Burma is a multi-cultural society with multi-ethnicities. During its independence a feeling of awareness for an ethnic togetherness and comprehensive identity to form joint feelings for tranquillity and safety developed. On the basis of the agreed upon principle of ‘unity in diversity’, articulated by the father of the nation General Aung San, the ‘Union of Burma’ came to existence on January 4, 1948.
the culture of Burman majority is assumed as the national culture and on its margins, there are small cultures of the numerous ethnic groups and are assumed as non-national or inferior cultures. Regrettably, today Rohingyas are considered practising foreign way of life having no origin in Burma, despite the fact that the heyday of independent Arakan began with the Muslim civilization, which reached its zenith during the most glorious period of Mrauk-U, “the creation of a remarkably hybrid Buddhist-Islamic court, fusing tradition from Persia and India as well as the Buddhist Worlds to the east.” On top of that “Arakan was virtually ruled by Muslims from 1430 to 1531.”
The 1982 Citizenship Law:
- Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which states that “everyone has the right to a nationality” and that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality”. But the “citizenship law declared the Rohingyas as ‘non-nationals’ or ‘foreign residents’” rendering them ‘stateless’ in their own homeland, where they have been living for generations with a long history.
- It is conflicting government’s obligation to fulfil the rights of the child as stipulated by Article 7(1) of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989 which states that the Child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right to a name, and to acquire a nationality. The Burmese government ratified this convention in 1991 and is obliged to grant citizenship to Rohingyas.
- Article 24(3) of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 1966 also states, “Every child has the right to acquire a nationality.” But most Rohingya children were denied registration and recently more than 40,000 Rohingya children have been blacklisted reasoning that their parents had not married with official permission. “Under Myanmar's 1982 citizenship law, Rohingya children - both registered and unregistered - are stateless and hence, face limited access to food and healthcare, leaving them susceptible to preventable diseases and malnutrition. Many are prevented from attending school and used for forced labour, contributing to a Rohingya illiteracy rate of 80 percent. More than 60 percent of children aged between five and 17 have never enrolled in school”..
- Article 9 of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEADAW), 1979 states: (a) States Parties shall grant women equal rights with men to acquire, change or retain their nationality… (b) States Parties shall grant women equal rights with men with respect to the nationality of their children. Burmese government ratified this convention on 22 July 1997. But Rohingya women and their children have been deprived of their Burmese nationality forcing them to live in servitude as stateless within Burma and refugees beyond its border -- wondering from place to place -- with ultimate aim of destroying this minority community.
- Article 5(d) (iii) of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination 1965 which states that States Parties undertake to prohibit and to eliminate racial discrimination in all its forms and to guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, colour, or national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law…[and to] the enjoyment of …the right to nationality. But the Rohingyas are discriminated against and exterminated from their ancestral homeland on ground of ethnicity and religion. They have been subjected to ‘systematic racism’.
- The law promotes discrimination against Rohingya and arbitrary deprivation of their Burmese citizenship. The deprivation of one’s nationality is not only a serious violation of human rights but also an international crime. The law does not oblige the state to protect stateless persons (i.e. victims of a serious human rights violation), thus largely ignoring state’s ‘obligation to respect the right to nationality’.
- The law continues to create outflows of refugees, which overburden other countries posing threats to peace and tranquillity within the region. An estimated 1.5 million Rohingya disporas are in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, UAE, KSA, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, USA, UK, Republic of Ireland Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan etc. The Rohingya refugee issue with their boat people crisis has become a regional problem with international dimension.
- In his report to the United Nations Prof. Yokota states: “The 1982 Citizenship Law should be revised or amended to abolish its over burdensome requirements for citizens in a manner which has discriminatory effects on racial or ethnic minorities particularly the Rakhine (Arakan) Muslims. It should be brought in line with the principles embodied in the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness of 30 august 1961.”