Rohingya Muslims
The World’s Most Persecuted Minority –UN

Dr. Mozammel Haque

1.3 million Rohingya Muslims, who have been living in Myanmar (Formerly Burma) for generations, are one of the world’s most persecuted minorities, according to the United Nations. They have been facing intense discrimination, repression and violence. They have been subjected to all kinds of human rights abuses, including ‘killing men, shooting them, slaughtering children, raping and sexually assaulting women and girls, burning and looting houses, forcing these people to cross river’. Human rights groups said Myanmar government pursuing these oppression which could amount to “crimes against humanity”, “ethnic cleansing” and the treatment of Rohingya Muslims by the Myanmar could be tantamount to crimes against humanity. Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said in a huge rally at Kuala Lumpur stadium on 4th of December that international action should be taken to stop what he called genocide of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

 

Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi, said in an interview in 2013 to BBC interviewer Mishal Husain that “Muslims have been targeted but Buddhists have also been subjected to violence.” Referring to the above interview and saying, Mehdi Hasan observed, “Yet in Myanmar, it isn't Buddhists who have been confined to fetid camps, where they are “slowly succumbing to starvation, despair and disease.”. It isn’t Buddhists who have been the victims of what Human Rights Watch calls “ethnic cleansing” and what the UN's special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar has said “could amount to crimes against humanity”. It isn't Buddhists who are crowding onto boats, to try and flee the country, and being assaulted with hammers and knives as they do so.  It isn't Buddhists, to put it bluntly, who are facing genocide.” (Medhi Hasan, UpFront, Al-Jazeera)

 

Background: Rohingya Muslim

Indigenous population of Burma

It must be mentioned at the beginning of this paper that the Rohingya Muslim community have been living in Burma (present Myanmar) for a long time, for decades. They are an ethnic Muslim group in the majority Buddhist country and make up around three million of the total 50 million populations. They hail from the country’s northwest region. In the sixties they were included as one of the ethnic communities in Burma.

 

Now they are not recognised as one of the country’s 135 official ethnic groups and are denied citizenship under Myanmar’s 1982 Citizenship Law, which effectively renders them stateless. The state refuses to grant them citizenship even though they have lived in the region for generations.

 

In 2012, Rakhine Buddhists tore through Rohingya Muslim groups in western Myanmar, attacking anyone in their path. It sparked a wave of sectarian violence that spread to other parts of the country. Tens of thousands of Rohingya were housed in primitive camps under government-armed guard, while others tried to flee overseas to Malaysia or Thailand. The violence saw scores killed and tens of thousands of people displaced after several thousand homes were burned.

 

More than 140,000 Rohingya still live in displacement camps after being driven from their homes following sectarian violence with the Rakhine Buddhists in 2012, where they are denied citizenship, freedom of movement and access to basic services such as healthcare and education.

 

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s government came to power in March after the country’s first elections following decades of military rule. Despite the resounding victory of her National League for Democracy in last November’s election, Burma’s generals retain a tight grip on power, reserving 25 per cent of the seats in the country’s parliament, which gives them veto power over any constitutional amendment. The military also appoints the key ministers in home affairs, border affairs and defence.

 

“Tacitly neither will challenge the other much,” Richard Horsey, a long-time Burma analyst and adviser to the International Crisis Group, said. “She’s not challenging military on security issues and not pushing for changes in the constitution, and they’re not showing signs of actively undermining her civilian government.” (Washington Post, The Independent, Annie Gowen, 20 October 2016)

 

Before the latest violence broke out in October 2016, Myanmar's de facto civilian leader Suu Kyi appointed in August her fellow Nobel laureate to head a special commission to investigate how to mend bitter religious and ethnic divides that split the impoverished state. Though feted as a champion of democracy, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate has faced international criticism for not doing enough to ease the plight of around 1.3 million Rohingya living in Rakhine, most of whom are denied Myanmar citizenship. The Nobel Peace Prize winner has also been criticised for not defending the Rohingya. She has so far been painfully reluctant to address the Rohingya issue.

