The population of Myanmar consists of many distinct ethnic groups. Each of those ethnic groups has its own history, culture and language. The majority Burman (Bamar) ethnic group is about two-thirds of the population and controls the military and the government. The remaining one-third of the population – ethnic minorities – live in rural areas where natural riches are abundant. However many of those ethnic minorities are now being forcibly removed from their homes.
The Rohingya, one of the Muslim ethnic minorities of Myanmar suffer serious discrimination and abuse. In fact, the Rohingya are considered to be one of the most persecuted communities in the world. They are subjected to arbitrary arrests, extortion, forced labor, rape, discriminatory restriction in employment, eviction, arbitrary taxes and violence. These unwanted people are not accepted as citizens of Burma, and therefore stripped of citizenship rights such as education, healthcare services, the right to marry and the right to travel and they have little to no health care.
The government’s recent draft plan for citizenship offers the Rohingya the choice of either being classified as Bengali or facing indefinite detention. Although this is clearly a point that would cause the international community to raise a red flag, the Myanmar government seems to be determined to go ahead with the plan. Human Rights Watch, an international human rights organization, said that this is a draft government plan that would; “entrench discriminatory policies that deprive Rohingya Muslims in Burma of citizenship and lead to the forced resettlement of over 130,000 displaced Rohingya into closed camps,” and urged all influential actors in the region to press the government to “substantively revise or rescind its Rakhine State Action Plan.”
Even though the idea of drafting a plan about this issue started with the widespread killings and violence against Rohingya in 2012, the draft itself does not recognize the term Rohingya and refers those people as “Bengali”. Following the recommendations of the Rakhine Investigative Commission established by President Thein Sein, this draft was presented as the -supposed-solution to the sufferings of Rohingyas. However, as the deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, Mr. Phil Robertson puts it, “The long-awaited Rakhine State Action Plan both expands and solidifies the discriminatory and abusive Burmese government policies that underpin the decades-long persecution of the Rohingya. It is nothing less than a blueprint for permanent segregation and statelessness that appears designed to strip the Rohingya of hope and force them to flee the country.”
The government draft consists of six sections with the headings; Security, Stability, and Rule of Law; Rehabilitation and Reconstruction; Permanent Resettlement; Citizenship Assessment of Bengalis; Socio-Economic Development; and Peaceful Coexistence. The section “Permanent Resettlement” is about relocating and encamping 133,023 Rohingya people from the state capital Sittwe and other townships to other unspecified sites and says nothing about the possibility of those people displaced because of the violence of 2012 returning to their original homes.
The world witnessed that after hundred thousands of people were persecuted and chased out of their homes, the government failed to arrest or prosecute those responsible for this violence against the Rohingya. Actually the government seems to have coordinated this “ethnic cleansing” of Rohingya communities. Earlier this year almost all Rohingya were left outside the census after refusing to be listed as Bengalis. Now with this new draft, it is easy to recognize the well-planned effort to confirm their statelessness and expel them from Myanmar. These permanent resettlement zones envisioned in the draft plan deepen the isolation and marginalization of the Rohingya. That is an outright violation of their freedom of movement and other rights. According to the plan, the Rohingya will be forced further from urban areas to isolated rural camps and become even more dependent on outside assistance. The draft also formalizes the land grab of Rohingya property.
The discriminatory 1982 Citizenship Law, which has been used to deny Rohingya citizenship for decades, is used as a guide in this draft which outlines steps for assessment of citizenship of the Rohingya. The government also conducts a nationality verification process and is planning to register all “Bengalis” by March 2015. By doing so, they intend to divide the recorded population into three categories: “…those previously recorded [or] registered; those not recorded previously but willing to go through the assessment process according to Myanmar [Burma] existing laws; and those who reject definition in the existing laws.” Any Rohingya who refuse to be labeled as “Bengali” would be placed in the third category and would be denied the right to be considered for citizenship. The authorities will construct temporary camps for them and sequester them in those closed camps for indefinite detention and possible deportation.
With all these points set forth, the whole aim behind the draft can easily be detected; a further attempt at government supported ethnic cleansing. The draft underlines the discrimination against Rohingya people. This truth behind the draft should also be recognized by the UN agencies and the international community. The international community should reject this plan that would entrench ethnic cleansing and put in place permanent segregation for the Rohingya and should urge the government to come up with solutions that would put an end to the sufferings of world’s most persecuted people.
Myanmar’s self-image as a nation must change. The whole world is witness to the persecution that goes on in Myanmar. The Myanmar government should not forget that those lands were home to a mighty kingdom known as “Burma” which means “the center” and that breathtakingly beautiful and rich country was indeed the center of Asia for ages. These undemocratic approaches and persecution do not suit them. They should embrace their tradition and culture in its entirety by also including its ethnic riches. It is time to understand that this current situation is a threat to the country and hinders it from becoming a wealthier nation by being a stable land where investors may come and help the country prosper. The time has come for the Myanmar government to understand that if Myanmar continues to fail its peoples, regardless of their race and religion, the international community will have to take collective action and protect the oppressed population and that would certainly not befit a country that has been “the center” for ages.
Adnan Oktar's piece on Burma Times: