Monday 12 December 2011

Burmese invasion of Arakan and the rise of non Bengali settlements in Bangladesh

Origin of the Tribes of Chittaging Hill Tract (CHT)
By Abid Bahar, Canada 

Introduction: Arakan was a medieval kingdom located at the edge of South Asia became a province of Burma after the Burmese invasion in 1784 and the subsequent annexation of it with Burma. To the people of India and Bangladesh, Arakan became sadly memorable for the tragic massacre of the Moghul prince Shah Suja and his entire family by the Arakanese king Sandathudamma.

It is important to note that Shah Suja before taking shelter in Arakan was the Moghul Govornor of Bengal (1639-60) and was being chased by the Moghal General Mir Jumbla. Suja was given the assurance of assylum by the Arakanese Mogh king. However, soon after his arrival in Arakan, Suja was robbed and then in 1661 at the order of the king the entire family was massacred. This tragic event triggered anger and frustration both in Arakan among Suja’s followers that accompanied him and also in the Moghul capital Delhi against the brutal murder of the royal family. Subsequent to the death of Shah Suja, the Moghals led a campaign led by Shah Suja’s uncle Shaista Khan who reconquered Chittagong. After the massacre of the Moghul prince and the chain of events of repeated uprising led to internal chaos in Arakan. At the same time, with the mighty Moghul presence in the Bay, Arakan lost its lucrative revenue from piracy and of slave trade. The new circumstances brought an end to the infamous Golden of Arakan that survived through causing human suffering and misery.

In our contemporary period the event of Suja and the massacre of his family is not the reason why understanding the dynamics of ethnic relations in Arakan and by extention in Burma becomes so central; it is largely to watchfully understand the roots of racism in Arakan and to recognize the refugee production trends of the region. Indeed, Alamgir Serajuddin expresses rather bluntly the reasons behind the Arakan problem by saying, “The Arakanese [Rakhines] were a daring and turbulent people, a terror at once to themselves and to their neighbours. They fought among themselves and changed masters at will. Peace at home under a strong ruler signaled danger for neighbours.” (1) True, Arakan a kingdom based essentially on slave trade when it had strong leader was a constant threat to its neighbors for its robbers but taking advantage of the internal chaos there led the Burmese occupation of Arakan and the subsequent neglect under the Burmese rule and the continued Burmese annexation of the Arakani territory subsequently turned Arakan into a tiny and backward province of Burma-no doubt it is the price of being disorderly.

Despite its present improvised existence, Arakan continued to make headlines in the international media not for any glorious present but for producing refugees. The people that have been exterminated are no more the Moghs but are the Rohingyas of northern Arakan. They complain that Rakhine hoodlums along with the Burmese military are involved in a war of intimidation against them. Rohingyas have been taking shelter in Southern Chittagong. Burmese Military government and their Mogh collaborators claim that these refugees are “Chittagongnian people” originally from Bangladesh. Contrary to the claim, surprisingly even the more recent, the 1978 Rohingya refugees were found to carry Burmese National Registration cards. (2) But in the 1991-92s there was the fresh eviction of refugees, the latter Rohingyas arrived in Bangladesh without the NRC cards. Rohingya leaders claim that the NRCs were being confiscated before the eviction
Chris Lewa of Forum Asia says Rohingyas were being discriminated against on the basis of their ethnicity and religion. They have been excluded from the nation-building process in Myanmar and the military regime has implemented policies of exclusion and discrimination against this group aimed at encouraging them to leave the country. These systematic policies have maintained underdevelopment and have been the driving force behind two mass refugee exoduses to Bangladesh, in 1978 and again in 1991/92. The combination of human right violations the Rohingya face — from the denial of legal status to restriction of movement and economic constraints — creates food insecurity and makes life in Northern Rakhine State untenable for many. Chris Lewa adds, “Rohingya children, in particular, are innocent victims suffering from the debilitating consequences of these government policies, which dramatically affect their physical and mental development, and will have long-lasting effects for the future of the Rohingya community.” (3)

It appears that the influx of refugees from Burma is not a new phenomenon. The present research findings show that Burmese invasion of Arakan resulting in the creation of refugees has been a cronic problem in this region. Even before 1978 mass eviction of the Rohingyas, historically there had been large scale refugee movements to Chittagong of Bangladesh. As a result of the historic Burmese invasions of Arakan, in addition to the contemporary Rohingyas exodus, it even led to the rise of Arakani origin population in southern Chittagong and in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. Among them are the Chakmas (Northern Chittagong Hill Tracts), Rakhines (In Cox’s Bazar), Marma (In Banderbon), Tanchainga (in the central Chittagong Hill Tracts).

Burmese Invasions of Arakan
Among the many Burman invasions, there had been three major recorded attacks on Arakan. First was by Anawrahta in 1044 A.D. and the second invasion was by Min Khaung Yaza’s invasion in 1406 and the third major invasion was by Budapawa in 1784.

Anawrahta’s Invasion of Arakan (1044)
Anawrahta (1044-77), by killing his own brother claimed the throne of Northern Burma for himself. He made Theravada Buddhism as the dominant political religion of Burma. It was in 1044 A.D. he invaded Arakan. Anawrahta, who also destroyed the Mon kingdom in the South, was known as one of the most violent kings of Burma. Ironically he also introduced Buddhism in Burma. He gave Buddhism, (originally a nonviolent religion,) a racial and political dimention in Burmese politics.

Anawrahta was known as a “religious fanatic” and his attack of Northern Arakan left some mark in this direction. At this time, the Chandra-Rohingyas (Hindu-Muslim mixed) population of Arakan were concentrated in the north was racially different from the Burmese population. The xenophobic king invaded Arakan as a mission to bring change from an Indianized population into an Asian variety and helped settle Tabeto-Burman Buddhist population. It was during his time that Chakmas, although racially mongoloid, but speaking a Chandra- Chittagonian language even felt threatned by the xenophobic invasion, left Arakan for Southern Chittagong.

King Min Khaung Yaza’s Invasion of Arakan (1406)
In 1406 A. D., the second Burmese invasion was led by the Burmese King Min Khaung Yaza. As a consequence, Noromi-kala, the king of Arakan along with his large followers took asylum at Gaur, the court of Bengal sultan Gaisuddin Azam Shah. This invasion also led to a large scale influx of people who were the followers of the king to settle in Bengal.

In 1430 A. D., after 24 years of exile in Bengal, Sultan Jalal uddin Khan sent his General “Wali Khan as the head of 20 thousand pathan army” to restore Noromikla to his throne. Noromi Kla now takes the name Sulauman Shah and becomes the king. He shifted his Captial to a new palace site in Mrohaung
In 1431 General Wali Khan removes Noromi Kla and rules Arakan. General Wali Khan, the first independent Muslim ruler of Arakan. He first introduced Persian as the official language of Arakan. Noromi-kla again escapes to Bengal to seek help from the Sultan of Bengal.

