Muslim Minority In Myanmar : A Case Study Of Myanmar Government And Rohingya Muslims


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Muslim Minority In Myanmar : A Case Study Of Myanmar Government And Rohingya Muslims
By Ismail Suardi Wekke1, Hasbi2, M Mawardin3 , Suyatno Ladiqi4, Mohd Afandi Salleh4 — 1,2 Sekolah Tinggi Agama Islam Negeri Sorong 3Universitas Hasanuddin 4Universiti Sultan Zainal Abidin, Terengganu, Malaysia.  
The discrimination suffered by Rohingya Muslims is increasingly blewed up in media in last decade. The peak of the discriminatory treatment against Rohingya Muslim by Myanmar government is the unavailability of shelter from Myanmar government. In the perspective of international law, Myanmar government’s actions constitute a serious violence, because it ignores the rights of its citizens.

Even a series of massacres and inhumane treatment became a major offense committed by Myanmar government in terms of humanity. This attracted international attention in solving the problem. This article illustrated the fate of Rohingyas who are not given citizenship rights by Myanmar government. It also revealed the irony of Muslims of Rohingya life who are discriminated by the government of Myanmar, both in the practical as well as in the political context.


Myanmar, also known as Burma, gained its independence from Britain in 1948 and was ruled by the military junta from 1962 until it was dissolved after the election in 2010. A new political atmosphere has marked the transition from military rule to civilian government in 2011, on the hands of President Thein Sein. Unexpected changes have occurred after the release of NLD leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and the start of a new dialogue between the newly elected President and the opposition leader (Gaetanol 2013).

Broadly speaking, Rohingya is an ethnic-patterned Muslim group that originated from northern Rakhine, the western part of Myanmar that was once called Arakan. The arrival of Muslim traders from the Arabs in the place became a marker of the history of Rohingya in the early seventh century. Therefore, Rohingyas can be recognized in terms of physical, language and also the culture which are almost the same as the Asian people, namely the Bengali people. But ironically Rohingyas rarely get the attention of the local government. The researchers were still lacking the attention to elaborate Rohingya as Muslim minorityin Myanmar which became refugees in the south and parts of southeast Asia.

In the context of Rohingya problem, there are three major (distinctive) issues relating to the law. In addition, there are different facts that require a special review involving (1) citizenship and discrimination, which exclusively focus on Myanmar; (2) citizenship and transfer, which also involve neighboring Myanmar; and (3) the doctrine of Responsibility for Protecting, which refers to the role of the international community (Zawacki 2013). Referring to the context, factually the problem is not only Rohingya community problem, but also the Myanmargovernment, the countries surrounding Myanmar, and the international community.

According to the Amnesty International (AI) report, since 1978 Rohingya have suffered from human rights violations committed by the military junta in Myanmar, and many have fled to neighboring countries such as Bangladesh. Their citizenship is rejected by Myanmar government and their human rights seem to be ignored by the local government. More than 200,000 Rohingyas had fled to Bangladesh in 1978, and based on new information, it was reported that more than 250,000 Rohingyas fled. An estimated 20,000 Rohingya refugees are living in the United Nations High Commissioner (UNCHR) for border areas camping at Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh. Human rights activists said that Rohingya’s human rights had been abused and exploited, forcing many to flee to Bangladesh (Amnesty International 2004). Thousands of Rohingyas left Myanmar on boats and many of them went to Bangladesh and Thailand by sea and then by land to Malaysia (Zarni and Cowley 2014).

After the denial of citizenship followed by the military junta in 1962, Rohingya is subjected to continuous torture. As a result, they flee and travel everywhere. For decades they are desperateto seek refuge for a better life (Ragland 1994). But they are very excluded because they have no legitimate citizenship or nationality. Ironically, the majority of them is told to move or is forced to move to Bangladesh, Thailand, India, Pakitan, Saudi Arabia, and Malaysia. Even if they can move away from other places they like, the suffering does not end because they have limitations with their status. They experience discrimination, trafficking, poverty, arrest, extortion, and deportation (Lewa 2009).

