Friday 17 August 2012

Rohingyas living a shackled life in Myanmar

Two circles net, By Aziz A. Mubaraki,

Sectarian violence is nothing new in Rakhine, the northern province of Burma (Myanmar) where minority Muslim Rohingyas have been attacked by Buddhists for quite some time. It is alleged that this time it all started after some Muslim miscreants robbed, raped and murdered an ethnic Rakhine Buddhist woman on 28th May this year. And honestly speaking, the verification of the incident- whether the Buddhist woman had been attacked by Muslims was not required at all because the persecution of the stateless Rohingyas had started long before this May incident. The Muslims make up nearly five percent of Myanmar's more than 53 million populations. And the largest group of Myanmar’s Muslims is the ethnic-Bengali minority, generally known as the Rohingyas, who mainly live in the western state of Arakan or Rakhine.

Elsewhere rape or murder is an ordinary crime. There are laws to deal with a rapist or murderer. I am sure in Myanmar there must be instances of a Buddhist committing such crime against a Buddhist. Usually none bothers to find out what religion the rapist belongs to. It’s illogical that you will target the entire Muslim community just because the rapist was Muslim. It’s clear that they used the rape as an excuse to step up the attack on the Muslim Rohingyas who have been attacked for some years. 

When Arab traders reached the region in the 8th century, ancient local Hindu Chandras and their kings embraced Islam. The entire Muslim population in Arakan was known as one community. Later Pathans, Mughals and even migrants from present Bangladesh added to the Muslim stock which was known as Rohingya. In 1795 in Arakan Scottish doctor and author Francis Buchanon met local people who introduced themselves as “Rooingyas”- he wrote in his book. Rohingya history dates back to centuries in Myanmar. Even after Burma became independent in 1949, Rohingyas were identified as one of Burma’s ethnic groups. But Rohingyas were denied their citizenship rights since an amendment to the country’s citizenship laws in 1982 and now are treated as illegal immigrants in Myanmar. The Myanmar’s government and the Buddhists even do not want to identify the Muslim community as ‘Rohingya’ today- they call them immigrant “Bengalees” now.

Rohingya Muslims’ political assertion in 1945
In 1945 the only Muslim political party the “Burma Muslims Congress” (BMC) was founded somewhat at the same time when the Anti Fascist People’s Freedom party (AFPFP) of General Aung San came into existence. And on December 25, 1945 U Razzak was elected the president of BMC, who made alliance with AFPFL for which he was duly rewarded with the ministerial berth of Education and Planning in Bogoke’s (General Aung San) Government. His stand of united Burmese (Burma) nation sacrificing the long-term interest of guarantee for the rights of Minority Burma Muslim satisfied not only the Burmese Buddhist leaders of the AFPFL, but strangely also the then British Government. But soon after his assassination, U Raschid and more prominently U Khin Maung Lat, followed the same primary policy of sacrificing the Rights and Interests of the Burma Muslim Community for ‘the country and their party’. No wonder most of the Burma Muslims later declined to consider or identify these ‘self interested’ experienced politicians as their true representatives or saviors’. Prime Minister U Nu, just a few months after the independence of Burma, demanded the Burma Muslim Congress to resign its membership from AFPFL. But by then the newly-formed Burmese Muslim League requested a special government department for Muslim dealings to resolve their own prospect, the same as for other minorities, who had Ministries in Yangon and governments in their states. But instead of any concrete decision the then Prime Minister, U Nu removed the Burma Muslim Congress from AFPFL on September 30, 1956 and ordered the BMC to be dissolve, and on the other hand decreed Buddhism as the state religion of Burma against the will of the ethnic minorities and various religious organizations including Burma Muslims thus sowing the seed of splitting up and clash of culture.

General Ne Win became the head of the state, his government refused to recognise the Rohingya as one of the ethnic groups of the country. In 1974 the constitution of the junta-led government approved a new list in which 135 ethnic groups were recognised as original inhabitants of the country, and the Rohingya did not find a place in there. Finally, when the 1982 Citizenship Law was passed in Burma, the Rohingyas effectively turned illegal foreigners in Burma.

Rohingyas are not allowed to travel without certified authorization, are barred from owning land and it’s compulsory to sign an assurance to have not more than two children! They need permission even to get married. Rohingyas lead a shackled life in Myanmar.