1433 Nadir Shah, the Bengal Sultan sent General Sindhi Khan with 30,000 solders to help restore Noromi -kla as the king. After this event, Arakan becomes a province of Bengal. Wali Khan was killed in the battle and his followers were allowed to settle near Kalander River. In return for the help, the Arakannse king promised to return the twelve feuds of Chittagong, which most likely be the whole of southern Chittagong that was then under Arakanese rule. Arakan began to pay annual taxes and Persian continued to be used as the court language. The consequence of the retaking over of Arakan by Noromi -kla with the help of the Muslim army had the effect of the settlement of a great number of Rohingya Muslim population in Arakan. (4)

Budapawa’s Invasion of Arakan (1784)
The 1784 Burmese invasion of Arakan was considered by historians as a genocide for its ruthlessness massacre of Arakanese population of both Rohingya and Rakhine groups. In the month of December, 1784 Burmese king Budapawa attacked Arakan with 30,000 soldiers and returned with 20,000 people as prisoners, destroyed temples, shrines, mosques, seminaries, and libraries including the Royal library. Muslims serving the Royal palace as ministers were also massacred.

The Burmese king in order to put down the Arakanese Buddhist spirit also took away Mohamuni, the famous Buddhist statue, a symbol of Arakanese pride of independence. The Mohamuni was cast in bronze and colored in gold. It was sent across the mountains of Taungpass. There were hundreds of Moghs and Muslims forced to carry the statue to Burma through the inacessable mountanious pass which led to the death of hundreds as they were on their way to Burma. The kings advise to his invading commenders that “If one cuts down the ‘Kyu’ reed, do not let even its stump remain.” Ga Thandi, the king of Arakan took shelter with his followers in the deep jungles of Chittagong where his decendents still live in Bandarbon. They now call themselves as the Marma. Interestingly, among the people Budapawa carried with him were Rohingyas, a British scholar visiting Burma in 1799 met some people who identified themselves as the Rohingyas. (5)

During the time of the Burmese invasion of Arakan, Chittagong came under the British rule. The British never attempted to rescue the Arakani king to his throne. To escape the brutal attack of the Burmese King both Muslims and Hindus of Arakan fled to safety in Chittagong. Puran Bisungri, a Hindu Rohingya “was an officer of the police station of Ramoo.”He was born in Arakan and fled the country after Burmese invasion in 1784. (5) Harvey says, traditionally Burmese cruelty was such that ” to break the spirit of the people, they would drive men, women and children into bamboo enclosures and burn them alive by the hundreds.” This resulted in the depopulation of minority groups such that “there are valleys where even today the people have scarcely recovered their original numbers, and men still speak with a shudder of ‘manar upadrap’ (the oppression of the Burmese).”(6)

During the invasion of Arakan, the Burmese king took with him 3,700 Muslims and settled them in Mandalay. Some of them were known to even become the Ministers to the Burmese king. The decendents of the 3,700 Muslims are known as Thum Htaung Khunya (Three thousand seven hundred). For the continued oppression, in Southern Chittagong, a term was coined for Arakan of now Burma as the “Moghur Mulluk” meaning the land of lawless people, generally referring to the Burmese oppression of the time. The Arakaniese Muslims and Hindus that continued to escape to Chittagong resettle there were called by the Chittagonian Bengalis as the “Rohi”. “During the seven years of their operation, the population of Arakan was reduced by no less than half. During the early months of 1884, a quarter of a million {refugees took shelter} in the English territory of Chittagong.” (7)

The oppression of the Burmese became clear from what refugees had to say at the time: We will never return to the Arakan country; if you choose to slaughter us here we are willing to die; if you drive us away we will go and dwell in the jungles of the great mountains.(8) It was during this time that Rakhines of Bangladesh in the Cox’s Bazar area, Rohingyas in great numbers and some smaller Arakani tribes also took shelter in Chittagong. The most significant rise of non Bengali settlement in Chittagong took place due to this Burmese genocide that took place in 1784.

Brithish rule (1826 AD – 1942 AD)
After the Burmese conquest of Arakan, the Burmese king demanded the fugitives be returned. In 1824 a decisive war between the Burmese and the British took place resulting in the British occupation of Arakan. By now due to the merciless massacre, Arakan almost became depopulated. “When the British occupied Arakan, the country was a scarcely populated area. Formerely high- yield peddy fields of the fertile Kalandan and Lemro river valleys germinated nothing but wild plants for many years. (9)

Mogh Memories of the past and the rise of anti-Rohingya racist jolts and shaking in Arakan.
It was in the Kalandan and Lemro river valleys where Rohingya Muslims were farmers and peasants. There were fewer people to cultivate the land. Rakines males normally love to enjoy entertainment than do the hardwork. Rohingyas were the hardworking peasants. The British adopted the policy to encourage the …inhabitants from the adjacent areas to migrate into fertile valleys in Arakan as agriculturists. … A Superndent, later an Assistant commisioner of Bengal, was sent in 1828 for the administration of Arakan Division, which was divided into three districts repectively, : Akyab, Kyaukpyu, and Sandoway, with an assistant commissioner in each district.(10) After the British conquest, despite the memories of horror, but naturally out of nostalgia, some Rakhines and Rohingya refugees from Chittagong returned to Arakan. Aye Chan, a xenophobic Rakhine writer calls these returnees as the settlements of foreigners in Arakan. He calls them as Influx Viruses. Surprisingly, he remains silent to the Rakhine returnees to Arakanese returning home. He also finds the huge Rakine (Mogh) and Rohingya settlement in Southern Chittagong due to Budapawa’s genocide as normal. He characterizes the slight increase in the Muslim population in Arakan after the British conquest as the settlement by “Chittagonian Bengali Muslims.”(11) Aye Chan’s claim of these people as being Chittagonians is due to the fact that he didn’t take into account the fact that many of the original uprooted people of Arakan returned to Arakan to claim their possessions. Given such a disturbing climate in Arakan after such a destruction by the Burmese king, one wonders, why Chittagonians living in a relatively peaceful region would migrate to Arakan. Naturally, the Muslim migrants were the original Rohingya inhabitants of Arakan returning to their ancestral homes. It is evident from the fact that in the aftermath of the genocide, despite the return of order by the British occupation, but the fear of uncertainity still persisted and the returnees driven by nostalgia and even many other Rohingyas preferred to work in Arakan only as “seasonal labourers.”

1930 and 1938 anti Indian riots.
In the meantime, there was 1930 and 1938 anti Indian riots and Burma for Burmese campaign led by the Monks made Muslims of Arakan felt the threat of their existence in Burma but the British census at this time made things more complicated for the Arakani Rohingyas. The British identified the Rohingyas of Arakan as the Indian Muslims.

