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Ethnic Cleansing Of Rohingya

Ethnic Cleansing Of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar continues

ZULFIQAR ALI

The ethnic cleansing of Rohingya and other Muslims has assumed alarming proportion recently, which even prompted the human rights organizations, who otherwise were silent over their plight, to raise voice against the grave rights violation and crimes against humanity.

Human Rights Watch said in a new report that the Burmese authorities and members of Arakanese groups have committed crimes against humanity in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims in Arakan State since June 2012.
The 153-page report, “‘All You Can Do is Pray’: Crimes Against Humanity and Ethnic Cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in Burma’s Arakan State, describes the role of the Burmese government and local authorities in the forcible displacement of more than 125,000 Rohingya and other Muslims and the ongoing humanitarian crisis. Burmese officials, community leaders, and Buddhist monks organized and encouraged ethnic Arakanese backed by state security forces to conduct coordinated attacks on Muslim neighborhoods and villages in October 2012 to terrorize and forcibly relocate the population. The tens of thousands of displaced have been denied access to humanitarian aid and been unable to return home.
“The Burmese government engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya that continues today through the denial of aid and restrictions on movement,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “The government needs to put an immediate stop to the abuses and hold the perpetrators accountable or it will be responsible for further violence against ethnic and religious minorities in the country.”
Following sectarian violence between Arakanese and Rohingya in June 2012, government authorities destroyed mosques, conducted violent mass arrests, and blocked aid to displaced Muslims. On October 23, after months of meetings and public statements promoting ethnic cleansing, Arakanese mobs attacked Muslim communities in nine townships, razing villages and killing residents while security forces stood aside or assisted the assailants. Some of the dead were buried in mass graves, further impeding accountability.
Human Rights Watch traveled to Arakan State following the waves of violence and abuses in June and October, visiting sites of attacks and every major displaced person camp, as well as unofficial displacement sites. The report draws on more than 100 interviews with Rohingya and non-Rohingya Muslims and Arakanese who suffered or witnessed abuses, as well as some organizers and perpetrators of the violence.
Arakan State faces a major humanitarian crisis brought on by the Burmese government’s systematic restrictions on humanitarian aid to displaced Rohingya.

HISTORY

Myanmar has a Buddhist majority. The Muslim minority in Myanmar mostly consists of the Rohingya people and the descendants of Muslim immigrants from India (including what is now Bangladesh) and China (the ancestors of Chinese Muslims in Myanmar came from the Yunnan province), as well as descendants of earlier Arab settlers. Indian Muslims migrated to Burma during British rule to fill jobs in the expanding economy, especially in clerical work and business. After independence, many Muslims retained their previous positions and achieved prominence in business and politics.[citation needed] According to Human Rights Watch the Burmese government has denied citizenship to any Rohingya persons who cannot prove their ancestors settled in the country before 1823, the beginning of British occupation of what is now Arakan State.

Muslims have lived in Burma since the 11th century AD. The first Muslim documented in Burmese history  was Byat Wi during the reign of Mon, a Thaton King, circa 1050 AD. The two sons of Byat Wi’s brother Byat Ta, known as Shwe Byin brothers, were executed as children either because of their Islamic faith, or because they refused forced labour. It was clearly recorded in the Glass Palace Chronicle of Kings of Burma that they were no longer trusted. Rahman Khan (Nga Yaman Kan) was another Muslim killed for political reasons, because of treason to his own king and also clearly as religious persecution. During a time of war, King Kyansittha sent a hunter as a sniper to assassinate him.

As of 1921, the population of Muslims in Burma was around 500,000.  During British rule, Burmese Muslims were seen as “Indian”, as the majority of Indians living in Burma were Muslims, even though the Burmese Muslims were different from Indian Muslims. Thus, Burmese Muslims, Indian Muslims and Indian Hindus were collectively known as “kala”. The term “Kala” roughly translates to black and used as racially pejorative way to describe them.

After World War I, there was an upsurge in anti-Indian sentiments. There were several causes of anti-Indian and anti-Muslim sentiments in Burma.

In 1938, anti-Muslim riots again broke out in Burma. Moshe Yegar writes that the riots were fanned by anti-British and nationalistic sentiments, but were disguised as anti-Muslim so as not to provoke a response by the British. Nevertheless, the British government responded to the riots and demonstrations. The agitation against Muslims and the British was led by Burmese newspapers.

