Myanmar’s Stateless Rohingyas

Posted on 09/22/13
By A.F.M. Khairul Basher | Via The Daily Star
The Rohingyas are a persecuted ethnic and religious minority from Myanmar, and the groups in Cox's Bazar fled that persecution in 1991 to live in Bangladesh. (Photo courtesy by Austcare - World Humanitarian Aid)
The Rohingyas are a persecuted ethnic and religious minority from Myanmar, and the groups in Cox’s Bazar fled that persecution in 1991 to live in Bangladesh. (Photo courtesy by Austcare – World Humanitarian Aid)

Every human being has the right to live in his birthplace irrespective of religion, color and race. But in case of Rohingyas in Myanmar, it is different and difficult. Rohingyas ( an ethnic group who practice Islam and speak Rohingya) have been living in the state of Arakan in Myanmar since the 8th century, but have not been recognized as citizens. After decades of oppression and marginalization by the General Ne Win in 1962 and passing of the Citizenship Law in 1982, Rohingyas have been officially stateless.

Buddhist Rakhines are carrying out repression of Rohingyas. Many cases of torture and human rights abuses against Rohingya have been documented by international organizations. The UN and OIC (Organization of Islamic Conference) have the responsibility to pressurize the Myanmar government to recognize the legitimate rights of Rogingyas to live in peace in their homeland. Bangladesh, having sea and land border with Myanmar, has the responsibility to give due attention to this issue through bilateral and diplomatic channels.

As Rohingyas are similar in culture, religion, language, and have family bondage with local inhabitants of Cox’s Bazar and Teknaf (southern-most city on the mainland in Bangladesh, on the narrow strip running along the coast of Myanmar), so Bangladesh government must have a system to identify Rohingyas for security reasons and deal with the issue considering national interest and human rights charter.
Security forces along Bangladesh-Myanmar and Thailand-Myanmar borders must look after Rohingyas in the border areas with the help of NGOs and provide them with shelter and protection on humanitarian grounds. Muslim countries have many responsibilities to address this problem and help poor Muslim brothers by providing them with food, shelter and medical care. Human rights organizations along with leading countries like China and USA have to approach the Myanmar government to ensure citizenship of Rohingyas in Myanmar.
Politics in Myanmar is dominated by the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) led by military backed government of President Thein Sein. All the three branches of government — legislature, executive and judiciary — are controlled by the military generals and USDP members. The military has 25% of seats reserved in the parliament without election. Security related ministerial portfolios like defense, home affairs and border affairs are held by USDP members. The constitution of 2008 ensures immunity for military generals for their past actions and human rights violations.
The present government has reached ceasefire agreement with the majority of the armed groups, but there is no sign of political settlement with the ethnic groups on the question of autonomy. It is unlikely that the government will amend the 2008 constitution to end the role of military in politics and remove bad laws like citizenship law of 1982. It is also premature to predict that some positive outcome of the constitution review committee will help to solve all problems. It is also uncertain whether the election in 2015 will be fair and free so that the people of Myanmar get real democracy. Till that time, the military will play a vital role in the politics of Myanmar, and it would be difficult for ethnic groups to live in peace and get citizenship in their homeland.

This article was first published in The Daily Star, a leading English language newspaper of Bangladesh. Click here to go to the original.

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