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Rohingya are the indigenous ethnicity of Burma

Mohamed Farooq
RB Article
June 5, 2015

Burma is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the region, and ethnicity is a complex, contested and politically sensitive issue where ethnic groups have long believed that the Government manipulates ethnic categories for political purposes. 

In Burma, officially approved as ‘indigenous’ by the government, people who had already lived in Burma prior to 1823, which was the year before the first Anglo-Burmese War (1824-26) started, are seen to be ‘indigenous’, and those who settled in Burma after 1924 are treated as ‘non-indigenous’.

Burmese ethnic minorities make up an estimated 25 - 35% of the population, and ethnic states occupy some 57% of the total land area along most of the country’s international borders.

The recognition of indigenous peoples’ rights has been a long-contested process and remains so in several parts of the world, though with significant political movement in favour of recognising a distinct set of human rights in the United Nation Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007.

The racial riots to the Rohingya by predominantly Rakhine Buddhists in Arakan (Rakhine) province of Burma have attracted international concerns. There are more than 2 million Rohingya residing in Burma, mostly in the province of Arakan. Rohingya is one of the most persecuted ethnic minorities in the world by United Nations reports. The dictator military Junta striped Rohingya off all the rights of a citizen through a law called Citizenship Law in 1982, therefore Rohingya become the stateless minority in the world.

Rohingya Minority
The Rohingya community in Burma goes back to 8th century C.E. as they are original settlers of Rakhine (Arakan) province the country while tracing their ancestry to Arab traders. Rohingya practice Sunni Islam.

In 1891,the British census reported 58,255 Rohingya in Arakan. The Rohingya population increased to 178,647 by 1911. 

The Japanese troops intruded into Burma accompanied with BIA forces through Mawlamyine, Pago and Rangoon during World War II in 1941. The Japanese Air Force heavily bombarded Rangoon and surroundings areas. The residents of Rangoon were fleeing to other localities for safety of life and shelters. The controllability of administration had been got loosening everywhere. Indian residents in upper and lower parts of Burma were fleeing to British Empire. Many Indian labors, outdoors workers especially people of Orissa and Madras were fleeing to west Bengal of British colony passed through Arakan Yoma. The whole Arakan (Rakhine) state except northern Maungdaw was broken out of laws. In the meantime, Hindu attacked Muslims in India. That information spread out to the Arakan with different propagandas. Karen rebel forces of British Army were getting back to their homeland and they sold their weapons and arms to Rakhine Buddhists.

In British colonial time, the government gave preferred to Rohingya for having morality than Rakhine . Rohingya and Hindu got more privilege than Rakhine. Most of the land properties and business were in the hand of Rohingya and Hindu. The British divided and rule made Rakhine intolerance and impatient. They want to drive out native Rohingya from their motherland and want to fight for their separate independence. They believe that Rohingya Community would be one of the their impediments on their way to freedom of state.

Rohingya Mass Killings
This is not the first time that Rohingya were killed by Rakhine Buddhists in Burma. In their history, such mass killings and exodus have occurred many times.

The annexation of the independent province of Rakhine in 1784 by the Burmese government came up with discriminatory policies and persecution to Rohingya. They were marginalized and the Burmese government put several restrictions on their freedom of movement, education and employment, arbitrary confiscation of property, forced labor, marriage 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.

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.

The complete situation in Burma was anarchy around 1940. Burmese independence movement was in its momentum. The struggling of Thakin party and patriotic youth movement was hammering on the door of independence. The movement of different colors and feelings were to and fro. Mainly, the Arakan province had no any governing body. Some of Rakhine extremists established regional autonomic power and ruled the region on their impressive power upon their desires. By that way, Mrauk-U, Minbya, and Pauktaw Townships were ruled by U Gandama, U Thein Kyaw Aung, U Shwe Ya, U Pan Aung and U Tun Hla Aung respectively.

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 and local Rohingya. 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 of Bangladesh after repeated massacres by the Burmese and Japanese forces.

