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Human Rights Violations, Persecution, and Terror


Signs of Genocide Against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar/Burma

by: Dr. Wakar Uddin, Director General, Arakan Rohingya Union

INTRODUCTION

The ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar/Burma is systematic, systemic, and intricate. It did not receive widespread attention from the international community until June of 2012, when gruesome massacres of Muslim pilgrims by Buddhist Rakhine took place in the Southern Arakan city of Taungoke. Though anti-Islamic and anti-Rohingya sentiments in the Buddhist community and the Government existed during pre- and post-colonial period in Myanmar, the systematic ethnic cleansing of Rohingya by the Government of Myanmar did not surface until 1962. Today, the intensity of persecution and violence against Rohingya have escalated to a point that some analysts and experts have begun to describe it as genocide, slow burning genocide, early warning of genocide, or hidden genocide from various points of view. According to the United Nations, the Rohingya people are one of the most persecuted people in the world. Although the plight of Rohingya had been confined by and large to Arakan state, during the past half-a-century, it is no longer an issue within the territory of Myanmar, but has now become a regional issue in Southeast Asia, and it is rapidly reaching a global scale as a humanitarian and political issue. In May of 2015, emergency situation developed at Andaman Sea where thousands of Rohingya refugees remained adrift for several days without food and water. Additionally, mass graves of Rohingya victims of human trafficking were discovered in Southern Thailand. The Rohingya issues have reached the ASEAN Summit, OIC Council of Foreign Ministers Conference, United Nations General Assembly, United Nations Human Rights Council, United States Congress, Canadian Parliament, European Union, and the Government and non-Government institutions in numerous countries worldwide.

WHO ARE THE ROHINGYA MUSLIMS?

Rohingya people are indigenous to Arakan. They are one of the two major ethnic groups in Arakan, and the other is Buddhist Rakhine, along with a relatively small number of other minorities such as Kamen, Daingnet, Mro, Thet, and others. The word “Rohingya” is derived from the word ‘Rohang,’ which is the original and ancient name of Arakan. In the medieval works of poets of Arakan and Chittagong regions, such as Alaol, Qazi Daulat, Mardan, Shamsher Ali, Ainuddin, Abdul Ghani and others Arakan is frequently referred to as Roshang, Roshango Des and Roshango Shar.

Currently, the Rohingya Muslims number approximately 3 million worldwide. Due to the persecution, violence, and ethnic cleansing policy of the Government of Myanmar, half of them, about 1.5 million Rohingya, were forced out of their ancestral homeland and they are currently living in various parts of the globe, including the Middle East, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Far East, Australia, Europe, and North America. The Government of Myanmar continues to fabricate the etymology of Rohingya and deny their ethnic identity; and therefore, it imperative that some landmark events of Rohingya history in Arakan are discussed, at least briefly in this publication.

The original inhabitants of pre-Islamic Rohang were Hindus, Buddhists and animists. From the pre-Islamic period, the region was very familiar to the Arab seafarers. Many settled in the Arakan, and mixing with the local population; thus leading to the present stock of the indigenous population known as ethnic Rohingya. Some historians mention that the first Muslims to settle in Arakan were Arabs, under the leadership of Muhammad ibn Hanafiya in the late 7th century (C.E.). He married the queen Kaiyapuri, who had converted to Islam. Her people then embraced Islam en masse. Dedicating to them, the names of the two peaks (known as Tonki in Rohingya language) of a mountain in Arakan, known as Hanifa Tonki and Kaiyapuri Tonki, still exist.

The second major influx of early Muslims dates back to the 8th century (C.E.). The British Burma Gazetteer (1957) says, in 788 AD, Mahataing Sandya ascended the throne of Vesali, founded a new city (Vesali) on the site of old Ramawadi and died after a reign of twenty-two years. During his reign, several ships were wrecked on Rambree Island off the coast of south-central Arakan and the crews, said to have been Mohammedans, were sent to the land of Arakan Proper and settled in villages. They were reportedly Moor Arab Muslims.

The third major influx came after 1404, when the Arakan king, dethroned by the Burmese, took asylum in Gaur (the capital of Bengal) and pleaded for help from Jalaluddin Muhammad Shah, the Sultan of Bengal, to regain the lost throne. The Sultan sent tens of thousands of soldiers to conquer Arakan. Many of these Muslim soldiers subsequently settled there.

Later, other ethnic groups, namely – the Mughals (i.e, with the flight of Mughal prince Shah Shuja in 1660), Turks, Persians, Central Asians, Pathans and Bengalis – also moved into the territory and mixed with these Rohingya people. The spread of Islam in the Arakan (and along the southern coastal areas of Bangladesh) mostly happened through the sea-borne Sufis and merchants. This fact is testified by the darghas (shrines), which are dotted at the long coast of Arakan and Myanmar. The Burmese historian U Kyi reportedly wrote “The superior morality of those devout Muslims attracted large number of people towards Islam who embraced it en masse.”

