By Nurul Islam
The Rakhine State (historically known as Arakan), is one of seven ethnic minority states which were formed under the constitution of 1974. The Rohingya Muslim population is mostly concentrated in the three northern townships: Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung. The Rohingyas speak a Bengali dialect similar to what is spoken in the Chittagong region of Bangladesh, mixed primarily with words from the Urdu, Hindi and Arabic languages, but also from the Bama and English languages. The first Muslims who settled in this region were believed to be Arab mariners and traders that arrived on the Rakhine coast in the 8th and 9th centuries. Other Muslims who came to the area in later centuries include Persians, Moghuls, Turks, Pathans and Bengalis. During the British colonial period from 1824 until 1948 there was also migration from Chittagong to what is now the Rakhine State.The Muslim ethnic minority, generally known as the Rohingyas, who live in northern. Rakhine State, western Myanmar, continue to suffer from several forms of restrictions and human rights violations. They are also subjected to various forms of extortion and arbitrary taxation; land confiscation; forced eviction and house destruction; and financial restrictions on marriage. Rohingyas continue to be used as forced labourers on roads and at military camps. Rohingyas are victims of religious and racial discrimination.
Myanmar’s successive military regimes persisted in a policy of denying citizenship to the Rohingya Muslims, especially in the frontier area. They stubbornly grasped the 1982 Citizenship Law that allowed only the ethnic groups who had lived in Burma before the First Anglo-Burmese War that began in 1824 as the citizens of the country. By this law those Muslims had been treated as aliens in the land they have inhabited for more than a century. In 1978 the Burmese junta created a situation for the Arakanese Muslims that forced them to leave their country for safety elsewhere. According to Amnesty International, in 1978 over 200,000 Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh, following the Burmese army’s Operation Nagamin. Most – it is claimed by Yangon – were eventually repatriated, but around 15,000 refused to return. In 1991, a second wave of about a quarter of a million Rohingyas fled Myanmar to Bangladesh. An estimated one million Rohingyas are now living in Rakahine state and 1.5 million of Rohingya population are in Diaspora particularly in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Thailand and Malaysia. A family list is crucial to the Rohingya’s ability to prove residency. Many of the Rohingyas whose testimonies were made available to Amnesty International complained that people have been dropped from the family list if they were not present during a population check by the local authorities. Where someone is not present for such a count and their absence is not covered by a travel permit, in many instances the authorities have deleted people from the family list. Rohingyas in northern Rakhine State must apply for permission to go to another nearby village. This practice does not apply to the Rakhine population in the Rakhine State. Rohingyas’ freedom of movement, therefore, is considerably more limited than that of other residents of the Rakhine State. This has had serious repercussions on their livelihood and food security, as they are often unable to seek employment outside their village or trade goods and produce unless they have official permission and obtain a pass which they must pay for. Most Rohingyas cannot afford to pay for these permits.
Since 1960s the ethnic minority Rohingya community has been encountering state-sponsored discrimination and persecution across Myanmar. Again, since 2012, Rohingya people had fallen into destitution as the quasi-military regime headed by President Thien Sein governs the state through political trick. To maneuver the militarism, President Thien Sein plotted to make tense situation through religious violence or racial clashes or communal violence in fact known as theocracy.
Uncountable Rohingya people were massacred, minor aged and elder women were molested, homes and religious buildings were razed to the ground, numerous were missed and more than 140,000 were kept in concentrated and squalid camps where the internally displaced people face unprecedented difficulties for daily existence.
Every UN delegation expressed that the situation inside camp is appalling after observing the camps in Arakan state known as western Burma or northern Arakan. Reiteratively, after some days, Myanmar police force kills innocent Rohingya. It is a great devastation today that international community turned a blind eye to such ongoing crimes against Rohingya in Myanmar and other ethnic minorities of ruling Myanmar quasi-military regime. Ahead of US Secretary of State John Kerry arrival in Myanmar, from one IDP camp known as Thandawlee camp, a Rohingya was killed on 6th August 2014 and two were injured and some were arrested including women.
