Treatment of Muslim Rohingya Minority Shows Burma Has a Long Way to Go

The callous handling of sectarian violence in Arakan reminds us that the country's transition is far from complete

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Muslim residents carry their belongings as they evacuate their houses amid ongoing violence in Sittwe, capital of Burma's western state of Rakhine, on June 12, 2012

For much of the past five decades, Burma has been a byword for political repression. The generals that seized power in 1962 ruled with fearsome, often reckless, authority, stomping out dissent and turning one of Asia’s breadbaskets into a barren, hungry place. In the past two years, the story changed. The men in green handed power to a quasi-civilian government, promising to end the country’s isolation. In April, the world watched Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi lead the National League for Democracy to a near sweep in by-elections hailed as a landmark for the Southeast Asian nation. Suu Kyi, long incarcerated by the junta, was now a parliamentarian acceptable to the regime. The nation’s own reversal, it seemed, was only a matter of time.

But a recent spate of violence in the country’s northwest reminds us that Burma’s transition is far from complete. Even as the West relaxes sanctions and investors flock to Rangoon, swaths of the country seethe. Since June, clashes between ethnic Arakan Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Arakan (also called Rakhine state) have left at least 78 people dead and tens of thousands displaced. An investigation by Human Rights Watch found government forces did little to quell the violence, leaving terrified villagers to defend themselves with sharpened sticks and homemade spears. Worse, police and paramilitary forces have since launched a crackdown on Rohingya, conducting violent sweeps, opening fire on villagers and arresting large numbers of Muslim men and boys.

(PHOTOS: Sectarian Unrest in Burma)

The uncomfortable truth is that in Arakan, at least, the new Burma looks a lot like the old. This patchwork nation is still split along sectarian lines, still divided by history, geography and language. Military men still hold key positions in government. And whereas reformers might have spoken out, many are staying silent, turning away as Arakan burns. Fact is, most of Burma’s people don’t see the Rohingya as part of the country’s ethnic fabric. Asked about the Rohingya, President Thein Sein, a former general, suggested refugee camps or mass expulsion as “solutions.” “The government claims it is committed to ending ethnic strife and abuse,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, in a statement accompanying the group’s 56-page report on the crisis. “But recent events in Arakan state demonstrate that state-sponsored persecution and discrimination persist.”

The immediate cause of the unrest was the alleged May 28 rape and murder of an ethnic Arakan woman, allegedly at the hands of three Muslim men. Word of the killing spread quickly, hastened by pamphlets steeped in anti-Muslim propaganda. On June 3, Arakan villagers in a neighboring township stopped a bus and murdered 10 Muslims onboard. Within the week, riots broke out in at least two cities to the north, Human Rights Watch found, escalating an ongoing cycle of mob violence. In the regional capital, Sittwe, most of the Rohingya are gone. The Muslim quarter sits shuttered. “It’s like looking at the aftermath of a natural disaster,” an unnamed Channel 4 News correspondent said, surveying the damage in a dispatch from the city. “Except human beings did this.”

In many ways, the conflict has been brewing for years. The Arakanese and the Rohingya live, literally and figuratively, at Burma’s periphery. The coastal state, which traces the Bay of Bengal to the Bangladesh border, is separated from the rest of the country by mountains. It is poor, even by Burma’s standards, and most of its residents are minorities in a country dominated by the ethnic Burmese of the heartland to the east. Like the Rohingya, and indeed most of Burma’s minorities, the Arakanese suffered immensely under military rule. Unlike the Rohingya, they are citizens. If there is common ground to be found between Naypyidaw and Arakan, it is the belief that Rohingya don’t belong in Burma.

(MORE: Will Ethnic Violence Kill Burma’s Fragile Reforms?)

The Rohingya are among the most isolated and oppressed people in the world. The end of British colonial rule left them stateless, sandwiched between present-day Burma and Bangladesh. Though many trace their Bay of Bengal roots back centuries, the Burmese government insists they are illegal South Asian migrants, relics of colonial times. They have never been recognized as one of Burma’s 135 indigenous races and have routinely been denied the right to travel, marry or work. The ruling junta played on nativist sentiment, stoking racial hatred. A Burmese diplomat once called them “ugly ogres.” Many still see them as outsiders bent on stealing Buddhist lands.

The suspicion is such that even Burmese activists seem afraid, or unwilling, to speak out. Suu Kyi, the symbolic heart of the country’s opposition, has been accused of dodging questions on the matter. While touring Europe in June, she responded to a query about the crisis by saying, obliquely, that she does not know if the Rohingya are Burmese. Absent opposition from inside Burma, Muslim groups from Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Turkey have rallied behind the Rohingya cause. The Burmese government last week agreed to aid from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, but maintains that the conflict is nonsectarian. In a way, of course, it’s right: this is, at its heart, a matter of basic rights and government accountability. On both counts, the new Burma has far to go.

