The Rohingya need more international support to restore their citizenship rights
The eruption of violence in Burma’s Arakan state in June witnessed the killing of ten Muslims who were on their way back from the country’s former capital, Rangoon. They were killed by a Rakhine mob of 300 after the rape and murder of a Rakhine woman in Rambree Township by three local Muslim youths. The government arrested three Muslims on the spot and one committed suicide whilst in police custody; the remaining two have recently been sentenced to death. The government established an inquiry commission into the vigilante killing, led by the deputy interior minister. However, although suspects were arrested, a lack of people willing to testify as eyewitnesses has prevented justice being served.
Rakhine extremists and local security officials insulted local Rohingya in the lead up to the violence, with local media stations increasing the tension by falsely reporting that Rakhine members of the public were being terrorized by Rohingya groups. The scale of misinformation was not only confined to the local media but extended to Hmuu Zaw aka Major Zaw Htay, the director of the Presidential Office, who posted inflammatory reports on his Facebook page. The circulated reports informed the public that armed Rohingya groups were invading the country, despite there having been no armed movement in the region itself for about a decade, let alone across the entire country. While mass killings continued inside the country, cyber war was also utilised with many Rohingya and Muslim sites, commercial sites, and even governmental sites of Bangladesh hacked.
“They tried many times to attack my website but they couldn’t. They tried to dig out my location to harass me physically”, said by Mr Ba Sein who runs the Rohingya Blogger website. “They target all the people who are advocating for the Rohingya cause”, he added. The front door of Mr Tun Khin, President of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK), was smashed down in faraway London, while the violence continued in western Burma. Just a few days before the eruption of violence against the Rohingya, an anti-Rohingya demonstration was held in front of Downing Street by the London-based Burma Democratic Concern. In the lead up to the demonstration the word “Kalar”, a derogatory term for Muslims, was widely circulating across social media sites. As the massacre of Rohingya people began, Facebook users posted statements such as “Kill all Kalars”.
Questions surrounding the murder of Muslims were transformed into issues of citizenship and ethnicity. Ko Ko Gyi, a prominent 88 generation student leader remarked that, “Rohingya people are not an ethnic group of Burma and they are invading our country and sovereignty”. He added that the Rohingya would be driven out with the collaboration of army if required. When the reporter asked Burma’s democracy icon Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s view on the Rohingya, she commented simply that, “I do not know”. She has previously considered the ‘rule of law’ and proper immigration procedures as the key to resolving citizenship issues surrounding the Rohingya; however, several of her party members have openly rejected the Rohingya as Burmese citizen.
Dr Aye Maung, Chairman of the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP), said that an Arakan state must be established, like Israel. He issued the statement describing how Rohingya must live in separate areas and should be promptly resettled in other countries within a short period.
During the attacks on the Rohingya, more than 6,000 Rohingya houses were burnt down in Sittwe alone, the capital of Arakan state. At the present moment, large numbers of Rohingya are sheltering outside of the town, without assurances that they will be allowed to return to their land. What they would return to is another issue in itself: shops have been looted; mosques have been destroyed – 35 in Sittwe alone; religious books have been desecrated; and widespread reports of rape and sexual abuse by the Burmese military, a tactic they have used historically against the Rohingya, will leave untold scars across the oppressed population.
In just one of many examples, four military personnel were caught after having raped an 18-year-old Rohingya girl. In a telling example of the instrumental role the media has played, the case was not only not reported, but news agencies are still continuously repeating the initial story of a Rakhine woman raped by three Rohingya men.
In addition to the loss of communities and livelihoods, large numbers of Rohingya youths and academics have been arrested and taken to unknown locations. Some have been released following extortionate payouts to security forces.
The UN have described the Rohingya as the most persecuted minority group in the world; a Burmese Parliamentary team visited the affected region but met neither any local Rohingya MPs, nor offered to provide any humanitarian relief. Furthermore, in the midst of the recent outbreaks of violence, many displaced civilians were turned back from the Bangladesh border when trying to escape the violence. International and human rights organisations requested that the Bangladesh government keep open its border and provide humanitarian assistance – both requests continued to be refused. The actual death toll from the last few weeks is very difficult to ascertain as there are restrictions on international media and non-governmental organisations.
The Rohingya are unwanted in Burma, and are unwelcome in Bangladesh. International pressure will need to force the change and reach a solution that resolves the troubling denial of citizenship and human rights.
Photo Credits: Andrew Biraj / Reuters
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