The Rohingya, ethnic minority of Arakan, Burma have been languishing in their ancestral Land, Arakan and in exile for decades since the military took power in 1962. They are being treated as foreigners. The history has shown their existence in Arakan before 8th century and now they are facing religious discrimination by their own government. 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. The Rohingyas’ freedom of movement is severely restricted and the vast majority of them have effectively been denied Myanmar citizenship.
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, although the amount of forced labour in northern Rakhine State has decreased over the last decade. These practices, in addition to violating other basic human rights of the Rohingyas, are discriminatory towards the Rohingya population as they do not appear to be imposed in the same manner and at the same level on other ethnic nationalities in Rakhine State, or in the country as a whole. These restrictions and abuses, and the general discrimination against them, also amount to violations of the right to an adequate standard of living for many Rohingyas. Approximately one third of Myanmar’s population consists of ethnic minority groups; the seven ethnic minority states take their names from the Shan, Kachin, Chin, Kayin, Kayah, Mon, and Rakhine nationalities. These states surround the central plains of Myanmar, where most of the majority Bama (Burman) people live in the seven Divisions.
As a consequence tens of thousands have fled to neighboring Bangladesh and other countries. The Rakhine State (historically known as Arakan), is one of seven ethnic minority states which were formed under the constitution of 1974. The Rohingya 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, Moguls, Turks, Pathans and Bengalis. Apart from the Muslim population, the other major ethnic group is the Rakhine, who are Buddhists. They speak a related form of Bama, but claim separate political and nationality traditions from the ethnic Bama majority of Myanmar. The Rakhine people established independent kingdoms from central Myanmar; the last one was founded in the 15th century with its royal capital at Myo Haung (Mrauk-U). This kingdom was conquered by the Myanmar king Bodawpaya in 1784. The population of Rakhine State is estimated at some three million people. Apart from the majority Rakhine population, there are between 700,000 and 1½ million Muslims, most of them Rohingyas from northern Rakhine State. There are also a number of smaller ethnic minority groups, including the Mro, Daignet, Kamein, Thet, and also some Chin. The population of Northern Rakhine State (Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathedaung) is estimated at some 800,000 people, of which 80% are Muslims. The total Muslim population in Myanmar, the majority of whom live in urban areas throughout the country, is estimated at between 4 – 5% of the total population. The word Rohingya refers to the Muslim population in northern Rakhine State, who have developed a distinct culture and dialect. After Myanmar gained independence from Britain in 1948 civil war broke out when many ethnic nationalities and the Communist Party of Burma (CPB) took up arms against the central government headed by U Nu. In Rakhine State both Rakhine and Muslim groups formed armed opposition groups who fought against the government. It was only by the early 1960s that the tatmadaw, or Myanmar army, captured the main positions of these groups, and reached cease-fire agreements with the Muslim organizations.The State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) rejects the existence of a separate ethnic group called “Rohingya”. The vast majority of Rohingyas are not believed to possess Myanmar citizenship. Moreover they are not recognised as one of the 135 ‘national races’ by the Myanmar government. The Government renders full and equal treatment to these people, as with other races, in matters relating to birth and death registration, education, health and social affairs. In the official records, they are listed as a Bengali racial group of the Bengali race and are recognized as permanent residents within Myanmar.However in practice the rights of the Rohingya population of northern Rakhine State are greatly restricted. Rohingyas have testified that the restriction on the freedom of movement and other abuses such as arbitrary taxation increased significantly after the creation of the NaSaKa in 1992.
Refugee flows to Bangladesh
In 1978 over 200,000 Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh, following the ‘Nagamin’ (‘Dragon King’) operation of the Myanmar army. Officially this campaign aimed at “scrutinising each individual living in the state, designating citizens and foreigners in accordance with the law and taking actions against foreigners who have filtered into the country illegally. This military campaign directly targeted civilians, and resulted in widespread killings, rape and destruction of mosques and further religious persecution. After international pressure the Myanmar government allowed most of the Rohingyas who had fled to Bangladesh to return. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had a presence in the refugee camps in Bangladesh but not in the Rakhine State, nor was it involved in the repatriation process. During 1991-92 a new wave of over a quarter of a million Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh. They reported widespread forced labour, as well as summary executions, torture, and rape. Rohingyas were forced to work without pay by the Myanmar army on 12 The Immigration and Manpower Department (IMPD) was renamed the Immigration and Population Department (IPD) in 1998. f Exodus?, Human Rights Watch/Asia, New York, September 1996, p.10. 14 See: Union of Myanmar (Burma): Human Rights Abuses against Muslims in the Rakhine (Arakan) State, Amnesty International, May 1992, ASA 16/06/02.
