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Rohingya in the Nation Building Process of Burma

Photo: Gemunu Amarasinghe

By Aman Ullah

“If we want the nation to prosper, we must pool our resources, manpower, wealth, skill, and work together.” General Aung San

We live in a time of great change, a time of new beginnings. We live in a time when many things are coming to an end.

In the evolution of democracy we are coming to the end of that phase of democracy that we think of as representative democracy. For centuries we have elected people to represent us, to give us voice in far-off forums, and then we have judged how well they represented us. Now the world is shifting from the long period of representative democracy to the direct democracy.

The world today is about the individual, not the state. It is about self-organization, just business has experienced the shift to self-management. The world is being run by the collective judgments and actions of individuals. The deployment of power is shifting from state to individual, from vertical to horizontal. Politics will reemerge as the engine of individualism.

The world’s trends point overwhelmingly toward political independence and self-rule. The new era is an ear of self-rule for the peoples around the world. Self-rule is the pillar of democracy. People all over world are beginning to seize that opportunity. Many people of the world today want self-rule and everyday they see others getting self-rule, or moving toward it.

The Union of Burma was born on 4th January 1948 out of the joint efforts of all peoples of the country, on the basis of the Panglong Agreement signed on 12th February 1947 between General Aung San and leaders of ethnic nationalities to take independence together. The effort and contribution of every people, big or small, was equally important and great. Thus, the spirit of Panglong is very important for the perpetuation of a strong and stable Union of Burma. The Panglong Agreement was a Union Treaty to build an independent Burma — a Federal Union based on the agreed upon principle of “unity in diversity”. Unity in diversity means the people are different from one another. Their languages are different, their cultures are different, their religions are different, and their lifestyles are different. But they are all united to establish a union for a common purpose, for the common good, for sustainable development, and, above all, for the future of their people. “This Panglong Agreement assured the people of Burma of federal democracy, human rights, and equality.

Unfortunately, a few months before Burma’s independence, General Aung San and almost all of his cabinet members were assassinated. Then, the Union of Burma was formed on the foundation of the 1947 semi-federal Constitution. And the rights the ethnic states which were granted were nominal than real.

The identities and equality of the ethnic people were slowly eroded away. Nationalism, Burman control, and Buddhism have continued to be essential elements of political legitimacy and the endeavor to create national identity under all regimes. Almost immediately upon the independence, Burma was thrown into a series of brutal ethnic wars that have continued with varying intensity to this day. Thus, the Union of Burma today is facing unprecedented crisis- economic, social and political. Even the survival of the Union is also at stake.

The crisis in the Union of Burma today is rooted in political problem, specially a constitutional one that rooted in question of self-determination for non-Burman nationalities. Thus, these differences can be resolved through political means and through political process, i.e. through political dialogue, negotiations and compromise, and through establishing a genuine Federal Union of Burma, which will guarantee democratic rights for all citizens, political equality for all nationalities and the rights of self-determination for all member states of the Union. A federal system that combines and balances between “self-rule” for ethnic national homelands and a “shared-rule” for the Union is federal system.

General Aung San was a visionary leader who fully understood and accepted the aspirations of all the peoples of Burma including non-Burmans. The Union of Burma would not have been created without him. However, his assassination ended the vision he had. Now his daughter Daw Aung San Suu Kyi caught his vision and has said that we need a 3rd Panglong Conference. Now she is going to convene the 3rd Panglong conference which she terms as 21st Century Panglong Convention.

We, the Rohingya people warmly welcome this Convention and believe that in order to establish a stable, peaceful and prosperous nation, the process of rebuilding the Union must be based on a democratic process. We also believe that all political and democratic processes in Burma should be all-inclusive, and the Rohingya should be part of it. Time has come to practically revive and strengthen the Panglong spirit of ‘unity in diversity’ and diversity is strength not weakness.

We, the Rohingyas, firmly believe that:

1. The Rohingyas are an indigenous people characterized by objective criteria, such as historical continuity, and subjective factors including self-identification, which need to define an indigenous people, and entitled to have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development. Being indigenous peoples, they have the right to maintain and strengthen their distinct political, economic, social and cultural characteristics, as well as their legal systems, while retaining their rights to participate fully, if they so choose, in the political, economic, social and cultural life of State. They have not only the right to a nationality but also have the right to their lands, territories and resources, which derive from their political, economic and social structures and from their cultures, spirituals traditions, histories and philosophies.

2. The Rohingyas are much more than a national minority. They are a nation with a population of 3.5 million (both home and abroad), having a supporting history, separate culture, civilization, language and literature, historically settled territory and reasonable size of population and area – they consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the society. They are determined not only to preserve and develop their ancestral history and their ethnic identity, but also to transmit to future generations as the basis of their continued existence as people, in accordance with their own cultural pattern, social institution and legal system.

3. The individual rights is not enough for us; we need our collective rights as a people, as an ethnic group, as a nationality who speak different language, who practice different culture, who worship different religion and who also has different historical background and, above all, all of us have territoriality clearly defined homelands and nations since time immemorial.

4. We want to rule our homeland by ourselves.

5. We have to find a political and legal system which will allow us to rule our respective homelands by ourselves, and at same time living peacefully together with others who practice different religions and cultures and speak different languages. In other words, we have to find a political system which can combine and balance between “self-rule” for different ethnic groups and “shared-rule” for all the peoples in the Union of Burma.

The ethnic Rohingya is one of the many nationalities of the union of Burma. They are fighting for their very survival as a people. They are struggling for their “ Rights of self-determination”: which will guarantees their collective rights; the right to rule their homeland by themselves, the right to practice their religious teaching and culture freely, the right to teach, learn and promote their language freely, and the right to up-hold their identity without fear and live peacefully together with others.

We, therefore, claims that the ultimate goal of our struggle is to establish a genuine Federal Union of Burma, which will guarantee democratic rights for all citizens, political equality for all nationalities and the rights of self-determination for all member states of the Union including the ethnic Rohingya.


About Author: Mr. Aman Ullah, a Rohingya historian based in Bangladesh and he was a former school teacher in Ann township and the southern part of Maungdaw, Arakan State, Myanmar, who has contributed in the field of Rohingya history and humanitarian stance.

About Author:
Mr. Aman Ullah, a Rohingya historian based in Bangladesh and he was a former school teacher in Ann township and the southern part of Maungdaw, Arakan State, Myanmar, who has contributed in the field of Rohingya history and humanitarian stance.