The Rohingyas in the western Myanmar state of Rakhine, formerly known as Arakan, have again been subjected to a major massacre. The Rohingyas happen to be a Muslim minority living in the Buddhist majority country. They have been victims of discrimination for many decades, particularly under the military junta, which ruled the country on the motto of nationalism. Interestingly, one should point out here, that Muslims of Arakan known as Mujahidin, constituted one of the three major forces that fought for the country’s independence in the 1940s.
This is not the first time that Rohingyas have been targeted. According to Medecins Sans Frontieres, approximately 200,000 Rohingyas were expelled to neighboring Bangladesh in 1978, but almost all of them were forcibly repatriated back: about 10,000 died in the process and another 10,000 remained in Bangladesh. In 1982 Myanmar passed a law declaring most Rohingyas non-citizens. In 1991, again about 250,000 were pushed to Bangladesh. In September 1992 the government of Bangladesh closed down registration of new refugees, and immediately resorted to another round of repatriation. However, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and a number of other international humanitarian bodies strongly protested against the measure. Since then the UNHCR has negotiated with the government of Myanmar to repatriate back the refugees the international community lost its conscience?
What should be done to overcome the crisis? Violence should stop immediately. The state government in Rakhine and the central government under Thein Sein have a big role to play in this. The law should be applied without bias and wrongdoers should be punished, regardless of their ethnicity or religion. At the same time, Thein Sein should initiate measures to grant citizenship to the Rohingyas.
Myanmar’s fellow ASEAN states should quietly encourage Thein Sein to move in this direction.
Dr. Abdullah Ahsan,
International Movement for Just World (JUST).
Petaling Jaya, Malaysia.
26 June 2012.