The World’s most Persecuted

Since Late 1970s, nearly 1 million Rohingya Muslims have been persecuted. Perhaps they are the world’s most persecuted religious minority. Myanmar doesn’t recognise them as citizens—in truth they have no citizenship despite their roots in this land for centuries. The official position of Burma (now Myanmar) is that Rohingyas are Bengalis which the Rohingyas decline to accept. Faced with brutal repression and economic blockade Rohingyas are fleeing to nearby Bangladesh in thousands. There are at least 140,000 Rohingya internally displaced persons (IDPs) since 2012 within Rakhine state. The situation is so desperate that the Rohingyas are being forced to take up arms. Violence begets violence. And Myanmar’s crime against humanity has given birth to a new militant outfit—the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).

Recently, at least 59 Rohingyas and 12 members of Burmese security forces were reportedly killed in the Rakhine state of Myanmar after the ARSA rebels launched pre-dawn raids on police posts and tried to break into an army base.

An estimated 150 fighters reportedly staged coordinated attakcs in the northern Maungdaw township.

The clashes came hours after a panel led by former UN Chief Kofi Annan urged the Myanmar government to lift restrictions on movement and citizenship for Rohingya.

The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army claimed responsibility for the attacks in a Twitter post but did not mention casualty figures or how many fighters were involved.

The township of Rathetaung in northern Rakhine has been under ‘‘a blockade for more than two weeks which is starving the Rohingya people to death’’.

ARSA was formed by Rohingya living in Saudi Arabia after a bout of serious communal riots in 2012, according to the International Crisis Group.

Using the term ‘‘Bengali’’ is a derogatory way to describe the Rohingya Muslims, implying they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

No doubt the recent phase of violence would further divide Myanmar.

It is going to affect sentiment on the ground. Already, the Rakhine Buddhists don’t want to live with the Muslim community. They say the Rohingya side with terrorists or fighters.

And on the part of the Rohingya villagers, there are several reports of beatings and indiscriminate killings, arbitrary arrests. In other words communal riots would be the logical culmination in the coming days.

The UN has expressed concern over violence, urging ‘‘all parties to refrain from violence, protect civilians and restore order’’. But the authorities in Yangoon are not listening.

The clashes mark an escalation in a conflict simmering in Rakhine since last October when similar events prompted a massive military operation that caused more than 80,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh.
After a period of easing violence, tensions rose again in recent weeks with the military moving hundreds of troops into remote villages to flush out fighters amid a spate of killings of Buddhists.

Will Myanmar honour recommendations for persecuted Muslim Rohingya minority? Indications are that they won’t.

The Rohingya Muslims are classified as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

There are approximately 1.1 million Rohingya in Myanmar and they are stateless.

Rohingya is now Myanmar’s most contentious human rights issue as it makes a transition from decades of military rule.

The UN believes Myanmar security forces may have committed crimes against humanity against the Rohingya Muslims. But the military rejects the allegations. And the military everywhere does the samething. They did it in Srilanka, when it was widely publicised that they committed genocide against the ethnic Tamils.

Annan’s Rakhine commission said Suu Kyi’s government should respond to the crisis in a ‘‘calibrated’’ way without excessive force.

It warned of radicalisation on both sides if problems were not addressed quickly, advising Myanmar to address ‘‘legitimate concerns’’ of the Rohingya. After all the commission was formed last year at Suu Kyi’s request, and her government has previously vowed to abide by its findings. It remains to be seem whether Suu Kyi’s government is at all serious to address the decades-old Rohingya problem.

Vol. 50, No.10, Sep 10 - 16, 2017