Arakan: An Un-decolonized Colonial Territory

By Aman Ullah

“Decolonization not only refers to the complete “removal of the domination of non-indigenous forces” within the geographical space and different institutions of the colonized, but it also refers to the “decolonizing of the mind” from the colonizer’s ideas that made the colonized seem inferior.”      Karl Hack (2008)

Arakan with an area of about 20000 square miles was long famous and widely known to Arabs, Dutch, Portuguese, and British traders as centre of international trade and commerce.  It is situated in the tri-border region between modern day – Burma, Bangladesh and India. Although it is made a part of Burma now, it had never been so in the past.
Culturally, socially, economically and politically the people of Arakan were independent for centuries. Chiefly for its geographic location, it had not only remained independent for e most part of history but also endeavored to expend its territory in the surrounding tracts whenever opportunity came. Completely cut off from Burma by high mountain range of Arakan Yoma, the peoples of Arakan neither drank from the same water with Burmans nor dependant on them for trade and commerce. Neither of a single river flows from Arakan to Burma nor Burma to Arakan.

Whatever relation Arakan maintained politically, geographically, culturally and historically with Bengal, history has proved beyond doubt the Bengal never had any aggressive design on Arakan. According to DGE Hall, a modern historian, ‘there was time to time Burmese and Mon interference before establishment Mrohoung by Narameik Hla in1433.’ And it was by the invasion and occupation of Burmese king, Bodawpaya, in 1784, Arkan’s history as an independent kingdom came to an end. After 40 years of Burmese rule the British colonialist annexed Arakan to a British India in the first Anglo-Burma war of 1824 and it remained under British administration till Burmese independence on January 4, 1948.

January 4 was marked in the history of Arakan as unfortunate day that has lost of the  legitimate right to independence of the people of Arakan by transferring of their sovereignty to the so-called Independent Sovereign Republic, which was to be known as ‘Union of Burma’. It was a joint-stock company of old-colonialism with neo-colonialism, a joint venture between the British and the coalition of Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League (AFPFL) that was to form Burma’s first independent government, to fabricate the artificial and false nationhood of ‘Burma’. And in this process the people of Arakan lost their right to independence, on account of these monstrous imperialists’ creation. This imperialist imposed administrative ‘unity’ or ‘nationality’ that has no legal validity under the Decolonization Law, and they cannot, legally deny the right to self-determination, and the right to separate legal existence of the people of Arakan.

Resolution 2625-XXV of the general Assembly of the United Nations that now constitutes a part of International Law regarding decolonization stated that “all colonial territories have ‘juridical status’ that is ‘separate’ and ‘distinct’ from the colonialist country, and ‘from their colonial territories’, and this separate juridical status remains as long as the people of each of this colonial territory have not yet exercised their right to self-determination.” The Britishers violated this principle of separate juridical status of colonial territories, when they transferred their legal ‘sovereignty’ over Arakan to the Burma Union.

Another fundamental principle is that a colonialist power has no sovereign right over a colonial territory, that it cannot transfer sovereignty to other power regarding territory that has also been trampled on. Sovereignty over a colonial territory resides with the people of that colony and not with the colonialist power. This has been stipulated in the UN Resonation 1514-XV. British’s transfer of ‘sovereignty’ over Arakan to Burma was therefore downright illegal. Britain has no sovereign power over Arakan.  ‘Nemo dat quod non habet’, ‘No one gives what he does not have.’

The concept of ‘Union of Burma’, which was invented by the colonialists and based on the sanctity of the illegal boundaries of the colonial empire, was established by conquests.  It is a state that is based on colonialist conquered territories without reference to the conquered peoples, their cultures, languages, histories, identities, and inalienable rights. Union Burma is thus admittedly a state based solely on British colonialism—without decolonization. M. Dillard, judge of the international Court of Justice, had stated that ‘it was the people who should determine the destiny of a territory and not the territory should determine the destiny of the people’. In the case of Arakan, the British conquered territory determined the destiny of the people of Arakan.

There can be no compromise between the concept of ‘Union of Burma’ and the principle of ‘decolonization’, because the one goes directly against the other. Decolonization requires ‘liquidation of all colonial empire’ with specific steps and definitive procedures, but Union of Burma exists on the principle of the total preservation of the territorial integrity of the previous colonial empire; an empire is not liquidated if its integrity is preserved. ‘Union of Burma’ is still an un-liquidated and un-decolonizes colonial empire with Burma replacing Britishers as the colonial masters.

In addition to these, there is no legality and judicial values of the Treaty on the transfer of ‘sovereignty’ between British and Burma signed on October 7, 1947, especially concerning the transfer of ‘sovereignty’ over Arakan to Burma.

Firstly, the glaring incompatibility of the Treaty with the decolonization principles of the UN, that had been imposed universally.

Secondly, this Treaty clearly violated the right to self-determination of the people of Arakan.

Thirdly, the Treaty was neither signed by any representative of the people of Arakan nor given mandate from them.

Fourthly, the power and authority of the people of Arakan was arbitrarily ignored in the Treaty.

Finally, the transfer took place without consulting the people of Arakn through plebiscite or referendum, and doing it outside all established procedures of the United Nations Decolonization Law and precedents set up by the International Court of Justice.

It is irony of the fate that the portion of time preceding Burmese independence was a very dark period for the people of Arakan. The people of Arakan hardly believe that the Burmans govern them; but they strongly feel that they are colonized. After being integrated into Burma the people of Arakan have been a part of unitary state of the Union of Burma during which time they have been subjected to brutal and inhuman treatment such as; human rights abuses, killings, rapes, ignorance, poverty and social injustice and have been subjected to virtual ethnic and cultural genocide.

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