Hence, the Rohingya Muslims, whose settlements in Arakan date back to the 7th century C.E., are an ethnic group that developed from different stocks of people. To date, the ethnic Rohingya Muslims maintain a rich language, culture, and devout Islamic religious identity.

WHY ETHNIC CLEANSING AGAINST ROHINGYA IN MYANMAR?

The indigeneity and ethnicity of Rohingya ethnic minority in Arakan is signified by their cultural, linguistic, and religious attributes. On a national scale, a vast majority of the population of Myanmar is Buddhist. The militancy in a larger segment of Buddhist population in Myanmar dates back to pre-colonial era, and it has surged significantly during the independence period that was confounded with ultra-nationalist ideology. Although hostility against Rohingya population and Islam in Arakan by Buddhist Rakhine always existed in a more localized fashion, the rigorous persecution of Rohingya and attacks on Islam in Arakan did not start until the Military Junta of Dictator General Ne Win. The Military Junta elevated the anti-Rohingya and anti-Islam sentiment to an even greater level with systematic approach through imposition of regional policies in Northern Arakan state that specifically target the Rohingya. The regional policy has been the driving force for major human right violations and ethnic cleansing in Rohingya areas in Arakan.

The primary reasons for ethnic cleansing against Rohingya in Myanmar are:

  • Part of a national policy of purity of Burman race and religion–Arakan as a model system
  • Destruction of Rohingya ethnic identity and elimination of Rohingya from Arakan as they are perceived by the Government as an obstacle to implementation of its policy of purity
  • Destruction of Islamic identity in Arakan, a foundation of Rohingya cultural and religious attributes
  • The divide-and-rule policy of the Government of Myanmar in Arakan that effectively weakens both the Rohingya and Rakhine communities – a strategy aiming marginalizing Rohingya while deterring Rakhine from seeking greater autonomy or independence (reclaiming the old Rakhine Kingdom from occupation by Myanmar)

THE SOURCE OF VIOLENCE AGAINST ROHINGYA

Ethnic cleansing policy in Arakan adopted by the former Military Junta has been driven by the successive governments in Myanmar through committing major human right violations against Rohingya such as deprivations of freedom of movement, freedom to worship, right to marry, denial of basic education and health care, destruction of places of worship, confiscation of lands, building settlements (Natala) of “Buddhist Magh” who are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh on Rohingya lands, arbitrary arrests, torture, extortion, rape, sex slavery, and aiding human traffickers by Myanmar local officials and armed forces along with Buddhist Rakhine mobs. Such human right violations have only encouraged Buddhist Rakhine and paved the way for violence against Rohingya.

Two bouts of anti-Rohingya violence erupted in Arakan State, each in June and October of 2012 resulting in the death of several hundred Rohingya and Kamen Muslim men, women, children, and the elderly. The attacks were pre-planned, well-orchestrated, and carried out to trigger mass exodus of Rohingya from Arakan to neighboring countries. Several NGOs, Human Rights organizations, UN agencies have documented involvement of Government security apparatus in killing the Muslims and abetting the crimes committed by Rakhine mobs. Since the onset of anti-Muslim violence in June 2012 several thousand Rohingya have been forced out of their villages to live in Internally Displace Persons (IDP) camps.  Most of the IDP camps are located around Sittwe (Akyab), the capital city of Arakan State and other townships in Northern Arakan. Over 200,000 Rohingya and Kamen Muslims were forced to leave their homes. Over 140,000 took shelter in IDP camps and an estimated 60,000 have fled by sea to seek refuge in Malaysia, Thailand and other countries. Several thousand men, women, and children have fallen victims in the hands of human traffickers as a result of violence in 2012. Currently, there are hundreds of isolated Rohingya villages in remote areas that are surrounded by hostile Buddhist Rakhine mobs, blocking Rohingya from getting access to humanitarian aid agencies in Arakan. Additionally, several thousand Rohingya families in Central Arakan are being sheltered in Rohingya homes in Northern Arakan.

SITUATION IN ROHINGYA AREAS IN ARAKAN

Following the outbreak of violence in 2012, authorities carried out mass arrest of Rohingya and transferred them to unknown destinations. Many people are being tortured and long prison sentences have been awarded to them. Extra judicial killings have been carried out with impunity. There are reports of dumping dead bodies in mass graves. Human rights organizations have found evidences of mass graves in at least 4 locations including Ba Du Baw IDP camp in Thetkaybyin in Akyab where three truck loads of dead bodies were dumped in the mass grave in Yanthei village in Mrauk U. Confirmed reports indicate that more than 70 persons have been killed in Mrauk U and they have been unceremoniously dumped in mass graves.

