s humanitarian assistance program for all affected communities in Rakhine. The February 2021 coup continued to stall the repatriation of Rohingyas in Rakhine from Bangladesh as violence between the junta forces and aa troops erupted again in 2022.

While there is a growing clamour among regional stakeholders for asean to do more in responding the crisis in Myanmar, even more so after the February 2021 coup, its non-interference principle and consensus-decision making have constrained the organisation from crafting a more effective regional response. asean has stopped short of collectively endorsing international efforts in pursuing accountability for atrocities committed by the Myanmar military in the icj and the icc. Within asean, there are no existing accountability mechanisms that could exert pressure on an erring member for human rights violations occurring within its territory; neither are there any provisions within its charter for sanctions for human rights violations and for failing to uphold international human rights norms. As this author pointed out, asean failed to craft an effective regional response to atrocities in Rakhine as it tried to strike a balance between its traditional norm of non-interference, the pursuit of accountability, and its strategic interests vis-à-vis China in Myanmar.66 As the Myanmar military increasingly committed atrocities against civilians in the country following the coup, asean failed to enforce the Five-Point Consensus (fpc) that junta chief Min Aung Hlaing agreed to during the asean leaders’ meeting in Jakarta in April 2021. The junta remained defiant of international calls to put a halt to violence in the country and has refused to release top nld political leaders and other opposition personalities opposed to the coup.

Beyond asean, other regional stakeholders including human rights advocates, civil society groups, and parliamentarians have also contributed to raising awareness about the crisis in Rakhine and the importance of addressing human rights violations in Myanmar. The asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (aphr), for example, organised several regional meetings, seminars, and workshops on freedom of religion and belief, prevention of hate speech, and protection of freedom of expression. Prior to the February 2021 coup in Myanmar, some local stakeholders in Myanmar, including parliamentarians, civil society groups, and minority protection advocates participated in training and capacity-building activities geared towards understanding international norms and conventions on these issues.67

For now, however, given the continuing crisis in Myanmar in the aftermath of the February 2021 coup, opportunities for engaging with various stakeholders in the country have narrowed given the junta’s defiant attitude towards calls by the international community to stop the violent crackdown against civilians in the country.

6 Conclusion

Based on the foregoing discussion, it is evident that the use of hate speech and incitement against vulnerable populations in Myanmar such as the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities preceded the violent attacks by Buddhist nationalists. It also presaged the commission of atrocities by security forces in the country since the outbreak of communal conflict in Rakhine in 2012. The military-initiated democratic transition that began in 2010 under the quasi-civilian government of the usdp paved the way for wide use of telecommunication platforms and social media technology such as Facebook. The newfound democratic space was no doubt instrumental in encouraging activism and freedom of speech; however, it also led to the abuse of such rights to free expression with hate speech used in social media and offline platforms against vulnerable ethnic minorities. The risks for atrocities remained high in Myanmar within the precarious democratic transition as the security sector operated with impunity and above the law, the unresolved ethnic armed rebellion since independence in 1948, and the weaknesses of state institutions to ensure the rule of law, accountability, and protection of fundamental human rights. On top of these, racial and ethnic tensions continued to simmer as both the usdp and the nld governments failed to contain the strong influence of Buddhist nationalist group MaBaTha, which was primarily responsible for pushing the enactment of four discriminatory laws aimed at protecting the Burmese majority’s identity and the Buddhist religion. The MaBaTha, led by Wirathu, was instrumental in inciting violence against the Rohingya people, Muslims, Christians, Hindu, and other minorities with the support of the military establishment.

Following the coup of February 2021, the use of hate speech and incitement in Myanmar increased further as the military not only labelled the anti-coup protesters as ‘terrorists’ but also utilised fear mongering espoused by Buddhist nationalists against the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities on the threat they posed to the country’s majority Burmese Buddhist identity. Meanwhile, some anti-coup protesters and their supporters have also used hate speech and incitement specifically in dehumanising the military troops, their civilian supporters, and local administrators appointed by the junta, which also led to human rights abuses, violent attacks, and even atrocities committed by armed civilian resistance forces fighting the junta.