 

Kofi Annan, the former UN chief, is visiting Myanmar this month December 2016 in his capacity as the chairman of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, an initiative launched by Suu Kyi's government in August 2016, mentioned earlier, to identify conflict-prevention measures, facilitate long-term communal reconciliation and address development issues.

 

Amid the crisis, Kofi Annan on Tuesday, the 29th of November 2016 began a week-long visit to Myanmar that included a trip to the conflict-ravaged region of northern Rakhine. Annan has expressed “deep concern” over the violence in Rakhine, which has seen thousands of Muslims take to the streets across Asia in protest.

 

Current crackdown on 9th of October, 2016

What is happening with Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar is not something new. It should be noted that their situation has been severe for decades. But recently in October 2016, the Myanmar army has carried out a bloody brutal crackdown in the western state of Rakhine following the killing of nine border guards attacked on 9 October. Rohingya fighters were blamed for their deaths.  . The current military crackdown has prompted an estimated 15,000 people in the Rakhine area to flee their homes in the past few weeks. Rights groups accused Myanmar troops of committing atrocities against the Rohingya. The allegation government denied. “We’ve documented the Myanmar army moving into Rohingya villages, committing, killing civilians, men, women and children. Burning down entire villages, several hundred structures just in the last weeks have been razed by the Myanmar army. The situation there is worsening,” (reported by Al-Jazeera.)

 

Reuters reported on 17 November 2016: “They (Myanmar soldiers) have locked down the district, where the vast majority of residents are Rohingyas, shutting out aid workers and independent observers, and conducted sweeps of villages, the authorities, diplomats and aid workers have said. The army has intensified its operation in the last seven days and has used choppers to reinforce, with dozens reported killed.”

 

The satellite images from Human Rights Watch show villages burning. US-based Human Rights Watch said it had identified, using satellite images, more than 1,000 homes in Rohingya villages had been razed in northwestern Myanmar. High-definition satellite images show 820 newly identified structures destroyed in five Rohingya Muslim villages in the Myanmar’s troubled Rakhine state in November. Human Rights Watch said the new satellite imagery – recorded on 10, 17 and 18 November 2016 – brings the number of destroyed buildings documented by it to 1,250.

 

Up to 30,000 people have been displaced by the ensuing violence, according to the UN, half of them over a two-day period when dozens died after the military brought in helicopter gunships. Security forces have killed almost 70 people and arrested some 400 since the lockdown began six weeks ago, according to state media reports, but activists say the number could be far higher. Witnesses and activists have reported troops killing Rohingya, raping women and looting and burning their houses. The government has refused to allow in international observers to carry out a full investigation. AFP reported from Yangon. (Arab News, 22 November, 2016).

 

Rights workers say hundreds of fleeing families have set up makeshift camps on the Myanmar side of the border as they wait for the chance to cross, with little access to food. The UN has said around 150,000 vulnerable people have been without aid for more than a month, including around 3,000 children with severe malnutrition who are at risk of dying. Reported by Sam Jahan & Caroline Henshaw from Yangon (Arab News, Jeddah, 25 November, 2016).

 

Myanmar Army Crackdown:

Response and reactions of Rights groups

Since the Myanmar army crackdown on the Rohingya Muslims of Rakhine state in October 2016, the UNHCR, Human Rights group, New York-based Human Rights Watch, London-based Amnesty International, politicians and academicians – have expressed their concerns and declared the situation as ‘collective punishment’, ‘crimes against humanity,’ ‘ethnic cleansing,’ and ‘genocide’.  Followings are their response and reactions.

