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Rohingya: They have been persecuted for Decades

Mohamed Farooq
RB Article
December 7, 2014 

The recent communal unrest to the Rohingya Muslims by majority Rakhine Buddhists in Rakhine (formerly Arakan) province of Burma has attracted global attention in the past few years, the latest action being the United Nations General Assembly’s human rights committee has approved a resolution urging Burma to allow its persecuted Rohingya minority "access to full citizenship on an equal basis" and to scrap its controversial identity plan. 

But Burma rejected the U.N. resolution urging it to grant citizenship to the Rohingya, a stateless minority group, and accused the United Nations of impinging on its sovereignty. 

There are more than one million Rohingya residing in Burma, mostly in the province of Rakhine. According to several UN reports, Rohingya is one of the most persecuted ethnic minorities in the world. 

The dictator military junta striped Rohingya off all the rights of citizens through a law called Citizenship Law in 1982, therefore making Rohingya one of the only stateless communities in the world. 

Who are the Rohingya people? 

The history of Rohingya community in Burma goes back to 8th century as they claim to be original settlers of Rakhine (Arakan) province in the country, while tracing their ancestry to Arab traders. Rohingya practice Sunni Islam. Because the government restricts educational opportunities for them, many pursue only basic Islamic studies. 

As of 2012, there are more than one million Rohingyas residing in Burma, most of them in the province of Rakhine. 

Rohingya persecution by Dictators Burmese Buddhist Regime 

This is not the first time that Rohingya Muslims were persecuted in Burma. In their history, such mass killings and exodus have happened several times. The annexation of the independent province of Rakhine in 1784 by the Burmese government came with discriminatory policies and persecution of Rohingya. They were marginalized and the Burmese government put several restrictions on their movement, their marriage, and constantly confiscated their land and drove them to annihilation. It is said as many as 35,000 Rohingya people fled to the neighboring Chittagong region of British Bengal in 1799 to avoid Burmese persecution and seek protection from British India. The Burmese rulers executed thousands of Arakanese men and deported a considerable portion of the Rohingya population to central Burma, leaving Arakan as a scarcely populated area by the time the British occupied it. 

During World War II, Japanese forces invaded Burma, then under British colonial rule. The British forces retreated and in the power vacuum left behind, considerable violence erupted. This included communal violence between Buddhist Rakhine people and Muslim Rohingya villagers. The period also witnessed violence between groups loyal to the British and Burmese nationalists. The Rohingya supported the Allies during the war and opposed the Japanese forces. The Japanese committed atrocities toward thousands of Rohingya, including rape, torture, and murder. In this period, some 22,000 Rohingya are believed to have crossed the border into Bengal, then part of British India, to escape the violence. Some 40,000 Rohingya eventually fled to Chittagong after repeated massacres by the Burmese and Japanese forces. 

The prominent one was “King Dragon Operation" which took place in 1978; as a result, many Muslims in the region fled to neighboring country Bangladesh as refugees. Over 200,000 Rohingya are said to have fled to Bangladesh following the ‘King Dragon’ operation of the Burma army. Officially this campaign aimed at “scrutinizing each individual living in the state, designating citizens and foreigners in accordance with the law and taking actions against foreigners who have filtered into the country illegally.” This military campaign, in effect, directly targeted civilians, and resulted in widespread killings, rape and destruction of mosques and further religious persecution. 

During 1991-92 a new wave of atrocities forced over a quarter of a million Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh. They reported widespread forced labor, as well as summary executions, torture, and rape. They said they were forced to work without payment by the Burmese army on infrastructure and economic projects, often under harsh conditions. Many other human rights violations occurred in the context of forced labor of Rohingya civilians by the security forces.

The present situation of Rohingya 

Since June 2012 ethnic violence, thousands of vulnerable Rohingya were brutally killed, more than 1500 innocent Rohingya sentenced to long term imprisonments with no legal crime, many Rohingya women and girls were critically gang raped in several villages of different localities, about 140,000 people were displaced forcibly under open sky, vandalism and arson to the houses, religious schools and Mosques etc. Human strategy is continued by Thein Sein’s junta in Arakan and other areas of ethnics. 