Security forces and Buddhist Rakhine mobs routinely enter houses of Rohingya in IDP camps. The security forces and Rakhine mobs harass and beat family members, abuse and rape women and often commit looting their properties. During the village raids many people are subjected to random killing, severe beatings arrest and torture. Mosques and religious schools have been forced to shut down since the outbreak of violence in 2012. Muslims cannot perform congregational prayer and those who secretly pray in their houses are heavily punished if found. Several mosques, which were partially destroyed during riots, have been demolished by the authorities.

ANTI-MUSLIM VIOLENCE IN ARAKAN STATE AND BEYOND – SOME HIGHLIGHTS

While the international community remained focused on humanitarian crises in Arakan, the radical Rakhine elements and the ultranationalist Buddhist monks’ of 969 movement, with full complicit of the Government, instigated violence against Pathi Myanmar Muslims in Central Myanmar, as a diversionary tactic.

As a result of the anti-Muslim violence in Meikhtila in Central Myanmar over one hundred Pathi Muslim were killed, some of them burned alive. Muslim businesses, homes, mosques, and religious schools were reduced to ashes overnight. On April 30, 2013 anti-Muslim violence broke out in the town of Okkan, north of Yangon. Several persons were killed and houses, mosques and shops were burned down.

Subsequent events of violence in other cities ensued in the following weeks – On May 2, 2013, in the mining town of Hpakant in Northern Kachin State, and on May 28, 2013 in Lashio in Shan State. When the attention from the international community shifted to the violence in Central Myanmar, the violence against Rohingya resumed in Arakan – this time in Sandoway in Southern Arakan. The violence started in Sandoway with the killing of a 93-year old Rohingya elderly woman. The violence continues, and on 24 August anti-Muslim violence erupted in Kanblu in Sagaing region in Central Myanmar.

On January 13, 2014, Myanmar Government forces and Rakhine mobs jointly carried out a five-day raid in the village of Du Chiratan on the pretext of searching unauthorized mobile phones. Violence began when Burmese forces inappropriately touched Rohingya women during body search for mobile phones. Over 80 Rohingya  were killed during the 5-day assault including women and children while the villages were sealed off by the Myanmar armed forces. The operation of humanitarian group, Doctors without Borders (MSF) were shut down by local Myanmar officials because it reportedly treated 23 injured Rohingya from Du Chiratan. Witness also reported that truckloads of several dead and mutilated bodies of Rohingya men were being removed and buried in mass graves.

The Government authorities often attempt to cut off aid supplies to the IDP camps using Buddhist Rakhine extremists and monks. Authorities have instigated protests and attacks against the international humanitarian NGOs destroying several office building and food warehouses. After the expulsion of the NGOs, the Government has created the Emergency Coordination Committee (ECC) chaired by the mastermind of the attacks on the NGOs. Currently, the ECC dictates the aid supplies of the NGOs to the IDP camps. There has been extreme shortage of food, water, and healthcare services in the IDP camps. Emergency cases such as child-delivery and other life-threatening illnesses, involving Rohingya patients, are denied treatment in Government hospitals or clinics. The Union Government or Rakhine State authorities have taken no step to repatriate the Rohingya IDPs to their own residence of origin. The authorities have reportedly drawn a master plan of segregation to make the IDP camps permanent or semi-permanent and are devised to compel the IDPs to leave Arakan due to hardship and austerity in camps.

Since the 2015 national election is drawing near the Government has engaged in playing politics with the Rohingya issue as it similarly did in the 2010 national election. Recently a law was passed by the parliament that the holders of White Cards would be allowed to vote in the 2015 election (temporary cards given to Rohingya after confiscating their Nationality Certification Cards). However, President Thein Sein withdrew the law passed by the parliament, and instead, voided all the White Cards effectively barring the Rohingya from taking part in the election.

While the government of Myanmar, some UN agencies and some of the international community continue to label the violence as inter-communal and sectarian, the body of evidence collected from human rights organizations shows that the State and its security forces played a vital role in the physical destruction of the Rohingya community, their properties, cultural heritage, religious structures during and after the 2012 violence against Rohingya. In fact, it is not an inter-communal or sectarian riot, but can be defined as one-sided attacks on Rohingya ethnic minority by the Buddhist mobs backed by the Government security forces.

 

EMERGENCY SITUATION IN SOUTHEAST ASIA

The Crisis in the Andaman Sea

On May 7, 2015, off the coast of Southern Thailand in the Andaman Sea, a wooden boat with estimated several hundred Rohingya was spotted adrift, which is part of a regular flow of thousands of Rohingya escaping atrocities by Myanmar armed forces and local officials, and violence by Buddhist Rakhine. The fishing boat, packed with men, women, and children squatting on the deck with only plastic tarps to protect them from the intense sun, had been reportedly turned away by the Malaysian authorities. The refugees on the boat have been in the high seas for three months and that the boat’s captain and crew abandoned them a week before they were spotted drifting in the sea. The victims were trying to reach Malaysia but the recent the crackdown against human traffickers in Thailand, which has long been considered a regional hub for human trafficking, has made traffickers reluctant to bring people ashore, thus putting the refugees at even greater risk in the high seas. Ten people have died during the voyage, and their bodies were thrown overboard, according to reports. The Thai military reportedly provided some water and food after they were spotted, and then assisted the boat’s departure farther out to the sea later. An estimated 8,000 Rohingya men, women, and children are reportedly at sea trying to reach Malaysia, as they are fleeing atrocities and dire situation in Arakan.

