Monday 10 June 2013

Myanmar, Muslims and Ethnic Cleansing

June 09, 2013 | Mohammad Rasool Shah

Myanmar, Muslims  and Ethnic Cleansing

'Ethnic Cleansing' is a shameful phenomenon which is used to show a situation when a majority forces the minority to either leave the area or turn themselves like them. In some cases, when religion is not involved, this aim is achieved either by forcing the majority to leave the area or finish their existence by carrying out a mass genocide. In old times, when borders were not much clear and large areas were ruled by a single king or emperor, different ethnic or religious groups used to live in the same area and there was not present much intense feeling of these differences but most of the modern states are formed on the basis of single and dominant identity of a group on the basis of ethnicity, race or religion and it left all the minorities in danger who were different from them. It is a sad fact that, in today's democratic and brightened era, such perceptions are both accepted and practiced.

Burma or Myanmar is a country in south-east Asia with borders with China, India, Thailand, Laos and Bangladesh. Burmese Buddhists make the majority of the country while there are present minorities who have migrated from the neighboring countries many centuries ago and these minorities with different ethnicities and religions have lived here for many generations and many centuries and it dates back to the time when the borders kept moving with the conquests of rulers.

The military Junta came into power in 1962 after a military coup and was penalized with strict military and economic sanctions by the world powers. Since 2011, when the military started relinquishing more of its control over the government, and released the prominent human right activist, Aung San Suu Kyi, the relations of country started improving with the rest of the world, which also resulted in the visible improvement in the economy of the country. But ethnic cleansing is a sad fact that has taken many decades to have matured into a frightening monster.

The first evidence of 'ethnic cleansing' in Burma dates back to 1982 when a bill was passed against the ethnic minorities according to which some of the ethnic groups were not recognized as the citizens of Burma and they were termed to be 'illegal citizens' of Burma and were asked to leave the country and migrate to the lands where they originally belong. Along with some other ethnic groups, Rohingya Muslims of eastern Rakhine state became its targets. But the history shows that Rohingya Muslims lived here even in 15th Century and they have lived for many generations in the area.

The law contained many strict rules that violated human rights laws and codes of democracy. According to the law, the ethnic minorities have to carry a pass to travel to even a closer area, they have to take a permit for marriage and after getting married, they have to sign a commitment to have no more than two children.

The recent killings of Rohingya Muslims in Burma, that reached to the international media, even with strict ban on media by the military government, erupted in 2012 when Rakhine Buddhists attacked the houses and businesses of Rohingya Muslims, killing more than thousands and forced hundreds and thousands of them to leave their houses and flee to the neighboring Bangladesh. After the matters got worse there, the military imposed emergency rule, allowing the military to administer the area. But the military and police have been accused of targeting Rohingya Muslims through mass arrest and arbitrary violence. The conditions got worse and more and more Muslim villages and businesses were turned into ashes and thousands were raped in horrendous massacres. A number of monks' organizations that played vital role in Burma's struggle for democracy have taken measures to block any kind of humanitarian assistance to the Rohingya community.

Now, the Rohingya Muslims represent the worst 'stateless' group of the world with two hundred thousand living in Bangladesh and many more have fled to other parts of the world while remaining in the country are still the 'illegal' residents in the land of their forefathers.

On the other hand, it is also sad that international media has not given due importance to the situation and the real story of massacre and human right violations have not been brought to the knowledge of public. It may be due to the policy of media groups or due to the strict control of military that restricts the access of media to the area.

It was lauded that Burma's government have taken measures that restored democracy and started a new era of constitutional changes that lead the party of Aung San Suu Kyi to power in the elections held in 2012 and was followed by a number of positive steps that can lead the country towards democratic stability and economic prosperity but the recent ethnic riots leave behind many question marks on the true intentions of the government and a peaceful and stable future of the country.

When the Myanmar government considers its open and democratic form of government, they must address one of the most barbaric remnants of their recent past, ethnic cleansing taking place in their midst, and right the wrongs done to the Rohingya population.

We wish the Rohingya to know that they are not alone. We hope to help share their plight with the world, in the hope and faith and trust that when the world knows of their suffering, it will no longer turn its back on their persecution. We simply add our voices to the humble demand made by Rohingya people; that their rights as our fellow human beings be respected, that they be granted the right to live peacefully and without fear in the land of their parents, and without persecution for their ethnicity or their form of worship.

We ask the world to not look away, but to raise its collective voice in support of the Rohingya. In these days of public diplomacy, the citizens, civil societies, NGOs, private investors and business community have a vital role to play in the context of democratic reforms, human rights and development around the globe. We must use this voice.

We, the Afghans make a strong appeal to the Myanmar government. You must amend the infamous 1982 law, and welcome the Rohingya as full citizens of Myanmar with all attendant rights. In doing so, you will end the possibility of radicalization of the Rohingya and channel their energies for the development of Myanmar. You will remove the impetus for extremism and terrorism being generated by the current mistreatment of this vulnerable minority. A strong, stable and democratic Myanmar is not only in the interest to the countries of the region, but will serve the cause of global peace and stability as well.

A government must in the end be judged by how it protects the most vulnerable people in its midst, and its generosity towards the weakest and most powerless. Let not the good work of this government be clouded by the continuing persecution of the Rohingya people. Otherwise, the dreams attached with a democratic government and hopes and fruits expected of this natural and effective way of government will never be achieved and the region will keep burning in the fire of poverty, radicalism and ethnicity.

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