ROHINGYA PEOPLE from Myanmar 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Since May of this year, Burma has witnessed an escalation of simmering tension
between two groups in Rakhine state. The violence between the Rakhines (Arakans)
and Rohingyas has led to the death of 88 people (official figure as of August
22) and displacement of thousands of others.
Unofficial reports, however,
put the number of deaths in the hundreds.
The immediate cause of the
violence was the rape and murder of a Buddhist-Arakan woman on May 28 by
Rohingyas. This was followed by the retaliatory killing of 10 Rohingyas by
ethnic Rakhines on June 3. It must be noted here that the tension between these
two groups has existed for decades.
Questions have been asked as to why
little has been done to resolve the conflict and if there is a possibility of
permanent solution to the protracted problem. Much of the blame has been
assigned to both the Burmese government and the opposition.
international community is at the stage of promoting their own national
interests in this fledgling democracy, sectarian violence such as this has not
been paid serious attention to, especially by the Western powers.
Human Rights Watch criticized the Burmese government for failing to prevent the
initial unrest, nations such as Indonesia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and
Malaysia criticized alleged discrimination against the Rohingya Muslims because
of their religious belief.
The sensitivity of the issue has prevented
many, including the mavericks, from discussing it publicly. Even the
internationally acclaimed human rights champion and leader of the Burmese
opposition Aung San Suu Kyi has made only brief comments emphasizing the need
for establishing proper citizenship law to address the problem.
of the problem begins with the nomenclature itself. Although they call
themselves Rohingyas, the Burmese government calls them illegal Bengali
Since the governments of both Burma and Bangladesh have refused
to accept them as citizens, the Rohingyas automatically become stateless people
under international law. Under such circumstances, are there any possible
solutions? President Thein Sein suggested that the United Nations Refugee Agency
should consider resettling the Rohingyas to other countries. Although such
proposal may sound ideal, there are challenges facing its
For example, will there be nations willing to welcome
about a million Rohingyas? Moreover, the United Nations High Commissioner for
Refugees (UNHCR) chief, Antonio Guterres, has rejected the idea of resettlement.
Even if the agency reconsiders the case, do the UNHCR offices in Burma and
Bangladesh have adequate resources to process such large number of refugees? One
possible solution is for the governments of Burma and Bangladesh to reach an
amicable arrangement to integrate the Rohingya population into their respective
societies. Currently, there are approximately 800,000 Rohingyas inside Burma and
another 300,000 in Bangladesh.
Similar to the first, this proposition has
its own challenges. Will the indigenous Rakhines accept Rohingyas as their
fellow citizens and live peacefully with them? On the other hand, will the
Bangladesh government be willing to offer citizenship to the Rohingyas? Another
possible solution is that Burma can amend its 1982 citizenship law to pave the
way for the Rohingyas to apply for citizenship.
Under existing law, there
are three categories of citizenship: full, associate and naturalized. In
addition the governments of Burma and Bangladesh need to secure their porous
international borders to prevent illegal movements.
None of the above
suggested policies are simple or easy to achieve. Despite the challenges and
difficulties, the problem of Rohingyas cannot be ignored for too
Without addressing the crux of the issue, the May incident could
possibly be one of a series of events that would trigger greater
Before a solution is achieved, international institutions
such as the United Nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations must
put pressure on the Burmese government to resolve the problem. The conundrum
needs to be addressed holistically rather than inciting hatred along religious
or racial divide.
The writer is general secretary of the US-based Kuki
International Forum. His general research interests include political
transition, democratization, human rights, ethnic conflict and identity
politics. His research focuses on the politics of South and Southeast Asia, with
a concentration on Burma/Myanmar. He has written numerous academic
(peer-reviewed) and nonacademic analytical articles on the politics of Burma and
Asia that have been widely published internationally.
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