Ironically, the regime change in Myanmar may have fostered a change in perceptions of the Rohingyas and other ethnic minorities in the country based on an initial study of social media posts before and after the coup. According to David, Aung, and Holliday, a qualitative analysis of both major negative and positive themes in posts uploaded in Burmese by key opinion leaders showed a significant shift towards an improvement in ethnic relations after the 2021 coup.68 Several posts conveyed empathy for the Rohingyas, with a large increase in engagement on that keyword. They also noted a significant change in the dynamic of nationalism in Myanmar, which has moved to a more inclusive mode based on shared identity and communal solidarity. Thus, the coup in Myanmar presents a counterfactual case of a military coup that improved majority-minority ethnic relations instead of exacerbating ethnic conflicts. It remains to be seen, however, whether such improved relations will endure.69

Some important implications for R2P and atrocities prevention can be drawn from the Myanmar case study on hate speech and incitement. First, it shows the limitations of military-initiated democratisation, which remained precarious especially after the nld won in the 2015 and 2020 elections. With the Myanmar military resisting political reforms that undermined its strategic, economic, and political interests, the nld failed to address the root causes of ethnic and communal conflicts in Rakhine and elsewhere in the country. Second, there was clearly a manifest failure on the part of the Myanmar governments under the usdp and the nld to take its primarily responsibility in preventing atrocities from happening in the country against vulnerable populations like the Rohingya. Indeed, the military even used the Buddhist nationalists such as the MaBaTha to undermine the civilian government’s efforts in finding a lasting solution to the conflict in Rakhine and ensure the protection of the Rohingya population. Without accountability, the security sector in Myanmar carried on with its impunity against ethnic minorities in the country and has in fact committed more atrocities against the larger civilian population since the February 2021 coup. Third, both the Security Council and asean have failed in their responsibility to protect vulnerable civilians in Myanmar. Specifically, they were unable to respond in a timely and decisive manner to stop the killings of civilians and exert adequate measures to force junta chief Min Aung Hlaing comply with the Five-Point Consensus that was agreed upon with asean leaders in April 2021. Finally, the failure of the international community to respond effectively to calls made by civilians in Myanmar as they invoked R2P and urged the international community to enforce this principle. While they continued to suffer from the junta’s atrocities after the February 2021 coup, the civilians in Myanmar – especially the young people – were left with no other choice but to take matters into their own hands and formed armed resistance against the return of military rule in the country.


Camilla Buzi, ‘Mass Atrocities in Myanmar and the Responsibility to Protect in the Digital Age’, Global R2P Journal, 13(2–3) 272–296 (2021). See also Christian Fink, ‘Dangerous Speech, Anti-Muslim Violence, and Facebook in Myanmar’, Columbia/sipa Journal of International Affairs, 17 September 2018,, accessed 5 December 2022; and Nickey Diamond and Ken McLean, ‘Dangerous Speech cloaked in Saffron robes: religion, race, and anti-Muslim violence in Myanmar’ in Sara E. Brown and Stephen D. Smith (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Religion, Mass Atrocity, and Genocide (London and New York: Routledge, 2022), pp. 205–2016.


For a detailed examination of the risk factors for atrocities in Myanmar, see Noel M. Morada, ‘Myanmar’, Journal of International Peacekeeping, 24(3–4), 428–466 (2021).


Republic of the Union of Myanmar, The 2014 Myanmar Population and Housing Census: The Union Report: Religion, Census Report Volume 2-C (Myanmar: Department of Population, Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population, 2016).


For a comprehensive background and history of the military in Burma/Myanmar, see Mary P. Callahan, Making Enemies: War and State Building in Burma (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2003); Andrew Selth, Burma’s Armed Forces: Power Without Glory (Eastbridge Books, 2002); Josef Silverstein, Burma: Military Rule and the Politics of Stagnation (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977).