The Rakhine State, historically known as Arakan State, positions in the west of Myanmar. Its capital Sittwe, located in the Bay of Bengal in the west, and areas affected by inter-group violence with Bangladesh to the northwest. The Rakhine region shares the borders with Chin State in the north and east with Magway and Bago Territories. West Myanmar is populated by

Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims (Gaetanol 2013; Zarni and Cowley 2014). The law that Myanmar has practiced since 1982 to date on the right of citizenship is a proof of human rights violations that struck Rohingyas in Rakhine (Arakan). Imtiaz (2010) mentioned that there are two we should know about the discriminatory treatment affecting Rohingya Muslims in Arakan. The first, in 1982 Rohingyas citizenship rights were rejected by Myanmar government in the military junta. Second, the military junta strongly suspected these people (Rohingyas) as new people coming from Bangladesh. Meanwhile, other tribes in Myanmar such as Karen, Shan, Dagnu, Kachin, and Mon, were given excellent treatment, even their needs were all well-organized (Ahmed 2010). This indicates that the government of Myanmar has not paid much attention to Rohingya Muslims, because their tribe is still confusing, rather than other tribes that have been organized by the government of Myanmar. From the contrasting point of views, they hold that Rohingyas are unorganized or seldom touched by outsiders, so Rohingyas are often forgotten and neglected by outsiders.

Myanmar is a country rich in ethnic and religious diversity. Myanmar has 135 ethnicities. The most dominant ethnic groups in Myanmar are Bamar, Shan, Kayni, Rakhine, Chinese, Mon, and Kachin (Ardani, Wahyudi, and Susetianingsih 2015). The  tragic story of Rohingyas invites our attention. This violation adds a dark record of the human rights violations that occurred in the world. Minorities are not always treated well in the occupied territory. Human rights violations are often experienced by minorities. This violates the UN Law of Article 7 which says that all are equal within the law and are entitled without discrimination under equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against incitement to such discrimination. With the development of events that occur, one in Myanmar, Rohingya conflict is a conflict based on discrimination due to ethnic and religious differences (Karim et al. 2016).

Myanmar government’s legal and political policy towards Rohingya ethnic minority becomes a relevant international legal issue. First, Rohingya Muslim minority that has lived for centuries in Myanmar is a historical fact. The treatment of governments that do not recognize them as citizens has raised the question of law and human rights because discriminatory political policies between one tribe and another are contrary to the Convention against Anti-Discrimination as well as the Civic Convention.

This paper was based on normative and theoretical legal research using comprehensive literature with normative or legal   doctrine approach supported by a review of normative legal concepts and rules. In addition to primary legal materials, secondary materials consisting of articles, journals, and magazines, as well as other relevant media were also used as an effort to strengthen the argument over the problem. Given Rohingya Muslim minority are immigrants, the historical and legal approach to international importance becomes very important. Based on the above argument, this article will discuss the fate of Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar and Myanmar’s legal and political policies against Rohingya ethnic minority in the perspective of international law.

 Rohingya Muslim Minority

According to some historians, Rohingya does not belong to Myanmar. Meanwhile, others believe Rohingya has lived there for hundreds of years. The polemics surrounding Rohingya’s origins are the result of a political struggle, a misguided notion of national identity, intolerance, and discrimination. The truth is that in general, Rohingya Muslims have lived in western Myanmar before the British occupation of the province (Gaetanol 2013). Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar has been an isolated society in the place of its birthplace. Some of the factors that are historical, legal, and socioeconomic can explain why Rohingya Muslim minority has no citizenship status and become a victim of the malignancy of some of the Burmese authorities.

Firstly, Rohingyas are originally immigrants who came to Burma a few centuries ago. Some argue that Rohingyas originated in Arabic rahama (affectionate) and originated from the sultanate in Bengal. From posture and language, they tend to have a common physical and linguistic look with the Bangladesh people. Their language use is related to the Chitagonian language used by most people in the southern border region of Bangladesh. Geographically, the Arakan region (Rakhine) most of them live in the borders between Bangladesh and Arakan of West Burma (Myanmar).

In the 1945s, under Japanese rule, the establishment of the Burmese state began to occur through a process of social and political integration. More than 130 tribes negotiated and signed the declaration in a document on Myanmar’s independence. Not so much information is obtained why Rohingyas were not involved in the initial Myanmar State establishment process. This political document became the first fact of the emergence of the exclusion policy in Myanmar against Rohingya Muslim minority.##


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