By Gowtham Asokan (ENG ’19)
Burma gained independence from Britain in 1948, and became a democratic country with an 89% Buddhist population. Since then Burma has been plagued by military coups and instability ever since. Even though they held a reformed democratic election in 2011 the military backed union and solidarity party won by 80% and many in the international community and the UN claimed it to be fraudulent. With persisting instability and over 135 recognized ethnic groups the Muslim Rohingya population finds themselves caught in the middle.
The Rohingyas are a Muslim minority making up 1 million in Burma who speak a dialect of Bengali and almost all of them live in the Rakhine province that is the poorest province. They are known as the most prosecuted minority in the world. They are not even recognized as one of the minorities, to get citizenship they need to prove that they have lived in Myanmar for the past 60 years. The paperwork required is often unavailable or denied to them, hence their right to study, work, travel, and practice their religion is forbidden. Even if they obtain citizenship they need to be ‘naturalized’ and cannot identify as Rohingya because that would still place restrictions from entering certain fields like medicine, law and running for office. The current government is not doing much to change this, since many in Burma view the Rohingyas as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. Burma’s president Thein Sein was quoted saying “We will take care of our own ethnic nationalities, but Rohingya who came to Burma illegally are not of our ethnic nationalities, and we cannot accept them here.”
This continued discrimination has forced the Rohingyas to seek refuge elsewhere, this has caused a minor refugee crisis in Southeast Asia. They climb aboard boats and with the help of traffickers are attempting to escape to neighboring countries. But many neighbors have turned them away citing poverty as a reason, how will they pay for the refugees if they can’t take care of their own citizens. However those that do stay back—an estimated 140 000 live in temporary camps– have been blocked from leaving their camps and have been targeted by radical Buddhist monks. The US Holocaust Memorial museum has called this apartheid and has warned of it tipping into possible genocide. In fact a study done by the International state crime initiative (ISCI) at the Queen Mary University of London has found that the Rohingya face the final stage of genocide in Burma. They have already gone through the first four stages, which are stigmatization and dehumanization; harassment, violence and terror; isolation and segregation. Now they are at the sixth stage that is the “removal of victim group from collective history”. There are signs that this is happening already, they were denied participation in the 2015 general elections that is a reversal from 2010 when some Rohingya were elected to the legislature and a large amount of them voted. No party in the general elections counters the Islamophobic narrative and this fuels the ignorance of the general public. Even the liberal National democratic league (NDL) led by Nobel-peace prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has no Muslim candidates up for election.
A new documentary from Al-Jazeera called Genocide Agenda reveals that they have recovered government documents that are planning countrywide communal violence between Muslims and Burmese in a mosque at the country capital of Rangoon. There was also some propaganda found titled “Fear of extinction of race” that shows Burmese military recruits how the Rohingya are Bengali immigrants trying to infiltrate the people to propagate religion. These are all strong factors that genocide is underway and is largely being ignored by the international community.
The United Nations and fellow international countries need to recognize the genocide and must address this issue by pressuring the Burmese government not to simply handle the issue but provide amnesty for the Rohingyas until they can be integrated into different countries or be given equal rights as citizens. Right now the Burmese government is simply responding to the pressure by pushing away the Rohingya as ‘illegal immigrants’ its clearly driven by hate and Islamophobia in claiming these trans-generational people as illegal immigrants.
Iyengar, Rishi. “Burma’s Rohingya Facing ‘Final Stages of Genocide'” Time. Time, n.d. Web. 14 Feb. 2016. <http://time.com/4089276/burma-rohingya-genocide-report-documentary/>.
Graham, David A. “Burma Doesn’t Want the Rohingya but Insists on Keeping Them.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, n.d. Web. 14 Feb. 2016. <http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2015/06/burma-rohingya-migration-ban/395729/>.
Safdar, Anealla. “Who Are the Rohingya?” – Al Jazeera English. Al Jazeera, n.d. Web. 14 Feb. 2016 <http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2015/10/rohingya-151024202611276.html>.
Image Credit: WessexScene