Japanese Rule (1942-1945)
The next large scale migration of Rohingyas to Chittagong took place during World War II. In 1942 Japan occupied Burma and the ultra-nationalist Buddhists jointly massacred the Karens, the Mons and in Arakan the Rohingyas. Feeling the threat of extinction, and certain Rakhines determined to drive out the Muslims of Arakan, Muslim leaders officially took the already existing name for their suffering community as the Rohingyas. However, Rohingyas were conveniently identified by the Rakhine extremists as being the Chittagonians. During the time of Japanese occupation, the number of Rohingya death in Arakan was staggering to be over 100,000. Rohingyas call the event as the “Karbalai Arakan,” the bloodshed in Arakan. (12)

In 1942 when the British withdrew from Arakan, the Japanese immediately took over control of Arakan. The Arakanese xenophobic hoodlums began to incite people with the slogan, “our brothers came, and your brothers left you.” The hoodlums began to attack the Muslim villages in souhern Arakan and the Rohingya Muslims fled to the North where they took vengeance on the Rakhines in Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships(13) Ashraf Alam provides a list of 294 villages destroyed in the pogroms of 1942: (a) Myebon in Kyaukpru District 30 villages; (b) Minbya in Akyab District 27 villages; (c) Pauktaw in Akyab District 25 villages; (d) Myohaung in Akyab District 58 villages; (e) Kyauktaw in Akyab District 78 villages; (f) Ponnagyun in Akyab District 5 villages; (g) Rathedaung in Akyab District 16 villages; and (h) Buthidaung in Akyab District 55 villages. (14) In 1950, a memorandum by the public of Maungdaw demanded the protection of fundamental rights and demanded an unconditional repatriation of Rohingyas from Chittagong. Yoger claims that during this time the Arakani Muslim migration to Chittagong was at 20,000.(16).
There was no action taken by the British to bring the Rohingya refugees back to Arakan. But due to this event, the Rakhine-Rohingya relations deteriorated further. Aye Chan says: “It is certain that hundreds of Muslim inhabitants of southern Arakan fled north.(15). At the same time Chan from his chauvinistic believes contradicted himself by saying that Rohingyas in Butheding, Maungdaw etc. areas in the north bordering Bangladesh are migrants from Chittagong. In this Chan seems to have failed to keep consistency in his arguments.

Rohingya Refugees in Chittagong during U Nu’s period (1948-1962)
In 1948 Burma became independent from British rule. Rohingyas again began to be protection less. Aung San became Burma’s democracy leader. He was trying to bring ethnic harmony through dialogue with ethnic minorities but the entire team of democracy leaders including Aung San was assassinated by powerful quarters who sought to control Burma by force.

1958 Rohingya refugges took shelter in East Pakistan; the number of refugees identified as being 10,000. (17) 1959, Burma agreed with East Pakistan governor Zakir Hossain to take back Rohingya refugees who had taken shelter in Chittagong in 1958. When questioned “why refugees were pouring into Pakistan from Burma, the Govornor replied that the government of Burma had noting to do with it. Actually the Moghs of Arakan were creating the trouble.” (18) In 1960 The Daily Guardian, Rangoon, 27th October 1960 reports that Burmese “Supreme Court quashes expulsion orders against Arakanese Muslims.”(19)
It is true, the disturbances were not entirely foreign inspired. Pumped up in prejudice by the
leading Pongyi activist, U Ottama, from 1930’s Arakan became anti-Rohingya and anti-Muslim. (20)

Rohingya Refugees during Military rule (1962-)
In 1962, General Ne Win took over power and confiscated most Indian and Chinese owned businesses in Rangoon and began his Burmanization policy which advocated that “Burma is for Burmans,” referring that Burma is for racially Mongoloid and religiously Buddhist people. Ne Win first began a policy of “divide and rule” in Arakan between the Mogh and the Rohingyas. His government identified the Rohingyas as “Indian Bengalis” from Chittagong migrated to Burma during the British period beginning from 1826. (20)
As mentioned warlier, in 1978 an officially recorded 207,172 Rohingyas took shelter in Chittagong. UNHCR and Amnesty International investigation found out that Rohingyas were carrying Burmese National Registration cards. I have personally visited the refugee camps in Ukhiya of southern Chittagong. The area was as if a sea of refugee camps. When asked people if they had any documents proving their citizenship, little children ran to their parents to fatch the documents. I have seen NRC certificates with Burmese seal testifying their Burmese nationality.

This revealation by international agencies, forced the Burmese government to accept the Rohingyas back to Arakan.(21)

In 1982 the military rulers passed the Citizenship Act in which it made a povision that Burmese people’ ancestors who came to settle in Burma before 1826 will be considered as “foreigners. ” Rohingyas were seen as people migrated from Chittagong of Bangladesh after 1826. Aye Chan and other similar Rakhines followed this line of xenophbic interpretation. Aye Chan wrote dehumanizing books and articles, identifying Rohingyas as the Bengali Muslim Immigrants” from Bangladesh. Contrary to such assertions, Rohingya’s earliest ancestory in Arakn however, dates back to the 8th century. Our research shows that Rohingyas called by the Arakan’s Tibeto-Burman population as the Kula were the offsprings of the aboriginl Indian Chandras, Arabs, Persians, the soliders of the Bengal Sultan’s army, the offsprings of the Mogh-Portuhuese captured Bengali slaves, Portuguese offsprings. (22). The name Rohingya was adapted by these people from various origins as a survival mechanism.

In 1990-92 again over 2,68,000 Rohingyas were sent back to Bangladesh. This time the Burmese government made sure that Rohingyas do not carry any official Burmese document. Rohingyas continue to be identified as “foreigners” and now suffer in the land they were born and brought up. The Burma’s military in alliance with the Rakhine ultra-nationalist plays an extermination policy based on fear and intimidation. (23)
Habib Siddiqui identifies some of the major armed operations of intimidation against the Rohingya people, orchestrated by the Burmese government since 1948:
1. Military Operation (5th Burma Regiment) – November 1948
2. Burma Territorial Force (BTF) – Operation 1949-50
3. Military Operation (2nd Emergency Chin regiment) – March 1951-52
4. Mayu Operation – October 1952-53
5. Mone-thone Operation – October 1954
6. Combined Immigration and Army Operation – January 1955
7. Union Military Police (UMP) Operation – 1955-58
8. Captain Htin Kyaw Operation – 1959
9. Shwe Kyi Operation – October 1966
10. Kyi Gan Operation – October-December 1966
11. Ngazinka Operation – 1967-69
12. Myat Mon Operation – February 1969-71
13. Major Aung Than Operation – 1973
14. Sabe Operation February – 1974-78
15. Naga-Min (King Dragon) Operation – February 1978-79 (resulting in exodus of some 300,000 Rohingyas to Bangladesh)
16. Shwe Hintha Operation – August 1978-80
17. Galone Operation – 1979
18. Pyi Thaya Operation, July 1991-92 (resulting in exodus of some 268,000 Rohingyas to Bangladesh)
19. Na-Sa-Ka Operation, since 1992.(24)

Despite a clear evidence of Burmese invasion and atrocities on the Rohingyas, resulting in the latter to take shelter in Chittagong, xenophobic writer’s continue to propagate that Rohingyas are “Chittagonians. ” The intensity of the nationalist hatred by the military reached so deep into the Burmese consciousness that today even some Burmese people began to believe that indeed Rohingyas are “Chittagonians” from Bangladesh. Contrary to this, the present research found that the production of refugees in general and the Rohingya refugees in particular from Arakan is not a new phenomenon; the study reveals that the internal troubles in Arakan along with the historic Burman invasions of Arakan from time to time led to the rise of not only the tribal people in Chittagong and in Chittagong Hill Tracts,( the Arakanese Rakhine settlements in Bandorban and Cox’s Bazar, a result of mainly 1784 Burmese invasions, the Chakma settlements in Chittagong Hill Tracts) but also the Rohingyas settlements in the entire southern Chittagong area upto the Sangha River close to Bandarbon.

