Friday, July 2, 2010

Arakan: A Field of Muslim Genocide

By Nurul Islam CRCS

Rohingyas, a predominantly Muslim community, are one of the many ethnic nationalities in Burma. They are one of the two major indigenous peoples of Arakan; the other is the Rakhine who are Buddhists.

Rohang, the old name of Arakan, was a very familiar region for the Arab seafarers even during pre-Islamic days. Tides of people like the Arabs, Moors, Turks, Pathans, Moguls, Central Asians, Bengalis came mostly as traders, warriors, preachers and captives over land or through the sea route. Many settled in Arakan, and mixing with the local people, developed the present stock of people known as ethnic Rohingya. Hence, the Rohingya Muslims, whose settlements in Arakan date back to the 7th century AD are not an ethnic group which developed from one tribal group affiliation or single racial stock. They are an ethnic group developed from different stocks of people. The ethnic Rohingya is Muslim by religion with a distinct culture and civilisation of their own.
They trace their ancestry to Arabs, Moors, Pathans, Moghuls, Central Asians, Bengalis and some Indo-Mongoloid people. So, the Rohingyas are nationals as well as an indigenous ethnic group of Burma. They are not a newborn racial group of Arakan, rather they are as old an indigenous race of the country as any other. In 1826 AD Arakan was annexed to the British India and it was almost depopulated. A few months after the conclusion of the treaty of Yandabo Mr Paton, the Controller of Civil Affairs in Arakan, submitted to the British government a detailed report about the character of the country (Arakan), its extent, history, population, production and manners and customs of the inhabitants. He stated the population of Arakan as 100,000 (Maghs - 60,000; Muslims - 30,000; Burmese - 10,000). So on the date of the conquest of Arakan by the British, there had already been thirty thousand Muslims, i.e. 30 percent of the total population of Arakan. So, Rohingya Muslims are not the settlers of British period. A British army officer, who served on the Arakan front during the Second World War remarked about the ethnic character of the Arakan Muslims as follows "to look at, they are quite unlike any other product of India and Burma that I have seen. They resemble the Arab in name, in dress and in habit. The women and more particularly the young girls, have a distinctive Arab touch about them."
On 8th December 1941, Japan declared war against British Government. On 7th March 1942, the Japanese invading forces occupied Rangoon, the capital city of Burma. On 23rd March 1942 Japan bombed the Akyab City of Arakan. So, the British administration withdrew from Akyab by the end of March 1942. There was an administration vacuum in Arakan and exploiting the opportunity, the Rakhine communalists in connivance with Burma Independence Army (BIA) led by Bo Rang Aung brought a pogrom among them, massacring about 100,000 innocent Rohingya Muslims, driving out 80,000 of them across the border to East Bengal, devastating their settlements and depopulating the Muslims in some parts of Arakan. According to the London Agreement of October 7, 1947 power was handed over to the government of the Union of Burma on 4th January 1948.
We will now look at the context within which Rohingya Muslims are becoming Victims of State Terrorism decade by decade!
Since 1948, up to 1999, there have been no less than 20 major eviction campaigns against the Rohingyas carried out by the successive governments of Burma, causing more than 300,000 Rohingya Muslims left Arakan and sheltered in Bangladesh as political refugees. In July 1991, about 500 Rohingya businessmen were arrested under so-called "Phi-tha-ya Operation'' and all their belongings were confiscated. They were severely tortured for none of the proper allegations and sentenced to 5 years with hard labour. They were taken to the front line of military operation and used as human shields and cleansing mines or road construction projects. They were summarily executed.
1994: Year of Barbarism at its worst

