By Aman Ullah
“The Holocaust did not start with the gas chambers and the Rwandan genocide did not start with the slayings, both started with the dehumanization of a specific group of persons.” Adama Dieng, a UN special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide
In recent Rakhine news, it is said that a delegation of Rakhines’ leader will go to United Nation (UN) for the purpose of decolonization of Arakan. The delegation will be led by Dr. Aye Chan as historical expert, Dr Aye Maung, as political expert, Advocate U Aung Kyaw Sein, as legal expert and a veteran political leader U Khine Aung Kyaw who is now in US, as international expert. The delegation will go to UN by December of this year and will submit a paper on Arakan history.
A Un-declonized Arakan
Arakan with an area of about 200000 square miles was neither purely a Burmese nor an Indian Territory until 18th century. Chiefly for its location, it had not only remained independent for the most part of history. Being separated from the rest of Burma by a long and high impassible hill range of Arakan Yoma, the peoples of Arakan neither drank from the same water with Burmans nor dependant on them for trade and commerce. Neither of a single river flows from Arakan to Burma nor Burma to Arakan. Its relation with Chittagong is influenced by geographical, cultural and historical considerations. Hinduism and Buddhism spread from India, whereas Islamic civilization began influencing Arakan from the 7th century. As such, her relation with western Muslims states is millennia-old.
The history of Independent Kingdom of Arakan came to an end by the invasion and occupation of Burmese king, Bodawpaya, in 1784. After 40 years of Burmese rule the British colonialist annexed Arakan to a British India in the first Anglo-Burma war of 1824 and it remained under British administration till Burmese independence on January 4, 1948.
The British colonial power transferred the sovereignty of Arakan on January 4, 1948, into the newly formed ‘Union of Burma’ without the wish of the peoples of Arakan. The concept of ‘Union of Burma’, which was invented by the colonialists and based on the sanctity of the illegal boundaries of the colonial empire, was established by conquests. It is a state that is based on colonialist conquered territories without reference to the conquered peoples, their cultures, languages, histories, identities, and inalienable rights. Union Burma is thus admittedly a state based solely on British colonialism—without decolonization. Hence, Arakan became un-decolonized and Non-Self-Governing Territories (NSGT).
What is Decolonization?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines decolonization as “the withdrawal from its colonies of a colonial power; the acquisition of political or economic independence by such colonies.” The term refers particularly to the dismantlement. However, decolonization not only refers to the complete “removal of the domination of non-indigenous forces” within the geographical space and different institutions of the colonized, but it also refers to the “decolonizing of the mind” from the colonizer’s ideas that made the colonized seem inferior.
The Britishers violated this principle of separate juridical status of colonial territories, when they transferred their legal ‘sovereignty’ over Arakan to the Burma Union.
There can be no compromise between the concept of ‘Union of Burma’ and the principle of ‘decolonization’, because the one goes directly against the other. Decolonization requires ‘liquidation of all colonial empire’ with specific steps and definitive procedures, but Union of Burma exists on the principle of the total preservation of the territorial integrity of the previous colonial empire; an empire is not liquidated if its integrity is preserved. ‘Union of Burma’ is still an un-liquidated and un-decolonizes colonial empire with Burma replacing Britishers as the colonial masters.
In addition to these, there is no legality and judicial values of the Treaty on the transfer of ‘sovereignty’ between British and Burma signed on October 7, 1947, especially concerning the transfer of ‘sovereignty’ over Arakan to Burma for the following reasons: –
1. The glaring incompatibility of the Treaty with the decolonization principles of the UN, that had been imposed universally.
2. This Treaty clearly violated the right to self-determination of the people of Arakan.
3. The Treaty was neither signed by any representative of the people of Arakan nor given mandate from them.
4. The power and authority of the people of Arakan was arbitrarily ignored in the Treaty.
5. The transfer took place without consulting the people of Arakn through plebiscite or referendum, and doing it outside all established procedures of the United Nations Decolonization Law and precedents set up by the International Court of Justice.
It is irony of the fate that the portion of time preceding Burmese independence was a very dark period for the people of Arakan. The people of Arakan hardly believe that the Burmans govern them; but they strongly feel that they are colonized. After being integrated into Burma the people of Arakan have been a part of unitary state of the Union of Burma during which time they have been subjected to brutal and inhuman treatment such as; human rights abuses, killings, rapes, ignorance, poverty and social injustice and have been subjected to virtual ethnic and cultural genocide.