In understanding the refugee problem in Western Burma, the phenomenon of intolerance seems to be the deep-rooted cause. In Burma, Burma’s xenophobic authors continue to brand Rohingyas as the Chittagonians of Bangladesh. Rohingyas are not recognized as the “taingyintha” (indigenous) people of Burma for their racial differences with the Rakhines and the Burmans.

It is an encouraging sign to see that, while the ancestors of the Rakhine Moghs of Bandarbon and Cox’s Bazar, the Chakmas of Chittagong Hill Tracts and the Rohingyas of Southern Chittagong were originally from Arakan took shelter in Chittagong and Chittagong Hill Tracts throughout this period, in Bangladesh, they are not being seen by Bangladeshis as foreigners from Arakan. It is evident that after the independence of Bangladesh these nonbengalis together with the Bengalis are now being identified on their territorial identity as being the Bangladeshis. The Bangladeshi Rohingyas in southern Chittagng, who migrated before 1971 are also being considered as Bangladeshis. Justifiably, in the democratic Bangladesh, no one should question the birth right of citizenship of the Chakmas, the Moghs and the other smaller tribals and the Bangladeshi Rohingyas.

In Arakan however, even after a million Rohingya people left Arakan, who now live in deplorable condition in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Japan, Thailand, and in the Gulf states, these ultra-nationalists continue to justify that Rohingyas are not Burmese citizens. It appears that the problem in Arakan is deep enough to go away sooner. This is evident from what U Khin Maung Saw, a typical Arakani xenophobe had to say, “As a born Arakanese [I am as a Rakhine author] is obliged to write the true story of the so-called “Rohingyas.” (25) It denied the Rohingya rights by saying “the so-called Rohingya.” Today, Arakan’s true hisory refers to an exclusionist history that Arakan belongs to the Rakhines only and wish Rohingyas should be sent to Bangladesh.

Reacting to the Burmese policy of extermination of the Rohingyas, Saeed Khan wrote: “People have migrated for work or love or whatever reason during the entire history of mankind… If we go by the logic that Rohynga people have roots in Chittagong they should all be thrown out of present day Burma/Myanmar then by that logic every person of nonaboroginal root should be thrown out of Australia, and every person with non native American root should be thrown out of America, every one with roots in West bengal in Bangladesh should be thrown out and everyone with roots in East Bengal should be thrown out of West Bengal/India. And if we keep on going like this we will reach a point where everyone should be thrown out of everywhere as according to science and genetics there is no so called “pure race”. According to science every one in the present world has roots in a group of people out of Africa. So should we all go back to Africa? (27) In sending everybody to Africa, the only problem is that ever since human races left Africa, half of Africa dried up to become the uninhabitable Sahara desert. In the meantime, Burmese invasion of Arakan on the Rohingya people continues and they escape persecution by land and by sea by boat risking their lives; those who survive live in refugee camps as Burma’s stateless refugee people.

In the above article, a review of the historical documents on the orign of the Tribes of Chittaging Hill Tracts show that all the major tribes of Chittagong Hill Tracts, especially the Chakma of Northern Chittagong Hill Tracts, Marma of Bandarbon and the Rakhines of Cox’s Bazar and the Rohingyas settled in Southern Chittagong were originally migrants from Arakan of Burma, the latter one the Rohingyas are the most recent migrants and the Rakhines migrated as late as during the British period.

After the liberation war of Bangladesh, the tribals staged armed rebellion against Bangladesh claiming them as being the aboriginal people; on this ground they even wanted the independence of Chittagong Hill Tracts. In this conflict the tribals armed by India, the total number of people both tribals and Bengalis that lost their lives were 1677 among them 1329 were Bengalis) Artifacts found and the given names of Chittagong Hill Tracts show Bengalis have been in Chittagong Hill Tracts from Prehistoric times. The new Bengali settllers in the Hill Tracts however were people mostly from Northern and South Western Bangladesh who land lost land due to river erosion or from the gradual desertification in those regions and according to the most recent Bangladesh census the population of Chittagong Hill Tracts is 45% Muslim Bengali and the rest comprised 55%.

Bangladesh constitution rightfully accepts the tribals as the citizens of Bangladesh. However, there is a growing concern that Hasina government giving the tribals the aboriginal status and therefore special status over the Bengalis is denying the rights of Bengalis in the land of their birth. In contrast, it is true, India the broker between the Tribals and the Hasina government itself to stop the fear of seperation itself settles non Kashmiris in its occupied Kashmir. Many in Bangladesh fear that Bengali rebellion and the move by Hasina against its Bengali population will help the excelleration of the tribal separatist movement that originally began from the time of Bangabandu Sheikh Mijibur Rahman) See for more details on the Hill Tracts:
For details on Chittagong Hill Tracts and comments see Abid Bahar, Issues of Dispute and Contemporary Problems in Chittagong Hill Tracts, http: //groups. group/mukto- mona/message/ 49338?l=1

COMMENTS on Abid Bahar’s, Issues of Dispute and Contemporary Problems in Chittagong Hill Tracts : http://indigenousis suestoday. blogspot. com/2008/ 08/august- 5-12-2008- five-key- indigenous. Html

Koya said…
Dear Friend,
I belong to the Gond tribe of India and you must be aware that in India tribal are being systematically displaced and killed in the name of development by the Indian Government policies and USA expansion policies in India.
We have registered a political party by the name “Prithak Bastar Rajya Party” where we will be demanding a separate Bastar State to safe guard the interest of the tribal. Evo Morales is an inspiration for us.
Below is also a video link which might give you some insight to our plight. com/watch? v=1O2WwESwJhw
I would be grateful if you can mobilize some support for us in your country.
bhumkal.blogspot. com

AUGUST 13, 2008 1:14 PM

Peter N. Jones said…
Thank you for sending along this important information. A post on the Gond indigenous peoples is up – let us hope that this gets disseminated around so that more people become aware of what is happening.
AUGUST 14, 2008 7:00 AM

Anonymous said…
Several things contributed to the Chittagong Hill Tribes’s problems:
(1) The prominent one is about Kaptai dam, built during Pakistan period. In reacting to this the tribals legitimately showed histaria but enthusiast foreign inspiration especially from Juric Univesity helped the Chakma tribal leadership to hijak the issue by the more marxist elements of the Chakma groups.
The Chakma leadership romantacized the problem and took the issue as a matter of class struggle and recommended to its tribal followers (a)to fight for the independence of Chittagong Hill Tracts (b)lived by 50% tribals and 45%Bengalis. On top of this lack of reality check, written records show (c)all these tribes took shelter in Chittagong Hill Tracts to escape Burmease invasion of Arakan. The last one, the Rakhines took shelter in 1784. (d)The total Tribal population is even less than a million.