From May, 1994 accused as Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO) supporters or sympathisers, Rohingyas were taken at night from their homes and were tortured to death or buried alive. About 60,000 troops have been deployed in northern Arakan, who used thousands of Rohingyas as human shields. Hundreds of young Rohingyas were taken to deep forest as porters, most of whom have never come back. Under false and imaginary charges, thousands of Rohingyas had been gunned down and slaughtered. They were forced at gunpoint to kill each other. There are instances that brother had to kill brother and father and son were killed together before the very eyes of the family members. At least 300 Rohingyas were buried in the mass graves in Maung Daw and Buthidaung townships in the year 1994.
The major Rohingya exoduses
The root cause of the outflows of refugees from Arakan into Bangladesh and other countries is the 'Rohingya problem', which is a problem of ethnic, religious and political persecution to rid Arakan of the Muslim population, and to eventually turn it into a purely Burmese Buddhist region.
There were two major Rohingya exoduses from Arakan into Bangladesh, once in 1978 and another in 1991-92, each with more than 250,000 refugees. Despite repatriation, the problem remains unsolved and the exodus into Bangladesh is still continuing. "In both these instances -1978 and 1991 - the Rohingyas went back incidentally not as citizens of Myanmar but as "stateless" people. And then after their return to Arakan they once again faced forced labour, lack of freedom of movement, periodic displacement, whimsical arrest and killing, and other forms of human rights violations, including torture and rape. There are more than 28,000 official Rohingya refugees from 1991-92 exoduses still remaining in the two camps of Nayapara and Kutupalong in Cox's Bazar district.
In addition, about 62,000 refugees live in the two unofficial camps of Leda Tal and Kutupalong respectively in Teknaf and Ukhiya townships, while an estimated 150,000 have intermingled with the local villagers. But the humanitarian situation of these uprooted people all together is very heartrending.
The junta has been using methods of persecution as weapons of extermination such as n rape, extrajudicial killing, extortion, forced labour, imposing restrictions on travelling, religious freedom, Muslim marriage and education, etc. Killing without judicial proceeding is a crime against humanity and is a clear violation of Article 9-3 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and a resolution approved by the 40th session of the UN General Assembly. Under the pretext of looking for insurgents, random murder of innocent villagers is a regular feature of the forces. For activists, Burma has become synonymous with institutionalised rape, torture, forced labour, and ethnic cleansing. In the popular imagination, however, the enormity of Burma's crisis remains obscured by indifference and the overshadowing presence of disasters in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Darfur. There is no significant communal riot in Arakan except the unfortunate "1942 communal Riot'', and peaceful co-existence among the Rakhine Buddhists and the Rohingya Muslims is prevailing. The ethnic minorities in Arakan have well perceived the junta`s policy of "Divide and Rule" because more or less the Rakhines are also victimised too. According to the news dated 6/17/2009 published by a Rakhine media, "Burmese Army soldiers have deserted over 210 women from eight villages located near the town of Rathidaung, after marrying them, said a youth who compiled three army battalions LIB 536-38 stationed from 1992 to 2008. The eight villagers are - Kha Naung Gyi, Say Kan, Kan Byin, Taung Hla Maw, Wra Thit Kay, Nga Tauk Tuu Chay and two other wards in Rathidaung- east and south.
Whatever the situation is the military junta allowed Rohingyas to vote and contest all the previous national elections. In 1990 election, 4-Rohingya MP were elected. Reportedly the junta is now desperate to attain support of Rohingyas in 2010 election. Junta uses Rohingyas to retain power without returning their birth rights and privileges. Who is a refugee?
"A refugee is a person who has been forced from his or her home and crossed an international border for safety. He or she must have a well-founded fear of persecution in his or her native country, on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion''. So, there is no doubt that Rohingyas meet with the criteria of a refugee. We the people of Bangladesh should show them sympathy and compassion because they were forced to leave their ancestral land and they will not let us feel burden of their presence in Bangladesh when the situations of their native land become conducive for their return. The neighbouring countries of Myanmar and the 3rd party countries including Saudi Arabia should feel and sympathise for their severe sufferings and adopt measures to shelter and protect them until a democratic government is established in Burma.Solution to the problem
There is no scope of solving Rohingya issue unless and until regional and international unprecedented pressure on Myanmar is ensured. Rohingyas are potential or actual victims of massive atrocities and crimes against humanity. It is a problem of 'religious, ethnic and political persecution' against an ethnic minority Muslim community in Burma. Having political and humanitarian aspects, the Rohingya problem affects the region and beyond and is essentially a regional problem with international perspective that warrants 'international responsibility to protect'. Any regional solution must rest on securing improvements to the political situation within Burma such that the human rights of all peoples within its territory are respected. The Rohingya should be allowed to coexist as equal in Arakan. Their citizenship and ethnic rights are to be guaranteed, and their rights and privileges are to be ensured, on par with other national groups of the Union of Burma.
The Muslim "Rohingya'' of Burma by Martin Smith
Human Rights violations in Arakan by AFK Jilani
A short History of Arakan by Mohd Ashraf Alam
Human Rights Abuses and Discrimination on Rohingyas by Zaw Min Htut
Kaladanpress Net work, Narinjara News and MSF reports.
"The Advent of Islam in Arakan and the Rohingya" by Dr.Mohammed Ali Chowdhury presented at the seminar organized by Arakan Historical Society at Chittagong Zila Parishad Hall on December 31, 1995

Sat Jul 03 13:52:23 2010

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