For an overview and history of ethnic armed conflicts in Burma/Myanmar, see Thant Myint-U, The River of Lost Footsteps: Histories of Burma, (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006); Thant Myint-U, Where China Meets India: Burma and the New Crossroads of Asia (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011); and Thant Myint-U, The Hidden History of Burma: Race, Capitalism and Democracy in the 21st Century (London: Atlantic Books, 2019); Bertil Lintner, The Wa of Myanmar: China’s Quest for Global Governance (Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 2021); Bertil Lintner, The United Wa State and Burma’s Peace Process, United States Institute for Peace, 29 April 2019,, accessed 5 December 2021; Helene Maria Kyed (ed.), Everyday Justice in Myanmar: Informal Resolutions and State Evasion in a Time of Contested Transition (Copenhagen: nias Press, 2020); James C. Scott, The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland Southeast Asia (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009); Josef Silverstein, Burmese Politics: The Dilemma of National Unity (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1980); Martin Smith, Burma: Insurgency and Poltiics (London: Zed Press, 1991); Martin Smith, Ethnic Groups in Burma: Development, Democracy and Human Rights (London: Anti-Slavery International, 1994)’.


Carlos Sardiña Glache, The Burmese Labyrinth: A History of the Rohingya Tragedy (London and New York: Verso Press, 2020), pp. 42–43. See also Niklas Foxeus, ‘Contemporary Burmese Buddhism’ in Michael Jerryson (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Buddhism (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), pp. 212–235; Mikael Gravers, ‘Politically Engaged Buddhism – Spiritual Politics or Nationalist Medium’ in Mikael Gravers and Fleming Ytzen (eds.), Burma/Myanmar – Where Now? (Copenhagen: nias Press, 2014), pp. 293–322; and Moshe Yegar, The Muslims of Burma: A Study of a Minority Group (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrasowitz, 1972).


Sardiña Galache, Burmese Labyrinth, p. 43.


People’s Alliance for Credible Elections–pace, Public Opinion on Democratic Aspirations (Yangon: pace, 2018), p. 18.


ibid., 21.


Ye Htut, Myanmar’s Political Transition and Lost Opportunities (2010–2016) (Singapore: iseas, 2019), p. 47.


Thant Myint-U, The Hidden History of Burma: Race, Capitalism, and the Crisis of Democracy in the 21st Century (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2020), p. 206.


Agence France Presse, ‘Top Islamic Body Warns of “Genocide” in Myanmar’, The Bangkok Post, 18 November 2012,, accessed 18 November 2021.


Reuters, ‘Muslim Survivors of Myanmar’s Sectarian Violence Relive Ordeals’, New York Times, 28 October 2012,, accessed 28 October 2021.


Hnin Yadana Zaw and Antoni Slodkowski, ‘Insight – Myanmar’s Radical Monks Shaping Historic Election’, Reuters, 1 November 2015,, accessed 1 November 2021.


Agence France Presse, ‘6,700 Rohingya Killed in First Month of Myanmar Violence: Doctors Without Borders’, Channel News Asia, 14 December 2017,, accessed 14 December 2021.


Fiona MacGregor, ‘Rohingya Girls under 10 Raped While Fleeing Myanmar, Charity Says’, The Guardian, 25 October 2017,, accessed 25 October 2021.


Bibu Prasad Routray, ‘Analysis: Military and the Monks: Future of Civil-Military Relations in Myanmar’, Mantraya Analysis No. 43, 2 March 2020,,, accessed 25 October 2021. See also, Wa Lone, ‘usdp Candidate Donates Big to Ma Ba Tha’, Myanmar Times, 3 September 2015,, accessed 25 October 2021.


Wa Lone, ‘nld Condemns U Wirathu for Hate Speech over Violent Video’, Myanmar Times, 2 February 2016,, accessed 25 October 2021.


pen Myanmar, ‘Hate Speech: A Study of Print, Movies, Songs, and Social Media in Myanmar’, n.d.,, accessed 13 September 2020.


ibid., p. 6.


ibid., pp. 6–7.


ibid., p. 24.


ibid., pp. 75–77.


Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, Report of the Detailed Findings of the International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, Human Rights Council, a/hrc/39/crp.2, pp. 323–30.


Agence France Press, ‘Buddhist Hardliners Stop Myanmar Muslim Ceremony’, Frontier Myanmar, 9 January 2017,, accessed on 25 October 2021.


‘Armed mob in Yangon demands Muslims end Ramadan prayer services’, Coconuts Yangon, 16 May 2019,, accessed on 25 October 2021.


Ye Htut, Myanmar’s Political Transition and Lost Opportunities, pp. 177–178.


ibid., p. 179.


ibid., p.180.


ibid., pp. 180–181.


dvb, ‘Anti-Hate Speech Draft Law Submitted to Myanmar Parliament’, Coconuts Yangon, 28 September 2017,, accessed 25 October 2021.


Pe Thet Htet Khin, ‘Daw Aung San Suu Kyi Alters Draft of Hate Speech Law’, The Irrawady, 3 April 2017,, accessed 25 October 2021.


Nyi Nyi Kyaw, ‘Facebooking in Myanmar: From Hate Speech to Fake News to Partisan Political Communication’, Perspective (iseas Yusof Ishak Institute), 2019, no. 36 (9 May 2019), p. 3.




ibid., p. 5.


Htun Htun, ‘Wirathu to be Tried for Sedition in Absentia’, The Irrawady, 11 June 2019,, accessed 25 October 2021.


Htet Khaung Lin, ‘Nationalist Monk Arrested After a Long Run’, The Irrawady, 12 June 2019,, accessed 25 October 2021.


Mratt Kyaw Thu, ‘Ma Ba Tha Ordered to Cease All Activities by State Sangha Committee’, Frontier Myanmar, 23 May 2017,, accessed 25 October 2021.


Kyaw Kha, ‘Religion Ministry Hits Out at Protesting Monks’, The Irrawady, 4 August 2017,, accessed 25 October 2021.


Zarni Mann, ‘U Wirathu: Daw Aung San Suu Kyi a Threat to National Religion and Identity’, The Irrawady, 5 December 2017,, accessed 25 October 2021.


Catholic News Service, ‘Myanmar’s Cardinal Urges End to Hate Speech, Help for Rohingya’, America: The Jesuit Review, 28 May 2015,, accessed 25 October 2021.


Lawi Weng, ‘Interfaith Leaders Call for “Legal Action” against Hate Speech’, The Irrawady, 26 April 2016,, accessed 25 October 2021.


Thin Lei Win, ‘Myanmar Activists Launch Anti-“Hate Speech” Campaign’, Thomson Reuters Foundation News, 3 April 2014,, accessed 1 November 2021.


Thin Lei Win, ‘Burmese Journalist Beseeches Brethren: Stop with the Muslim Hate Speech’, Thomson Reuters Foundation News, 13 March 2014,, accessed 1 November 2021.


Search for Common Ground, ‘Myanmar Impact Toolkit: Monitoring and Evaluating Counter Hate Speech Initiatives’, n.d., from, accessed 20 January 2020. The 23 organisations that worked together to develop the toolkit were: Center for Diversity and National Harmony (cdnh); Smile Education and Development Foundation; Peace and Development Society; Phandeeyar; Religions for Peace – Myanmar (RfPM); The Seagull: Human Rights, Peace & Development; cda Collaborative Learning Projects; The 88 Generation Peace and Open Society – Meikhtila; Burma Monitor; Metta Campaign Youth; Metta Campaign; Kalyana Myitta Development Foundation; Judson Research Center of mit; Phandeeyar; No Hate Speech Project by the Institute of War and Peace Reporting (iwpr); Myanmar ict for Development Organization (mido); Youth Circle; Shwe Chin Thae Social Service – Shwebo; United States Institute of Peace (usip); and Karuna Mission Social Solidarity/Caritas Myanmar.


ibid., pp. 15–16.


ibid., pp. 341–342.