 

Collective Punishment - Amnesty International

Amnesty International said the Myanmar army was carrying out “collective punishment” of the Rohingya, a one million-strong population reviled across Myanmar as illegal immigrants, for attacks last month on police posts. The group’s South Asia director Champa Patel said, “Instead of investigating and arresting specific suspects, the army carried out operations amounting to collective punishment.” Reported by Sam Jahan & Caroline Henshaw from Yangon (Arab News, Jeddah, 25 November, 2016)

 

Myanmar pursuing ‘ethnic cleansing’ –

UNHCR  Official

Myanmar is engaged in “ethnic cleansing” of Rohingya Muslims, a UN official has said. Thousands of desperate people have pushed over the border into Bangladesh in the last few days, bringing with them horrifying stories of gang rape, torture and the systematic killing of their ethnic group, reported by AFP. John McKissick, head of the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR  in the Bangladeshi border town of Cox’s Bazar, told the BBC that troops in Myanmar were “killing men, shooting them, slaughtering children, raping women, burning and looting houses, forcing these people to cross the river” into Bangladesh.

 

 “It’s very difficult for the Bangladeshi government to say the border is open because this would further encourage the government of Myanmar to continue the atrocities and push them out until they have achieved their ultimate goal of ethnic cleansing of the Muslim minority in Myanmar,” McKissick said. Reported by Sam Jahan & Caroline Henshaw from Yangon (Arab News, Jeddah, 25 November, 2016)

 

Writing on The Independent online, Will Worley commented, "We’ve seen ethnic cleansing in Rakhine state before, when HRW documented ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya in 2012. No one was held responsible for those atrocities; everything was swept under the rug by the Myanmar government. "No one should forget either that that the Myanmar military conducted similar security sweeps and committed atrocities against the Rohingya in 1978 and 1992, driving hundreds of thousands of Rohingya into Bangladesh in both instances."

 

Mr Robertson continued: "It’s time for the Myanmar government to urgently allow access for a new, UN assisted investigation to take place into the torching of villages and serious rights abuses now occurring in parts of Maungdaw township – and be prepared to hold the perpetrators accountable." (Will Worley, The Independent online, 25 November, 2016)

 

Myanmar pursues ethnic cleansing

Of Rohingya, says Malaysia

Malaysia, Muslim majority country, has accused Myanmar of engaging in “ethnic cleansing” of its Rohingya Muslim minority. “Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya amounted to “ethnic cleansing”. “The fact that only one particular ethnicity is being driven out is by definition ethnic cleansing,” Malaysia's foreign ministry said in an unusually strongly-worded statement on Saturday. That, the statement said, "makes this matter no longer an internal matter but an international matter". “This practice must stop, and must be stopped immediately in order to bring back security and stability to the Southeast Asian region.” (Reported on 3 December 2016)

 

Crimes against humanity – UN

Human Rights Agency

The UN’s human rights agency said this week that abuses suffered by the Rohingya may amount to a crimes against humanity, repeating a statement it first made in a June report. (The Independent online, 3 December 2016) More than 120,000 are still living in fetid camps in Rakhine State after violent clashes with their Buddhist neighbours in 2012. They have little access to health care and 30,000 of their children do not have proper schools, according to a UN report in June.

 

The report cited a “pattern of gross human rights violations” against the Rohingya, acts that it said could rise to the level of “crimes against humanity” in a court of law.

 

Deadly Phase of genocide, says

Professor of Queen Mary University

Penny Green, Professor of Law at Queen Mary University of London, said the latest developments were a “new chapter” in the persecution of the Rohingya, who face apartheid-like restrictions that limit access to jobs, education and health care. “We sounded the alarm in 2015 that what we saw amounted to the early stages of a genocidal process,” she said. “We are concerned that these latest developments may represent a new chapter in the persecution of the Rohingya, and a potentially more deadly phase of genocide.” Reported by Sam Jahan & Caroline Henshaw from Yangon (Arab News, Jeddah, 25 November, 2016)


Risk of ‘Genocide’ – Mehdi Hasan in Al-Jazeera

Mehdi Hasan said in his UpFront programme in Al-Jazeera: “Listen to the verdict of investigators from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum's Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide. “We left Burma," they wrote in a report published earlier this month, "deeply concerned that so many preconditions for genocide are already in place."