Myanmar , The Rohingya Minority: Fundamental Rights Denied Amnesty International May 2004 AI Index: ASA 16/005/2004 From the end of 1992 until early 1994 the Bangladeshi authorities, after an understanding had been reached with the Myanmar government, forcibly repatriated some 50,000 Rohingyas across the border. After a formal Memorandum of Understanding was signed between UNHCR and the Myanmar government in November 1993, UNHCR established a presence on the ground in Rakhine State to implement the reintegration programme and to provide protection for the returnees. UNHCR initiated a voluntary mass repatriation and reintegration programme for the Rohingyas in April 1994. At the time international aid agencies expressed concerns about whether this repatriation process was in fact voluntary. Despite the presence of UNHCR, Rohingyas continue to suffer from discrimination on the basis of their ethnicity, and various restrictions and abuses at the hands of the local Myanmar authorities. Although forced labour has decreased since the UNHCR established a protection role in the Rakhine State, Rohingyas have continued to flee to Bangladesh. The exact number of new arrivals since 1996 is not clear, but is believed to be in the tens of thousands. The Government of Bangladesh has denied these new arrivals access to the refugee camps and has not permitted
UNHCR to extend protection to them, claiming that they are ‘economic migrants. The mass repatriation of Rohingyas to Myanmar by UNHCR took place from April 1994 to December 1995. Since that time repatriation has slowed down. To date a total of 236,000 Rohingyas have returned to Rakhine State from Bangladesh. At the beginning of 2004 almost 20,000 Rohingyas were still in Kutapalong and Nayapara, the two remaining refugee camps in Cox’s Bazaar, southern Bangladesh. Seven thousand of these 20,000 people have been cleared by Myanmar authorities for return. During 2003 some 3,000 Rohingyas were repatriated to Myanmar amid reports of the Bangladesh authorities coercing some of them to return. Medecins sans Frontières (MSF) Holland received 550 complaints from Rohingya families varying from intimidation to direct threats of violence if they did not agree to return to Myanmar. As a member of the United Nations, Myanmar is also legally obliged to take action to promote “universal respect for, and observance of, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all without istinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.” Discrimination is an attack on the very notion of human rights – a denial that all human beings are equal in dignity and worth. This is why international human rights law is grounded in the principle of non-discrimination. Many Rohingyas also fled to Thailand since 2008 by risky sea route. They claimed that many of them have been shipped and towed out to open sea by the Thai army and police. Thailand’s Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva confirmed that there were instances in which Rohingya people were pushed out to the sea. Several boats have been rescued off the coasts of Indonesia and the Andaman Islands of India. Survivors tell of having been detained in Thailand, beaten, and towed out to sea on boats without engines, sufficient food and water.
1982 Burma Citizenship – Act and its Impact:
Law unlike the preceding 1948 Act, which conferred equal rights on all citizens, creates three classes of citizens: full citizens, associate citizens and naturalized citizens. The 1982 Law also establishes a government-controlled “Central Body”, with wide powers to determine specific citizenship issues. Even though the SPDC has stated that in the government’s official records the Rohingya “are recognized as permanent residents within Myanmar”, the vast majority of Rohingyas fail to qualify for any of the three categories of citizenship: The Rohingya are not considered to be a national ethnic group as provided by sec. 3 of the 1982 law, and members of the Rohingya population are therefore ineligible for full citizenship. Although the 1982 law is also discriminatory towards the vast majority of the Indian and Chinese population of Myanmar, as the promulgation of this law took place soon after the Rohingyas who fled during 1978 had been repatriated, some observers have suggested that this law was specifically designed effectively to deny Rohingyas the right to a nationality. The 1982 Citizenship law has had the effect of rendering the vast majority of Rohingyas ineligible to be Myanmar citizens. The law also makes no provision in relation to stateless persons. As detailed above, inclusion on 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. Amnesty International is concerned that the Burma Citizenship Law of 1982 and the manner in which this law is implemented effectively denies the right to a nationality for members of the Rohingya population. This is clearly not in accordance with international legal standards relating to the reduction of statelessness, and importantly also those in relation to the rights of the child. Furthermore, these laws and practices represent a clear example of discrimination on the basis of race or ethnicity given that they clearly make distinctions, exclusions, restrictions or preferences based on ethnic origin with the purpose and/or effect of nullifying or impairing the Rohingya’s recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, and cultural life of the people of Myanmar.36 Such distinctions are not permissible distinctions relating to nationality, citizenship or naturalization given that they clearly discriminate against a particular ethnic group.