Min Wathan, ‘Myanmar Govt Adopts Hand-Off Policy on Hate Speech’, Myanmar Times, 21 August 2020,, accessed 1 November 2021.


Kanishka Singh, ‘Facebook Improving Hate Speech Detection ahead of Myanmar Election’, Reuters, 1 September 2020,, accessed 1 November 2021.




Rafael Frankel, ‘An Update on the Situation in Myanmar’, Facebook, 11 February 2021, updated 14 April 2021,, accessed 1 November 2021.




Megan Bunting, ‘YouTube and Facebook Remove Hate Speech and Misinformation Posted by Myanmar Military Following the Coup’, The Organisation for World Peace (owp), 12 March 2021,, accessed 1 November 2021.


Reuters Staff, ‘“I Will Shoot Whoever I See”: Myanmar Soldiers Use TikTok to Threaten Protesters’, Reuters, 4 March 2021,, accessed 1 November 2021.


Billy Ford and Sarschi Oo, ‘Myanmar Coup: Military Regime Seeks to Weaponize Religion’, United States Institute for Peace (usip), 16 December 2021,, accessed 20 December 2021. See also Sam McNeil and Victoria Milko, ‘Hate Speech in Myanmar Continues to Thrive in Facebook’, Associated Press, 18 November 2021,, accessed 5 December 2022.


Reuters Staff, ‘“I Will Shoot Whoever I See”’.


Peter Guest, Emily Fishbein, and Nu Nu Lusan, ‘TikTok Is Repeating Facebook’s Mistakes in Myanmar’, Rest of the World, 18 March 2021,, accessed 21 December 2021.


Andrew Nachesom, ‘Channeling Hate and Disinformation: Myanmar’s Bad Actors Move to Telegram’, Frontier Myanmar, 15 September 2021,, accessed 21 December 2021.


Noel M. Morada, ‘asean and the Rakhine Crisis: Balancing Non-interference, Accountability, and Strategic Interests in Responding to Atrocities in Myanmar’, Global Responsibility to Protect 13(2–3) 131–157 (2021).


Noel M. Morada, ‘Continuing Violence and Atrocities in Rakhine since 2017: Beyond the Outrage, Failures of the International Community’, Global Responsibility to Protect, 12(1) 64–85 (2020).


itn News, ‘Facebook Shares Data on Myanmar with UN Investigators’, 26 August 2020,, accessed 21 December 2021.


Application of the Convention on The Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (The Gambia v. Myanmar), International Court of Justice, 23 January 2020,, accessed 1 December 2021.


Ministry of Information, ‘Press Statement on the Decision by the icj on “Provisional Measures” in the Case Brought by The Gambia against Myanmar’, The Republic of the Union of Myanmar, 23 January 2020,, accessed 1 December 2021.


Kwa Pyo Tha, ‘Myanmar Submits First Report to World Court on Provisional Measures to Protect Rohingya’, The Irrawady, 26 May 2020,, accessed 1 December 2021.


‘Myanmar Anti-Hate Speech Orders Aimed at Halting Discrimination against Rohingya’, Radio Free Asia, 4 May 2020,, accessed 1 December 2021.


Noel M. Morada, ‘asean and the Rakhine Crisis: Balancing Non-interference, Accountability, and Strategic Interests in Responding to Atrocities in Myanmar.’ Global Responsibility to Protect, 13(2–3) 131–157 (2021).


Based on interview with a staff member of asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (aphr), 9 November 2019, Jakarta, Indonesia.


Roman David, Aung Kaung Myat, and Ian Holliday, ‘Can Regime Change Improve Ethnic Relations? Perception of Ethnic Minorities after the 2021 Coup in Myanmar’, Japanese Journal of Political Science, 23, 89–104 (2022).


ibid., p. 103.

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