In early May 2015, over 1,500 Rohingya refugees came ashore in Malaysia and Indonesia, and both countries have reportedly expressed their intention to turn away any more boats carrying refugees. Subsequently, the Indonesian Navy turned away a boat with several hundred Rohingya, while the Malaysian authorities turned away two boats with a total of at least 800 passengers. Indonesia’s chief military spokesman, Maj. Gen. Fuad Basya, has recently indicated that the military would “push back any boat that wants to enter Indonesian waters without permission, including those of boat people like the Rohingya.”

The fate of the Rohingya refugees in several boats, reportedly still drifting off the shore of Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand, is unknown.

Human Smuggling, Trafficking, and Mass Graves

The Rohingya trafficked in Thailand since 2012 violence in Arakan are estimated to be as high as a quarter million. The UN Refugee agency estimates that some 25,000 Rohingya boarded smugglers’ boats in the first three months of 2015. In most cases, the brokers of smuggling ring lure the Rohingya victims by simply offering the trip to Malaysia for a price of $200; however, the price increases significantly – in some instances to as much as $2,000 – once Rohingya are in the custody of human traffickers and facing abuse.

Once in Thailand, many Rohingya are forced to cross the country using vehicles run by the smugglers, who hold them in captivity in squalid jungle camps until a ransom is paid by their family back home or relatives in Malaysia. Recently, several camps have been reportedly discovered in Southern Thailand. At the beginning of May 2015, Thai authorities have reportedly discovered an unusually large camp used to detain Rohingya refugees at the Thailand-Malaysia border. The camp, appeared to be a year old, was found at Khao Kaew Hill, bordering Malaysia. It is located three kilometers away from the first camp, where 26 bodies of Rohingya in a mass grave were discovered. The newly discovered camp holds more than 1,000 people. It has 21 bedrooms, eight toilets, two watchtowers, four stoves and a large hall, which is still under construction.

The Thai Government’s crackdown on human traffickers has led to additional discovery of several mass graves in trafficking camps located in remote jungles close to Malaysian border. On May 1, 2015, a joint military-police taskforce discovered at least 30 bodies at an abandoned human trafficking camp in the Sadao district of Songkhla province near the Thai-Malaysian border. Many were buried in shallow graves, while others were covered with blankets and clothes and left in the open. Police reports indicate the dead are Rohingya from Myanmar who starved to death or died of disease while held by traffickers who were awaiting payment of ransoms.

Involvement of Thai police in trafficking of Rohingya further complicates the issue. Some of the police officers in Thai prison and detention centers reportedly collude with the human traffickers in exchange for cash. Rohingya families are often deceived by taking out of the prison and detention centers with reasons of relocation. Subsequently, men, women, and children are separated during the transportation, where women were taken to separate destinations for sex trade. Men are taken to hard labor camps to work in plantations and farms, and children are used as laborers or sold to third parties.

 

IMPORTANT ISSUES NOT MAKING TO THE MAINSTREAM PRESS

The international community, particularly the press, does not provide adequate coverage unless there is an emergency humanitarian situations such as boat people adrift at Andaman Sea or the discovery of mass graves in Southern Thailand. The mainstream corporate media, particularly in the United States, that usually focus heavily sensationalism, overlook the Rohingya issue. There are a variety of reasons for inadequate coverage in US media that is typically consumed with issues in the Middle East, national security, and other news events driven by lobbying groups of particular interests. Muslim Ummah in U.S. is not well mobilized due to the small Rohingya population in the US, thus their less or non-visibility in overall Muslim communities. The Rohingya issue has received relative greater coverage in the European and Middle Eastern Press, but still not near where it should have been. Such lack of interests in the Western media further feeds into the long standing isolationist policy of Myanmar Government which does not give the international media (those attempting to cover Rohingya issue) unfettered access to the crisis areas in Arakan. Additionally, there has not been independent media in Myanmar for over 50 years. Recently a handful of nationalist Buddhist-dominated media operations emerged, and most of them are hostile to Rohingya and Islam. The most important issues that are not receiving adequate coverage in the press are: (1) Dire Situation in Internally Displaced Peoples Camps; (2) Significance of roots in Arakan and ethnic identity; and (3) Deprivation of citizenship through revocation.