Rohingyas in northern Rakhine State must routinely apply for permission to leave theirvillage, even if it is just 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 on a regular basis for these permits. As an estimated half of the Rohingyas are poor day labourers, the restrictions on their movement also greatly affect their ability to find work in other villages or towns. This is especially important in the non-cultivating season, when there may not be enough work in their village. In February 2001 tensions between the Muslim and Buddhist populations of Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State, erupted in communal violence in which an unknown number of people were killed and Muslim property was destroyed. After that travel restrictions on Rohingyas increased. However Rohingyas are believed to be subjected to the most harsh restrictions and reprisals in Myanmar. Forced labour is still a major burden on the Rohingya population.The confiscation of land in Northern Rakhine State is related to the establishment of “model villages”; the construction or expansion of NaSaKa, military, and police camps; and establishing plantations for the security forces and also for new settlers. More recently, a number of forced evictions have taken place when people were accused of having built houses on land that local authorities claim is officially registered as farmland or rice fields, not residential land.
“Model Villages in Muslim populated area in Arakan”
The SPDC policy of relocating Rakhine Buddhists and other non-Rohingyas to especially established “model villages” in Northern Rakhine State has resulted in the confiscation of land from the Rohingya population. Before 1992 several model villages were built in Rakhine State, mainly in Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships. After the formation of the NaSaKa in 1992, the building of model villages reportedly intensified. In practice the NaSaKa is responsible for implementing the model village program in Rakhine State.
” The Burmese military authority has recently plans to move 600 Burmese Buddhist families from Burma proper to Buthidaung Township in Arakan to settle in model villages that are currently under construction in the area, reports a source close to the authority. “They are reportedly coming to our township before Burmese new year in April 2010 from Rangoon and other parts of Burma to settle in five model villages. The authority is currently constructing the five model villages in the southern part of Buthidaung,” the source said. Five model villages are being constructed on the banks of the Mayu River between Phon Nyo Lake and Ngwe Daung Village in Buthidaung Township. Ngwe Daung Village is located on the western bank of the Mayu River and is close to northern Rathidaung Township about 20 miles north of Sittwe. A villager from the area said, “The authority has constructed 120 houses as well as a primary school and a hosp
ital in each model village. The authority is likely to place 120 families in each model village.” Burmese military authorities are now forcibly rounding up Burmese people who are homeless and living in illegal areas in Rangoon and Mandalay to settle in Buthidaung Township. According to a report by the VOA Burmese section, Burmese authorities recently reported that 500 Burmese families living in an illegal area on Mudita Road in North Okkalarpa in the former capital Rangoon will be moved to settle in Buthidaung and Maungdaw Townships in Arakan. The authority told the families that if any family did not wish to move to Buthidaung and Maungdaw, the family would need sign a form, the report added. Burmese military authorities have long supported Burmese settlers by providing agricultural land, cattle, and tractors when they arrive at the model villagers. The authority also arranges schools, hospitals, and monasteries for them from government revenue. In northern Arakan State, there are currently over 40 model villages built by the military authority with over 20,000 settlers living in the villages. The military authority constructs the Buddhist model villages in northern Arakan in an effort to adjust the balance of the population between Buddhists and Muslims” ( Narinjara News 2/1/2010).
Rohingyas in northern Rakhine State are subjected to extortion and arbitrary taxation at the hands of the authorities. These vary from tax on collecting firewood and bamboo to fees for the registration of deaths and births in the family lists, on livestock and fruit-bearing trees, and even on football matches. The type of taxes and the amounts people have to pay appear to be applied in an arbitrary fashion and vary from place to place, depending on the local authorities. Since the creation of NaSaKa in 1992, the authorities in Northern Rakhine State have reportedly introduced a regulation that the Rohingya population in Northern Rakhine State are required to ask for permission to get married. This restriction appears to be only enforced on the Muslim population in this area, and not on the Buddhist.