The Rohingya and Rakhine communal conflict was broken out from Raik Chaung, Pan Kha of Mraybon and Pan Mruangyi of Minbya Township in 1940 . It was speedily spread to everywhere in Arakan. Some of the Rohingya and Rakhine leaders, namely; Sayagyi Saw Kyar Aung, U Pinya Thiha, U Yasin and others tried to subdue the riot but they were not success. About 70,000 Rohingya lost their lives. It made more than 200,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing to Barisal and some other areas of Bangladesh. Some Rakhine Buddhists also fled to Dinosaur Refugee Camp in India. All the moved Rakhine returned to Arakan after the Independence of Burma whereas Rohingya were not allowed to get in Arakan back. The Burmese Government provided all the required Humanitarian aids to the Rakhine people but Rohingya got nothing except fear and threatens.

The prominent one was " King Dragon Operation" which took place in 1978; as a result, many Rohingya 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 Burmese army. Some articles wrote against Rohingya describing that 'Kalar' ( Abuse and hateful word to Rohingya used by Rakhine) entered illegally to Burma without any impediments. Moreover, one Rakhine member of parliament from Rathedaung township reported to Government as many Kalar came to Rathedaung to Bangladesh and also stated that it would create hazard situation in Arakan state. Therefore, the Burmese government launched 'King Dragon Opetation' against native of Rohingya people.

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 any 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. 

A group of Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO) entered to Minlwat in Southern Maungdaw for their insurgency in 4th May 1994. Then, RSO was completely disbanded by Bangladesh Government. Rohingya have no any rebel arm group but Rakhine have a strong well-trained militia, namely Arakan Army (AA) lead by jointly Arakan Liberation Party (ALP) and Rakhine National Development Party (RNDP) of Rakhine. The Rakhine armed forces reside in Arakan and some are in Kachin State. Sometimes they attack and kidnap Burmese military with the collaboration of Rakhine who are inside Burmese Army.

The Border Security Force called Na-Sa-Ka and army made hard-line for the Rohingya. They killed more than 400 Rohingya specially with fabricated allegation as they had connection with RSO. Hundreds of Rohingya youths fled to abroad to escape from the torture and arbitrary killing by Na-Sa-Ka. The Border Immigration Headquarter (BIHQ) of Na-Sa-Ka was based at Maungdaw in 1990.They have 10 sectors under the control of BIHQ where Rohingya live as inhabitants for centuries. Their main purpose is to tighten Rohingya with fear and harassments 24 hours in a day. BIHQ imposed restrictions of marriage and movement, two child policy and take family photograph of each and every family and record all the possessions including domestic animals like goats, cows and buffaloes. If a person born or die, Rohingya have to pay money. 

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

2012 Rohingya Genocide
Thousands of defenceless Rohingya were brutally killed, hundreds of innocent Rohingya sentenced to long term imprisonments with having no legal crime, many Rohingya women and teenage 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 since June 2012. Human Right violation is persisted by Thein Sein’s junta in Arakan and other areas of ethnics. The riot raised up following the killing of a Buddhist woman who was not killed by Rohingya and subsequent killing of ten pilgrimage Muslims.

Some Rohingya victims recognized their neighbors Rakhine involvement in physical attacks and the burning homes. Many strange outsider racists came to their villages to perpetrate the crimes. Thousands of Rohingya who were displaced by the 2012 violence when their houses and belongings were burned, and they often reported police complicity in the attacks. One Rohingya old woman saw that her grandson was killed in the violence and that child's father tried to retrieve his son. The police present at the scene physically in the attacks him and blocked him from retrieving his son. The family of the deceased has not received any compensation, official apology, or acknowledgement of the child's death. Many mosques were destroyed in 2012. Some that were not completely destroyed have since been converted into police stations or Buddhist temples. The riots in Arakan state and other parts of the country where Rohingya and other Muslims were victims of brutal attacks in the months years following the 2012 state-sponsored attacks.

The fire brigade approaching when Rohingya houses were ablaze, but instead of extinguishing the members of the fire brigade poured petrol or kerosene and helped the fire spread. Thousands of Rohingya remain in forced internment camps, prevented from accessing what might be left of their former homes and jobs. Some of the camps are just a few miles from the town of Sittwe (Capital of Arakan State), but there is a division between the town and camps that physically segregates Rakhine and Rohingya. Rohingya in Camps are like people in prisons.

Some Rakhine people also lost their homes in the 2012 violence and live in relocation camps, but their living standards are far superior to those in the Rohingya camps. The differences were glaring; dilapidated and overcrowded structures in the Rohingya camps, well-constructed homes wired with electricity in the Rakhine areas. The increasing human rights abuses and arbitrary detention of Rohingya in Arakan state of Burma.