Dire Situation in Internally Displaced Peoples (IDP) Camps

Over 140,000 Rohingya and Kamen Muslims are living in several IDP camps where the IDPs rely solely on the humanitarian assistance provided by the international community for their survival. The movement of IDPs is confined within the camps encircled by barbed wire fences under the watchful eyes of the Myanmar security forces. They are not allowed to go outside the camp in search of food, medicine, or water. In early 2014, when the international humanitarian groups were expelled by the Government, food supplies ran out quickly. Out of desperation some IDPs venture out to of the camps in search of food and have been reportedly shot dead by the security forces. Several cases of sexual assault and rape of Rohingya women in IDP camps by the security forces have also been reported.

The Government authorities often attempt to cut off aid supplies to the IDP camps using Buddhist Rakhine extremists and monks. Authorities have instigated protests and attacks against the international humanitarian NGOs destroying several office building and food warehouses. After the expulsion of the NGOs, the Government has created the Emergency Coordination Committee (ECC) chaired by the mastermind of the attacks on the NGOs. Currently, the ECC dictates the aid supplies of the NGOs to the IDP camps. There has been extreme shortage of food, water, and healthcare services in the IDP camps. Emergency cases such as child-delivery and other life-threatening illnesses, involving Rohingya patients, are denied treatment in Government hospitals or clinics. The Union Government or Rakhine State authorities have taken no step to repatriate the Rohingya IDPs to their own residence of origin. The authorities have reportedly drawn a master plan of segregation to make the IDP camps permanent or semi-permanent and are devised to compel the IDPs to leave Arakan due to hardship and austerity in camps.

Since the 2015 national election is drawing near the Government has engaged in playing politics with the Rohingya issue as it similarly did in the 2010 national election. Recently a law was passed by the parliament that the holders of White Cards would be allowed to vote in the 2015 election (temporary cards given to Rohingya after confiscating their Nationality Certification Cards). However, President Thein Sein withdrew the law passed by the parliament, and instead, voided all the White Cards effectively barring the Rohingya from taking part in the election.

While the government of Myanmar, some UN agencies and some of the international community continue to label the violence as inter-communal and sectarian, the body of evidence collected from human rights organizations shows that the State and its security forces played a vital role in the physical destruction of the Rohingya community, their properties, cultural heritage, religious structures during and after the 2012 violence against Rohingya. In fact, it is not an inter-communal or sectarian riot, but can be defined as one-sided attacks on Rohingya ethnic minority by the Buddhist mobs backed by the Government security forces.

Significance of Rohingya Ethnic Identity

Attempts by the Government of Myanmar to label Rohingya as Bengali have recurred several times in the past even before the national census of 2014. The national census of 2014 was held with the financial and technical assistance from the United Nations Population Funds, European Union, and a number of NGOs through an agreement signed by the Government that every individual will be allowed to self-identify himself/herself with regards to ethnic and religious identity in the data collection form. However, the government reneged the  agreement and Rohingya were denied to self-identify themselves, forcing them to write Bengali in the form. The attempts by the Government did not succeed as Rohingya people rejected the move by the Government. In a pilot project in IDP camps in Myebon Township, a group of ethnic Kaman Muslims were deceitfully mislabeled by the authorities as Bengali or Bengali-Kamen or Bengali-Bengali-Kamen and issued the red card (citizenship) or the green card (naturalized citizenship). It should be noted that Kamen Muslims are one of the Government-recognized 135 ethnic groups in Myanmar with full citizenship. Despite issuance of the cards, no one was allowed to leave the IDP camps and return to their former homes. The authorities threaten the Rohingya with dire consequences if they continue to reject registering as “Bengali” to internment camps where they will be detained indefinitely. There are reports that victims are tortured and beaten while forcing them to write Bengali in the census form. The authorities produced forms that a group of 34 people in a village in Maungdaw Township have registered as Bengali in June of 2013; however, those registrants dispute the claim by the authorities indicating that they were told to leave the ethnicity item blank.

Deprivation of Citizenship Through Revocation

Numerous information supported by undisputable evidences clearly establish the fact that Rohingya ethnic minority have always been the bona-fide citizens of Myanmar. However, the Military Junta has disregarded the facts and systematically revoked the citizenship of Rohingya that has set the stage for ethnic cleansing. The Junta’s 1982 Citizenship law was enacted, primarily targeting the Rohingya, after the repatriation of over 200,000 Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh who were forced out of their homes in Arakan as a result of the ethnic cleansing operation named Nagamin Sitsinye (Operation King Dragon). Following the failure of the Nagamin Sitsinye, the Myanmar Junta reached an agreement with the Government of Bangladesh, and the Rohingya refugees were repatriated to their original homes in Arakan because of the evidence that they are Myanmar nationals. The Junta’s 1982 Citizenship law classifies the citizenship into three categories, and the description of each category is quite intricate (details of the categories may be located at http://www.refworld.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/rwmain?docid=3ae6b4f71b and various other locations).

