Stateless Rohingyas of Myanmar: Who’s to blame?

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File pic - Photograph: themalaymailonline.com

Yugashini Sukumaran and Kanmani Rengasamy are in no doubt as to who is ultimately responsible for the oppression and suffering of the Rohingyas.

First, who are the Rohingyas?

The Rohingyas are the Muslims of the Mayu Frontier area, now known as the Buthidaung and Maungdaw Townships of Arakan (Rakhine) State. This is an isolated western province across Naaf River next to the border with Bangladesh.

Arakan had been an independent kingdom before it was conquered by the Burmese in 1784. The Rohingyas have claimed themselves as indigenous people for more than a thousand years. Thus, the Rohingyas’ origin can be traced back to the earliest presence of their ancestors in Arakan (Chan, 2005).

How did the Rohingyas become stateless?

The story of the suffering Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar actually began decades ago under Burmese administration. Since then, the suffering and torture has continued to this day; the conflicts never stop as the government itself seems to being do nothing to prevent this oppression.

The Rohingyas suffered a cruel twist of fate when the 1982 citizenship law did not recognise them as a citizens of Myanmar. Even though there are three classes of citizens – full, associate and naturalised – none of them include the Rohingyas.

The Myanmar government classifies the Rohingyas as immigrants from Bangladesh; thus they are not eligible for citizenship. With this unfair citizenship law, the Rohingyas are not entitled to any kind of state protection and national rights in Myanmar.

This law unfortunately has become the foundation for arbitrary and discriminatory treatment against the Rohingya community. Under this draconian policy, which includes arbitrary taxes and controls, the Rohingyas’ freedom has been restricted. They have to contend with restrictions on movement, employment, health care and education as well as forced labour and forced evictions.

The Rohingyas are clearly being mistreated as these restrictions are not applied in the same way on the Buddhists or other Muslims in Rakhine state. These policies and practices constitute violations of the Rohingya’s human rights and fundamental freedoms. No wonder the Rohingyas are considered by the United Nations to be one of the world’s most marginalised and persecuted minorities.

Declaration of human rights

Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingyas has violated the United Nations’ definition of the rule of law. The fact that the Rohingyas are effectively excluded from obtaining citizenship is a clear violation of international human rights law. It is a fundamental notion provided under Article 15 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, which states that “everyone has the right to a nationality”.

And yet, Burma’s 1982 Citizenship Law has outlawed that right. As a member of the United Nations, Myanmar is legally obliged to promote “universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedom for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion”, as declared in Articles 55 and 56 of the UN Charter.

Article 2 holds that everyone is entitled to all the rights in the Declaration “without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political, or other opinion, national or social origin, poverty, birth or other status”. Myanmar has obviously failed in its responsibility to protect the Rohingyas.

Who is to be blamed?

Is it the citizenship laws or those who wield power that is to be blamed? The 1982 Citizenship Law has become a dominant source of the problem. The reason is that the declaration eventually stripped the Rohingyas of nationality, hence making them legally stateless.

Besides, as we go through the Human Rights Declaration, when people have lived in a country for more than 10-15 years, they should become permanent citizens of the country. In the case of the Rohingyas, they have lived in Myanmar for more than a thousand years as indigenous people.

So why are the Rohingyas not recognised as citizens of Myanmar? Who should be responsible for handling this issue?

The state should play an important role to review the human rights declaration and grant the Rohingyas the right to citizenship. Unfortunately, the state has failed to do so.

Instead, the military junta has played a crucial role in expelling the Rohingyas from Myanmar. When the Rohingyas refuse to leave Myanmar, genocide has occurred and most of the Rohingya people have become refugees.

Why does the Myanmar government refuse to accept the Rohingyas as Myanmar citizens?

In the meantime, vested interests in Myanmar have exploited the Rohingyas on the periphery for their own interests, and discrimination has hit the Rohingyas hard. We strongly feel that the state has failed to fulfil its responsibility in this issue.

Help the Rohingyas; don’t exploit them.

Yugashini-and-KanmaniYugashini Sukumaran, a university student from Perak, is currently taking a course in politics, government studies and international relations.

She participated in Aliran’s Young Writers Workshop on Good Governance, Gender and Vulnerable Groups held in Ipoh with the support of the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives.

Although interested in politics, Yugashini (left), who comes from Perak, readily admits she was “not that much interested in writing articles at all”.

But that changed after the workshop. “I learned a lot – that we should share something good that can contribute to society (in the form) of articles… so, this made us write an article about a current issue happening around us.”

Yugashini wrote this piece together with her university course mate, Kanmani Rengasamy (right) from Selangor.

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