JAPANESE

During World War II, the Japanese committed countless acts of rape, murder and torture against thousands of Rohingyas. During this period, some 22,000 Rohingyas are believed to have crossed the border into Bengal, then part of British India, to escape the violence.  Defeated, 40,000 Rohingyas eventually fled to Chittagong after repeated massacres by the Burmese and Japanese forces.

Muslims under General Ne Win[edit]

When General Ne Win came to power in 1962, the status of Muslims changed. For example, Muslims were expelled from the army. Burma has a Buddhist majority. The more pious Muslim communities who segregate themselves from the Buddhist majority face greater difficulties than those who integrate more at the cost of observance to Islamic personal laws.

The anti-Buddhist actions of the Taliban in Afghanistan (the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan) was also used as a pretext to commit violence against Muslims in Burma by Buddhist mobs. Human Rights Watch reports that there was mounting tension between the Buddhist and Muslim communities in Taungoo for weeks before it erupted into violence in the middle of May 2001. Buddhist monks demanded that the Hantha Mosque in Taungoo be destroyed in “retaliation” for the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan.  Mobs of Buddhists, led by monks, vandalized Muslim-owned businesses and property and attacked and killed Muslims in Muslim communities.

Religious freedom for Muslims is reduced. Monitoring and control of Islam undermines the free exchange of thoughts and ideas associated with religious activities.  It is widely feared that persecution of Muslims in Burma could foment Islamic extremism in the country. Many Muslims have joined armed resistance groups who are fighting for greater freedoms in Burma.

1997 Anti-Muslim Riots in Mandalay

The racial tension in March 1997 between Buddhists and Muslims and the attack on Muslim properties began during the renovation of a Buddha statue. The bronze Buddha statue in the Maha Myatmuni pagoda, originally from the Arakan, brought to Mandalay by King Bodawpaya in 1784 AD was renovated by the authorities. The Mahamyat Muni statue was broken open, leaving a gaping hole in the statue, and it was generally presumed that the regime was searching for the Padamya Myetshin, a legendary ruby that ensures victory in war to those who possess it.

On 16 March 1997 beginning at about 3:30 p.m., a mob of 1,000-1,500 Buddhist monks and others shouted anti-Muslim slogans. They targeted the mosques first for attack, followed by Muslim shop-houses and transportation vehicles in the vicinity of mosques, damaging, destroying, looting, and trampling, burning religious books, committing acts of sacrilege. The area where the acts of damage, destruction, and lootings were committed was Kaingdan, Mandalay. The unrest in Mandalay began after reports of an attempted rape of a girl by Muslim men, although this was later disproved and led to speculation that the regime may have orchestrated the incident to deflect anger from the damaged statue. At least three people were killed and around 100 monks arrested.

2001 Anti-Muslim Riots in Taungoo

In 2001, Myo Pyauk Hmar Soe Kyauk Sa Yar (or) The Fear of Losing One’s Race and many other anti-Muslim pamphlets were widely distributed by monks. Many Muslims feel that this exacerbated the anti-Muslim feelings that had been provoked by the destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan. On May 15, 2001, anti-Muslim riots broke out in Taungoo, Pegu division, resulting in the deaths of about 200 Muslims, in the destruction of 11 mosques and the setting ablaze of over 400 houses. On May 15, the first day of the anti-Muslim uprisings, about 20 Muslims who were praying in the Han Tha mosque were killed and some were beaten to death by the pro-junta forces. On May 17, Lt. General Win Myint, Secretary No. 3 of the SPDC and deputy Home and Religious minister, arrived in Taungoo and curfew was imposed there until July 12, 2001.  Buddhist monks demanded that the ancient Hantha Mosque in Taungoo be destroyed in retaliation for the destruction in Bamiyan. On May 18, however, Han Tha mosque and Taungoo Railway station mosque were razed to the ground by bulldozers owned by the SPDC junta. The mosques in Taungoo remained closed as of May 2002. Muslims have been forced to worship in their homes. Local Muslim leaders complain that they are still harassed. After the violence, many local Muslims moved away from Taungoo to nearby towns and to as far away as Yangon. After two days of violence the military stepped in and the violence immediately ended.

2012 Rakhine State violence/riots

Since June 2012, at thousands of Muslims and Rakhine have been killed in sectarian violence in the state.

2013 Anti-Muslim riots in Central Burma

Since March 2013, riots have flared up in various cities in central and eastern Burma. The violence has coincided with the rise of the 969 Movement which is a Buddhist nationalist movement against Islam in traditionally Buddhist Burma. Led by Sayadaw U Wirathu, who is dubbed as Buddhist Bin Laden.