It is a Positive and Welcoming Step
In a vast political reshaping of the world, more than 80 former colonies comprising some 750 million people have gained independence since the creation of the United Nations. At present, 17 Non-Self-Governing Territories (NSGTs) across the globe remain to be decolonized, home to nearly 2 million people. Thus, the process of decolonization is not complete. Finishing the job will require a continuing dialogue among the administering Powers, the Special Committee on Decolonization, and the peoples of the territories, in accordance with the relevant UN resolutions on decolonization.
In 1990, the General Assembly proclaimed the first International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism, including a specific plan of action. The Special Committee on the Situation with regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence of Colonial Countries and Peoples, the United Nations entity exclusively devoted to the issue of decolonization, was established in 1961 by the General Assembly with the purpose of monitoring the implementation of the Declaration (General Assembly Resolution 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960).
Under the General Assembly resolution 1514 (XV) of 14 December 1960, it is declared that: –
1. The subjection of peoples to alien subjugation, domination and exploitation constitutes a denial of fundamental human rights, is contrary to the Charter of the United Nations and is an impediment to the promotion of world peace and co-operation.
2. All peoples have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.
3. Inadequacy of political, economic, social or educational preparedness should never serve as a pretext for delaying independence.
4. All armed action or repressive measures of all kinds directed against dependent peoples shall cease in order to enable them to exercise peacefully and freely their right to complete independence and the integrity of their national territory shall be respected.
5. Immediate steps shall be taken, in Trust and Non-Self-Governing Territories or all other territories which have not yet attained independence, to transfer all powers to the peoples of those territories, without any conditions or reservations, in accordance with their freely expressed will and desire, without any distinction as to race, creed or colour, in order to enable them to enjoy complete independence and freedom.
6. Any attempt aimed at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and the territorial integrity of a country is incompatible with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.
7. All States shall observe faithfully and strictly the provisions of the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the present Declaration on the basis of equality, non-interference in the internal affairs of all States, and respect for the sovereign rights of all peoples and their territorial integrity.
The Special Committee annually reviews the list of Territories to which the Declaration is applicable and makes recommendations as to its implementation. It also hears statements from NSGTs representatives, dispatches visiting missions, and organizes seminars on the political, social and economic situation in the Territories. Further, the Special Committee annually makes recommendations concerning the dissemination of information to mobilize public opinion in support of the decolonization process, and observes the Week of Solidarity with the Peoples of Non-Self-Governing Territories.
Thus, the step that is going to take by the Rakhine leaders is a welcoming step and there is still, hope for Arakan to be recognizes as one of the Non-Self-Governing Territories (NSGTs), may get a chance to be decolonized and will become an Independent State where all the peoples of Arakan have the right to self-determination; by virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.
Denying the existence of Rohingya and dehumanization of them
Across the last two thousand years, there has been great deal of local vibrancy as well as movement of different ethnic peoples through the region. For the last millennium or so, Muslims (Rohingyas) and Buddhists (Rakhines) have historically lived on both side of Naaf River, which marks the modern border with Bangladesh and Burma. In addition to Muslims (Rohingyas) and Buddhists (Rakhines) majority groups, a number of other minority peoples also come to live in Arakan, including Chin, Kaman, Thet, Dinnet, Mramagri, Mro and Khami etc.
With the passage of time, both Rohingya and Rakhine come to exist into two distinct and compact communities in Arakan out of some heterogeneous races and tribes. Both had been peacefully coexisting in Arakan over the centuries. Both are indigenous people characterized by objective criteria, such as historical continuity, and subjective factors including self-identification which need to define an indigenous people and to have the right of self-determination. It means that, if Rakhines have historic rights in Arakan the Rohingyas have also the same right in Arakan. If the Rakhines freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social, and cultural development, the Rohingyas have also the same rights to charter their destiny by their free will, by virtue of their rights to self-determination.
However, today, the greater number of Rakhines, under the patronization of the successive regime, is hostile to Rohingyas. They are main instruments of Rohingya oppression over the decades. Even many Rakhines today claim Arakan to be the ‘historic land of Rakhine Buddhists’. Denying the existence of Rohingya, they state that Arakan belongs to them alone and the Rohingyas have nothing to do with it and have no right to use the word ‘Arakan” and even ‘Rohingya”. This chauvinistic claim of ‘exclusive ownership’ of Arakan by the Rakhine is the root cause of the problem in Arakan causing constant communal violence and tension between the two major communities.