 

The investigators, who visited Rohingya internment camps and interviewed the survivors of violent attacks, concluded: "Genocide will remain a serious risk for the Rohingya if the government of Burma does not immediately address the laws and policies that oppress the entire community."(Mehdi Hasan, UpFront, Al-Jazeera)

 

Act now to avoid Rohingya genocide,

Fortify Rights group

A rights group monitoring the welfare of the Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar have called on the international community to take action in order to prevent a “genocide” from taking place in the country. “I think it is reasonable right now to be talking about genocide prevention in Myanmar," Matthew Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights, told Al Jazeera on Thursday. "We do know that widespread and systematic human rights violations have been perpetrated for a very long time, and there's been a very grave uptick of those since October.” (Source: Al-Jazeera)

 

Strong Evidence of Genocide in Myanmar,

Al-Jazeera Investigation team

Al Jazeera's Investigative Unit has uncovered what amounts to "strong evidence" of a genocide coordinated by the Myanmar government against the Rohingya people, according to an assessment by Yale University Law School.

 

  • A former United Nations Rapporteur on Myanmar who says President Thein Sein should now be investigated for genocide
  • A report by the International State Crime Initiative at London University, which confirms that genocide is taking place. The team gathered independent evidence that riots in 2012 that left hundreds of Rohingya dead and over a hundred thousand homeless were preplanned

Former United Nations Rapporteur on Myanmar Tomas Ojea Quintana, meanwhile, called for President Thein Sein of the USDP and the ministers of home affairs and immigration to be investigated for genocide. (Source: Al-Jazeera)

 

UN Adviser on Prevention of Genocide

The UN special adviser on the prevention of genocide, Adama Dieng, on Tuesday expressed concern about reports of excessive use of force and other serious human rights violations against civilians, particularly Rohingya, including allegations of extrajudicial executions, torture, rape and the destruction of religious property. (Grant Peck, The Independent Online, 1 December, 2016)

 

Malaysian Prime Minister on

Genocide of Rohingya

On Sunday 4th of December, 2016, thousands of Rohingyas gathered at a stadium rally in Kuala Lumpur, capital of Malaysia, where Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak has issued an international call to stop what he said genocide of Rohingya Myanmar Muslims in the northern part of Myanmar. Malaysian Prime Minister said: “The world cannot sit back and watch genocide taking place. The world cannot say just look. It is not our problem.”

 

Open Letter to The Guardian

By British Parliamentarians

The following signatories British parliamentarians have written an open Letter to The Guardian, on Monday, 28 November 2016. I am reproducing that letter to draw the attention of the international community to the genocidal acts committed against Rohingya Muslims.

“We note with alarm the grave human rights crisis unfolding in Rakhine State, Myanmar. Your article (Report, 25 November) provides a timely spotlight on an increasingly desperate situation. The head of the local UN refugee agency describes a programme of ethnic cleansing. Other international experts point to indicators of genocide. At the very least, the alleged violations – the killings of hundreds, the rapes of many women, and the displacement of tens of thousands – amount to crimes against humanity. Aung San Suu Kyi’s government must respond, if a humanitarian catastrophe is to be prevented. Access for humanitarian aid, international media and human rights monitors is essential.

 

“It is time for a unified diplomatic effort to call for humanitarian access. We urge UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon to use his final weeks in office to lead an effort to secure this. We urge the UK to demand an international inquiry and unrestricted aid access. The international community cannot stand idly by while peaceful civilians are mown down by helicopter guns, women are raped and tens of thousands left without homes. If we fail to act, thousands may starve to death if they are not killed by bullets, and we may be passive observers of ethnic cleansing.”

Lord Alton of Liverpool, Jonathan Ashworth MP, David Burrowes MP, Baroness Nye of Lambeth, Baroness Cox of Queensbury, Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead, Paul Scully MP, Valerie Vaz MP, Fiona Bruce MP

 

Protests and Demonstrations

There was worldwide protest and demonstration against the atrocities committed against the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.

