NEW RELEASES – Arkam, a Rohingya Muslim, “was 12 when he watched men beat his father’s head with a brick and slaughter him with a knife. The family had been walking home from the mosque […] when a stone-throwing mob blocked their path. Their Buddhist neighbours had ordered them to stop practising Islam. The murder was a punishment for clinging to their faith.”1
As Amnesty International2 reported, up to this day, the Burmese authorities have failed to address religious intolerance within the country and discrimination against Muslim minorities. Moreover, the situation of the persecuted Rohingya minority further deteriorated with nationalist Buddhist groups gaining more power.
Myanmar’s brief religious history
Myanmar is characterised by a large majority of the population being of Buddhist faith. However, many minorities live within the country, with the Rohingya Muslims being one of them.
The Rohingya consider themselves as descendants of the Arab, Turkish, Bengali or Mongol merchants of the 15th century.3 “Rohingya” means “inhabitant of Rohang”, the early Muslim name for the kingdom of Arakan. The kingdom was conquered by the Burmese army in 1785.4 The real tensions between the Muslims and the Arakanese, however, started when the British conquered the kingdom in 1825. Since the British colonial empire controlled Arakan and Burma as part of British India, many Bengalis migrated to Arakan and the tensions with the locals increased. When Myanmar obtained its independence, the governments were highly concerned with their own “sense of victimhood”5 after the colonial domination and completely disregarded any claims of the Rohingyas. The Rohingya Muslims deny that they are merely Bengalis, and insist on their richer heritage in the old Arakan kingdom. “On this rests their claim to citizenship and as an indigenous ethnic group of Myanmar.”6
The ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya minority
It all started when a Rakhine (i.e. the ethnic group living in the former kingdom of Arakan) woman was raped and murdered by three Muslim men in 2012. After this tragic event, Rakhine mobs sparked throughout the region and the Rohingyas were the target of violent attacks. The Burmese population was encouraged by Buddhist monks and politicians to actively reject the Muslims from the communities and to defend their “race and religion.”7 President Thein Sein even called for “illegal” Rohingya to be sent to “third countries.”8 Rohingya men, women, and children “were killed, some were buried in mass graves, and their villages and neighborhoods were razed.”9 According to The Economist,“Rohingyas have often been called the most persecuted minority in the world, unable to claim citizenship in Myanmar (where about 1.1m of them live in Rakhine), or in any other country.”10
In light of these events, the United Nations affirmed that a real ethnic cleansing has occurred in Myanmar.11 Under international law, in fact, crimes against humanity are committed as part of a systematic attack on a civilian population and non-state organisations can be responsible for these crimes as long as their action is organised.12 Researchers at the International State Crime Initiative (ISCI), a cross-disciplinary academic group, “argue that some of this violence was [in fact] organised.”13 In spite of the Rohingya Muslims remaining pacific after these attacks, “the situation of the Rohingya minority continued to deteriorate”14, Amnesty International claimed. Moreover, access to the Rakhine State for international researchers remains highly restricted.
Consequences: Rohingya refugees
The critical situation of the Rohingya Muslims forced many of them to leave Myanmar. According to the UNHCR, 33,000 people left the Bay of Bengal by boat in 2015 only.15 Rohingya women, men and children often hope to reach Thailand, Bangladesh or Malaysia, under the strict control of traffickers and human smugglers. During the transfer, many people die from illness or violence.16 The ones that survive and manage to reach the shore, are usually held by traffickers in camps until they’re able to pay a large sum of money (around $1,600) for their release.17 This phenomenon is widespread and hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have already fled Myanmar to seek refuge elsewhere. The countries that receive the refugees are now starting to react. Thailand, for instance, has sent police forces to control the camps managed by traffickers and found several dead bodies both in the camps and in the surrounding areas.18
In Bangladesh, a 50-year-old Rohingya, told The Economist that she arrived from Myanmar 18 years ago after her husband was ordered to do forced labour by the Myanmar army: “We’d work all day with no food, and no pay at the end of it,” she says. One day her husband was unable to carry a box of weapons that weighed 60kg, and he was beaten mercilessly. So they sold everything they had and crossed into Bangladesh.”19
In conclusion, many organisations have called on the international community to help these communities in Myanmar, hoping that they'll soon receive support and that their human rights will be fully defended.
1 The Economist (2015) “The most persecuted people on Earth?” Available at: http://www.economist.com/news/asia/21654124-myanmars-muslim-minority-hav...
2 Amnesty International, “Report on Myanmar 2015/2016.” Available at: https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/asia-and-the-pacific/myanmar/report...
3 DE MARESCHAL Edouard (2015) “Qui sont les Rohingyas, peuple le plus persécuté au monde selon l'ONU”, Le Figaro. Available at: http://www.lefigaro.fr/international/2015/05/11/01003-20150511ARTFIG0025...
4 The Economist, Op.Cit.
8 Human Rights Watch (2013) “All You Can Do is Pray - Crimes Against Humanity and Ethnic Cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in Burma’s Arakan State.” Available at: https://www.hrw.org/report/2013/04/22/all-you-can-do-pray/crimes-against...
10 The Economist, Op.Cit.
11 HARRUS Frédérique (2016) “Les Rohingyas, persécutés, se réfugient au Banglasdesh”, Géopolis, FranceInfo. Available at: http://geopolis.francetvinfo.fr/la-photo-les-rohingyas-persecutes-se-ref...
12 Human Rights Watch, Op.Cit.
13 The Economist, Op.Cit.
14 Amnesty International, Op.Cit.
16 The Economist, Op.Cit.
18 DE MARESCHAL, Op.Cit.
19 The Economist, Op.Cit.
MR – Research Assistant at CIPADH
Amnesty International, “Report on Myanmar 2015/2016.” Available at: https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/asia-and-the-pacific/myanmar/report...
DE MARESCHAL Edouard (2015) “Qui sont les Rohingyas, peuple le plus persécuté au monde selon l'ONU”, Le Figaro. Available at: http://www.lefigaro.fr/international/2015/05/11/01003-20150511ARTFIG0025...
HARRUS Frédérique (2016) “Les Rohingyas, persécutés, se réfugient au Banglasdesh”, Géopolis, FranceInfo. Available at: http://geopolis.francetvinfo.fr/la-photo-les-rohingyas-persecutes-se-ref...
Human Rights Watch (2013) “All You Can Do is Pray - Crimes Against Humanity and Ethnic Cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in Burma’s Arakan State.” Available at: https://www.hrw.org/report/2013/04/22/all-you-can-do-pray/crimes-against...
Human Rights Watch (2013) “Birmanie : Mettre fin au « nettoyage ethnique » visant les musulmans rohingyas.” Available at: https://www.hrw.org/fr/news/2013/04/22/birmanie-mettre-fin-au-nettoyage-...
Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court 1998. Available at: https://www.icc-cpi.int/nr/rdonlyres/ea9aeff7-5752-4f84-be94-0a655eb30e1...
The Economist (2015) “The most persecuted people on Earth?” Available at: http://www.economist.com/news/asia/21654124-myanmars-muslim-minority-hav...