(PHOTOS: Aung San Suu Kyi Travels Abroad for the First Time in 24 Years)

Emily Rauhala is an Associate Editor at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @emilyrauhala. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME

31 comments
Nanda Linn Aung
Nanda Linn Aung

Wrong info, poor TIME. you have just lost another good reader.

achakma
achakma

The article is biased, mis-informed and not suited for prestigious magazine like TIME. Myanmar has the legitimate right to protect its border, culture and people from illegal infiltration from Bangladesh. No country has right to force Myanmar to accept and harbor illegal immigrants. Remember if you cross border in Iran you get indefinite prison just like 3 americans found out when they mistakenly entered the country from Iraq. Why should Myanmar treat border crosser any differently.

karl
karl

You have a problem with the Burmese trying to deport the descendents of Bengal's Muslims who immigrated to Burma in the 19th century, when Burma was part of British India and at a time when the Burmese had no say. But of course, and par for the course in the Western world, no problem with the way Jews who arrive in what was the Palestinian Mandate as late as 1948 treat the native Muslims who have lived there as long as the Burmese have lived in Burma. Iknow the reasons, the murder of Europe's Jewry by the Germans and their allies under the Nazis and the fact that most Christian churches depend on Old Testament stories to teach Sunday school. But when you start parsing ethnic cleansing based on any rationale you still end up with a crime against humanity. So Time and the Western World has a long way to go too. But we may never have the time to learn to rein in our hypocrasy before other states and indeed whole civilizations, i.e. the Oriet or Far East takes our place at the helm and begins to bring an end to this hypocrasy in the Near East while failing to live up to any decent standards in occupied Tibet. I guess we are all of us imprisoned by our prejudices and biases whether we care to acknowledge them or not. 

Sam Alexander
Sam Alexander

Whenever Muslims get the chance they slaughter and destroy religious minorities all over the world, be they Christian, Buddhist or anything else. It's only natural that the Burmese reject Islamist Rhoyinga colonisers from Bangladesh. Their barbaric values, violent nature and hatred of infidels do not belong in Burma. The sooner they're forced out the better.

Saw Lay
Saw Lay

Rohingyas are not the national race of Myanmar, in the past history and will ever be in the future as well. Rohingyas are just migrants and they are not

Myanmar nationals. They entered Myanmar since colonial period and tried to get

some areas of Myanmar to rule as their own territory during the 1940s. This is

widely known in our country as a rebels called "Mujahits" who

destroyed countless of Rakhine villages and killed dozens of Rakhine people in

Myanmar back in the history. This is the background history that every

organization which are blaming Myanmar on this issue must know and bare in

mind.

The riot that occurred in Rakhine State recently is started by the Rohingyas

who want to regenerate this issue with the aid of some Terrorist Organizations

reside in Foreign Countries and set up plots in advance to do riot acts 

in the Rakhine area 6 months earlier. This information has been confirmed by

the Foreign Minister of Bangladesh in her announcement alleging that the

terrorists are behind the Rohingyas funding and ordering to do riot acts as

part of their mission to rule the territory. They started inflaming the problem

by raping the Myanmar girl and burnt down houses and killed many Rakhine

people.

That is why we won't accept the accusations of the foreign media and other

organizations that the Rohingyas are  are being killed by

our Rakhine people. In reality, the Rohingyas are the ones who START THE CRISIS. During the riot, both sides got killed. The houses were also burnt down from both sides. It is not a religious violence. It is just a communal riot started by one incident created by the Muslim guys.

In some cases, there are people who want to destroy the developments that Myanmar is gaining in the current days. They ignite the problem and bright it out to the social medias with fake information and propagate the issue as an ethnic cleaning. In reality, the Muslim community in Myanmar is living side by side with  other religions in Myanmar peacefully and in every parts of the country and  peace and tranquility has prevailed throughout the years. This recent riot is just a once in a while internal riot and also handling by the government in a controlled manner. So, it would not be necessary to bring as an international issue. Some are trying to exaggerating the matter with the intention to get interest from the international community and dragging the issue to use as a weapon in claiming their proposals.

The outsiders should study the matter by

referencing the real background history of Rohingyas in Myanmar and the rights

that the Muslim community in Myanmar are benefiting.

