I feel honored to have the chance to speak as a panel in this discussion on Rohingya issue. I myself is a Rohingya, and I hope participants in this group will finally give me some hopeful and practical assurances that I can take a long with me to convey to my persecuted Rohingya people. I am very much thankful to the sponsors of this meeting who invited me.
Here I would like to present a short and precise analysis of the Human right situation in Rakhine state. Since Rohingya’s identity is denied by Myanmar Government their citizenship question became on stake.
The 1982 Myanmar citizenship law, which the world regards as an arbitrary and harsh law, short of international norm and standard, section 3 says “Only the eight major indigenous races and sub races associated to them are Myanmar citizen”. Since Myanmar’s independence in 1948, Rohingya were listed as one of the ethnic races but the 1982 law excluded them. From that time various forms of discriminatory and suppressive rules and mechanism have been in continuation until today. Rohingyas are no longer regarded as human being. Their socio-economic life is so suffocated that almost all Rohingyas are just eking for survival.
What the successive military Governments intentionally did to strip Rohingya of everything vital for their livelihoods are;
Firstly, they are deprived of their history: despite their existence in Arakan for thousand years they are portrayed as Indians who came into Arakan (Rakhine) since British occupation in 1824.
Secondly, their ethnicity is misinterpreted and branded them as Bengali. This is a deliberate attempt took place since 1973 and 1983 censuses to make them stateless. Though they themselves enlisted them as Rohingya then, census reports said this people are Bengali which are about 29% of total Arakan’s population of 3.3 million.
Thirdly, the government looted away Rohingya’s citizenship under a new and arbitrary citizenship law in 1982. Now Rohingyas are branded as non-citizen or stateless. As there were conventions under UN supervision for the protection and reduction of stateless people, Myanmar government prefers the term non-citizen.
Finally, in the 2014 Myanmar census which started on April 1, there are 135 code numbers for each of so called national (ethnic) peoples but not for Rohingya. The government gave two different stories to international and to local media. To international media they said Rohingya must list themselves under the category 914 which means “other” but can write “Rohingya” to give more detail. This means that Rohingya will not be counted as an ethnic group but people were free to identify themselves. But some local media reported the Immigration and Population Minister said, “Rohingya must enlist as Bengali.
Otherwise, one who enumerate as Rohingya is liable to legal punishment.” The worst is the demonstrations, led by extremist Monk Werathu, to totally ban the word “Rohingya” from the census. Rakhine politicians are threatening for more intensive violence unless Government bans the inclusion of Rohingya. So, now, if we want write “Rohingya” as our ethnic identity in the census, we will be stopped from joining the census. We are forced to write we are “Bengali” or we will not be counted at all. This census is funded by the UN Population Fund, European Union and other western countries, so it is extremely disappointing that the census is so racist.
The lead monk of hate the speech monk “Wirathu” whom Time magazine remark as “the face of Buddhist terror” visited Maung Daw Town (northern Arakan) in first week of January. Here on January 13, a big terrorized incidence occurred where dozens of people were injured and killed, the whole villagers had to flee away from the village and their belongings were looted away by Rakhine mobs and security personnel. The government “investigated” this violence two times and said there was no evidence of violence against Rohingya. They just said one police was killed but they couldn’t find his body, and recommended that police should be given better weapons. The international NGO Medicins Sans Frontiers (MSF) said they treated 25 Rohingya people who were injured in that violence, so the government banned MSF from Rakhine state. Now more and more international NGOs giving humanitarian aid are being banned or attacked. The Burma Bulletin for March is distributed here, so you can read about the attacks last month.
Abuses and discriminations against Rohingya are intentional, well prepared well organized. Rohingyas have been dehumanized, demonized, pushed into camps and persecuted in so many other ways. This includes restriction on movement, on marriage, on child birth and access to education and medical treatment. The restrictions on marriage and birth means about 60,000 Rohingya children could not get birth certificates. Rohingya children and youth have found it difficult to get education, especially girls. After the violence started in 2012, the situation got much worse. Now, there are more than 20,000 children unable to go to school and 1,000 students unable to continue their university education. Most Rohingya in Rakhine state cannot not get any health services at all. The government hospitals treat us as an enemy and we keep getting reports that hospital staff have beaten or mistreated Rohingya who seek medical treatment.
Economic life is stagnated. All most one third of Rohingyas’ farming lands were seized for distribution among non Rohingya newly settled model villages and military installations. Forced eviction and removing of Rohingya villages are routine. Due to one-sided attack and assault 150,000 Rohingya became IDPs, living in squalid camps without necessary facilities. Other Rohingya whose villages were not burned are virtually in confinement. No freedom of movement and freedom of access to any means of livelihood. There is no visible plan to resettle the IDPs. Even after kicking out all the INGOs from Sittwe last month, it’s become the question of serious humanitarian problem. Women and children are dying every day due to lack of food, water and heath care.
The systematic and widespread human rights violations of Rohingya is not an internal matter. It has caused tens of thousands of Rohingya to flee as refugees to neighbouring countries including Malaysia and other ASEAN countries.
Our request to justice loving people, specially to ASEAN countries is as follows:
1. Insist for protection of Rohingya from violence and access to basic needs such as safe shelter, food, water, health and education. Rohingya are being segregated in camps in cyclone-sensitive areas. They could easily die from bad weather and deprivation of food, so they need to move to a safer location. For this, the government must also ensure protection and assistance to NGOs providing services to Rohingya and any other displaced people in Rakhine state.
2. Pressure Myanmar government to restore to Rohingya their right to get listed as Rohingya in the present census process which will last for next two months. Forcing rohingya to register as “Bengali” under the census may lead to all of us being forcibly deported from our own country as illegals.
3. Work with the rest of the international community to ensure that Rohingya are restored their full citizenship and equal rights. Now the government is hinting that only some of us will get naturalized citizenship. However naturalized citizenship means we cannot run in elections, we cannot own certain kinds of property or pursue professional education, and this citizenship can be revoked anytime.
4. Health and education is extremely important for our survival as Rohingya. Please allow Rohingya children living in Malaysia to get education so they can grow up as capable and moderate Muslims. Please allow our people to have access to basic health services.
5. Next year, Malaysia will be the Chair of ASEAN. This year, Myanmar is the Chair and it has censored even ASEAN leaders and ASEAN civil society from talking about Rohingya. Please make a space for this to be discussed openly next year. We need governments and civil society to have the freedom to openly and honestly discuss and work for long term peaceful solutions for our people.
I sincerely hope Malaysia, as a leading member of ASEAN and of the OIC, will wholeheartedly work with other states, civil society and international mechanisms to solve this issue. ASEAN has been aware of the situation for more than 20 years but have not taken decisive action to address it, so this situation is getting critical. We have a justified fear that the mass killings will continue, with the aim of totally wiping out Rohingya from Myanmar.
We know Malaysia and other ASEAN countries are concerned about Rohingya boatpeople, refugees and asylum-seekers but if they do not help stop violence against Rohingya, Rohingya will be forced to leave their homes and seek survival somewhere else. It is definitely in ASEAN’s interest to have a coordinated strategy to ensure Rohingya’s human rights are protected.
We Rohingya people hope Malaysia will take a prompt and concrete initiative to solve this Rohingya crisis. Please work with us and other moderate Burmese in our country to get a peaceful and fair solution.
Thank you. – April 18, 2014
* Speech was presented at the GMM-AMAN-Proham RTD on Human Rights Violations & Remedies: The Rohingyan CASE yesterday
* Wai Wai Nu is the Director of Women Peace Network Arakan
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.