It is the duty of security forces to defend the rights of everyone without exception or discrimination from abuses. But, they involve themselves to torture and harass Rohingya.

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. He was sent to jail for 25 years for committing crime against humanity as vandalizing and ablaze to Muslim homes and burning Muslim family alive which is hidden from the social media. After 7 years of his imprisonment, the regime set him free to resume Islamophobic movement in Burma. He leads a 969 anti-Muslim campaign which is legalized by the Thein Sein government.

Burma rejects U.N. Resolution on Rohingya
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.

The resolution, however, expressed “serious concern” about the treatment of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Arakan State and Muslims elsewhere in the country. The government, it said, “should grant equal access to full citizenship for the Rohingya minority and to undertake full, transparent and independent investigations into all reports of human rights violations.”

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.

The officials said the government would consider granting Burmese citizenship to “Bengalis” who are eligible under the 1982 Citizenship Law, a piece of legislation that has been condemned by international human rights groups as discriminatory towards the Muslim group.

International human rights groups have repeatedly condemned Burma’s 1982 Citizenship Law (Black Law) as discriminating against the Rohingya minority, as the law omits the group from the recognized list of 135 minorities.

The international community has called for the law to be amended or overhauled in order to address the issue of Rohingya citizenship. The Human right groups have called on Burmese Parliament to amend or repeal the 1982 Citizenship Law to ensure that Rohingya are no longer stateless.

Under the 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.

President Thein Sein rescinds Voting Right of Rohingya 
On the second week of February 2015, a bill was enacted with a clause that would give 'white card' holders Rohingya the right to vote in a proposed referendum on the country's constitution.

After a couple of days, the office of President Thein Sein issued a new statement describing that the white cards would expire at the end of March and cancelled the voting right of Rohingya. Thein Sein plays digital magic game with Rohingya issue.

Mass Graves in Thailand and Malaysia
On May 1, 2015, a joint military-police taskforce discovered at least 30 bodies at an abandoned human trafficking camp in the Sadao district of Songkhla province close to the Thai-Malaysian border. Many were buried in shallow graves, while others were covered with blankets and clothes and left in the open. Police reports indicate the dead are ethnic Rohingya Muslims from Burma and Bangladesh who starved to death or died of disease while held by traffickers who were awaiting payment of ransoms before smuggling them into Malaysia. The traffickers controlling this camp apparently departed into the mountainous jungle, taking surviving Rohingya with them.

Rohingya fleeing abuses, persecution, and hardship in Burma’s Arakan State or Bangladesh are often trafficked and abused by networks working with official protection, while in other cases victims simply receive little protection from Thai authorities.

Rohingya who are apprehended in Thailand are treated as “illegal immigrants” subject to deportation without regard to the threats facing them in Burma. Rohingya men are sometimes detained in overcrowded immigration detention facilities across the country, while women and children have been sent to shelters operated by the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security. Many more are believed to be transferred through corrupt arrangements into the hands of human trafficking gangs where they face crucial treatment and no prospect of assistance from Thai authorities. 

Malaysian authorities have discovered 139 suspected graves in a series of abandoned camps used by human traffickers on the border with Thailand where Rohingya Muslims fleeing Burma were believed to have been held. The Malaysian Police chief, Khalid Abu Bakar said that a sweep of the hilly, jungle area found at least 28 camps along a (50-kilometer) stretch of the border. 

Rohingya Boat People in Andaman Sea
The fishermen of Indonesia have rescued thousands of Rohingya asylum seekers from sinking miserable wooden engine-boats, but some 8,000 desperate refugees are still at sea. Mainly ethnic Rohingya, who fled persecution in Burma, and Bangladeshi citizens who left their impoverished home country in search of jobs. 

This has resulted in extreme cases where people were allegedly thrown overboard, or whole boats left abandoned, its passengers left to fend for themselves against the harsh elements of the sea, many suffering and succumbing to malnutrition.

A Special Meeting for Boat People was held in Thailand on May 29, 2015.

The delegations from some 17 countries including Burma convened in Bangkok. The assistant commissioner for the U.N. High Commission for Refugees, Volker Turk said Burma needed to address "root causes" of the crisis, especially the issue of Rohingya citizenship.