Human rights violations against Rohingya

According to Amnesty International, the Muslim Rohingya people have continued to suffer from human rights violations under the Burmese junta since 1978, and many have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh as a result.

They have been denied Burmese citizenship since the Burmese nationality law was enacted. They are not allowed to travel without official permission and were previously required to sign a commitment not to have more than two children. They are subjected to routine forced labour, typically a Rohingya man will have to give up one day a week to work on military or government projects, and one night for sentry duty. The Rohingya have also lost a lot of arable land, which has been confiscated by the military to give to Buddhist settlers from elsewhere in Burma.

As of 2005, the UNHCR had been assisting with the repatriation of Rohingya from Bangladesh, but allegations of human rights abuses in the refugee camps have threatened this effort.

Despite earlier efforts by the UN, the vast majority of Rohingya refugees have remained in Bangladesh, unable to return because of the regime in Myanmar. Now they face problems in Bangladesh where they do not receive support from the government. In February 2009, many Rohingya refugees were helped by Acehnese sailors in the Strait of Malacca, after 21 days at sea.

Over the years thousands of Rohingya also have fled to Thailand. There are roughly 111,000 refugees housed in nine camps along the Thai-Myanmar border. There have been charges that groups of them have been shipped and towed out to open sea from Thailand, and left there. In February 2009, there was evidence of the Thai army towing a boatload of 190 Rohingya refugees out to sea. A group of refugees rescued by Indonesian authorities also in February 2009 told harrowing stories of being captured and beaten by the Thai military, and then abandoned at open sea. By the end of February, there were reports that of a group of five boats were towed out to open sea, of which four boats sank in a storm, and one washed up on the shore. February 12, 2009 Thailand’s prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said there were “some instances” in which Rohingya people were pushed out to sea.

“There are attempts, I think, to let these people drift to other shores. […] when these practices do occur, it is done on the understanding that there is enough food and water supplied. […] It’s not clear whose work it is […] but if I have the evidence who exactly did this I will bring them to account.” [63]

Rasheduzzaman, professor of international relations at Dhaka University, said the reformist administration of Myanmar was said to be democratic, however there were no signs that its strategy on the Rohingya would see an adjustment soon. Indeed, even the opposition democratic pioneer Aung San Suu Kyi, who had been kept under house arrest for very nearly 15 of the 21 years from 1989 to 2010, is quiet on it. It implies the humanitarian crisis that the world sees today on the Rohingya issue may proceed with, he said.

The recent upsurge in violence being perpetrated against Rohingya Muslims in Burma has highlighted the Burmese regime’s complete disregard for basic human rights. The Burmese security forces are guilty of killings, rapes and mass arrests. The 800,000-strong Rohingya community has never been accepted as part of Burma and has always been discriminated against, with the violence against them seemingly intensifying in recent weeks. One catalyst was a statement by Burmese President Thein Sein that all Rohingyas should either be deported or placed in refugee camps. Since many Rohingyas trace their roots to Burma, going back many decades, such a move would essentially leave them stateless. Bangladesh has always been reluctant to accept Rohingyas, while Burma sees them as illegal immigrants. The Rohingyas seem to be stuck between a rock and a hard place.

These recent happenings have highlighted Pakistan’s tendency to call for appropriate action to be taken in various cases of violence against Muslims across the world, instead of focusing on those violent acts being perpetrated on its own soil. The persecution of Rohingya Muslims has caught our eyes, to the extent that even the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, which has killed as many Muslims as any other entity, is calling on the Burmese government to stop the killings and for the Pakistani government to cut off all ties until this is done. Lawyers groups and political parties have also carried out protests. What makes our concern for Burmese Muslims ironic is that many of them are ethnic Bengalis, a group which we discriminated against with impunity in the past.

Burma’s Inner Turmoil

The state of Rakhine is reflective of Burma’s inner turmoil. On the one hand, you have a country that has opened up since President Thein Sein entered into office in March 2011 after nearly 50 years of military dictatorship. Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy obtained official recognition as an opposition party, political prisoners were freed and the West lifted most sanctions against the country. For a time, at least, Burma appeared to be one of the few encouraging stories developing around the world. But the reforms soon stalled — and the wave of violence against the Rohingya began.

During the fragile political transition to democracy in recent years, the government has rekindled the old conflict. Burma’s identity is defined to a large degree by religion, and many Buddhists believe that the Muslim Rohingya were first brought to the country through its former British colonial rulers. They feel threatened by them.