(2) Rmanticizing with the independence idea created fear among Bangladeshi people.
Further romanticizing continues today by almost every tribal groups, even small tribes as the Tanchangyas (2000 families) to change their name to Tanga (Burmese), and adapt Burmese script as their written language.
(3) India took advantage of the alienation and helped arming the tribals.
(4) To its effect now there is the loss of trust between Bengalis and the Tribals.Tribals instead of romancing with the wrong idea of Marxism, should learn the majority language and compete with Bengalis and enjoy the freedom given to everybody as being Bangladeshi. Such freedom is missing in the military ruled Burma and in the so-called secular Indian north East where groups like Mizoos, Asamese demanding independence are being massacred by droping bombs from the shy.It is too bad that the Chakma marxist leadership made more steps backward for all the tribes to now make the tribals in general suffer.
AUGUST 18, 2008 11:12 PM

Peter N. Jones said…
Thanks for the contribution Abid. I’ve hotlinked it because it is really very informative.
Issues of Dispute and Contemporary Problems in Chittagong Hill District.
As it points out, the issues are much more complicated then many realize, and the biggest problem has been the lack of inclusion of indigenous concerns and voices.

1. Alamgir Serajuddin, Asiatic Society Bangladesh, Vol. xxx (1), June, 1986.
2. Abid Bahar, “Dynamics of Ethnic Relations in Burmese Society:A Case Study of Interethnic Relations between the Burmese and the Rohingyas,”An Unpublished M.A. thesis, University of Windsor, Canada, 1981
3. Chris Lewa, Issues to be Raised Concerning the Situation of Rohingya Children in Myanmar(Burma) Form- Asia, Nov. 2003.
4. Mohammad Ashraf Alam, A Short Historical Background of Arakan, Arakan Research Society, Chittagong, Bangladesh, October 2006, http://www.rohingya .org/index. php?option= com_content&task=view&id=20&Itemid=30
Also see Muhammad Enanmul Haq and Abdul Karim Shahitya Visharad’s work Bengali Literature in the Court of Arakan 1600-1700.
5. Francis Buchanan, A Comparative Vocabulary of Some of the Languages Spoken in the Burma Empire.” Pp. 40-57; Also Francis Buchanon in South East Bengal (1798). His journey to Chittagong, the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Noakhali and Comilla. Also in Michael Charney, Buddhism in Araka: Theories of Historiography of the Religious Basis of Ethnonyms in the Forgotten Kingdom of Arakan from Dhanyawadi to 1962.
(5) Ibid, 1992, 79
6. Harvey, 1947, 161; A Short historical background of Arakan, Internet site: http://www.rohingya times.i history/history_ maa.html, also see N. M. Habibullah,History of the Rohingyas,Banglades h Co-operative book society Limited, 1995; De Barros. J. 1973. Da Asia: decadas III & IV. Lisboa: S. Carlos., Habibullah, A.B.M. 1945. “Arakan in the Pre-Mughal History of Bengal” Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal (Letters 11).
7. Cited in M. Habibullah, History of the Rohingyas, Bangladesh, 1995, p. 27.M.S. Collins also cited in the book; see Abdul Haque Chawdhury, Chattagramer Ittihas Prosongo, (the old Society and Culture of Chittagong), part 11, 1975, p2., 16.
8. Harvey, 1947, p.181;
9. Charney, 1999, p.279
10. Furnivall, 1957:29.
11. Aye Chan, Enclave, 2005; Also see abid Bahar, Aye Chan’s Enclave Revisited, 2007.
12. Rohingya Outcry
13. Moshe Yegar, The Muslims of Burma, A Study of a Minority Group, Otto Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden Moshe Yoger, 1972:67.

14. Mohammad Ashraf Alam, A Short Historical Background of Arakan
15. Aye Chan, 2005.
16. Moshe Yoger, 1972, p98.
17. Pakistan Times, August 26, 1959.
18. Pakistan Times 27th August 1959
19. 1960 The Daily Guardian, Rangoon, 27th October 1960.
20. Abid Bahar, Tagore’s Paradigm Exposed in “Dalia”, June 03 2008, http://groups. vn/group/ soc.culture. bengali/msg/ 80428f57a0e9a903 ,
21. Rohingya Outcry and Demands, Rohingya Patriotic Front (RPF), Arakan (Burma), 1976,.
22. Abid Bahar, Dynamics of Ethnic Relations in Burmese Society:A Case Study of Interethnic Relations between the Burmese and the Rohingyas,An Unpublished M.A. thesis, University of Windsor, Canada, 1981
23. Ibid
24. Habib Siddiqui, What is Happening in Burma? http://www.albalagh .net/current_ affairs/0090. shtml
25. U Khin Maung Saw,The Origins of the name Rohingya”, 06, 11, 2005 ; Sara Smith Faked History, Burma Digest, 28, 11, 2005.
26. Aye Chan, The Development of a Muslim Enclave in Arakan (Rakhine) State of Burma (Myanmar)” in U Shw Zan and Aye Chan’s Influx Viruses, The Illegal Muslims in Arakan, (New York, Arakanese in United States, Planetarium Station 2005), 14-33. The book was published in the United States. It was also published on line website.http: //, 2005, accessed on November 20, 2005.
27. Banglanari, Yahoo group, January, 19, 2006, fight4rightnow@ y… banglarnari@,

( This article was originally published as “Burmese Invasion of Arakan and the Rise of Non-Bengali Settlements in Chittagong of Bangladesh”, February 15 2006. It was also published in the author’s book, Burma’s Missing Dots, chapter 6, Flapwing Publishers, 2009. A post script on contemporary developments is also added with the present article)
Abid Bahar, Canada, Email : abidbahar@yahoo. com

“I Have never heard the name Rohingya” – Xenophobia or Racism!

Source from Kaladan Press, 8 December 2011

by Abid Bahar Ph.D.
Well, the above can’t be my statement. Those of you, who know me, know I have been working with the Rohingya people and on Burma for the past 31 years. So I have heard the name “Rohingya” many times. But surprisingly some Burmese people, who lived with the Rohingya people in Arakan and in Burma all their lives are of the claim that they have never heard of the name "Rohingya. It is as if saying “I have never met my brother, I have never seen my sister or even saying I have never seen my neighbor;” It sounds strange to me but not funny. Such assertion about an ethnic group aimed at intentionally ignoring them because you dislike them is called xenophobia, fear of the stranger. When Rohingyas as Burmese are made into strangers by the Rakhine gentlemen like Aye Kyaw, Aye Chan and the monk Ashin Nayaka, it is more than xenophobia; it is racism. It is a matter of extreme intolerance: an idea that also goes against even Buddhism.
What is behind all this?

1. Burma is a huge country with more than 130 ethnic groups. Rohingyas are not included within them by the military government and their collaborators because the xenophobe’s assertion that they entered Burma after 1825 when the British occupied Arakan.
How is this possible? The recently arrived Rohingya refugees from Arakan show some of them are not even as old as 5 years to enter Burma in 1825? Strange logic indeed, against some people’s birth rights. Well, the real story is Rohingyas as the Arakani Muslims are racially and religiously different from the racially Asian and religiously Buddhist Arakani and the Burmese majority population. The Karen Christians also have similar problems in Burma because of their religious differences. There you go!

