By Saiful Rohin
There is a growing recognition that the continued persecution of the Rohingya minority represents a serious threat not only to Myanmar but also all ASEAN countries. It must be addressed urgently by all Asean’s members and Malaysia, which is holding the ASEAN chairmanship this year has a special responsibility.
The increasing brutality of crimes and preplanned systematic state-sponsored violence against the Rohingya minority in Arakan State in Myanmar represents a direct threat to ASEAN nations.
ASEAN as a grouping as well as individual national leaders have the responsibility, both morally and under international law, to act to prevent atrocity crimes and crimes against humanity especially on Rohingya Muslim in Arakan State of Myanmar from taking place. Malaysia is in a particularly good position to act because it has had very good relations with Myanmar since Myanmar was welcomed into ASEAN.
The longstanding persecution of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar has led to the huge numbers of refugees. Human rights violations against Rohingya have resulted in a regional human trafficking epidemic, and there have been further abuses against Rohingya upon their arrival in other Southeast Asian countries.
Indeed, on Friday, a mass grave was found in southern Thailand reportedly many of the dead were Rohingya who had starved to death at the hands of the traffickers.
[row][double_paragraph][blockquote style=”1″]ASEAN as a grouping as well as individual national leaders have the responsibility, both morally and under international law, to act to prevent atrocity crimes and crimes against humanity especially on Rohingya Muslim in Arakan State of Myanmar from taking place.[/blockquote][/double_paragraph]
Broader anti-Muslim rhetoric and violence has also flared up in locations across Myanmar in recent years. These incidents, as well as ongoing abuses against ethnic minority groups throughout the country, pose similar risks for Myanmar and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN Parliamentarian for Human rights (APHR) reported on 23rd April 2015 during especial Parliamentarian discussion at ASEAN People’s Forum.
The discrimination and persecution of Rohingya however stands out in its intensity. Rohingya face severe restrictions on all aspects of daily life in their native Arakan State. Tens of thousands still live in IDP camps more than two years after the deadly one-sided attack by Rakhine community against Rohingya, and thousands more have fled by sea to neighboring countries.
How has this situation been allowed to continue? Charles Santiago, a member of parliament of Malaysia and chairman of the APHR, has spoken of the impression that ASEAN is an elite project, a business ASEAN. The Senior Officials Meetings promote business. Business is the most pressing motivation. The economic pillar is the most advanced pillar. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with that. There’s simply not a fair balance between Business ASEAN and ASEAN people.
There is no possible conclusion other than that the Myanmar government is at best allowing and at worst orchestrating this very dangerous and systematic persecution of Rohingya and other religious and ethnic minorities, in direct contravention of international human rights laws to which it has agreed.
Rohingyas are bona-fide citizens of Myanmar, but they have been denied their identity, excluded from participating in society and officially segregated by the current administration and previous military dictatorships.
When elections have been held, Rohingyas’ indigenous national status of Burma has been recognised insofar as none have undermined or denied the Rohingyas from taking part in elections. In fact Rohingya have a proud history of contributing to government in Burma.
In the election of 1951, Rohingya won 5 parliamentary seats, including a first lady. Their names and Constituencies are, Advocate Pho Khaine (a) Nasir Uddin from Akyab-2, Abul Boshor from Buthidaung- 2, Sultan Ahmed, from Maungdaw-1, Daw Aye Nyut (alias) Zura Begum from Maungdaw-2 and Abdul Gaffar from Buthidaung for Upper House.
6 Parliamentary seats were won by Rohingya in the 1956 general election which included Upper-House members from different constituencies like Ezar Mia for Buthidaung- 1, Abul Boshor for Buthidaung-2, Sultan Ahmed for Maungdaw-1, Abul Khair for Maungdaw-2, Sultan Mahmood for Buthidaung North in by election and Abdul Gaffar for Upper-House of Maungdaw and Buthidaung.
Similarly, Rohingya won 5 parliamentary seats in the election of 1961, such as Sultan Mahmood for Buthidaung-1 who became a cabinet Minister for Education and Health, and Abul Boshor for Buthidaung-2, who became Parliamentary.
At that time the Burmese Broadcasting Service (BBS) were ordered to broadcast ethnic Rohingya minority language every week.
Rohingya were allowed to enroll at military cadet college. They also served in important government posts in the police, customs, intelligence, immigration, education and economic departments.
The parliamentary democratic government of U Nu also accepted May Yu Frontier District as an autonomous state for Rohingya, approving a peace committee to function within it.
It is remarkable that Brigadier Aung Gyi and Lt. Col Saw Maung have described all possible conditions throughout various speeches, writings and publications.