In fact, the Muslim community has existed in Burma since the 16th century. During the British colonial period, Muslims also came as workers. When Burma became independent in 1948, Muslims represented the majority in many areas in Rakhine, but the Buddhists accused them of having aided the British. In 1982, the Rohingya were refused Burmese citizenship and discrimination against them continues today.

The United Nations has described the Rohingya as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities. Even Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Prize recipient who was held under house arrest for years by the military is silent about Rohingya. It’s likely she doesn’t want to jeopardize votes in parliamentary elections planned for the fall, as if the sole mention of their name could somehow mean calamity. Human rights organizations that once campaigned on Suu Kyi’s behalf are now criticizing her. When asked about the Rohingya, Suu Kyi’s spokesman says, “They are immigrants, Bengalis.”

There are few traces of the work by international organizations in the camp where Nuralam now has to live. In 2014, Buddhists in Rakhine stormed the local offices of Doctors without Borders, smashed furniture and demanded that they be given half of all the aid. Now their committees control the camps, leaving schools without teachers and infirmaries where one can never be certain if a doctor is actually going to come. “Life here is unbearable for everyone,” Nuralam says.

Nuralam is familiar with the four race laws that are currently being discussed in parliament. One states that women must submit an application if they want to marry a Muslim man. Another would outlaw polygamy. In some regions, women will only be permitted to give birth to one child every three years. And those who want to switch religions must first apply with the state. President Thein Sein just signed the birth rule into law. Human rights activists fear that it could now be applied by regional governments in areas where Rohingya reside.

Due to continuous violence, repression, killing, rape and persecution of the Rohingyas, the are fleeing to the neighboring countries, Malaysia, Thailand, Bangladesh in boats, but these countries were not allowing them in. due to which many tragic incidents of boats’ capsizing have taken place.  Human rights activists estimate that around 4,000 Rohingya are still stranded in boats. One of the problems here is that many Southeast Asian states are not signatories to the UN’s 1951 Refugee Convention. Just days ago, Indonesia and Malaysia made concessions and agreed to take in Rohingya for a year in a what equated to a stopgap emergency measure.

Since the beginning of May, when mass graves were discovered in Thailand — likely the remains of Rohingya — Thai authorities have tightened border controls. In recent days, further mass graves were discovered in the jungle in Malaysia, where bands of human-traffickers had detained hundreds of refugees and once again extorted their families to pay.

Fomenting Hatred

In Mandalay in central Burma, Ashin Wirathu, 46, receives his visitor at the Ma Soe Yein Monastery. He’s a small and soft-spoken man with a gentle smile, but he has been called the “Burmese bin Laden” and, on the cover of Time magazine, the “Face of Buddhist Terror.” Wirathu was sentenced to jail for seven years for inciting hatred. Having been released through an amnesty program a few years ago, he now leaders 2,500 monks in Mandalay. But many view him as being a regime puppet.

When asked what he considers to be his most important activities, he answers, “Facebook.” He has just posted photos of a Buddhist girl who was allegedly raped by a Muslim man. There’s also a Wirathu app and YouTube videos — he gives speeches across the entire country. Wirathu always talks about the same subject: His claim that the Rohingya want to take over Burma. He has the interview he conducts with SPIEGEL filmed. He says the step is not out of concern he might be misunderstood and assures that he doesn’t want anyone to die.

When asked what the 969 Movement wants, Wirathu, who has been a monk since he was 14, says, “We ensure Burma’s identity and religion.”

Asked what it is he has against the Rohingya, he says, “The Muslims are in the minority here, but they are also a threat to us: Charlie Hebdo, 9/11, the cafe in Australia, Syria, Nigeria, Kenya, Boko Haram, IS — just think about it. They want to turn the state of Rakhine into a Bengali republic.”

When asked why the Rohingya are fleeing, though, he remains silent.

Questioned about why the country isn’t helping the refugees, Wirathu says, “Burma has no responsibility for them. After all, stateless people cannot be refugees.” It’s an answer he seems quite pleased with. He claims that Saudi Arabia is financing the Rohingya.

In the early hours of January 14, a series of events spiralled into the deadliest atrocity against the Rohingya since sectarian violence swept the nation in 2012, when security forces and Rakhine Buddhists reportedly attacked Du Char Yar Tan village in northern Rakhine State, killing 40 Rohingya, including women and children.

The Myanmar government continues to deny that the massacre took place. But numerous reports conflict with the official narrative.

United Nations (UN) high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay said in a statement she had received “credible reports” of killings in Du Char Yar Tan village. Details later emerged that the massacre was discovered when a group of men found the severed heads of at least 10 Rohingya, including children, bobbing in a water tank.