Among other things this will require the full assumption of responsibility by Burma to all its people, granting citizenship is the ultimate goal," he said, adding that Burma must allow Rohingya access to identity documentation and the ability to lead normal lives in their own country.

Htin Linn, the acting director of Burmese Foreign Affairs Ministry, shot back in a speech afterward, saying Turk should "be more informed." He also cast doubt on whether "the spirit of cooperation is prevailing in the room. Finger Pointing¨ will not serve any purpose. It will take us nowhere".

No Rohingya in Census 2014
Burma released the final results of its first nationwide census in 30 years on May 29 of 2015, but the count excluded the county's Rohingya minority, as well as sensitive data on ethnicity and the religious beliefs of its 51.5 million people. Most of Burma's 2 million Rohingya are stateless and live in apartheid-like conditions in the western state of Arakan.

The Burmese government had committed international sponsors the Rohingya would be free to identify themselves as such in the census, conducted in March-April 2014, backtracked a day before it started and said the use of the term would not be allowed. 'In northern Arakan state, a considerable segment of the population was left out of the exercise amid ongoing communal tensions and the demand of many local people to self-identify as Rohingya, a demand not conceded by the authorities,' said Vijay Nambiar , special advise to the UN secretary general on Burma. The count has also been criticised after its organisers based it on a list of 135 ethnic groups, which activists and critics say is outdated and inaccurate.

The Oslo Conference to end Rohingya Persecution 
A three-day conference (26-28 May 2015) focusing on ending the systematic persecution of Rohingya, with a call from seven Nobel Peace Laureates to describe the Rohingya plight as nothing less than a genocide.

The meeting was held at the prestigious Norwegian Nobel Institute, Voksenåsen Conference Center and Literature House in Oslo, Norway. It was attended by Buddhist monks, Christian clergy, and Rohingya leaders from UK, Australia, Germany, Netherland, Denmark, Saudi Arabia, Norway and Yangon. Also present were genocide experts, international diplomats, interfaith and human rights leaders. Attendees explored ways to end Burma's planned persecution of the Rohingya, and to foster communal harmony in Burma.

Mr. Kjell Bondevik, Former Prime Minister of Norway and Imam Malik Mujahid, Chairman of Parliament of the World's Religions & Burma Task Force USA gave "World Harmony Award" to Burmese monk Sein Di Ta at Nobel institute Oslo Norway. He saved 1,000 Burmese Muslims lives by hiding them in his monastery telling to the racists ¨You will have to kill me first instead of Muslims¨ in Meiktila of Mandalay. The awards were given on behalf of the Parliament of the World's religions.

Tutu's appeal was amplified by six other fellow Nobel Peace laureates: Mairead Maguire from Northern Ireland, Jody Williams from the USA, Tawakkol Karman from Yeman, Shirin Ibadi from Iran, Leymah Gbowee from Liberia, and Adolfo Pérez Esquivel from Argentina. They stated that, "what Rohingya are facing is a textbook case of genocide in which an entire indigenous ethnicity is being systematically wiped out by the Burmese government."

Philanthropist George Soros drew a parallel between his childhood memories of life in a Jewish ghetto under the Nazi occupation in Hungary and the plight of the Rohingya after visiting refugee camps where they are currently being housed. "In 1944, as a Jew in Budapest, I, too was a Rohingya. The parallels to the Nazi genocide are alarming," he said, in a pre-recorded address to the Oslo conference.

Burma has rejected the calls made by several Nobel Peace Prize winners calling for an end to the persecution of Rohingya. The foreign ministry of Burma released a statement saying such comments turn a blind eye to efforts to rebuild trust between Buddhists and Muslims in Arakan state.

How can the Rohingya Plight be solved in Burma?
The world should boycott Burma for violating human rights and flouting international laws. The treatment meted out to the Rohingya people is enough to make a strong case against Burma. The International Community should move to protect the rights of the Rohingya people. Burma should be first threatened with economic sanctions. If it complies with the international laws and successfully move to protect its Rohingya population, it should be welcomed by the world. In case of failure to do so, the world should slap sanctions on this country and sever all ties with Burma. Nobody should be allowed to violate international laws.

A human catastrophe is happening in Burma which needs immediate attention of the world leaders. The International community should intervene into this inhuman genocide that has been happening in Burma.

(Mohamed Farooq is a Rohingya activist, graduated in Electrical and Electronic Engineering, lives in Norway. He can be reached at

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