Simon Commission’s recommendation of 1919
The Simon Commission (appointed according to the Law of the Government of India in 1919, The Montague-Chelmsford Law) conducted an inquiry on the effects of Diarchy System of ruling Burma, and recommended that special places be assigned to the Muslims in Burma’s Legislative Council. The Commission further recommended that full rights of nationality should be assured to all minorities Muslims, Christians and Hindus: the right of free worship, the right to follow their own ethnicity and the right to own property and to receive a share of the public revenues for the maintenance of their own educational and charitable institutions. It recommended Home Rule or independent government separate from India or the status of a detach territory. But the British Government did not accept any of the recommendations except for the separation part, at the round table committee on India which was duly held in London in 1930. Thus the flawed policies of the British government and the cruel Burma’s Buddhist majority started unleashing terror on Muslim minority and the oldest documented riot to be recorded was in 1919 followed by riots of 1921, 1930, 1938 then in their post Independence era in 1964, 1981, 1997, 2001 and now again in 2012.

Recent persecution of Rohingyas
Persecution of the Rohingyas in Myanmar has reached terrible level in recent weeks. Since June 10, a state of Emergency has been enforced across Rakhine; Myanmar’s President Thein Sein has instigated martial law, giving the military administrative control of the region. Now the security forces have ganged up with the Rakhine Buddhists in attack against the Rohingyas. International media or other independent observers are not allowed in the areas where Rohingyas are holed up. Some hundreds of Rohingyas have been killed and thousands of Rohingya houses and businesses have been looted or set on fire in the past two months. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and other rights groups have accused the government forces for taking partisan role and supporting the Rakhine gangs. Scores of mosques have been vandalised. The ethnic cleansing of the Rohingyas is going on Myanmar and the government of Myanmar is the key sponsor of the anti-Rohingya pogrom.

Rakhine shops have stopped selling rice and other provisions to Rohingyas. Troops are openly asking Rohingyas to leave the country or starve to death. Most Rohingyas are not being allowed to run their businesses, do farming or other income-generating work.
Some Rohingyas have attempted to flee to Bangladesh by taking along the women and children. But Bangladesh has not opened the door for them this time. More than 900,000 Rohingyas are lying trapped in their villages in Myanmar. They have no place to escape and they are dying miserable deaths.

The Rohingya has been described as “among the world’s least wanted” and “one of the world’s most persecuted minorities”. Evidence has been gathered suggesting that the Burmese regime has marked certain ethnic minorities such as the Karen for extermination or 'Burmanisation'. The inhuman tyrannical government, which operates unrelenting internal security machinery, generally infiltrates or monitors the meetings and activities of virtually all organizations, including religious organizations. Religious freedom for all Muslims and Christians is reduced. It’s just three months since pro-democracy activist Daw Aung San Suu belatedly received the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, but her silence and blind eye towards the atrocities of Rohingya Muslims has made the world wonder if her selection for the “esteemed honor” was proper.

The silence of world community
Even an appeal for an international assistance from several Rohingya organisations around the world have fallen on deaf ears and have received little attention from the international community since it has been more subtle and indirect than the mass killings in places like Rwanda or is less interesting then the so called terrorist hubs in Afghanistan or Iraq. The West has literally turned a blind eye to the plight of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar in an attempt to maintain its economic interests in the Burma’s lucrative market. To them the violent targeting of Burmese minorities arrived at a time when the US and Britain have called off their pro-democracy campaign against the country’s junta. Regrettably the West’s silence over the bloody crackdown on Rohingya Muslims comes at a time when Western companies have jumped into Myanmar in an attempt to counterbalance the near-exclusive Chinese control over the Myanmar market. Even the silence of the United States is not unwarranted as it has deeper financial reasons. President Barak Obama has recently lifted the ban on American investment in the country and Britain has opened a trade office in Rangoon on July 11.

While it seems Myanmar has become a destination for capital investment now, as the United States, the European Union and Canada have accepted the government’s narrative of democratic transition and have largely lifted the economic sanctions enforced since mid eighties. The United State seems to have overlooked what the Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said on her visit to Myanmar late last year when she welcomed Myanmar’s first steps toward democratization, but had set down conditions for strengthening bilateral ties, that included an end to ethnic violence!

Since for the international media most parts of Arakan are still a no-go zone, specific details of killing and torture of Rohingyas are not reaching the mainstream media. Some Rohingya refugee groups from different countries, using special sources are regularly collecting news from villages which are being targeted by the Rakhines and the security forces and circulating them among refugee community and others spread across other countries.