Death News of refugees due to starvation:
Thirteen unregistered Arakanese refugees have died of starvation in Kutuapalong makeshift camp because most were unable to go outside the camp to work for fear of arrest by authorities in Bangladesh, said a refugee from the camp on condition of anonymity. The deaths occurred between January 10 to 15, 2010.The dead were identified as Katiza (50), wife of late Kalu, Md. Toyub, (18), son of Md. Zakaria, Md. Rafique (5), son of Zafar, Kalirur Rahaman (45), son of Fazar Ali, Abdul Monaf (35), son of Ali Ahamed, Rina Akter (3), daughter of Abdur Razaka, Asharaf Meah (50), son of Karim Uddin, Hussain Ahamed (50), son of Abdul Kader, Hamida, Noor Mohamed, Md. Boni Amin Sultan Ahmed (45), son of Bodi Alam, Ahamed Ullah (3), son of Fazal Meah and Md Younus (3), son of Abdu Salam. They all belong to Kutupalong makeshift camp The Arakanese Rohingya refugees died between January 10 to 15, 2010 after arrests of Arakanese Rohingyas started on the border in the beginning of January 2010 by authorities and local people. Among them, Katiza died on February 7. According to sources, the food was insufficient. They could eat one day, but the next two days there was no food. According to our correspondent, many Rohingya refugees are sitting in the camp without any work. They can’t go outside the camp to work to support their family for fear of arrest by police, Bangladesh Rifles and local people. In the makeshift camp, nearly 50,000 unregistered refugees are living in a critical condition. Of them, over 50 per cent refugees will starve today, said a refugee committee member from the camp. A committee member Rabiual Alam from Kutupalong makeshift camp said, “I have 12 family members, my wife cooked half a kilogram of rice for my children. That is insufficient but, it will just about save the children’s lives.” Some refugees go to the mountain to collect firewood to sell it in the refugee camp and cook food. Every refugee has to pay Taka 10 to the villagers who work under the forest department, a refugee said on condition of anonymity. On February 8, the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) of Battalion No. 42 arrested 18 Arakanese Rohingyas from different areas like Dum Dum Mea, Saparan and Shapuri Dip under the union of Teknaf. Later, they were pushed back by BDR the same day, said a local from Shapuri Dip. Since January 2010, more and more Arakanese Rohingya refugees have been arrested by authorities and local people and sent to Cox’s Bazaar jail, and their family members are facing starvation, said a relative of the victim who is in Cox’s Bazaar jail. If the operation against the refugees continues by the Bangladeshi authorities, more refugees in the camps are expected to die of starvation, another camp inmate said. ( Kaladan News, Feb.9,2010) . UN agencies and NGOs are working to address the urgent humanitarian needs of the Rohingya in Myanmar, even as the government considers changes to their status, the UN says. Officially referred to as Muslims, the Rohingya are de jure stateless in accordance with the laws of Myanmar.
In its draft stage, the Common Humanitarian Action Plan (CHAP) will for the first time consolidate humanitarian aid efforts for all residents in Northern Rakhine State (NRS), where the Rohingya live. “The humanitarian needs in northern Rakhine State are quite significant, so we need to work together, all the stakeholders,” Bhairaja Panday, country representative for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Myanmar, the lead agency in NRS, told IRIN (IRIN News Feb.26.2010)..
Conclusion: The over all sufferings of Rohingyas are summarized above. Rohingyas are victims of religious and racial discrimination in Burma for decades. The Myanmar Junta government denied the citizenship of Rohingyas. Muslim Rohingyas in Arakan have been living there for more than thousand years. Is the period thousand years not enough for the Muslim Rohingyas to be eligible as citizens ? The treatment of Junta towards Rohingyas is against humanity and international human rights Law. The world communities including UN, EU and OIC should come forward to protect the world most oppressed Rohingya people. Bangladesh is most suffering country for refugee influx. But as a neighboring Muslim country, Bangladesh should not ignore the refugees. Rather it should coordinate world communities in order to solving the outstanding political issues of Rohingyas. Otherwise, the refugee flow must be intensified in future. It is quite necessary to observe the situation of refugees those who repatriated earlier, before taking initiative for fresh repatriation or push back. The situation of newly arrived unregistered refugees those who are living in makeshift camps is worst because they are unable to go out side the camps for earning due to fear of arrest and push back for why facing starvation caused suffering from various deceases and untimely death. The refugee concerned authority should take initiative to register them from humanitarian ground. Arrest and push back must not means to stopping refugee influx because Rohingyas in Arakan are not only facing starvation but also they are being persecuted by ruling Junta. So, the international communities including Bangladesh should take stern measures for a permanent solution to Rohingya ethnicity issue.
Eventually, I would like to comment that the Muslim Rohingya refugees should not be treated with hostile attitude in all the countries where they refuge. Rather they should be treated by maintaining humanity and international refugee Law. The Malaysia government is seriously considering now to provide work permit to refugees until they are not settled in third countries. In fact, it is good news for the refugees in Malaysia. The other countries where refugees are sheltered also should follow the policy of Malaysian government.
Nurul Islam, March 3, 2010. www.weeklyblitz.net