2. The fact is Arakan had an Indian kingdom first Hindu, later on Mohayana Buddhist (See the history of Mohamuni of Buddha statue now in Mandalay, see in the research work of Martin Smith "Muslim Rohingya of Burma, 1995). About Buddhism, this is similar to Mohayana Buddhism in Bengal of the time. The Rakhines (also known as the Moghs, identified in British history) took their official name Rakhine during the 40′s was recorded in history (not in Aye Kwaw’s proto-history) to have entered Arakan with Theravada Buddhism in the 10th century, much later than Rohingya Muslim’s arrival in Arakan in the 8th century.
Where did all these people called Arakani Muslims go who began to settle in Arakan from the 8th century?
Where did the decedents of the soldiers of Wali Khan and Shandhi Khan who married with the local women in the 15th century go? This Muslim army of 30,000 by Wali Khan and 40, 000 by Sindkhan went to Arakan to help the Arakani king settled in the Kaladan valley. Where did the decedents of the captured Bengalis forcefully brought to Arakan by the Portuguese in the 15th century to work in agricultural lands go?
Well, they were all there settled in all over Arakan. But after the 1942 Arakani Muslim genocide most of the Arakani Muslims began to retreat to the north of Arakan called the Mayu frontier area and the Rakhines feeling unsafe began to settle in the north settled in the South; some Rohingyas from 1942 even began to cross to Bangladesh. Then the situation was made more complicated when the British identified all the Arakani Muslims as being the Indian Muslims this was because India and Burma were under the one British Empire. However, in 1937 Burma was separated from India and the Arakani Muslims’ were seen as “foreigners,” and their fate was allotted with the Burmese Buddhist majority country.

To avoid the anti-foreigner movement that first began in Rangoon by Ottama, an Arakani reactionary monk, Rohingya leaders began to separate their British labeled identity (of being the Indian immigrant Muslims settled in Rangoon.)to their indigenous identity. In order to do that they officially adapted an existing Burmese name called the "Rohingya” used by the Arakani Muslims for themselves before Britain occupied Arakan. The leaders officially adapted the name during the 50′s.That was a smart move by the Rohingyas but to the military and the xenophobes, it was another excuse to attack the victim; the Rohingya. It had turned out to be another excuse as if like in the wolf vs. lamb story of blaming the victim. The naming provided the military and the xenophobes the excuse that Burmese people have never heard of the name "Rohingya." "They must be "Bengalis"” immigrant” "Kula" and thus the contemporary anti-Rohingya propaganda began.

3. Surprisingly, the name "Rohingya" was heard by Francis Buchanan in 1798 in Burma, recorded in Francis Buchanan, in Southeast Bengal (1798): His Journey to Chittagong, the Chittagong Hill Tracts, Noakhali and Comilla, (Dhaka: Dhaka University Press, 1992), 82. It is true, Rohingyas look more like the Bengalis across the border from Burma but, Jacques Leider calls Arakan a "frontier culture." And it is true, Rohingyas are as if the Shans of Burma who have their Thai cousins across the border. But that doesn’t make Rohingyas non Burmese.

4. No wonder, there are still some Rakhine Burmese people in Arakan says "We have never heard the name "Rohingya." Well, my question to a xenophobe Burmese who says " I have never heard of the word "Rohingya," question #1 Did you hear the news of Rohingya exodus of 1978 when 200,000 Rohingyas were forced out from Burma who were carrying NRC (national Registration Cards) because as a researcher I personally verified their NRC cards in refugee camps in Ukiya Bangladesh. Burmese government was forced to take back Rohingyas due to the pressure from international body because Rohingyas were carrying official documents. (b). did you also hear that in 1982 Burmese military government through a constitutional Act officially denied Rohingyas’s Burmese citizenship? (c) Did you hear that in the 1991-92 there was another huge Rohingya exodus to Bangladesh? This time Burma made sure that Rohingyas don’t carry any NRC.
Are you still confused? If you are still not sure about the name “Rohingya,” it is your problem because you are most likely not informed of your country; in that case I can not help your ignorance.

Worst of all if you as a xenophobe are acting strangely, it is called hypocrisy. In that case, if you are a citizen of Burma, you are intentionally keeping yourself ignorant, so that you can pretend, surely then you are a charlatan.

But if you are promoting this pretension saying "I have never heard the name Rohingya," they must be foreigners," and you are helping the military to exterminate them, and let me tell you, even if you have deserted a Burmese government job in a foreign embassy and is now a powerful democracy movement leader in USA or in UK, it is true, you are more likely to be a double agent, a war criminal that demands to be investigated and exposed to the world.

Why is it important to identify this type of assertions? Because in saying “I have never heard of the word Rohingya before" some leaders of Burma deny a people’s birth rights, and help the military to exterminate them.
Strangely, it is some opportunist Arakanese Rakine gentleman pumped up in prejudice, posing as the devoted democracy movement leaders in everywhere, do everything to block Rohingya leader’s participation in Burma’s ethnic nationalities’ programs quietly asserting the statement " I have never heard of the name Rohingya."

But revolutionaries are not shy people. They know the difference between democracy-lovers and the reactionaries. As a matter of duty to Burma’s democracy movement and particularly to discourage the growth of xenophobia, reactionaries and their pretensions in Burma, by seemingly responsible people should be brought to public attention. In the meantime, Rohingyas continue to leave Arakan. FIDH International Federation of Human Rights says:
The …exodus is a deep, sustained trickle of low visibility. The Rohingyas progressively leave Burma in small groups, families or individuals…. Little by little, the population is being forced to leave Arakan because of a deliberate policy of cleansing.”
In that situation an observer lately commented about the Rohingya situation "The life of a refugee is like a football, kicking from bar to bar. One goal bar is on the soil of east Naff River and another is west Naff River. The Naff River is a football ground."

The international community should know that those people in the democracy movement leadership who receive huge donations from Western democracies in the name of promoting democracy in Burma are tolerating the military’s exclusion of the Rohingyas from Burmese citizenship; in the name of democracy they are tolerating and some even promoting racism in Burma. One Aye Chan published a book called Rohingyas as the “Influx Viruses.” The book was forwarded by Monk Ashin Nayaka. For the international community, in addition to sanction grants, there is much to be done to promote democracy in Burma.

(The text is adapted from Abid Bahar’s book: Burma’s Missing Dots, 2009, Chapter 12)

Saturday 10 December 2011

Jurists Call for Commission of Inquiry into Burma War Crimes

 Source from
By Katherine Iliopoulos
Crimes in Burma (Myanmar), a human rights report released by Harvard Law School in May commissioned by five of the world’s leading jurists, accused the UN Security Council of failing to investigate human rights violations and war crimes in Burma for more than fifteen years and called for the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry, a step that was taken in relation to the situation in Darfur. 

The Report found that “human rights abuses in Burma are widespread, systematic and part of state policy.” It said the evidence suggests the Burmese regime “may be committing crimes against humanity and war crimes prosecutable under international law.”

Relying exclusively on 15 years worth of UN documents reporting on abuses, including dozens of General Assembly Resolutions, the Report concluded that there existed evidence of “widespread and systematic sexual violence, torture and summary execution of innocent civilians”.

