The Ro­hingya in Myan­mar: How years of strife grew into a cri­sis

Sunday Trust - - FEATURE - Source: https://www.ny­

Amil­i­tary crack­down against the Ro­hingya eth­nic group has driven hun­dreds of thou­sands of men, women and chil­dren from their homes in Myan­mar. The Ro­hingya have faced vi­o­lence and dis­crim­i­na­tion in the ma­jor­ity-Bud­dhist coun­try for decades, but they are now flee­ing in un­prece­dented num­bers from vi­o­lence that the United Na­tions hu­man rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hus­sein, has called “a text­book ex­am­ple of eth­nic cleans­ing.”

Here’s how an old and bit­ter dis­pute has man­aged to be­come even more charged.

Who are the Ro­hingya?

The Ro­hingya are a Mus­lim eth­nic group that prac­tices a form of Sunni Is­lam and have lived in Rakhine, one of Myan­mar’s poor­est states, for gen­er­a­tions. Be­fore the lat­est ex­o­dus, an es­ti­mated one mil­lion Ro­hingya lived there, but even then they were a mi­nor­ity in the state. The group has its own lan­guage and cul­tural prac­tices.

Some trace their ori­gins there to the 15th cen­tury, an as­ser­tion the govern­ment dis­putes. Their name it­self refers to the area they claim as home, ac­cord­ing to the Coun­cil on For­eign Re­la­tions: Ro­hang de­rives from the word Arakan, the for­mer name of Rakhine State, in the Ro­hingya di­alect, and ga or gya means from.

Myan­mar doesn’t rec­og­nize Ro­hingya as cit­i­zens and sees them in­stead as im­mi­grants from Bangladesh who came to Rakhine un­der Bri­tish rule. The coun­try’s first cen­sus in 30 years, car­ried out in 2014, didn’t count the Ro­hingya; those who iden­tify as part of the group were told to reg­is­ter as Ben­gali and in­di­cate that their ori­gins were in Bangladesh. The govern­ment’s stance makes them one of the largest state­less groups in the world.

Many live in squalid con­di­tions sim­i­lar to refugee camps.

Vi­o­lence against the Ro­hingya in Rakhine is part of a “long­stand­ing pat­tern of vi­o­la­tions and abuses; sys­tem­atic and sys­temic dis­crim­i­na­tion; and poli­cies of ex­clu­sion and marginal­iza­tion” that have per­sisted for decades, ac­cord­ing to the United Na­tions hu­man rights agency. Myan­mar has passed dis­crim­i­na­tory laws. Since a 1962 coup in Myan­mar, the coun­try’s suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments have sig­nif­i­cantly lim­ited the rights of the Ro­hingya.

A law passed in 1982 de­nied them cit­i­zen­ship, leav­ing them off a list of 135 eth­nic groups for­mally rec­og­nized by the govern­ment. This lim­ited the Ro­hingya’s ac­cess to schools and health care and their abil­ity to move in and out of the coun­try. The govern­ment in Rakhine at times has also en­forced a two-child limit on Ro­hingya fam­i­lies and has re­stricted in­ter­faith mar­riage.

Waves of vi­o­lence have been oc­cur­ring for years.

Ten­sions in Rakhine have of­ten erupted into vi­o­lence, prompt­ing hun­dreds of thou­sands to seek refuge in Bangladesh and Pak­istan in dif­fer­ent waves over the decades.

In May 2012, the rape and mur­der of a Bud­dhist prompted a series of re­venge at­tacks against Mus­lims. The vi­o­lence quickly in­ten­si­fied. The mil­i­tary be­gan a wide-rang­ing crack­down, and hun­dreds of thou­sands fled.

In Oc­to­ber 2013, thou­sands of Bud­dhist men car­ried out co­or­di­nated at­tacks on Mus­lim vil­lages through­out Rakhine. Hu­man rights groups say the vi­o­lence that erupted in 2012 and con­tin­ued into 2013 amounted to eth­nic cleans­ing and crimes against hu­man­ity. A 2013 Hu­man Rights Watch re­port said vi­o­lence in Rakhine was a “co­or­di­nated cam­paign to forcibly re­lo­cate or re­move the state’s Mus­lims.” The re­sponse from world lead­ers, how­ever, has been lim­ited.

Last Oc­to­ber, an armed Ro­hingya in­sur­gency came to light when mil­i­tants from the Arakan Ro­hingya Sal­va­tion Army, then known as Harakah al-Yaqin, at­tacked three bor­der guard posts.

Over the four months that fol­lowed, Myan­mar’s army, known as the Tat­madaw, and the po­lice killed hun­dreds, gang-raped women and girls, and forced as many as 90,000 Ro­hingya from their homes.

On Aug. 25, the Arakan Ro­hingya Sal­va­tion Army at­tacked again, tar­get­ing po­lice posts and an army base. Se­cu­rity forces cracked down on the wider pop­u­la­tion, and rights groups ac­cused them of killing, rap­ing, burn­ing vil­lages and shoot­ing civil­ians from he­li­copters. The ex­o­dus into Bangladesh be­gan: More than 370,000 Ro­hingya fled.

An ad­di­tional 12,000 peo­ple, mainly eth­nic Rakhine Bud­dhists and other non-Mus­lims, are also dis­placed within the state, ac­cord­ing to Hu­man Rights Watch. Myan­mar has halted hu­man­i­tar­ian aid to Rakhine, leav­ing those still in the state with lim­ited ac­cess to food and wa­ter.

Myan­mar has framed the ac­tions as a nec­es­sary coun­terin­sur­gency op­er­a­tion.

What has Aung San Suu Kyi done about

it? How did the lat­est blood­shed be­gin?

Gov­ern­ments from sev­eral pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim coun­tries, in­clud­ing In­done­sia, Malaysia, Pak­istan and Turkey, have ex­pressed con­cern about the most re­cent vi­o­lence. Malala Yousafzai of Pak­istan and Bishop Des­mond Tutu of South Africa have both called on their fel­low No­bel Peace Prize lau­re­ate, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Myan­mar’s de facto leader, to do some­thing about the blood­shed.

Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, who leads Myan­mar’s civil­ian govern­ment but does not con­trol the mil­i­tary, has largely avoided pub­lic state­ments about the crack­down and the flight of refugees.

But dur­ing a phone call last week with Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan of Turkey, she com­plained of “a huge ice­berg of mis­in­for­ma­tion cal­cu­lated to cre­ate a lot of prob­lems be­tween dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties and with the aim of pro­mot­ing the in­ter­est of the ter­ror­ists,” ac­cord­ing to her of­fice. (On Wed­nes­day, her of­fice said she had can­celed a planned visit to the United Na­tions Gen­eral Assem­bly.)

An­a­lysts have said that it would be po­lit­i­cally dif­fi­cult for Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi to de­nounce the crack­down, given the mil­i­tary’s po­lit­i­cal power and the un­pop­u­lar­ity of the Ro­hingya among the coun­try’s Bud­dhists. Her crit­ics say she has a moral obli­ga­tion to speak out, and some have called for her No­bel to be with­drawn.


Ro­hingya refugees this month near the Naf River, which sep­a­rates Myan­mar and Bangladesh. Vil­lages in Myan­mar burned in the back­ground.


Ro­hingya refugees from Myan­mar waited to re­ceive bam­boo poles and tar­pau­lins to build homes at a new camp near Ku­tu­pa­long, Bangladesh.


Tas­mida, front, an 18-year-old Ro­hingya refugee, cross­ing the Naf River. She spent eight days walk­ing and hid­ing to reach the bor­der.

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