Rohingyas were citizens of their country Myanmar until 1982. All kinds of citizenship law Myanmar made was exposed on Rohingya exlucding 1948 Citizenship Law which has a focal point to address the root causes of Rohingya’s full flash citizenship.
It is only since then that systematic genocidal actions against Rohingya began. They suffer the denial of citizenship, restrictions on travel, education, ability to work, forced labor, land confiscation, forced eviction, destruction of homes, offices, schools, mosques, etc. religious persecution, ethnic discrimination, restrictions on marriage, births (leading to forced abortions), arbitrary taxation and extortion, registration of births and deaths in families and even of cattle, the associated extortion, arbitrary arrest, torture and extra-judicial killing, abuse of Rohingya women and elders, rape as a weapon of war, depopulation of Rohingya communities, confiscation of citizenship cards, forced migration, statelessness, destruction or alteration of historical Muslim sites and shrines to erase Rohingya historic and Islamic identity.
Every attempt has been made by the Government of Burma since the days of General Ne Win to ethnically cleanse the Rohingya people and deny their human rights. They were declared stateless, effectively licensing every crime directed against them; not a single Article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was honored.
[blockquote style=”1″]Rohingyas are bona-fide citizens of Myanmar, but they have been denied their identity, excluded from participating in society and officially segregated by the current administration and previous military dictatorships.[/blockquote][/double_paragraph] [/row]
While the situation for Rohingya is distinct from that of other Muslims in Myanmar, who have not historically faced the same levels of persecution and statelessness, many of the dynamics that contribute to discrimination against Rohingya also affect the broader Muslim population. The violence in Rakhine State in 2012 helped stoke broader anti-Muslim sentiment, which led to violence in other parts of the country. Using hate speech and dehumanizing language, the network of ultranationalist Ashin Wirathu who presides over 2,500 monks in Mandalay. The so-called 969 movement has organized boycotts of Muslim shops and encouraged anti-Muslim sentiment.
Wirathu has used language to dehumanize Muslims, describing them as “mad dogs” and “African carp” who “breed quickly,” are “very violent,” and “eat their own kind.” Wirathu has also turned his vitriol against independent international observers, such as the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee, calling her a “bitch” and a “whore” after her latest visit to the country in January 2015.
Myanmar Army soldiers and other government forces have been committing torture and raping Rohingya women with impunity, indicating a “policy or practice of impunity for or tolerance of serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, of atrocity crimes, or of their incitement.”
There is an ongoing discussion over whether the persecution of Rohingya constitutes genocide. Some people still don’t agree because they understand it as a clash between Rohingya and Rakhine and some understand it is a violation of human rights as experienced by ethnic minorities in other parts of Myanmar. The fact is that it is a systematic pre-planned symbol of genocide started against Rohingya to annihilate them from Myanmar’s region.
Nowadays, people in Arakan (Rakhine) State of Burma (Myanmar) want to rebuild the trust which they have recently lost throughout sectarian violence for the sake of exploring the natural resources of Arakan. Deals for natural resources for years of exports have been agreed and signed without consulting the people of Arakan State.
So, the Rohingya people believe towards peace and harmony still that existed with fellow Rakhine over centuries of living together in the same area. Both Rakhine and Rohingya have developed their societies together and we Rohingya know the importance of peaceful co-existence through reconciliation and self-determination.
[double_paragraph][blockquote style=”1″]The Rohingya people believe towards peace and harmony still that existed with fellow Rakhine over centuries of living together in the same area.[/blockquote][/double_paragraph] [/row]
The Rohingya take pride in trying to understand the path of moderation not merely in issues related to interfaith, but those involving peaceful co-existence, good governance and rule of law, education, international finance and cultural and traditional resolution. The Rohingya are ever eager to request regional and international mediators to convene peace talks, dialogues with concern quarters, stopping violence, hate speeches and discrimination in order to bring a clear atmosphere on “Peaceful Co-Existence” and to set up a working Group for “National Reconciliation” to deliberate on the concept.
ASEAN has a role to play in mitigating the risk of atrocities and systematic persecution against Rohingya in Arakan State of Myanmar specially Malaysia who is the chairman of ASEAN. They can strengthen their response by working through existing regional mechanisms, including the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights.
Therefore, Rohingya community hold on to hope for a durable solution of their long standing problem and as chairman of ASEAN Malaysia will play a vital role for the betterment of Rohingya particularly their right to citizenship so those who were scattered all over the world are able go back home with full rights.
Saiful Rohin is a Malaysia-based Rohingya Rights Activist. Views expressed here are of the author’s own. It doesn’t necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Rohingya Vision TV. Saiful Rohin can be reached at: email@example.com
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