The Muslims in Myanmar have special benefits unlike in other Buddhism and

Christian countries. They have built countless Mosques in the cities of Myanmar

and can enjoy the freedom of religion with full percentage compare to the

European countries where no buildings of Mosques can be seen in almost every

cities. Unlike in Myanmar where religious freedom is endowed, everyone can see

obviously the big Mosques in the down town areas of Yangon, the commercial city

of Myanmar. You can also hear the loud prayers of Muslim people in the evenings

in almost every townships from those Mosques. 

Actually, the Muslim people in the city of Yangon and Mandalay all know very

well that they have the religious and social freedom in Myanmar and also the

Muslim and the Buddhist Communities never had such serious problems between

them. This time the Rakhine issue is only happened because of the plotted

actions of the Terrorist backed Rohigyas. The Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Dipu Moni officially alleged that Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islam is patronizing the Rohingyas in armed.. can see in the link below:

Dipu Moni tells JS Jamaat patronizing Rohingyaswww.banglanews24.comForeign Minister Dipu Moni alleged that Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islam is patronizing the Rohingyas in armed.

http://www.banglanews24.com/En...

See  the following links to know that the terrorists are baking the Rohingyas, extremists are lying to get support for them by using misidentified photos.

Social media is lying to you about Burma’s Muslim ‘cleansing’ http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/st...

Pakistan's extremists whip up frenzy over Burma's Muslims

http://www.csmonitor.com/World...

Collapse

HOPE THE WORLD AND THE MEDIA KNOWS THE TRUTH BEHIND THE CROCODILE'S TEARS OF TERRORISTS.

Shabz2510
Shabz2510

I dont Know where you get your information from its actually 700 dead so far and counting. Indescriminate killing of of one minority in this day an age should be called barbaric. Have we not evolved from the dark ages to value human life . Buddhist monks who are the ones with blood in the hands, how can you now say your religious belief remains the same harming not even an an, remember.

International media are quite cause the government who control media dont want the massacres to be televised, cause at the end of the day they are only Muslims who are dying.

 

When genocide was commited the Nazi Germans towards the Jews, Cant Israel condemn these attrocities as they have been victims themselves. They should be the first ones to stand up to mass genocide. I suppose its different when the shoe is on the other foot..

Arshabbir Hussain
Arshabbir Hussain

Insha Allah, Burma will pay for this act...they think its the END....world will see HOW WILL BE BURMA'S END.....

Mohamed Iqbal
Mohamed Iqbal

Rohingyas have it much better than non muslims in their native bangladesh. You can't fool people with one sided articles which do not mention the atrocities perpetrated by the rohingyas. Besides, the world over muslims have only cased trouble to non muslims and not giving them rights is the right way to treat them in order to ensure the safety of the majority peaceful Buddhists. Otherwise, even in Burma, Buddhists will be second class citizens like the Hindus of India and Nepal

AungMing
AungMing

WHO ARE THE ROHINGYA AND WHAT CAN BE DONE TO PREVENT THEIR GENOCIDE?

The existence of the Rooinga (English form of Rohingya) people in Arakan (Rakhine) State was historically documented in a late 18th century report published by the British, Francis Buchanan-Hamilton. In his 1799 article “A Comparative Vocabulary of Some of the Languages Spoken in the Burma Empire,” Buchanan-Hamilton stated: "I shall now add three dialects, spoken in the Burma Empire, but evidently derived from the language of the Hindu nation. The first is that spoken by the Mohammedans, who have long settled in Arakan, and who call themselves Rooinga, or natives of Arakan" (tap on the right of the pages to page 237-240, http://www.scribd.com/doc/9904.... This is the unbiased historical evidence that the Rohingya or Rooinga had lived in Arakan (Rakhine) State before 1824, and therefore, they are one of the original races of the Union of Myanmar. Henceforth, it must be noted that the Rohingya ARE NOT Bangalis, who recently illegally penetrated Myanmar after its independence from the UK in 1948, and that the term Rohingya was NOT INVENTED by Bangali immigrants in 1950s. The term Rohingya was used in 1799 by the natives of Arakan, who were of Mohammedan (or Islamic) faith.

According to a scientific discovery published in the prestigious magazine, Science on Oct 15th, 1999 (volume 286(5439): pages 528-30), the modern human beings originated in Myanmar about 45 million years ago. Thus, the Rohingya and the Bangali races are derivatives of the Rakhine and Myanmar races; in other words they are cousins of each other. Therefore, the Rohingya are not illegal immigrants of Myanmar, but are one of the original races of Myanmar. In other words, the Rohingya did not migrate illegally from Bangladesh into Myanmar, but the Bangalis migrated out of Myanmar into present-day Bangladesh. Thus the Bangalis are as well an original race of Myanmar, even though they migrated west to present-day Bangladesh millions of years ago.