Brief description of each category is as follows:

  • Class I: Full Citizen

Nationals and ethnic groups that have settled in any of the territories included within the State as their permanent home from a period anterior to 1823 A.D. are Burma citizens. The Council of State may decide whether any ethnic group is national or not.

  • Class II: Associate Citizen

Applicants for citizenship under the Union Citizenship Act, 1948, conforming to the stipulations and qualifications may be determined as associate citizens by the Central Body.

  • Class III: Naturalized Citizen

Persons who have entered and resided in the State anterior to 4th January, 1948, and their offspring’s born within the State may, if they have not yet applied under the union Citizenship Act, 1948, apply for naturalized citizenship to the Central Body, furnishing conclusive evidence.

It should be noted that there are numerous provisions in Class II and Class III Citizenship for revocation of the citizenship:

Chapter III Section 30(c) states that an Associate Citizen be entitled to enjoy the rights of a citizen under the laws of the State, with the exception of the rights stipulated from time to time by the Council of State.

Chapter III Section 35 (a-f) and Chapter IV (a-f) that are also noteworthy.

(See the details at the aforementioned URL: www.refworld.org)

NATIONAL ELECTIONS, ROHINGYA VOTERS, AND POLITICAL PARTIES

Since the independence of Myanmar, there have been numerous Rohingya leaders who have contested and/or elected to serve the country and their constituency in the Rohingya regions of Arakan, from the Civilian Government in 1950s and 60s to the Military’s State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC)’s multi-party national election in May 1990 and currently in the current Union Parliament and State Assembly.

In 1990 National Election, two Rohingya political parties, Students and Youth League for Mayu Development (SYLMD) and the National Democratic and Human Rights (NDPHR), were reportedly formed. The NDPHR won all four seats in Maung Daw and Buthidaung constituencies. In each constituency, the two parties received 80 per cent of the total votes. The turnout in both constituencies reportedly was consistent with the national average – 70 percent of the eligible voters. The NDPHR also had candidates contested in four additional electoral districts – Kyuktaw (1), Minbya (1), Mrauk U (2) and Sittwe (2), and they received an average of 17% of the votes despite the heavy population of Buddhist Rakhine in these districts.

In the 2010 Election, two Rohingya political parties, the National Democratic Party for Development (NDPD) and National Democratic and Peace Party (NDPP), have contested. Additionally, there were several Rohingya candidates from the Military’s Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and some independent Rohingya candidates also contested in the election. Candidates from the USDP were elected, three to the Union Parliament, and two to the Arakan State Assembly.

The elected Rohingya parliamentarians from pre-independence to current period are:

Pre-Independence

1947

  1. U Sultan Ahmed (Constituent Assembly – Maungdaw)
  2. U Abdul Gaffer (Constituent Assembly – Buthidaung)

Post-Independence

1952

  1. U Sultan Ahmed (Maungdaw-North)
  2. U Zohra Begum (alias) Daw Aye Nyunt (Maungdaw South; House of Deputies)
  3. U Abul Bashar (Buthidaung)
  4. U Abdul Gaffer (Maungdaw/Buthidaung, including House of Nationality in 1956)

 

1956

  1. U Sultan Ahmed (Maungdw North)
  2. U Abul Khair (Maungdaw South)
  3. U Azhar Meah (Buthidaung North)
  4. U Abul Bashar (Buthidaung South)

 

1960

  1. U Rashid (Maungdaw North)
  2. U Abul Khair (Maungdaw South)
  3. U Abul Bashar (Buthidaung South)
  4. U Abdul Subhan (House of Nationalities/The Upper House)

 

1974-1979 (Burma Socialist Programme Party (BSPP) Period – One-Party System Assembly)

  1. Abdur Rahim (Maungdaw South; 1974)
  2. U Abul Hussein (Buthidaung; 1974)
  3. U Tun Aung Kyaw (alias) Abdul Hai (Maungdaw South; 1979)

 

1990 (Elected but did not take office due to the military coup)

  1. U Fazal Ahmed (Maungdaw South)
  2. U Mohammed Ibrahim (alias) U Chit Lwin (Maungdaw North)
  3. U Kyaw Min (alias) Shamshul Anwar-ul-Huq (Buthidaung North)
  4. U Noor Ahmed (Buthidaung South)

 

2010 (First election to democratic transition)

  1. U Htay Win (alias) Zahidur Rahman (Maungdaw; Amyotha Hluttaw/Upper House)
  2. U Aung Zaw Win (alias) Zakir Hussain (Maungdaw; Pyithu Hluttaw/Lower House)
  3. U Shwe Maung (alias) Abdur Razak (Buthidaung Pyithu Hluttaw/Lower House)
  4. Bashir Ahmed (Buthidaung; Pyinay Hluttaw/State Assembly)
  5. U Aung Myo Myint (alias) Mohammed Jahangir (Maungdaw; Pyinay Hluttaw/State Assembly)

