THE recent brutality of the Myanmar authorities against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State triggered a strong criticism worldwide. People and leaders across the world are furious over Rohingyas genocide and condemning Aung San Suu Kyi’ for her silence over this inhuman action of the authorities. Hundreds of thousands of people have registered their protest over the genocide, besides condemnation and criticism messages appeared on social media since the issue started. Suu Kyi is under strong pressure to stop the violence being committed against the Rohingya community. This pressure is appreciated and a positive move towards resolving the Rohingya’s long-standing plight. However, this pressure should not be for the time being like the past years as their plight is stretched over decades. Rohingya Muslims have been facing various problems since the independence of Burma because they are not a legally accepted ethnic community like others in the country. Their disputed status, in my opinion, is the main cause of their earlier and the recent atrocities and needs a permanent solution.
Reports show that the Myanmar authorities were directly involved in the atrocities committed against Rohingya. However, the rise in these atrocities started after the 1982 Citizenship Act passed by the government, as this act denies equal access to citizenship to the Rohingya community. Since the implementation of this act, Rohingyas have been subjected to grave human rights abuses not only on the hands of the majority population but at the hands of the government institutions. These state actors have perpetrated grave violence against Rohingya, claiming thousands of innocent lives so far. Apart from this, over one million Rohingya Muslims have become the victim of torture, arbitrary, detention, rape and other forms of serious physical and mental tortures. More unfortunate is that this harm is continued. Rohingyas don’t have equal access to property, health, education and other work opportunities. Rohingyas atrocities further increased when General Ne Win introduced an amendment in the act. This was the first state-level curb against Rohingya as an ethnic community. The law prohibits Rohingya from obtaining equal access to citizenship. Taking advantage of this act, the Myanmar authorities withheld identity cards of Rohingya. They don’t have right to proceed their cases in Myanmar courts.
The local authorities routinely denied the existence of the Rohingya ethnicity in the country. For instance, Myanmar Minister for Foreign Affair Ohn Gyaw said in1992 that there had never been a Rohingya sect in the country. Such kind of denials further aggravated their plight. Forced displacement has become a routine affair with Rohingya. As a result, a large number of Muslims have been migrated to escape the brutal actions of the authorities. Rohingya Muslims also remained the main target of Naga Min military operation. The forces, during the operation, abused, raped, and murdered many Rohingya women. More than 200,000 Rohingya people fled across the border into Bangladesh to avoid abuses. The Myanmar security forces forced women and men into labour work. They were asked either to pay them a weekly fee to avoid labour work or to perform manual labour. A UN report has stated that Rohingya had been killed for refusal to perform forced labour.
The government institutions also remained involved in the racial and religious persecution of Rohingya. The Human Rights Watch reported in 2002 that the government had issued a military order demanding unauthorized mosques be destroyed. Following the order, many mosques and seminaries were destroyed. Likewise, mobs attacked dozens of mosques and seminaries in 2001 and destroyed them. The Muslim community is also banned to renovate religious places. The marriage-related restriction is another long-standing plight of Rohingya Muslims. They are prohibited of getting married without prior approval from the authorities concerned. The Myanmar forces along with the Rakhine majority population have also raped and sexually assaulted Rohingya women and girls. They sexually assaulted and gang rape women in front of their male family members. Rape of Rohingya women at the hands of military forces is a routine dealing if they remained unable to fulfil their forced labour duties. Since the 1990s, the Myanmar military has held Rohingya women as sex-slaves. Detention of Rohingya women for weekend’s joys is another common practice since years. Many women have died as a result of gang rape at military stations but the perpetrators have not been punished for these abuses.
According to international law, the ongoing persecution of Rohingya constitutes genocide as defined by the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The convention declares that the genocide is a crime under the law if it is being committed by killing members of the group. The case of Rohingya is staying under the international law. To conclude, protest and criticism are appreciated efforts, but cannot be a permanent solution to the lingering Rohingya issue. The solution of this long-standing plight needs more consolidate efforts and a long-term strategy, both on legal and political grounds, which is only possible when we are honest to resolve this issue permanently.
— The writer is working journalist based in Islamabad.