Calls for an international investigation were promptly rejected, with presidential spokesperson Ye Htut later invoking the United States’ refusal of an international probe into Guantanamo to justify the decision. An internal inquiry by the Myanmar Human Rights Commission (MHRC) concluded there was no “solid evidence” to prove the attack took place, making the allegations “unverifiable and unconfirmed.”

UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, has questioned the independence of the MHRC and told Democratic Voice of Burma, that he “remains convinced that serious violent incidents took place.”

Associated Press  was the first international media outlet to report on the attack in an article headed, “Myanmar mob kills more than a dozen Muslims.” This quickly drew government disapproval. AP journalists in Yangon were summoned by the Ministry of Information for reporting events that “differed from the real situation.”

Evidently, there is a disparity between what the international community is seeing and hearing and what the Myanmar Government wants the world to believe. In handling the January massacre, the government appears to have adopted two strategies — deny that it happened and discredit any conflicting versions of events.

Unfortunately, Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is now discovering what happens when you report details that differ to accounts given by the government, while relying on its permission to carry out vital projects. Following the massacre in Du Char Yar Tan village – which “officially” did not happen – MSF reported treating 22 patients for injuries sustained during the violence. The government portrayed this as “wrong information” and last month, scores of protestors took to the streets hurling accusations of Rohingya bias and calling for the international non-government organisation (NGO) to be ousted from the country. Presidential spokesperson Ye Htut told media on February 28 that MSF had become less transparent. ‘‘They even hired Bengalis [Rohingya].’’ He said the government would not be extending its MoU with the medical charity and that it had been ordered to cease all operations in the country.

Past accusations of “bias” favouring the country’s Rohingya Muslims prompted Peter Paul de Groote, MSF’s head of mission in Myanmar, to write a piece for the Myanmar Times. ‘‘If providing medical care can ever be referred to as ‘biased’, it is a bias toward patients. It is a bias that is based on medical need, regardless of any other factor. MSF sees only patients, nothing else.’’

After negotiations, MSF was given permission to resume its projects – except in strife-torn Rakhine State, where about 80 percent of Myanmar’s estimated 1.33 million Rohingya live. In a March 2 statement MSF expressed concern for ‘‘tens of thousands of vulnerable people in Rakhine State who currently face a humanitarian medical crisis.’’

MSF was the major NGO provider of healthcare in the state. Along with supporting local Rakhine, the medical group offered a lifeline to the segregated Rohingya who have difficulty accessing medical services because of travel restrictions and discrimination that prevents them from being treated at public hospitals. Human Rights Watch has slammed the move as “simply deplorable.”

Policies of Persecution

Damning revelations in a new report by independent human rights group, Fortify Rights, implicate government authorities in policies that discriminate against and repress its Rohingya minority.

The report, Policies of Persecution: Ending Abusive State Policies Against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, draws on leaked official documents to expose the government’s hand in human rights abuses. For two decades UN envoys have reported widespread rights violations against the Rohingya, describing the abuses as “systematic” and resulting from “state policy.” But Fortify Rights has gone a step further, providing evidence of the government’s complicity.

In response to the report, Ye Htut told the Myanmar Times that the government does not remark on “baseless accusations from Bengali lobby groups.”

The government vehemently denies the existence of a Rohingya ethnicity, referring to the group, even in official documents, as “Bengali.” This stems from a pervasive belief that all Rohingya are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, a conviction widely held despite records of Rohingya families living in Myanmar for centuries. Rakhine State, where the Rohingya are concentrated, is a crescent of land sitting along the coast of the Bay of Bengal in Western Myanmar, bordering Bangladesh to the north. The 1982 Citizenship Law does not recognize the Rohingya as belonging to Myanmar and with this reform they were rendered stateless. An appeal by the UN last year, calling on the government to grant its Rohingya minority citizenship was rejected. This should not come as a surprise considering President Thein Sein has suggested that the solution to ethnic enmity in Rakhine State was to send the Rohingya to another country or have the UN refugee agency look after them.

Documents obtained by Fortify Rights detail restrictions on the Rohingya relating to: ‘‘movement, marriage, childbirth, home repairs and construction of houses of worship, and other aspects of everyday life.’’ These policies, created and implemented by Rakhine State and central government authorities, apply solely to the Rohingya and are reportedly framed as a response to an “illegal immigration” problem and threats to “national security.”

This notion of national security requires context on the volatile situation in Rakhine State.

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