THE EXCLUSIONARY TACTICS

The self-described “Verification” process by the Government of Myanmar is a strategic move by the Union and state authorities to smear the legitimacy of the roots of Rohingya in Arakan through false allegation of being illegal Bengali immigrants. The former Military Junta had devised a long-term strategy to impose a regional law in Northern Arakan that further tightened the existing restrictions on Rohingya, including the systematic confiscation of NRC (Nationality Registration Certificate) from Rohingya and issuance of the temporary White Cards. The human right violations against Rohingya have spiraled since the confiscation of NRCs.A special paramilitary unit, NASAKA, was deployed in Rohingya areas to remove all the evidences and documentation of Rohingya ancestry and residency for centuries in their native places. NASAKA has conducted operation of elimination of the evidence at least twice a year until it was dismantled in 2014 due to the tremendous international pressure on the Government of Myanmar. However, the Government has deployed units of a new paramilitary force named Border Guard Police (BGP) that includes a number of the former NASAKA personnel. Currently, the BGPs units are reportedly carrying out the old unfinished job of the former NASAKA that was primarily targeting Rohingya. The house-to-house operations are so austere that any family member in Rohingya household not present during the surprised raids or scheduled investigation are removed from the household list, known as Intaung Zu Sayin. During the past several years, tens of thousands of names from the family household list were deleted simply because the individuals are not present at home during the raids or scheduled investigations.

Although the “Verification” was originally devised to hinder the possible re-instatement of the full citizenship rights to Rohingya, it has been recharged with a dramatic twist by the Union and State authorities.   Currently, it has been linked to the return of IDPs to their place of origin in various townships in Arakan. The reason for the forceful imposition of the term ‘Bengali’ on Rohingya by the government of Myanmar is to label them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and India, and that they don’t belong in Arakan state or Myanmar. Rohingya people unconditionally reject any term by the Government other than their true ethnic identity based on their history in Arakan. Under the Government’s plan, those Rohingya who refuse to comply with the government’s orders to accept the “Bengali” label will be deemed uncooperative and automatically be sent to camps. For those who could be trapped to self-identity as “Bengali” and if later they are not naturalized due to the loss of evidence to NASAKA, could face years of life in locked down in internment camps unless they decide to flee. In fact, these are parts of the strategy that the Government has devised through the current “Verification” process and greater Rakhine Action Plan.

THE INTERNATIONAL PERSPECTIVE

The Government of Myanmar continuously maintains that the Rohingya issue is an “internal affair” of the country, bluntly disregarding the international law on human rights, crimes against humanity, and the violence and persecution against minorities and the vulnerable populations. The intensity of the violence, and political and humanitarian crises in Arakan have spilled over to Central Myanmar, South Asia, and Southeast Asia.  Terrorism, preaching hate, and instigation of violence against Rohingya and Muslim population of Myanmar by the radical Buddhist monks have reached as far as Sri Lanka. Human trafficking, forced labor, and sex slavery involving Rohingya victims have become rampant in Thailand as a result of the persecution and violence against Rohingya in Arakan.

Analysts and experts in the international community have called the Rohingya IDP camps 21st Century Concentration Camps. International communities have vehemently spoken out about the humanitarian and political crisis faced by the Rohingya in Myanmar. US President Obama, former President Jimmy Carter, Secretary of State, Congressional leaders, UN Secretary General Ben Ki-moon, OIC Secretary General, leaders of the European Union and several countries in the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia, Ministry officials in China and the Russian Federation have all spoken about Rohingya issue, and called on the Government of Myanmar to find a solution to the problem. United States House Representatives passed a Resolution demanding the Government of Myanmar to end the persecution of ethnic Rohingya minority Muslims.

The House Resolution implores the Government of Myanmar to respect internationally recognized human rights for all ethnic and religious minority groups within Burma. The Resolution sends a clear message to the Burmese government that blatant racism will not be tolerated by the United States. The United States Senate has drafted a similar resolution, but in a stronger language, and is working on introducing it in the new session in 2015. United States Congress, the Canadian Parliament, the British Parliament, and several other institutions have conducted Hearings multiple times on Rohingya political, human right, and humanitarian issues in Myanmar.

The United Nations General Assembly has also passed Resolutions sponsored by the European Union in coordination with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation on Rohingya human right issues in its sessions in Geneva. The former and current UN Special Rapporteurs on Myanmar have released astounding reports of human right violations faced by the Rohingya in Arakan state. Some ASEAN member states have also sought diplomatic solution to the Rohingya issue. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Physicians for Human Rights, Doctors Without Borders, United to End Genocide, U.S. Campaign for Burma, Muslim World League, Burma Campaign UK, and several other organizations from Turkey, Europe, Middle East, and Asia have spoken out about the Rohingya political and human right issues.