In 2012, two eruptions of violence between Rohingyas and majority Buddhists in Rakhine State in western Myanmar killed at least 192 people and made 140,000 homeless. Most were Rohingya, who live in wretched camps or under apartheid-like segregation with little access to healthcare, schools or jobs. Govt`s security forces were directly (or) indirectly involved in the communal violence. As Impact of the communal violence the sufferers (Rohingya Muslims) have fled Burma by sea in unprecedented numbers over the past years.
‘According to the 1983 census Muslims in Arakan constituted 24.3 percent and they were categorized as Bangladeshi. The SPDC rejects the existence of a separate ethnic group called “Rohingya”. The fact is that the Rohingyas are not originally from Bangladesh. They are the children of the first settlers of Arakan, which is part of Buddhist Myanmar (Burma), today. Their ancestors livid in Arakan since time immemorial. When the British occupied Arakan in 1824, 30 percent of the population was Muslim, who are now known as the “Rohingya”. About 1 million Rohingya people are believed to live in Arakan State, where they face government-imposed restrictions that make it nearly impossible for them to access health care, education and other basic services. A majority of victims from the 2012 violence were Rohingya, and today they continue to live in squalid camps for internally displaced people (IDPs). Government immigration officials began verifying the citizenship of Muslims in limited parts of Arakan State. It appears the process stalled last year, amid resistance to requirements that the Rohingya identify as Bengali. The government refers to the Rohingya as Bengali, suggesting that they came to the country illegally from Bangladesh, though many trace their family roots back to Burma for generations. Mohamed Salim, a Rohingya spokesman for the National Development and Peace Party in Rangoon, criticized the verification process as biased. “We do not accept the term ‘Bengalis.’ The Muslim people in Arakan State are Rohingya,” he told The Irrawaddy. “If they want to conduct an examination based on the 1982 law, they need to first amend the law in accordance with international standards, since it currently includes much discrimination, and after that they can exam us.”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Saturday ( August 9, 2014 )met Thein Sein and discussed plans for elections in 2015 and concerns over the treatment of the minority Muslim Rohingya. In particular, he addressed the designation of the term “Bengali” which the Rohingya see as underscoring an assertion they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, even though many have lived in western Burma for generations. “The name issue should be set aside,” he said. “To force any community to accept a name they consider to be offensive is to invite conflict, and if the goal is to prevent conflict, then it’s better to set that aside, ”he said. Matthew Smith, director of the international human rights group Fortify Rights, says giving Rohingya equal access to citizenship rights is crucial to preventing the conflict in the future. He says foreign nations should press the government more on the issue. “The fact that the immigration department is handling this issue is indicative of the perception that all Rohingya come from Bangladesh,” Smith said. “Immigration is an issue on all of Myanmar’s borders, but the wholesale denial of Rohingya citizenship, Rohingya ethnicity, has contributed to these abuses that we’ve been documenting now for two years.” The Muslim stateless residents of northern Rakhine state have long identified themselves as “Rohingya,” a term recognized by the United Nations, and foreign nations, including the United States. But not by Myanmar’s government. Instead, authorities are asking them to register as “Bengalis”(IINA).
The international community has welcomed Myanmar’s historic transition from military to civilian rule. While some governments have expressed grave concern regarding the human rights situation within the country. The risk of further mass atrocity crimes being committed against Muslims in Myanmar is high. In particular, the government must address the endemic discrimination against Rohingya and grant them access to citizenship. It must hold accountable those who incite ethnic and religious hatred and provide appropriate protection for Muslim communities against violence and other human rights abuses. The government must allow unhindered humanitarian access to those affected by previous violence.
The collection of census data in Rakhine State remains stalled because of the issue of Rohingya self-identification. Negotiations to enable census information to be collected from “Bengalis” had been fruitless because it regards them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. But the international ethnicity law is allowing any ethnic group to name themselves as they choose. But Myanmar government is forcing Rohingyas to identify them as “Bengali”. So, international community should apply pressure on Myanmar government to repeal or amend the 1982 Citizenship Law in order to conform with international standards and to stop the segregation of communities in Arakan and replace it with a proactive policy of ‘peaceful co-existence’.