Since 1970s, the anti-Rohingya Rakhine leaders have instilled in Rakhinese society against the Rohingya. They presented the Rohingya as the problem in their society in literature and teachings. Anti-Rohingya Rakhinese falsified history by labeling the Rohingya as foreigners to Burma who were brought in during British colonial rule. The central government’s support of this false story has served to bolster Buddhist hatred toward the Rohingya.
Since 2012, the Rohingya have suffered horrific violence, whipped up by hate speech preached by extremist Buddhist nationalists. Every aspect of their lives, including marriage, childbirth and ability to work, is severely restricted. Their right to identity and citizenship is officially denied. They have been systematically uprooted, with 200,000 held in internal displacement camps and unknown thousands have taken to sea as refugees. The UNHCR estimates that more than 120,000 people have left the area by boat from the Bay of Bengal since June 2012. The government even denies humanitarian agencies unfettered access in their internal displacement camps. Their homes, businesses, and mosques have been destroyed. Amid the destruction, many Rohingyas have been unfairly imprisoned, with some tortured to death while behind bars.
A 2015 study by the United States Holocaust Museum counted 19 early warning signs of genocide in Myanmar since the start of sectarian violence. Another study by the International State Crime Initiative concluded that the Rohingya had already passed the first four stages of genocide, including dehumanization and segregation and is now on the verge of mass annihilation.
Successive Regimes dehumanized the Rohingya in their official propaganda and depicted as amoral or dangerous to society. Officials falsify history and present justifications for why the entire group, to include the elderly, women, and children, must be viewed as guilty.
A radical Buddhist groups have characterized the Rohingya as “a most dangerous and fearful poison that is severe enough to eradicate all civilization.” Citing Adolf Hitler, a Rakhine political party has said that crimes against humanity, even the Holocaust, are justified “in defense of national sovereignty” and “survival of a race.”
The Rohingyas have frequently been likened to snakes, savages, and mad dogs. Important government officials have referred to them as ‘viruses’ and ‘foreign entities’. And many important Buddhist leaders have fuelled this kind of sentiment using social media and anti-Muslim rallies. In Rwanda, the Tutsis were called “cockroaches,” and during WWII, Jews were compared to “vermin.”
One of the predominant causes of violence against minority groups is the belief that those of the minority group are lesser human beings; hate speech is a tool that helps fuel this belief. The complete dehumanization of the Rohingya has become commonplace throughout Burma and the region, and has infiltrated political and religious discourse.
What is the term Dehumanization?
Dehumanization refers to the process of stripping a person’s human traits and reducing him to a lesser value or treating him like an animal, vermin, insects or diseases. It amounts to deliberately degrading people by taking away their individuality. Dehumanization overcomes the normal human revulsion against murder. At this stage, hate propaganda in print and on hate radios is used to vilify the victim group. Governments, nation and political leaders often skillfully use dehumanization to manipulate the public. Enemies are projected as people less than human and worthy of punishment. As a result destroying or dehumanizing them is considered to be morally justifiable. Dehumanization ultimately leads to oppression and genocide.
According to Adama Dieng a UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, “Genocide begins with ‘dehumanization, the Holocaust did not start with the gas chambers and the Rwandan genocide did not start with the slayings. It started with the dehumanization of a specific group of persons.”
Hence, Decolonization is a political process but dehumanization is a genocidal crime. Decolonization needs a political settlement but dehumanization needs combating and intervention. In combating the dehumanization, incitement to genocide should not be confused with protected speech. Genocidal societies lack constitutional protection for countervailing speech, and should be treated differently than democracies. Local and international leaders should condemn the use of hate speech and make it culturally unacceptable. Leaders who incite genocide should be banned from international travel and have their foreign finances frozen. Hate radio stations should be shut down, and hate propaganda banned. Hate crimes and atrocities should be promptly punished.
As repression in Burma continues unabated, it is reasonable to expect that calls for intervention will continue to be heard from around the world.
The willingness and ability of the international community to get involved will continue to be crucial elements in resolving Burma’s problems. The political will of the UN must be regarded as a particularly important factor in determining how and when Burma will finally shed the burden of repressive rule. The creation of an independent international commission on intervention would be a promising move.