SOLUTION TO THE CRISES IN ARAKAN

The Rohingya political and human right issues are not as complex as the Government of Myanmar claims. The Buddhist Rakhine leadership and radical elements in the Government of Myanmar have capitalized on the longstanding Rohingya ethnic cleansing policy of the former Military Junta during the democratic transition in Myanmar. In every effort made by the international community to find a solution in Arakan, the unyielding Government officials in Naypyitaw paint a complex picture of the issue in order to avert any progress. Delay tactics and the voice-of-Buddhist-Rakhine factors used by the Government, are the two most common obstacles in making progress.

There are seemingly very few avenues in making progress on Rohingya issues internally in Myanmar because of the unfavorable political climate for the Rohingya people. The realistic situation on the ground and in Naypyitaw points the issue essentially towards the international community that has evidently made some tangible progress, despite limited increments. It must be noted that the roots of the problem in Arakan are the longstanding Government’s discriminatory and hostile policy towards Rohingya; therefore, the key to the solution lies with the Government. If the Government of Myanmar is sincere in devising a realistic roadmap to finding a permanent solution to the issues in Arakan, the following objectives – immediate, short-term, and mid-term/long-term – must be addressed by the Government in coordination with the international community:

  • Immediate
    • Provide full Government security for the IDPs and vulnerable Rohingya villages
    • Provide unfettered access by the international and national humanitarian workers to the IDP camps and villages of all the affected people
    • Rescue and repatriate all the Rohingya refugees adrift at Andaman Sea by the Government of Myanmar and their safe return to their villages
    • Cooperate with the Thai and international teams that are handling the mass grave issue in Southern Thailand
    • Increase of international and national humanitarian groups in all affected areas in Arakan state
    • Void the regional administrative rule in Northern Arakan state that is the instrument of major human right violations such as restrictions on freedom of movement, worship, marriages, denial of basic education and healthcare, confiscation of lands, and numerous other violations.
    • Put an end to the impunity of the persecution of Rohingya
    • Retract the Presidential decree nullifying the White Cards and allow Rohingya to form political parties and to participate in the elections
    • Permanently cease the “Verification” process that labels Rohingya as “Bengali” or “Illegal Bengali Immigrants”
    • Stop campaigns by the Myanmar officials against ethnic identity of Rohingya
    • Remove Border Guard Police (BGP) units from Rohingya villages and localities
    • Release all the Rohingya political prisoners, those detained on false accusation of inciting violence, and those arrested arbitrarily

 

  • Short-term
    • Return of the IDPs to their homes without pre-conditions
    • Provide full Government security for the IDPs and vulnerable Rohingya villages
    • Allow Rohingya to rebuild and renovate mosques, religious schools, homes, and businesses
    • Return the confiscated lands to the original Rohingya farmers, and stop leasing their own lands to them
    • Remove the settlement units (NATALA) of Buddhist Bengali Rakhine (Maghs) from Bangladesh and elsewhere in Arakan
    • Make the hospitals and clinic accessible to Rohingya residents from villages and towns, and allow the international health workers to provide healthcare to all in Arakan

 

  • Mid-term/long-term
    • Amend the 1982 Citizenship law (in a manner that does not hinder the reinstatement of equal and full Citizenship of Rohingya)
    • Allow Rohingya to self-identify themselves, cease and officially recognize the ethnicity of the Rohingya
    • The Government of Myanmar reposition itself to neutrality and assume the role of facilitator for peace in Arakan
    • Government of Myanmar accepts the initiatives from the international mediators for communal dialogue in Arakan with full support from the Government
    • Revamp the Rakhine Action Plan, abandon the segregation policy, and develop strategies of integration the Rohingya, Kamen, and Buddhist Rakhine communities
    • Government of Myanmar should take strong initiative for rebuilding the Rohingya and Kamen communities in affected townships, and allow/assist international agencies to rebuild the homes of all the IDPs on their properties in the original location
    • Repatriation of Rohingya refugees and/or displaced Rohingya persons from Bangladesh, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, India, and other countries
    • Economic, social, and educational development in Arakan state for all communities

The prioritization of the categories of the objectives are based on the current needs and situation on the ground; however, the Government of Myanmar, in coordination with the international community, may address some of the objectives with more expediency, if it is truly dedicated to brining peace and stability in Arakan state and wishes the fledgling democracy in Myanmar to flourish. Restoration of peace and addressing basic human rights of the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities in Myanmar may be a testimony to progress in transition to democracy in Myanmar.

 

Acknowledgment: The sources of historical and contemporary information for this publication include Arakan Rohingya Union sources on the ground in Arakan state and Yangon (Rangoon), Dr. Habib Siddiqui, Dr. Abid Bahar, Dr. Mohammed Yunus, AFK Jilani, Aman Ullah, Refworld, Human Rights Watch, United to End Genocide, Physicians for Human Rights, and several other NGOs.

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    Comments
    • O. Locke

      all down to two man made religions.

      sickening…