Defenceless Rohingya and their protection

By Nurul Islam, Chairman, ARNO

The Rohingya people are one of the world’s most persecuted, voiceless and underrepresented peoples. Their longstanding problem is an ethnic, religious and political persecution. It is a manmade tragedy deeply entrenched in Burmese regime’s anti-Rohingya policies of de-Muslimization, exclusion, intolerance and extermination. Their aim is to rid Arakan of the Muslim population and turn it into a Rakhinized Buddhist region.
Particularly from 1962 military rule, the Rohingya have been subjected to institutionalized persecution. The human rights violations and abuses against them include severe restrictions on their basic freedoms – freedom of worship, movement, marriage, education – deprivation of citizenship, summery execution and mass murder, rape, razing houses and destruction of villages, forced eviction, torture, disappearance, arbitrary detention, looting, extortion, forced labour, forced relocation, and food insecurity. On top of that the Burma Citizenship Law of 1982, which violates several fundamental principles of customary international law, has deprived them of citizenship rendering them stateless in their own homeland.

Due to large-scale persecution, out of more than 3 million Rohingya population, about 1.6 million are in Diaspora. Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Thailand, and Malaysia are the major places where the Rohingya escaped for their lives. Generally they are vulnerable in those countries without status.

Denied citizenship in Burma, unwanted in neighbouring Bangladesh and elsewhere, under extreme condition, Rohingyas became desperate to risk death on the sea since 2008. On their voyages towards Malaysia and other destinations, many had drowned and scores of others were detained or rescued in countries within the region. A large number of them were victimized at the hands the greedy exploiters, human traffickers and smugglers.

From June 2012 series of organized deadly violence, massacres and destructions were carried out against Rohingyas in Arakan by Buddhist Rakhine mobs, backed by central government, Rakhine State authorities, some Rakhine politicians and academics. Soon the violence spread to other Muslims of the country. The recent genocidal massacre took place in Du Chee Yar Tan village in Maungdaw Township on 9-13 January  killing at least 80 people.  The government police, security forces, Nasaka, Lon Htin, army and members of “969” Buddhist extremist organization were directly involved in the killing, raping, torturing the Muslims and burning and plundering their villages.
From June 2012, an estimated 3000 to 5000 people were killed, drowned and missing. Many hundreds of women were raped.  Large settlements with many thousands of homes, including mosques and madrassas, were devastated. At least 1600 innocent people were arrested on false charges. 150,000 people were displaced forcing them to live in permanent segregation in apartheid style overcrowded IDP camps away from their towns, homes and villages where no education, adequate food, water, healthcare and sanitation available. A discriminatory and outrageous two-child policy has been imposed and more than 50,000 children were blacklisted in violation of its treaty obligation under UN Convention on the Rights of Child 1989. The racial hatred and Islamophobia is spreading like a cancer all across Burma. Violence and silence extermination of Rohingya is still continuing.

Rakhine Buddhist extremists attacked everyone helping the Rohingyas. And all UN humanitarian agencies, INGOs and NGOs, including MSF, were forced to halt operations in Arakan creating serious humanitarian disaster, with report of helpless Rohingya dying every day due to hunger and diseases.

Today the word “Rohingya” is blacklisted and unmentionable in Burma. They are excluded from the current UN sponsored nationwide census, the first in 31 years,  for not accepting government’s sinister plan to register them as Bengali, a term that implies they are illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.

The popular slogan in the country is “Arakan and Buddhist Rakhine are synonymous and the Muslims or Rohingya have nothing to do in Burma”. They insult the religion of Islam comparing it with animal doctrine. Instead of protection, President Thein Sein proposed U.N. to arrange for Rohingya people to be removed from Burma and sent to third countries thus promoting his official Rohingya ethnic cleansing policy. The opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been uncharacteristically silent and reluctant to help the Rohingya and other Muslims in a situation of injustice to them. Groups of people were organized to take to the streets demanding Rohingyas’ expulsion. They are virtually friendless and defenceless in the country. The US ambassador to Burma Derek Mitchell rightly said, “Rohingyas are oppressed by everyone in Burma.”

Crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing

The human rights violations and abuses committed against the Rohingyas for decades are not isolated incidents, but part of a broad pattern of the policies implemented by the ruling government. They are systematic, consistent and widespread that amount to ’crimes against humanity’. UN Special Rapporteur Tomas Quintana also said they “could amount to crimes against humanity”.  1

Based on the definitions of Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), it can be inferred that the crimes against humanity of murder, extermination, deportation or forcible transfer of population, imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty, torture, rape and sexual violence, forced pregnancy, persecution, enforced disappearance of persons and the crime against humanity of other inhumane acts have been committed against the Rohingya people.

It is often forced removal of the members of the Rohingya ethnic group from their ancestral homeland, with a view to rendering North Arakan an ethnically homogeneous Rakhinized Buddhist region and so is an ‘ethnic cleansing’.

A slow-burning genocide

The imposition of measures to prevent birth within ethnic Rohingyas, their expulsion from their homeland, and systematic deprivation of all their fundamental human rights and freedoms, including their Burmese citizenship, while subjecting them to institutionalized persecution and forcing them to live in sub-human condition, both inside and outside the country indicate the regime’s intention to wipe out this minority community from Arakan.

Based on the circumstances of the crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing against Rohingya with a few  factual events mentioned above, and drawing on UN Genocide Convention of 1948, came into force in 1951, it is a case of  genocide but carrying out slowly possibly to evade international condemnation and prosecution.

Article II of the Convention clearly defines genocide as the act of destroying, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group — such acts are held to include: killing, seriously injuring or causing mental harm to members of such groups, inflicting upon such groups adverse living conditions so that the physical destruction of the group is threatened, deliberate attempts to prevent members of the group from having children, and forcibly transferring children from one group to another.

According to Professor Gregory H. Stanton, President of Genocide Watch “the Rohingya people are victims of the eight stages of genocide — Classification, Symbolization, Dehumanization, Organization, Polarization, Preparation, Extermination and Denial.” 2  

International responses:

While UNO, OIC, EU, ASEAN, some governments, including U.K. and USA, and rights groups have had many a time expressed grave concerns over the serious situation of Rohingya urging the Burmese government to end the violence and address the root cause of the Rohingya problem and to grant them full citizenship, and to ensure the delivery of humanitarian aids, these have not been translated into effective action aimed at holding President Thein Sein’s administration accountable for its atrocity crimes. In the contrary, several countries have lifted or suspended sanctions and cancelled bilateral debt. And in defiance of the international opinion, Thein Sein government remains stubbornly in its position to exterminate the Rohingya people to the last man.

Responsibility to protect:

Round the clock the Rohingyas are in danger of murder, rape, destruction and other inhumane acts. They are left with no option but to escape or face physical destruction.

There are  several  independent  investigations that confirm  that   crime against  humanity  and ethnic cleansing   have been committed and has been  still ongoing against the Rohingyas  by  the government in Burma  along with   all other  racist  elements ranging  from   locals  to state premier, state party members , from  police officer  to high  commissioner, from local civilian   to celebrity , from  the opposition  to the  current government  including  the president. Thus these international crimes have been carried out with full impunity with the knowledge of the government; and violations have not been fully and impartially investigated and none of the perpetrators have been brought to justice.

Thein Sein government has full responsibility to ensure security and rule of law, but it is unwilling to protect Rohingya people. The central and the Rakhine state administrations are guilty of practicing an apartheid policy and committing crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and genocide of Rohingya.

It has been observed that all sorts of diplomatic avenues have been used but exhausted over the last two years and the Rohingya continue facing existential threats. Very soon the whole Rohingya people will be exterminated if the international community is not acting swiftly to intervene in Arakan to protect the defenceless and ‘dying alive’ Rohingya people, on ground of humanitarianism, on the principle of ‘Responsibility to Protect’. In the absence of national protection or domestic protection, it is imperative for the international community to act decisively.

We the Rohingyas are pleading from this platform to the international community to put an end to this barbarism and let the world body STAND for “NO MORE TO GENOCIDE” and prove that nations of the world can really STOP mass killing and atrocity.

[1] Press release issued on 7April 2014 following the evacuation of UN agencies, INGOs, aid workers from Arakan after the Rakhines’ attack on 26-27 March in Sittwe.

[2] The Declaration from the First Rohingya Conference in the USA on the Rohingyas of Burma (Myanmar) dated December 20, 2013.

The paper which read at London School of Economics conference on decades of persecution on Rohingya on April 28, 2014.

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