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The Rohingya in Myanmar: a genuine effort toward peace?

By Insight on Conflict 
January 15 2014: Myanmar’s Rohingya population is
one of the world’s most vulnerable groups. As the country transitions to
democracy, Margherita Belgioioso looks at the prospects for the Rohingya.
Myanmar’s (also known as Burma)
Rohingya population is one of the most vulnerable ethnic groups in the world
today. They have been stripped of their nationality and subjected to extrajudicial
killings, arbitrary arrest, and other abuses
. Desperately seeking
refuge and security many have fled their homes, moving to other parts of
Myanmar, or leaving the country. Bangladesh, Thailand, India, Pakistan,
Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and China have been preferred destinations of this
community in flight, but for the vast majority, their suffering has not ended upon leaving
The widespread persecution in
their native Myanmar stems primarily from the 1982 Citizenship Law. This law
defined a concept of Burmese nationhood based on being Burmese and Buddhist,
and in turn justified the discrimination and persecution of the Rohingyas base.
The ‘legality’ of anti-Rohingya
Burma has a rich ethnic minority
population which account for roughly 30% of the total Burmese population. The
Rohingya Muslims are predominantly concentrated Rakhine State, in western
Myanmar. There are no official figures, but it is estimated there are around
1.4 million Rohingya in Rakhine – approximately half the state’s total population – of
which 800,000 reside in the three townships, making up 80% of the cities’
total population.
The Rohyngas in Rakhine define
themselves as an indigenous Burmese ethnic group descended from Arab merchants
which settled from the 8th century in Southern Eastern Asian Colonies.
Until 1784 Rakhine (formerly known as Arakan) was part of an independent
kingdom whose boundary included a southern portion of today’s Bangladesh.
Arakan territory divided Islamic and Buddhist Asia. This is reflected by
Rohingya language which is a mixture of Bengali, Persian, Arabic and Arakanese.
In 1962, a Coup established a
military government in Myanmar. Since then, ethnic cleansing and human
deportation against Rohingya has taken place. In 1982, the Citizenship Law made impossible for
Rohingyas to be recognized as Burmese citizens. Decreeing stateless status for
the Rohingya ethnic group, the Citizens Law forms the legal basis for the continuing arbitrary violence against
the Rohingya community. From 1990 Rakhine was militarised and oppressive
tactics against Rohingya intensified. Since then the state of affairs did not
In June 2012, an outbreak
large-scale violence against the Rohingya caused thousands of deaths and forced displacement of over
100,000 people
  throughout Rakhine State. Rohingya have
been largely segregated in order to create ‘Muslim-free’ areas. At the end of
2012 UN estimates a further 13,000 displaced Rohingya. During the time of the
violence, the website of the Burmese President carried a message stating that
the only way to end communal violence in Rakhine State was to send Rohingyas to
either UNHCR refugee camps or to a third country.
The credibility of Myanmar
Despite the ongoing democracy
reforms, the meetings to promote dialogues with ethnic armed groups and the
nationwide ceasefire, Myanmar’s for peaceful transition is, at best,
incomplete. I believe that a genuine resolution for decades of armed and ethnic
struggle can only come if the neglected minorities, such as Rohingyas, are
fully integrated in the process of dialogue.
Unless steps are taken in this
direction violence against Rohingya will be still be seen as justified in the
years to come, with consequences for the stability and development of the whole
region. In this sense, a lack of substantial measures appears evident. With the
Citizenship Law still in place, for example, the first national census after
thirty years, expected in 2014, will further marginalize Rohingya population with
respect to the 2015 election.
The UN Special Rapporteur on
human rights in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, complains that the government is
failing to address the causes of the violence in Rakhine and, most notably, to
hold the security forces accountable for systematic human rights violations.
According to a recent brief by ALTSEAN research team, one year
on from the renewed sectarian violence against Rohingya, the government has not
taken any substantial steps towards a resolution. Government authorities
continue to detain Rohingya activists and call for the enforcement of
discriminating policies against Rohingya. Rafendi Djamin, Indonesian human
rights activist and representative to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on
Human Rights (AICHR), warns that the failure to control deadly sectarian
violence by the Myanmar government could see violence escalate, leaded
to likely genocide against the Rohingya minority
From January 2014, Myanmar will
be the regional leader of ASEAN and chairman of the AICHR: the ASEAN
Intergovernmental consultative body on Human Rights. The Arakan Project
outlined in 2012 that the amendment of the Citizenship law, birth certificates
and documentation to Rohingya children, abolishment of local policies of
restricting marriages and births, the guarantee of quality health care,
education services, access to food and the ban on forced labour, are all
essential measures to ensure the protection of Rohingyas’ basic human rights.
Yet policies and restrictions institutionalizing racial
discrimination remain in place for national security reasons
there is no plan to amend the 1982 Citizenship Law. Both internal and regional
stability, peace, and development will likely be affected by Myanmar’s
commitment towards the integration of Rohingyas and other Muslim minorities in
the peace process.