Here is the copy of a mind-boggling report I happened to get in the first week of this month through a Human Rights Activist in the UK:
Date: 06/08/2012
Latest Situation of Rohingya People:
Four villages were burnt down and 25 Rohingyas, including children, were killed in Kyauktaw Township yesterday (05/08/2012) afternoon.
As the villages were attacked by the Rakhine Buddhists, the security forces kept a watch from distance. Details of the carnage:
Sl No
Village name
Burned houses
Dead bodies
Dead body details
Apauk or Aafauk
1.     Fadan, son of  Nazam, 30 years
2.     Ms.Noorjanatson, of shwe   Hla, 12 years
3.     Abdusuwan, son of Abdul   Khalid, 25 years
4.     Ko Shwe Mi, son of  Enam, 35 years
5.     Halayar, son of BodawYar, 18 years
6.     Nine other persons appear to have survived injuries.
Pyapauk or Foekafara

Some surely died, but no information available.
A mosque was burned down, two fishermen were killed by Maung sein win and his group, who is originally from Sittwe and living in Kyauktaw now, a Mosque scholar (Imam) was stabbed by spears and sustained heavy injuries in chest and head
Shwe Hlaing @ Milimafara
7 people injured.

While Two brothers were returning from farmwork, a Rakhine mob attacked them. Body of the elder brother Iliyas, 42, was found. Body of the younger brother is missing.
Info not available

The whole village was burnt. Some surely died, but no information available.

According to our source from the ground, Abdusuwan s/o Abdul Khalid, 25 years from Apauk village, was inhumanly tortured while going to another village. His dead body was left on the road in front of the villages.

Date: 06/08/2012
Latest Situation of Rohingya People:

Sealed Mosques and arrested Imams
Just received a phone call from Maungdaw and got some news from the caller that the Nasaka( Myanmar border security force) yesterday raided Mosques in the following villages and took away 16 Imams and sealed the Mosques. The mosques are:
1. Kunnapara Jame-Mosque, Alethengyaw,
2. Chandapara Jame-Mosque, do
3. Donkhali Jame-Mosque, do
4. Lumbaguna Jame-Mosque do
5. Sambanna Jame-Mosque do
6. Godusara Jame-Mosque do
7. Alipara Jame- Mosque , Maungdaw
8. Khairipara Jame-Mosque, Maungdaw
9. Maung Ni para Jame-Mosque, Maungdaw
Their family members and other villagers are now very anxious about the safety of the Imams. Many Rohingyas have been arrested by the security forces and their relatives know nothing of their whereabouts.
The Nasaka men are daily asking the Rohingyas to leave Arakan. “We want this land of Arakan, we do not want you,” the men are saying. “Nobody will come to help you. Leave Myanmar as soon as possible, if you want to stay alive.”

Sadly, the mainstream media is not using such info to expose the atrocity being perpetrated by the Rakhine Buddhists and Myanmese security forces in Arakan. It’s clear that the number of Rohingyas killed in the past two months would run into several hundreds. Yet the government says the death toll is not more than 80.
The Pro military Burmese media has even declared the Rohingyas as terrorists and traitors. Since mid-June, it has tactfully used its border security forces to burn Rohingya houses, kill Rohingya men, women and even children. And recently, President Thein Sein suggested that Myanmar could end the crisis by expelling all of its Rohingyas or by having the United Nations resettle them. Interestingly, many pro-democracy activists are supporting Then Sein on the Rohingya issue. It’s clear that the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingyas is sponsored by the state. Yet the international community is mum. It is disappointing that even the Dalai Lama, who is very vocal about the Chinese aggressions into Tibet and Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi have not spoken out against the persecution of the Rohingyas in Myanmar. We understand that Ms. Suu Kyi, is not as influential as the powerful military officers. Yet, if Suu Kyi raised the issue in support of the Rohingyas, international community could have picked up the issue quickly and could pressure Myanmar to stop persecution of the Muslim community.

Despite all government-sponsored excesses being committed in Myanmar, the world seems to be more interested in cultivating ties with Myanmar, with an eye on the country’s natural resources and its geopolitical importance. None is asking the question whether Myanmar is really moving towards democracy when it’s killing thousands of its genuine citizens and seeking to drive away tens of thousands of others from the country.

(Aziz A. Mubaraki is Member, Advisory Committee, Airport Authority of India (NSC), Ministry of Civil Aviations, Government of India)

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