The Rohingya are one of many ethnic minorities that live at the territory of Myanmar. They follow Islam and pray to Allah even though the country considers itself as majority-Buddhist state. Antonio Guerres, UN Secretary described them as “one of, if not the, most discriminated people in the world”. Why does modern-day Myanmar refuse to recognize the existence of a people who have existed on its territory for thousands of years? The story starts with the British colonization of Burma (Blakemore, 2019).
A small Muslim population came at the territory of Burma, starting in 1490 and lived peacefully in the Arakan state when it was conquered by Burmese Empire and then by Great Britain. Under the rule of Burma, many Arakanese fled away because of ruthless oppression. However, the ethnic violence continued and brought a great deal of bloodshed to Arakan during the World War II and after 1948. Rohingya stayed loyal to the British but Buddhist population chose the side of invading Japan. The resulting conflict was more severe. Muslims have lived in Burma for decades and Britain promised them an independent state. When Myanmar gained independence in 1948, the government didn’t approve the project for Muslim state. Nor did it acknowledge the Rohingya minority on its own territory. Instead Myanmar worked to cast out the Rohingya people, excluding them from its constitution. In 1982, Myanmar passed a citizenship law that denied the Rohingya people citizenship (Blakemore, 2019).
The idea of “national races” has led to brutal conflict in Myanmar. Even though, the state recognizes “135 national races”, the Rohingya are not among them. Authorities even refuse to use term “Rohingya “. The ethnic composition in Myanmar is: Burman (68%), Shan (9%), Karen (7%), Rakhine (4%), Chinese (3%), Indian (2%), Mon (2%), and other (5%), while the religious cohabitation is: Buddhist (89%), Christian (4%; Baptist 3%, Roman Catholic 1%), Muslim (4%), animist (1%), and other (2%) (CIA, 2006). Nowadays, they constitute one of the world’s largest stateless population. Almost one million live in rural areas in country’s northwest, speak dialect of Bengali, have Muslim names and there are not citizens of any state. As a stateless, as non- citizens, the Rohingya people lack basic rights within Myanmar. The military regime that came in 1962 declared Rohingya as “aliens from Bengal” and Rohingya people became victims of state-sponsored persecution (Barany, 2019).
The tragedy of the unrecognized minority was rapidly getting worse and worse. After the so called “Operation King Dragon,” Burmese military forces targeted the Rohingya people and were accused of human rights abuses including rape, destruction of houses and villages, and mass arrests. Rohingya people began fleeing to nearby Bangladesh in huge numbers. Another targeted campaign, “Operation Clean and Beautiful Nation,” pushed another 200,000 people out of the country (Blakemore, 2019).
Fight for basic human rights?
From 2014, the government of Myanmar, refused to recognize them as a people. It sees them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh not recognized under the law. Rohingya people cannot access social services or education and their movement outside of Rakhine State is closely restricted. The government strictly regulates and controls both marriages and childbirths among this minority, restricting marriages or not allowing them to have more than 2 children in some provinces. Rohingya people have also been subjected to forced labor, illegal detention, confiscation of land, eviction and banning Rohingya from standing in the November 2015 elections. In May 2015, horrific pictures of desperate people flew over the internet and brought the global attention. ISCI’s detailed research found ample evidence that the Rohingya have been subjected to systematic and widespread violations of human rights, including killings, torture, rape and arbitrary detention; destruction of their homes and villages; land confiscation; forced labor; denial of citizenship; denial of the right to identify themselves as Rohingya; denial of access to healthcare, education and employment; restrictions on freedom of movement, and State-sanctioned campaigns of religious hatred….Around 138,000 Rohingya were displaced and ended up in what are effectively detention camps. A further 4,500 desperate Rohingya people live in a squalid ghetto in Sittwe, Rakhine state’s capital. The Myanmar government’s escalating institutionalized discrimination against the Rohingya has allowed hate speech to flourish, encouraged Islamophobia and granted impunity to perpetrators of violence. The systematic, planned and targeted weakening of the Rohingya through mass violence and other measures, as well as the implementation of discriminatory and persecutory policies against them does not contribute to flattering Myanmar’s transition to democracy (Green, MacManus, de la Cour Venning, 2015).