The violence has since spread amidst a wave of hate speech targeting all of Burmese Muslims, led by extremist monk, Wirathu and his followers around the whole Burma. Racist Wirathu leads a 969 anti-Muslim campaign which is certified by government. 

The increasing human rights abuses and arbitrary detention of Rohingya in Rakhine state of Burma. 

It is the duty of security forces to defend the rights of everyone without exception or discrimination from abuses by others, while abiding by human rights standards themselves, said Benjamin Zawacki, Amnesty International's Burma Researcher. 

The group accused both security forces and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists of increasing attacks on the Rohingya Muslims, killing, rape, arbitrary detention of Rohingya and destroying their properties, urging the Burmese authorities to put an end to the violent action. Amnesty International has also received credible reports of other human rights abuses against Rohingya and other Rakhine Muslims including physical abuse, rape, destruction of property, and unlawful killings carried out by both Rakhine Buddhists and security forces, said the group in its report. 

Right groups have called on Burmese Parliament to amend or repeal the 1982 Citizenship Law to ensure that Rohingya are no longer stateless. 

Under international human rights law and standards, no one may be left or rendered stateless. For too long Burma human rights record has been marred by the continued denial of citizenship for Rohingya and a host of discriminatory practices against them, concluded the report. 

Decades of discrimination have left the Rohingya Muslims stateless, with Burma implementing restrictions on their movement and withholding land rights, education and public services, according to another report released by Turkish charity group the Humanitarian Aid Foundation. 

Rohingya are seen as foreigners by nationalist Burma leaders and extremist Buddhists and are denied citizenship by the government because it considers them illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh, do not have the freedom to travel. In order to travel from one village to another, they have to pay money to the government. 

There is a great number of Rohingya Muslims who are detained, subjected to torture and raped, adding that it was difficult to accurately determine their identities or numbers. 

Rohingya are not allowed to renovate their mosques or schools, adding that anyone caught renovating these buildings would be sent to jail. A new mosque or school has not been built in over 40 years. 

Rohingya cannot benefit from the social services provided by the state, including health services, adding that Rohingya do not have the right to work in government offices. Rohingya can be forced to work for Buddhists or the government without any payment. A human catastrophe is happening in Burma which needs immediate attention of the world community. The world community should intervene into this inhuman genocide that has been happening in Burma for a long time. 

Lee Yang-hee, a UN Special envoy to Burma said, “I thought there could be no other hell." She was describing her first visit to the Rohingya camps for IDP people in Rakhine state. In the wet season, the water floods up to knees in the camps. They don't have any freedom of movement. The children there don't have food rations, so the adults would starve and give their rations to the children. Despite having lived there for generations, Rohingya are denied citizenship. They face constant persecution and discrimination. 

"The problems facing the Rohingya are among the most desperate human crises in Asia today," said Murray Hiebert, deputy director of Southeast Asia Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "With thousands of Rohingya fleeing on boats for Thailand and Malaysia, this problem stretches far beyond the borders of Burma." 

The deteriorating situation in the camps along with increasing reports of arbitrary arrests and detainment in northern parts of Rakhine have led to a rapid increase in Rohingya fleeing the country, according to Chris Lewa, director of the advocacy group Arakan Project. Lewa said that hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled since Oct. 15. The exodus by boat is one of the largest in Asia since the end of the Vietnam War. The situation is getting worse and worse, degenerating all the time, Lewa said. 

Some Rohingya who flee Burma encounter situations worse than those back home. An extensive human-trafficking ring emerged to exploit the desperate migrants, and many who do arrive safely to Thailand or Malaysia report that finding steady work and fair pay is becoming harder. 

Mohamed Farooq is a Rohingya activist, lives in Norway. He can be reached at

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