Observing World Refugee Day today, Aliran condemns the racial and religious violence that broke out in Burma’s western Arakan state between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and ethnic Rohingya Muslims on 8 June 2012.
Although the facts of how the trouble started remain unclear with allegations of crimes and atrocities committed against communities on either side, and others from various Burmese quarters adding racial slurs and accusations on social media networking sites like Facebook and other web media, the fundamental problem of Rohingya statelessness remains unresolved.
In their calls for calm and a return to peace, the Myanmar government, the United States and others have not specifically referred to the longstanding issue of statelessness of the Rohingya Muslim ethnic minority in Arakan state.
If President Thein Sein’s government wants to preserve the progress towards democratisation and the opening up of Myanmar, it needs to tackle this issue for an effective solution on the Rohingya status within the country. It serves no purpose except as a blatant violation of human rights to persist in rendering the Rohingya minority stateless.
Allegations that they originated from Bangladesh appear to have no basis, and the Bangladesh government has refused to accept them even as refugees. Women and children in boats attempting to flee the violence by crossing the river border with Bangladesh were reportedly turned back by Bangladesh border security. The UN refugee agency continues to monitor the situation on both sides of the border.
The insistence of their ‘stateless’ status based on the assumptions that the Rohingyas are migrants or descendants of migrants can only be viewed as retribution for some ambiguous and possibly long forgotten offence that could have occurred hundreds of years ago. In the 21st century, the continuance of such retribution does not make any sense whatsoever. Evading or ignoring the issue will not resolve the root causes of racial and religious antagonism, simmering below the surface and waiting to erupt at the slightest provocation.
If the Myanmar government and the international community continue to ignore this problem, treating the Rohingyas as stateless, it would indeed perpetuate the violation of human rights. Without addressing the fundamental issue of statelessness, any other initiative towards enhancing the importance and fundamental nature of human rights by the international community would be meaningless.
The aggression in Arakan state also comes in the wake of long-term conflicts between the Myanmar government and ethnic communities in other provinces i.e. the Shan and Kachin states, more recently. Some of these, like the Karen, find it necessary to resort to para-military units in efforts to defend their ethnic communities from military attacks and human rights violations.
It is in the interest of the Myanmar government and people to engage in genuine peace talks and initiatives with all ethnic communities in the country on equal terms – as states, and not as historically ‘conquered’ territories – and to resolve the statelessness of the Rohingya ethnic minority in Arakan.
The international community should be aware that the ongoing denial of human rights in Myanmar and the apparent singling out of Rohingyas and Burmese Muslims may raise the possibility of the start of religious and ethnic cleansing, akin what happened in Bosnia-Herzegovina in the 1990s and the tragedies in Rwanda and Burundi in Africa. The effects of the aftermath of these hostilities still remain etched in the memories of the people involved and the refugees who have not yet come to terms with the atrocities, violence and loss experienced.
Further, refugee influxes from Myanmar to Malaysia and other countries around the region including Australasia, anticipated to subside with the gradual democratisation of Myanmar, could see a surge instead. This would aggravate the migrant flow in various receiving countries already frantically trying to stem the influxes of undocumented and irregular migrants, regardless of whether their economies and infrastructure can accommodate high populations.
Aliran appeals to the Myanmar government, Daw Aung San Su Kyi MP, Asean leaders, and all leaders in the international community to prioritise the problem of statelessness, particularly of the Arakan Rohingya community. We propose that the Rohingya community (including the diaspora) be officially granted recognition as Myanmar citizens with equal status to other Myanmar citizens.
We also ask for all actions perpetuating human rights violations, inciting racial and religious discrimination and antagonism to be stopped immediately. The victims should be redressed for the harm and loss sustained and suffered.
It is hoped that President Thein Sein’s government will act with wisdom and justice to resolve the troubles in Myanmar so that the country can make further progress in peaceful democratisation while upholding the human rights and dignity of all its people, regardless of ethnicity or faith.
Executive committee member
World Refugee Day, 20 June 2012