 

Protests and Demonstrations in Kuala Lumpur

Hundreds of Rohingya Muslims marched in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur, condemning the bloody crackdown on the persecuted minority and criticising Nobel Peace Prize winner Ms Aung San Suu Kyi for her inaction on the matter. Protesters demanded humanitarian aid for Rakhine, and urged that the military seize all attackers. The protesters were carrying placards saying, “Stop killing Muslims in Burma”, “We Rohingya need international protection,” and “Please send UN troops”.

 

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak addressed the rally on Sunday, 4th of December 2016. He has called international action to stop what he called the genocide of Myanmar Rohingya Muslims. Myanmar army has been accused of mass atrocities against the Rohingya Muslim minority group in the north-western state of Rakhine.

 

Malaysian Prime Minister said, “We want to send signal to Myanmar government; we want to say to Aung San Suu Kyi – enough is enough.”

 

Protests in Thailand

Protests were also held simultaneously in Bangkok, the capital of neighbouring Thailand, in Bangladesh and in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta.

 

Seminar and Demonstrations in the UK

There was worldwide protest and demonstration against the atrocities committed against the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. A Seminar was held in London on 30 November 2016. “Silence is not an option; ethnic cleansing must stop,” said Lord Nazir Ahmed, Member of the House of Lords, British Parliament and campaigner of human rights for Rohingya Muslims. “UN must demand access to the persecuted Rohingya community for investigation into the Genocide,” demanded Lord Ahmed.

 

Lord Ahmed also said, Aung Sun Suu Kyi Nobel Peace Prize Laureate must take action against those responsible for crimes against humanity in Myanmar (Burma) otherwise the Nobel Peace Committee must demand her surrender of the prize.”

 

Lord Ahmed urged Bangladesh government to give shelter to the Rohingya refugees. “Bangladesh Government must allow shelter for refugees as UN is prepared to help.”

 

Demonstrations in front of FCO, London

Rohingya demonstration was held on 3 December 2016 outside FCO where Lord Ahmed, called on Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) and Rt. Hon. Boris Johnson, Foreign Secretary MP. to condemn ethnic cleansing and genocide of Rohingya..

 

Conclusion

It is transpired from the above that Rohingya Muslims are the indigenous ethnic groups who have been living in Burma (present Myanmar) for generations after generations. In the 1980s they were denied citizenship and in 2012 they were made stateless and homeless living in camps where they are denied citizenship, freedom of movement and access to basic services such as healthcare and education.

 

Since the Myanmar army crackdown on the Rohingya Muslims of Rakhine state in October 2016, the UNHCR, Human Rights group, New York-based Human Rights Watch, London-based Amnesty International, politicians and academicians – have expressed their concerns and declared the situation as ‘collective punishment’, ‘crimes against humanity,’ ‘ethnic cleansing,’ and ‘genocide’. 

 

Since winning an historic election last year, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi has hardly spoken out on the issue of Rohingya. “Her hands are tied - she can't do anything. What she is doing is trying to talk and negotiate and build trust" with the army."

 

Rohingya Muslims being 'ethnically cleansed', says UN official. Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi stands accused of not protecting  Rohingya Muslims in the country and potentially “legitimising genocide”.(The Independent online) Researchers at Queen Mary University London said her silence amounts to “legitimising genocide” and entrenching “the persecution of the Rohingya minority”.

 

Under the circumstances, I would like to draw the attention of the international community to the recommendation made by British parliamentarians in their open letter to the Guardian and take immediate action.

““It is time for a unified diplomatic effort to call for humanitarian access. We urge UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon to use his final weeks in office to lead an effort to secure this. We urge the UK to demand an international inquiry and unrestricted aid access. The international community cannot stand idly by while peaceful civilians are mown down by helicopter guns, women are raped and tens of thousands left without homes. If we fail to act, thousands may starve to death if they are not killed by bullets, and we may be passive observers of ethnic cleansing.”