Located in the southeast region of Asia, a small Buddhist- majority country, Myanmar, holds an ethnic Muslim minority who are currently suffering violence and persecution. This minority group, called the Rohingya, differs from the Buddhist-majority in ethnic, religious and linguistic ways.
The Rohingya consist of about 1.1 million people who live in the southeast Asian country. These people have not been considered an official ethnic group and have been denied citizenship since 1982, remaining stateless. The Rohingya live in the state Rakhine, but it is one of the poorest in the country due to their lack of basic services and opportunities. Unless approved by the government, the Rohingya are not allowed to leave the country.
The Rohingya formed during the period of British rule in 1824 through 1948, when laborers from India and Bangladesh would migrate to Burma, what is now known as Myanmar. Since the British considered Myanmar a providence of India, this migration was internal, according to Human Rights Watch.
Formerly known as Burma, after Myanmar’s independence from the British in 1948, the government passed the Union Citizenship Act, which allowed certain ethnicities to gain citizenship. Because the government of Myanmar viewed this migration as illegal, they did not include the Rohingya in the Union Citizenship Act, refusing citizenship to them. However, it did allow families who had lived in Myanmar for at least two generations apply for identity cards.
In 1962, Myanmar experienced a military coup, which drastically affected the Rohingya. After this coup, all citizens were required to obtain national registration cards, but the Rohingya were only allowed to have foreign identity cards. This limited their employment and educational opportunities.
In 1982, a new citizen law was passed that immediately rendered the Rohingya state- less. This law did not recognize Rohingya as an official ethnic group, and it also established three levels of citizenship. To obtain the most basic form of citizenship, an individual need- ed proof that their family line lived in Myanmar before the independence. In addition, having fluency in one of the national languages was required. For several Rohinga, they lacked paper- work since it was either unavailable or denied to them.
Because of this law, every Rohingya in Myanmar has limited rights to work, study, marry, practice their religion and access to medical care.
Since the 70s, several Rohingya people have fled to neighboring countries, such as Bangladesh, Malaysia and Thai- land, to escape threatening dis- crimination. The government enforced severe crackdowns on the rights of the Rohingya to the point where Myanmar security forces would often torture and murder these refugees.
More recently, government troops have raided into villages in Rakhine State to essentially mass-eliminate these people. A United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, accused Myanmar of carrying out a “humanitarian and human rights nightmare” for the Rohingya, although the government had disagreed of such ethnic cleansing.
This last August, when a militant group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) claimed responsibility for attacking police and army posts, more than five hundred people were killed. The government declared ARSA as a terrorist organization, which caused the military to initiate a brutal campaign involving the destruction of hundreds of villages and forcing hundreds of thousands to leave Myanmar.
The death toll estimates that up to 3,000 people were killed in September. More than 310,000 fled to Bangladesh by mid-September, where several are still left homeless, hiding in jungles, ill and surviving with bullet wounds. Refugees overflow shelters as border camps are running out of supplies and space is limited.
Several protesters have gathered in cities in Pakistan, India, Thailand and other southeast Asian countries to fight against the killings and persecution of the Rohingya. However, because of insufficient legal frameworks in the southeast Asia region, governments cannot effectively protect these refugees’ rights from this violence.
In September, Bangladesh’s foreign minister proclaimed this violence as genocide, and Indonesia has attempted to request that the Myanmar authorities should halt their destructive campaign. In addition, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have not yet planned a response to this threatening crisis.
To reiterate, the Myanmar government claimed that they are responding to the militants who have attacked their security forces and that those being killed are terrorists. The government also accused the Rohingya of burning their own villages, although several reporters questioned this response. In addition, international aid workers are being accused of helping “terrorists” to control villages in the Rakhine state.
Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has silently ignored this crisis while deny- ing that ethnic cleansing is occurring in this country. Her response to this crisis was to blame critics who are enforcing hatred between Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar.
Aung San Suu Kyi defended her response to the Delhi-based Asian News International when she stated, “It is a little unreasonable to expect us to solve the issue in 18 months. The situation in Rakhine has been such since many decades. It goes back to pre-colonial times.”
While Kyi simply stated that she has made the best efforts she can, critics disagreed upon her unsuccessful response. Her control over the military remains ambiguous for providing ineffective measures. Is this fatal humanitarian crisis a result of government ignorance or historic discrimination?