Tyler Giannini, who is the clinical director of the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School and one of the authors of the Report wrote, “As our research shows, UN documents clearly and authoritatively suggest that the human rights abuses occurring in Burma are not isolated incidents—they are potential crimes against humanity and war crimes. Failure by the UN Security Council to take action and investigate these crimes could mean that violations of international criminal law will go unchecked.”

“In the cases of Yugoslavia and Darfur, once aware of the severity of the problem, the U.N. Security Council established a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the gravity of the violations further,” said the report, which did not rely on reports or documentation from NGOs. “With Burma, there has been no such action from the U.N. Security Council despite being similarly aware of the widespread and systematic nature of the violations.”

Achieving a binding Security Council resolution to establish a special commission of inquiry may be a challenge however. “The Security Council is very much divided on Burma, with France, the U.S. and U.K. in one camp and Russia and China in another,” says Thaung Htun, UN affairs representative for the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), the democratically-elected government forced into exile. “Russia and China continue to say that the situation in Burma is not a threat to international peace and security.” In January 2007, a US-sponsored UN Security Council resolution calling for the restoration of democracy in Burma and an end to human rights violations was vetoed by Russia and China, Burma’s primary arms suppliers, in their first joint veto since 1972.

The Harvard report accuses the military regime in Burma of perpetrating international human rights violations and focuses on four specific categories: sexual violence, forced displacement, torture, and extrajudicial killings. UN documents issued since 2002 are the focus, primarily because the period post-2002 is most relevant to the Rome Statute, which is used in the report as the legal framework for assessing violations of international criminal law.

The Report is the first in-depth examination of crimes against humanity since 2005, when Guy Horton, a British human rights researcher and friend of Michael Aris, the late husband of Burma’s main opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi published a report entitled Dying Alive which also examined the question of violations of international law by Burma’s ruling junta. Unlike the Harvard Report, Horton’s report included an extensive discussion on the question of whether genocide was being committed.

Forced Displacement, Extrajudicial Killings and Torture
According to the Harvard report, in October 2007, sources estimated that the total number of internally displaced persons in eastern Burma was 503,000. These included 295,000 people in ceasefire zones, 99,000 in hiding in the jungle and 109,000 elsewhere in Burma, including in relocation sites. As of the end of 2008, UN documents did not indicate that there had been an improvement in the situation.
The Report argues that the UN has evidence that strongly suggests that the military forces perpetration of forced displacement in Burma constitutes either a crime against humanity prohibited by Article 7(1)(d) or a war crimes prohibited by Article 8(2)(e)(viii) of the Rome Statute.

The former U.N. Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Burma, Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, reported in 2008 that he had received information indicating that during the past 15 years, the Burmese Army destroyed more than 3,300 predominantly ethnic villages in eastern Burma in a systematic and widespread campaign to subjugate ethnic groups. By way of comparison, as of October 2007, there had been 2,751 destroyed or damaged villages in the Darfur region.

Over 1 million ethnic Burmese were forced to flee their homes as a result of the attacks, said Pinheiro, escaping as refugees and internally displaced persons.
A report of the Myanmar Rapporteur states that the villages of ethnic groups had been “burnt down during military offensives and they had lost their houses and livelihoods” and had therefore been forced to flee to refugee camps in Thailand for survival, which in turn been the subject of attack.

Torture and extrajudicial killings have been documented extensively by UN actors, indicating a widespread and systematic pattern of conduct. They are both prohibited as crimes against humanity and war crimes under the Rome Statute. As an example, the Harvard Report described an incident in the village of Tagu Seik on 7 July 2005: “The army surrounded, searching and ransacking the village on suspicion that the villagers had contacts with the Karen National Union (an armed opposition group) and were hiding weapons and explosives, though none were found. According to the source, an indigenous local schoolteacher called Stanford died during interrogation as a result of being tortured, including with electric shocks.”

Torture and the ill-treatment of political prisoners and ethnic minorities in Burma have also been documented by Amnesty International (AI) for approximately 15 years, as well as Human Rights Watch, according to whom political prisoners and those perceived to be supporters of armed opposition groups, such as the Chin National Front (CNF) and the Chin National Army (CNA), are particularly vulnerable to torture by security forces.
The Chin Human Rights Organization documented 16 extrajudicial killings, including four children, perpetrated by the Burmese army and police in Chin State between 2005 and 2007. None of the accused in these cases have faced justice. In March 2007, the Burmese army allegedly executed three village chiefs in Matupi , after accusing them of failing to reveal the presence of CNA forces and for providing support to the CNA.

Widespread and Systematic Sexual Violence and Genocide
In his 2005 report, Horton described a strategy of forced pregnancy used to change the ethnic composition of certain areas or to ‘ethnically cleanse.’ He cited a secret government document that appears to actively promote a policy of racial destruction through sexual intercourse: “So that our great primary aim of our single Burman race to last forever we will meet with success, and for the greater national race to progress and develop, the easiest method is an aggressive campaign to dilute racial blood by taking foreign women who are not Burman.”

The two International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and Rwanda (ICTR) have both identified rape as potentially an act of genocide. The connection between forced impregnation and genocide was made by the ICTR in the Akayesu case, which made the connection between the prevalence of sexual violence and the political agenda behind identity-based conflict. In this way, the Tribunal established that sexual violence and military objectives could be one and the same.

Article 2 of the Genocide Convention, which Burma signed in 1956, defines genocide as any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

 In Horton’s report, it was argued that rape can be used as a weapon to inflict genocide activity 2(d) by imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.

In the Akayesu case, the ICTR said: “In patriarchal societies membership of a group is determined by the identity of the father, an example of a measure intended to prevent births within a group is in the case where, during rape a woman of the said group is deliberately impregnated by a man of another group, with the intent to have her give birth to a child who will consequently not belong to its mother’s group. . . . rape can be a measure intended to prevent births when the person raped refuses subsequently to procreate in the same way that members of a group can be led, thorough threats of trauma, not to procreate.”

Secondly, Horton argued that widespread rape can express genocide activity 2 (c) inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about destruction of the group in whole or in part. The ICTR has said: “Sexual violence may cause disintegration of a group through deliberate emotional destruction of a vital part of that group. Women are the caretakers of society and if they become dysfunctional, the survival of the society is threatened.”

In March 2004 the Independent published an article entitled ‘Point of No Return’ where it described the institutionalisation of rape in the Burmese military, where women have been violated on suspicion of providing food for the Shan rebels. It cited interviews by human rights monitors with defecting Burmese soldiers – many of them young and traumatised by their training – who suggested they were encouraged to regard the forced impregnation of Shan women as a racial duty. “Your blood must be left in the village,” they were told.

