The Most Persecuted

Minorities are persecuted    everywhere. Not that India is the only country where ethnic and religious minority communities are being persecuted and discriminated against. In some third world countries it is the state policy to make a huge population stateless and treat them as second-class citizens. What is more they are deprived of voting rights, they are fefugees forever struggling from one crisis to another. What happened to Sri Lankan Tamils is now an open secret, thanks to human rights bodies. It was genocide but the Sri Lankan army doesn’t face any war crimes charges from the so-called international community. And what is happening to the Rohingyas in Burma is no less bone-chilling. If anything it borders on genocide and yet the international community is oblivious about it, they are more concerned about middle-east refugees, now pouring in European countries, to escape war, civil war and jihadist terror.

Burma's Muslim minority, the Rohingya, have long been victims of systematic persecution by the military government. Their plight has become increasingly desperate over the past year as government policies, human traffickers and natural disasters have exacerbated their vulnerability. National elections are scheduled for early November, but without a voice at this important juncture, there are fears that conditions for the most persecuted refugees on Earth will begin rapidly deteriorating.

They suffer from restricted access to basic public services such as education and health care and, in the absence of basic freedoms, their movements, marriage rights and childbearing rights are all suppressed. Recently their plight has been raised by Pope Francis who stated the continued persecution of the Rohingya constituted war against these people.

In Burma, also known as Myanmar, it's not only government policies that have targeted the Rohingya, rising nationalist sentiment continues to play a significant role in their persecution. Among those encouraging hatred towards the Muslim community are ultra-nationalist groups. Ashin Wirathu, a Buddhist monk and prominent member of nationalist groups the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion (Ma Ba Tha) and Movement 969, has become infamous for his outspoken anti-Muslim rhetoric in which he refers to Muslims as the enemy. In the run up to the national elections the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion has become an increasingly powerful organisation influencing the policies of both the ruling party and the opposition party.

Muslim communities living a borderline existence in Rakhine were particularly vulnerable and unprepared to cope with the floods. According to UNICEF (United Nations Children Fund) over 140,000 Rohingya children were affected by the heavy rains and flooding. The work of charities and NGOs trying to assist the flood victims was hindered by government policies.

The legal status of the Rohingya has been gradually eroded away and these communities have now lost their right to vote. The Rohingya and other Muslims previously had temporary identification papers known as "white cards" which had enabled them to vote in earlier elections. These white cards have now been discontinued, denying the Rohingya citizenship and the right to vote. It is estimated that 500,000 Rohingya Muslims have been removed from voter registration lists prepared for the national elections this November.

But even with right to vote, ethnic Rohingya communities would be unlikely to find any candidate to champion their cause. Few Muslims trust the quasi-civilian leadership of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) and the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), has failed to field any Muslim candidates. The lack of Muslim representatives is believed to be a result of pressure from Buddhist nationalist organisation Ma Ba Tha and fears that ultra-nationalists could attack political parties for being unpatriotic if they were to field Muslim candidates.

No one was expecting Burma to leap from military dictatorship to democracy overnight, but any hopes of making genuine progress towards democracy require national elections open to all ethnic and religious groups. The growing influence of ultra-nationalists who claim to have been instrumental in excluding Muslims from the upcoming elections is a serious cause for concern. If local political parties who share the ultra-nationalists' ideologies gain power in Rakhine state, the possibility of which seems bright, there is genuine reason to fear that a mass atrocity will soon take place in Burma.  [Contributed]

Vol. 48, No. 13, Oct 4 - 10, 2015