The failure to resolve the critical situation of the Rohingya can be attributed in part to
Myanmar’s historic political democratic transition, which has absorbed the energies and attention of almost all national and international actors; and to the unfortunate animosity from many in Myanmar toward the Rohingya community and those who defend them, even those who were and are still victims of human rights violations. Careful government planning grounded in decades of military rule, and skillful diplomatic manipulation, has further exacerbated an already intractable crisis. Myanmar has a long history of inter-religious and inter-ethnic conflict, state violence and repression, restrictions on population movement, and underdevelopment (Green, MacManus, de la Cour Venning, 2015; Walton & Howard, 2014).
Path to Genocide?
The effects of genocide do not end but only begin with the deaths of the victims. In short the main objective of genocidal destruction is the transformation of the victims into ‘nothing’ and the survivors into ‘nobodies.’ (Feierstein, 2014).
There exist four stages of genocide: systematic, institutionalized stigmatization and dehumanization; subjection to harassment, violence and terror; the organized isolation and segregation of the Rohingya into detention camps, prison villages and a ghetto; and finally, the systematic weakening of the Rohingya community. Taken together these overlapping stages provide compelling evidence of genocidal persecution against the Rohingya. (Feierstein, 2014).
The stigmatization and dehumanization of the Rohingya operates from the highest levels of government to local Rakhine civil society. In 2015 the Head of the Myanmar Human Rights Commission, Win Mra, an ethnic Rakhine who refers to the Rohingya who mainly live in Rakhine state as ‘strangers’, said:
“As human beings… we have the right to food, health and other human rights, but when you claim yourself as a Rohingya, that’s a different issue.” (Paluch, 2015)
A leading Rakhine human rights organization, said:
“But these Bengalis are not like humans – they are intolerant demons which spill blood and inflict pain and suffering on others. Thus, we must resist them.” (AHRDO, 2013)
The Rohingya face the final stages of genocide. Dehumanization and stigmatization techniques are reinforced through segregation and systematic isolation. Social and physical exclusion are key elements of a genocide controlled by the state. In Germany, Jews were banned from public places, excluded from work in a wide range of professions, ghettoized and later forced into concentration camps where they were systematically weakened to the point of death. In the Rohingya camps, villages and Aung Mingalar ghetto a deeply weakened and traumatized population endures the barest of lives and denial of basic human rights with the ever-present fear of violent attack. In Myanmar’s genocidal process, two stages remain: extermination and ‘symbolic enactment’ (Green, MacManus, de la Cour Venning, 2015).
“The government is not killing us with guns but is indirectly killing us through a lack of health- care and forcing us to leave to third countries. We are prisoners, living in a prison. We are not getting a normal food supply. We have no education here. We have nothing here. How can we continue with life here?” (Rohingya man, Thae Chaung, IDP camp, 7 November 2014.)
Author: Tereza Fabuľová
Photo Source: Reuters, (2019). NBCNEWS.com. Rohingya still in Myanmar face ‚threat of genocide‘: United Nations. LINK: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/rohingya-still-myanmar-face-threat-genocide-united-nations-n1054761
Arakan Human Rights and Development Organization (AHRDO). (2013). Conflict and Violence in Arakan (Rakhine) State, Myanmar (Burma): What is Happening, Why and What To Do. p.21: http://www.burmalink.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/AHRDO.Arakan-Violence-Report-for-reading-Online.pdf. Accessed 10 October 2015.
Barany, Z. (2019). Why Myanmar’s army gets away with ethnic cleansing. Instituto Affari Internazionali (IAI). www.jstor.org/stable/resrep19683. Accessed 5 Nov. 2020.
Blakemore, E. (2019). Who are the Rohingya people? National Geographic.
Brinham N. (2012). The Conveniently Forgotten Human Rights of the Rohingya. Forced Migration Rev. 2012
Feierstein, D. (2014). Genocide as Social Practice: Reorganizing Society under the Nazis and Argentina’s Military Juntas. Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2014.
Green, P., MacManus, T., de la Cour Venning, A. (2015) Countdown to Annihilation: Genocide in Myanmar, London: International State Crime Initiative. Queen Mary University of London.
Rohingya man, Thae Chaung, IDP camp 7 November 2014., (used in article Green, P., MacManus, T., de la Cour Venning, A., 2015)
Walton, M. J. & Hayward, S. (2014). Contesting Buddhist Narratives: Democratization, Nationalism, and Communal Violence. Policy Studies 71. Honolulu: East-West Center. http://www.eastwestcenter.org/publications/contesting- buddhist-narratives-democratization-nationalism-and-communal-violence-in-mya. Accessed 10 October 2015.