The international community has a responsibility to protect the Rohingya from systematic state-sponsored genocide by the Rakhine and the Maynmarese races. Available evidence indicates that the Rohingya are the most persecuted minority (UN report). The Rohingya are the unfortunate victims of the brutal aggression of the Rakhine and Myanmar regime.To falsely associate them with extremism and terrorism is not only preposterous, but amounts to moral irresponsibility and ethical crime. In stead of raising concern and awareness about the severe abuses of Myanmar military regime, chastising the Rohingya for their sufferings is inhumane. They have been living in Arakan (or Rakhine) State since 8th century. They were Burmese citizens at the birth of the Union of Burma on 4th of Jan 1948. Since 1982 they have been illegally deprived of their lawful citizenship by Ne Win’s military regime. In Myanmar, the Rohingya have no freedom of speech, worship, movement or marriage. They have no access to education or healthcare. Thus we, the civilized world, who are privileged to enjoy these freedoms, must intervene to prevent them from becoming extinct. We must speak up and TAKE MEANINGFUL ACTION for restoring the lawful Myanmar Citizenship without any prejudice  to the Rohingya, granting them basic human rights and civil liberties, similar to those granted by the Constitution of the United States of America to all its Citizens without any discrimination based on race, religion, color or national origin.

AungMing
AungMing

WHO ARE THE ROHINGYA AND WHAT CAN BE DONE TO PREVENT THEIR GENOCIDE?

The existence of the Rooinga (English form of Rohingya) people in Arakan (Rakhine) State was historically documented in a late 18th century report published by the British, Francis Buchanan-Hamilton. In his 1799 article “A Comparative Vocabulary of Some of the Languages Spoken in the Burma Empire,” Buchanan-Hamilton stated: "I shall now add three dialects, spoken in the Burma Empire, but evidently derived from the language of the Hindu nation. The first is that spoken by the Mohammedans, who have long settled in Arakan, and who call themselves Rooinga, or natives of Arakan" (tap on the right of the pages to page 237-240, http://www.scribd.com/doc/9904.... This is the unbiased historical evidence that the Rohingya or Rooinga had lived in Arakan (Rakhine) State before 1824, and therefore, they are one of the original races of the Union of Myanmar. Henceforth, it must be noted that the Rohingya ARE NOT Bangalis, who recently illegally penetrated Myanmar after its independence from the UK in 1948, and that the term Rohingya was NOT INVENTED by Bangali immigrants in 1950s. The term Rohingya was used in 1799 by the natives of Arakan, who were of Mohammedan (or Islamic) faith.

According to a scientific discovery published in the prestigious magazine, Science on Oct 15th, 1999 (volume 286(5439): pages 528-30), the modern human beings originated in Myanmar about 45 million years ago. Thus, the Rohingya and the Bangali races are derivatives of the Rakhine and Myanmar races; in other words they are cousins of each other. Therefore, the Rohingya are not illegal immigrants of Myanmar, but are one of the original races of Myanmar. In other words, the Rohingya did not migrate illegally from Bangladesh into Myanmar, but the Bangalis migrated out of Myanmar into present-day Bangladesh. Thus the Bangalis are as well an original race of Myanmar, even though they migrated west to present-day Bangladesh millions of years ago.

The international community has a responsibility to protect the Rohingya from systematic state-sponsored genocide by the Rakhine and the Maynmarese races. Available evidence indicates that the Rohingya are the most persecuted minority (UN report). The Rohingya are the unfortunate victims of the brutal aggression of the Rakhine and Myanmar regime.To falsely associate them with extremism and terrorism is not only preposterous, but amounts to moral irresponsibility and ethical crime. In stead of raising concern and awareness about the severe abuses of Myanmar military regime, chastising the Rohingya for their sufferings is inhumane. They have been living in Arakan (or Rakhine) State since 8th century. They were Burmese citizens at the birth of the Union of Burma on 4th of Jan 1948. Since 1982 they have been illegally deprived of their lawful citizenship by Ne Win’s military regime. In Myanmar, the Rohingya have no freedom of speech, worship, movement or marriage. They have no access to education or healthcare. Thus we, the civilized world, who are privileged to enjoy these freedoms, must intervene to prevent them from becoming extinct. We must speak up and TAKE MEANINGFUL ACTION for restoring the lawful Myanmar Citizenship without any prejudice  to the Rohingya, granting them basic human rights and civil liberties, similar to those granted by the Constitution of the United States of America to all its Citizens without any discrimination based on race, religion, color or national origin.