Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims – Whose Responsibility to Protect?

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Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims – Whose Responsibility to Protect?
By Anamika Gupta – is a MA Student, European Peace University (Private University) London, U.K.

Myanmar is on a long and tedious road to democratic transition. As the country prepares for General Elections in 2015, the struggle to maintain hegemony and legitimacy is becoming even more intense for Thein Sein‘s Union Solidarity and Development party, given the public support enjoyed by the newly revived opposition party National League for Democracy led by pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. This transition and struggle to maintain status quo is coming at a high price for Myanmar, particularly for those belonging to the ethnic minority groups. This paper is particularly concerned with the situation of one such minority group — the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. The Rohingya Muslims live in the Rakhine state bordering the Bay of Bengal in the west.

Despite an estimated 1-2 million Rohingya Muslims living in the region, they are not recognized as ethnic minority group by the Myanmar government but are believed to be Bangladeshi migrants who have settled in the state illegally. This perspective has given birth to all the discriminatory policies and actions against them since beginning of the last century.

In June 2012, sectarian violence broke out between the majority Arakanese Buddhists and the Rohingya Muslims, triggered by the rape of a 28-year old Buddhist woman by three Muslim men. The violence in October was on a larger scale and much more lethal. The ensuing violence since June has reportedly claimed hundreds of lives and caused thousands of Rohingyas to flee their homes. As of July 2013, an estimated 140,000 Rohingya Muslims have been displaced from their homes. An unaccounted number of people are dying almost daily in the open sea as they attempt to flee to neighboring countries on rickety boats, and many more are dying due to systematic blockade of aid, food, water or medicine supply in the Rohingya IDP camps. Several factors clearly indicate that the ongoing violence is much more than sectarian clash.

This paper aims to understand the nature of the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, its background and what are the mechanisms that fuel such discriminatory treatment of minorities. The paper ties to understand the nature of the persecution by through the framework of atrocity crimes such as Genocide, Ethnic Cleansing and Crimes against Humanity. Finally, it also attempts to put on table the various actions that can be taken to influence Myanmar to take responsibility for the Rohingyas, who are paying for the vacillation with their life.

The first section attempts to analyze the _who, what, when, where and how‘ of the recent conflict in Arakan in order to unravel the complexity of the crisis. It also highlights the situation inside the camps for Internally Displaced Rohingyas and how it violates the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

Section two aims to understand the role of the 1982 Citizenship Law as the starting point of such blatant discrimination against Rohingyas, and the kind of impact it has had on their lives. Section three uses the theoretical framework of international laws such as the Genocide Convention and the International Criminal Court to probe if the current persecution of Rohingyas can be classified as one of the atrocity crimes. The following section explores the possibilities of international intervention, using the theoretical framework of UN resolutions of Responsibility to Protect and on Human Security, as well as the role of regional associations like ASEAN in assisting Myanmar to effectively deal with the crisis. Section five lists down a set of recommendations for the Myanmar government to focus on immediately. This is followed by the conclusion.

Rohingya Muslims are an ethnic, religious and linguistic minority group living in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, on the west coast, which shares border with Bangladesh. Their physical appearance bears similarities with natives of Bangladesh’s Chittagong region as does their Bengali dialect. Perhaps, this is the reason why they are widely referred to as _Bengali and not as Rohingya Muslims, as they themselves prefer to be called.

In June 2012, violent sectarian clash erupted between Arakanese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Maungdaw, Sittwe and surrounding areas in Myanmar‘s Arakan state, triggered by the rape of a Buddhist woman by three Muslims men on 28 May 2013 in Ramri Township and the subsequent retaliatory killing of 10 Muslim men in Toungop Township. Official figures claim that 78 people were killed, and almost 100,000 Rohingyas were displaced in the ensuing violence that lasted for weeks. (Human Rights Watch, Aug 2012) Violence resurfaced four months later, on 23 October 2012, when thousands of Arakanese men armed with machetes, swords, homemade guns, Molotov cocktails, and other weapons attacked Muslim villages in Kyauk Phyu, Kyauktaw, Minbya, Mrauk U, Myebon, Pauktaw, Ramree and Rathedaung townships in Arakan. It was marked by large scale killings, arson, destruction of homes, mosques, Muslim shops and other properties. Several Rohingya

villages were targeted concurrently and it is suspected that the perpetrators could have been from other townships. Several news reports and reports by rights groups suggests great amount of planning by local Arakanese political party officials and public vilification by senior Buddhist monks portraying Rohingyas as a threat to Arakan State.

As of September 2013, an estimated 1,40,000 Rohingya Muslims are living in Rohingya camps for Internally Displaced People in Myanmar (Al Jazeera, 2013), around 2,50,000 are living as refugees in Bangladesh, and many more in Thailand, Indonesia and India. Meanwhile, an unaccounted number of people are dying due to systematic blockade of aid, food, water or medicine supply by the security officials in the Rohingya IDP camps, along with movement restriction in and out of the camps (HRW, 2013). The imposition of subhuman living conditions on the Rohingya inhabitants, along with the policy of segregation, movement restrictions and essential items blockades stand in stark violation of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

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