Although genocide may be difficult to prove in the case of Burma, particularly with regards to the requisite special intent to destroy an ethnic group or groups in whole or in part, any Commission of Inquiry ought to examine whether genocidal acts may have occurred.
The Harvard Report omits any discussion of genocide, instead arguing that the UN has evidence that strongly suggests that the military forces perpetration of prohibited acts of sexual violence and rape in Burma constitute either crimes against humanity prohibited by Article 7(1)(g) or war crimes prohibited by Article 8(2)(e)(vi) of the Rome Statute.
The widespread nature of the abuse is reflected in the scale of the violations documented by the various UN actors. For example, a Report by the Society for Threatened Peoples found evidence of 173 incidents of rape and other forms of sexual violence, involving 625 girls and women, committed by Burmese army troops in Shan State, mostly between 1996 and 2001. According to the Report, this information was transmitted to the Myanmar Rapporteur, who reported that this trend continued in the period of 2002 to 2005 during which he received reports of 188 rape cases in Shan State. The UN reports refer to incidents of rape, itself a prohibited act, as well as gang rape and forced marriage.

In 2006, the Torture Rapporteur wrote that “Women and girls are subjected to violence by soldiers, especially sexual violence, as “punishment” for allegedly supporting ethnic armed groups. The authorities sanction violence against women and girls committed by military officers, including torture, inter alia, as a means of terrorizing and subjugating the population, particularly those in the Shan state.”

The Way Forward
Should a Commission of Inquiry be established, there are several options that could be considered: prosecution, truth commissions or the invocation of the Responsibility to Protect.
Since Burma is not a party to the Rome Statute, any prosecution of high-ranking individuals before the International Criminal Court would have to stem from a Security Council referral. On the other hand, the UN Convention against Torture may also be invoked, and Burmese officials who travel to other countries may be arrested and prosecuted. Although Burma is not a party, the Convention requires states parties to either extradite or prosecute a person alleged to have committed torture and who is present on the territory of the state party. Thailand is a new addition to the list of signatories.
The possibility of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) for Burma has been debated, particularly in the wake of the Depayin massacre of 30 May 2003, when at least 70 people associated with the National League for Democracy were killed by government-sponsored mob. The Asian Legal Resource Centre is of the opinion that the massacre amounts to a crime against humanity, but the Harvard Report does not discuss the massacre at all, except in relation to Burma’s historical context. The fact that the military regime remains in power poses a significant obstacle to a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The doctrine of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) has frequently been cited as a basis upon which States ought to intervene in order to stop the humanitarian situation in Burma, receiving much attention in the wake of Cyclone Nargis in May 2008.

At the 2005 World Summit, when United Nations member states agreed that there is a ‘Responsibility to Protect,’ they limited its scope to case of “genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.” Under the doctrine of R2P, the international community has the responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means to help protect populations threatened by these crimes. Only when a state “manifestly fails” in its protection responsibilities, and peaceful means are inadequate, are stronger measures justified, in particular the use of force authorised by the Security Council under its Chapter VII powers.

The 2007 China-Russia veto, and UN Security Council Resolution 1769, which authorized the deployment a UN-African Union force for Darfur but did not refer to the Responsibility to Protect, may suggest a reluctance on the part of the Security Council to recognize a case for R2P in relation to Burma.
Even if a Commission of Inquiry were to conclude that war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide are occurring in Burma, thus paving the way for the invocation of R2P, some argue that the use of force would be counter-productive; harming the very people it is supposed to protect.

Internal armed conflict erupted in Burma shortly after Burma gained independence from Great Britain in 1948. Ethnic minorities later took up arms originally fighting for independence but now almost all of them have accepted the Union of Myanmar and now want greater autonomy over local areas and increased political representation.

In 1988, pro-democracy demonstrations in Burma – known as the 8888 Uprising – were quelled in a bloody coup by the military-backed State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), who changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar a year later. SLORC refused to acknowledge 1990 election results that favoured the National League for Democracy, led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who remains under house arrest. The coup led to the exile of thousands of political opponents and to a united front of political and ethnic opposition groups against the ruling military junta, the State Peace and Development Committee (SPDC) headed by General Than Shwe.

Cease-fire agreements with several ethnic opposition groups have not prevented regular SLORC offensives against opponents along Burma’s borders, resulting in tens of thousands refugees and over one million internally displaced people.

Katherine Iliopoulos is an international lawyer based in The Hague, Netherlands. 

Related Links:

Crimes in Burma (PDF)
Harvard Law School Human Rights Program
May 2009

Dying Alive: A Legal Assessment of Human Rights Violations in Burma (PDF)
By Guy Horton
April 2005

Responsibility to Protect: Official Website
International Crisis Group Website: Responsibility to Protect
Related posts:
  1. Israel Defends Troop Conduct in Gaza; Snubs UN Inquiry
  2. Spanish Judge Begins Inquiry into ‘Systematic’ Guantanamo Torture
  3. Cambodian War Crimes Tribunal: First Trial Begins
  4. Lubanga Denies War Crimes in First ICC Trial
  5. The War Behind Me: Vietnam Veterans Confront the Truth about US War Crimes in Vietnam

Friday 9 December 2011

Burma jails Rohingya on immigration charges

Source from DVB , 8 Dec 2011

Rohingya fishermen pull a boat near a refugee camp in Teknaf, Bangladesh. In 1982 Burma passed a law that made it impossible for Rohingya to get full citizenship (Reuters)

A group of Rohingya refugees attempting to reach Malaysia have been given prison sentences of one and a half years each by a Burmese court after their boat ended up on the shores of southern Burma.

The boatload of 63 had travelled from Bangladesh, where up to 300,000 Rohingya reside having fled decades of persecution in their native Arakan state in western Burma. A BBC Burmese report says they were left stranded at sea by their broker 16 kilometres from the coastal town of Kawthaung in Tennasserim division.
Despite the hazardous nature of the journey, hundreds of Rohingya attempt the nearly 2,000-kilometre voyage from Bangladesh to Malaysia each year in search of work. The 63 however are thought to be the first Rohingya jailed under immigration charges in Burma, signifying how government policy works to ensure they are not considered Burmese citizens.

A law passed in 1982 made it impossible for the Muslim minority group to gain citizenship in Burma. The Buddhist government there claims they are of Bengali origin and thus should not be afforded the same rights as Burmese. Various Rohingya advocacy groups argue however that their roots in western Burma can be traced back to before the spread of the now-dominant Theravada Buddhism in the country.
Of the hundreds of thousands living in Bangladesh, only around 28,000 are registered by the UN. Dhaka is concerned that offering official support to all refugees would create a pull-factor for those still living in Arakan state, meaning that the majority eke out a perilous existence in unofficial camps and slums on the edge of Chittagong in eastern Bangladesh.

Following talks in Naypyidaw this week between Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Burmese President Thein Sein, however, the Dhaka-based Financial Express claimed Thein Sein had agreed to take back the refugees “after verifying them and as per the agreed criterion between the two countries”.
Kitty McKinsey, regional spokesperson for the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), said that while in principle she would welcome any positive solution for the Rohingya, “we will wait to see an official government statement confirming this” before drawing any conclusions from the meeting.

Chris Lewa, head of The Arakan Project, which advocates for the rights of the Rohingya, said she doubted whether Hasina’s visit prompted a breakthrough in the protracted issue of whether the Burmese would accept the refugees back, many of whom have been living in Bangladesh for decades.
The issue of the ‘boatpeople’ shot to global attention in January 2009 when a large group that washed up on the Thai coast were towed back out to sea by coastguards and left to die. Thailand last month intercepted another boatload but later released them.