Myanmar’s Rohingya Refugees : The Search For Human Security

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Myanmar’s Rohingya Refugees : The Search For Human Security
A Master Thesis Submitted by Linda Crossman, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., USA.  September 29, 2014.

The aim of this thesis is to analyze the human rights violations against one minority group in Myanmar – the Rohingya – by the majority Buddhist Rakhinese population with central government support, in order to call the international community to pursue immediate, cohesive diplomatic action to address this humanitarian crisis in Rakhine state. The scope of this thesis, which is organized in five chapters, focuses on the early 21st century from 2000 – 2014, but it includes earlier background information on Myanmar and the plight of the Rohingya. This thesis includes a Preface, which contains maps and images of Myanmar and its people, for the benefit of the reader.

Chapter I, “Background Information on the Ethnic and Religious Conflict,” sets the stage for understanding this problem from pre-colonial times to 1999. Chapter II, “Evidence of Ethnic Cleansing and Genocide Against the Rohingya in Myanmar,” examines the implicit government policies from 2000 – 2014 that target the Rohingya for extermination. This chapter analyzes Myanmar’s political, economic, and sociocultural intolerance for the Rohingya that have left them stateless and forced them to flee Myanmar for security in neighboring states like Bangladesh, Thailand, and Malaysia.

Chapter III, “Responsibility to Protect the Rohingya,” challenges the international community, consisting of the United States (US), European Union (EU), United Nations (UN), and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), to pursue all peaceful means available to end the abuse of the Rohingya under the international norm of the responsibility to protect (RtoP). Chapter IV, “A Recommended Peacebuilding Plan for Ending the Plight of the Rohingya,” identifies possible paths for integrating the Rohingya politically, economically, and socio-culturally into the fabric of Myanmar society as citizens of the country, with protection from different forms of persecution.

Chapter V, “Conclusion,” stresses that reconciliation with the Muslim Rohingya will pave the way for more peaceful relations between Myanmar’s majority Buddhist population and its diverse minority ethnic and religious groups. Without peaceful relations with these minority groups, like the Rohingya, Myanmar’s tenuous transition to democracy will not fully succeed.

According to Human Rights Watch, the situation for Rohingya Muslims living in Myanmar’s Rakhine State is quickly deteriorating. The widespread violence in Rakhine State in 2012 left more than 240 people dead and forced 240,000 people to flee their homes, most of them Rohingya. While the Myanmar government has persecuted the Rohingya since the military took control in 1962, the current humanitarian crisis has left the internally displaced Rohingya in refugee camps without access to basic human needs, such as sufficient shelter, medical attention, safe water, and latrines. The central government’s only given solution to the conflict is to resettle this group with any country that will take them in.

The Rohingya are denied citizenship by Myanmar, which has left them without state protection. They are not well organized and lack the necessary means to raise their issues to the international community for support. The United Nations has labeled the Rohingya “the world’s most ignored and persecuted minority.” This thesis will argue that Myanmar’s policies against the Rohingya are supporting a program of ethnic cleansing, one of the worst crimes a government can commit against its people.

 The Myanmar government and international community are not sufficiently addressing the issue, and the current climate in Myanmar portends that further violence could escalate further if preventative policies are not pursued. The international community must apply coordinated diplomatic pressure against Myanmar to ensure that the Myanmar government addresses its humanitarian crisis with the Rohingya immediately. Many place names have changed in Burma/Myanmar since the country gained independence from British rule to signal a departure from the country’s colonial past.

This thesis will use the term “Burma” to reference the country’s history prior to 1989, and the name “Myanmar” to reference developments since that date. This thesis will also leverage Anthony Overcall’s extensive sociological and historical research on ethnic conflict resolution to propose solutions to the ethnic and religious conflict. The aim is to examine and call attention to the plight of the Rohingya who are stateless and the victims of crimes against humanity, so that international intervention will finally resolve this conflict. The scope of this thesis analyzes events from 1962 to 2014, but it concentrates on the early 21st century since 2000.

The Rohingya have been the target of a host of human rights abuses by the Myanmar government, suffering a form of Burmese apartheid. They have no rights in the country and their movement is restricted: they cannot go to markets, schools, or hospitals. Myanmar’s laws make it impossible for the Rohingya to become citizens of the country and to obtain national identity cards, which are necessary to work and to receive an education. Schools in Myanmar largely exclude Muslim students, thereby creating a highly uneducated portion of the population. The Myanmar government has a long history of inciting and encouraging violence against Muslims in order to distract the public’s attention away from economic and political issues.

World leaders should be reminded by the 2014 anniversaries of the end to South Africa’s apartheid and to Rwanda’s genocide of the atrocities that crimes against humanity entail and of their power and duty to protect the helpless. On April 27, 2014, South Africa celebrated the 20th anniversary of its first post-apartheid poll, thus commemorating the long road it has travelled from its racist past to a “self-confident democracy.” Rwanda also marked its 20th anniversary of the genocide of the Tutsi population by the Rwanda majority on April 7th, 2014. From April to July, 1994, the Interahamwe (Hutu militias) slaughtered at least 800,000 Tutsis to remove them from their shared country. Today, memories of this genocide linger as skeletal remains still poke through the ground after heavy rains.”8 The atrocity of genocide should never be allowed to happen again; therefore, Myanmar’s apartheid must be brought to an end.

The plight of the Rohingya continues, despite the country’s recent political transition to a more democratic form of government, with promises for better representation of its minority ethnic groups. In fact, there has been significantly more forced displacement of ethnic minorities in the three years since the transition began in 2011 than in the three years prior.9 In 2014, politicians are still using ethnic cleansing policies against the unpopular Muslim Rohingya as a tactic to gain Buddhist votes. Even Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD), the prodemocracy opposition party against military rule, has refuted claims that the humanitarian situation for the Rohingya is dire. Instead, she has chosen to act like any other politician seeking favor with the majority of voters who support the ethnic cleansing policies. Without Aung San Suu Kyi’s support, there is no champion of human rights in Myanmar’s government for the Rohingya.##

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