The Rohingya: Unwanted at Home, Unwelcome Abroad
Image Credit: Flickr (EU Humanitarian Aid and Civilian Protection)

The Rohingya: Unwanted at Home, Unwelcome Abroad


Amidst commendable progress in Burma’s democratization, one voice in the country has been consistently silenced. The Rohingya people are quickly becoming the ethnic minority whose fate will likely be remembered as a “casualty” of democracy – a type of collateral damage symptomatic of states that make the transition from military regimes to full-fledged democracies. In the shadow of Burma’s democratic parading, the fact remains: the Rohingya, a 500,000 Muslim-minority group based in the Arakan region, remain amongst the most persecuted people on the planet — having suffered extreme persecution and discrimination throughout history.

The persecution of the Rohingya is not a novel phenomenon.  The Hmannan Yazawin – known in English as the Glass Palace Chronicle – is the standard account of Burma’s pre-colonial Konbaung Dynasty; it boasts the first reported execution of a Muslim man in Burma in 1050 AD. His name was Byat Wi, and legend has it that he was killed because the king feared his “elephant-like” strength.  Byat Wi’s nephews also perished under the reign of Mo, Burma’s king.

The Muslim population has been persecuted by successive Burmese governments ever since.

The Rohingya were citizens of Myanmar until the late dictator Ne Win promulgated the restrictive Citizenship Law of 1982. This law declared the Rohingya “non-nationals” or “foreign residents” and excluded them from one of the 135 “national races” recognized by the Burmese government. Expelled from the army and precluded from practicing certain religious practices – for example halal slaughtering – the Rohingya’s political rights have been severely constrained.

Despite settlements in Burma since the 15th century, the Rohingya are effectively stateless.

In June, sectarian violence erupted between Buddhists and Rohingya groups, resulting in 80 deaths, and the displacement of approximately 100,000 people, most of them Rohingya. This includes an incident in which a bus was attacked by Buddhist villagers who killed 10 Muslim passengers. Human Rights Watch has criticized the government for failing to prevent the conflict, and has presented evidence demonstrating government involvement in violence against the Rohingya. As such, the Burmese government may be in violation of basic international law, known as jus cogens, which includes a prohibition on crimes against humanity. It may be argued that the government may be in breach of international human rights law, as well as other international law obligations, such as the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, which provides that law enforcement officials shall apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force.

Despite the government touting its political reforms, and releasing Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the opposition, from detention, the tide of anti-Rohingya sentiment is clearly mounting. Thein Sein, Burma’s President, proposed a resettlement plan to relocate Rohingya to a third country – effectively engineering the mass deportation of an unwanted ethnic minority. Unsurprisingly, the UNCHR rejected the proposal. Nonetheless, Buddhist protesters led demonstrations supporting the mass deportation of the Rohingya from Burma.

The world’s response to these events has been disappointingly weak. For a group that has been labeled the "most" persecuted in the world, the Rohingyas have also been one of the most ignored by the international community. As one Harvard Law School report has noted, “the UN Security Council has not moved the process forward as it should and has in similar situations such as those in the former Yugoslavia and Darfur.”

Burma’s recent economic liberalization must be welcomed with skepticism. Despite the much anticipated new Foreign Investment Law, due for further debate in the National Assembly this month, what comfort can investors have if they know that the country selectively enforces the rights of its own people? In other words, Burma’s commitment to the rule of law has yet to be tested.

Not only have the Rohingyas been severely persecuted at home. They also find themselves increasingly isolated in and ostracized by the global community. Having no safe haven in Burma, the Rohingya have fled the country in the thousands, primarily to Bangladesh. However, potentially in contravention of its international legal obligations, Bangladesh closed its border and pushed many Rohingya back across the border. Bangladesh sought to defend its actions by stating that it has no obligation to provide refuge since it was not a party to the UN Refugee Convention of 1951 and its Protocol of 1968. But under customary international law, the Rohingya deserve international protection following the targeted death of hundreds, according to Human Rights Watch.

Recent events in the Arab world have raised many people’s hopes that this will be the decade democracy triumphed. Burma, with its own recent democratic political reforms, would at first glance seem to share in some of this democratic excitement. Indeed, Burma has skillfully crafted a compelling public relations campaign showcasing reforms highly valued in the West: the freedom of the press, the release of political prisoners, and the liberalization of its economy. But the international community should hold its applause until Burma faces up to its responsibilities to the Rohingya. If the democratic project is to be complete, the voices of the weakest and most discriminated cannot be ignored.

Lucas Bento is an attorney in New York specializing in complex litigation and international arbitration. Guled Yusuf is a lawyer in London specializing in international law and arbitration.

April 12, 2014 at 03:17

Every government have a right to deport illegal immigrants. Even United States kick out mexicans who cross border without any legal documents. Living in a country more than 3 generation doesnt mean you are a legal citizen. Every countries on this earth not going to accpet any illegal aliens in their countries and gov will deport back to where they come from. Please eduate yourself.

July 28, 2013 at 06:43

kicking out people that lived there for more as hundred to thousand years? just because some government DECLARES that group a is not part of the Burmese society? what is wrong with you?
If people live since 2,3 generation in one country, these people are part of society-also is this bad for burma- sheesh, ist so sad that nobody learns from our fate and the idiotic idea of a pure society. but yeah, its so much easier to point the finger on somebody, who is not "US" and shift the blame away from shitty dictatorial government which uses the money of their people for the army and nothing, on to "THEM" because someone has to shift the blame-themn we can blame person which are although living since generations in burma, not burmese, arent allowed to travel to the next village, arent allowed  to own the soil they live on since generations, arent allowed to receive the same basic human rights as everybody else(the damn right to live and not be killed while the damn police stands beside and looks away, the right that the government isnt allowed to steal your ground and give it to other people (oh so peaceful buddhists. f*ck religion, it isnt about that)-even rakhine pay money to the corrupt government) arent allowed to marry without paying massive amount of money(and have to wait up to 2 year before they get that paper that allws them to marry another rakhine.Oh and if you sleep together or act as couple without having that marriage-paper, you can and due to racism certainly will get arrested-up to 7 years.Isnt that BS?and they have to write a promise not get more than 2 children (ever hears of ethical cleansing? )also they are forced to work for nothing-because if they die, who cares-they arent burmese so they dont have any possibility to beg the authorities to help. would be dumb anyway, like to see here in an POLICE-VIDEO the authorities like it more to watch men slowly die because if his severely burns.And another young man, after being chased by a mob, he get mauled into the ground and then killed by a men, wielding asword.(in the mob were monkhs. ah, peaceful buddhism…)

i hope you have a stable stomach? http : // bbc. co. uk/news/world-asia-22243676

here. there you have no right to do-but the sick racist people who do such things ignore rights. racism, ethical cleansing. this is so disguising. i hoped that humans coudl learn from our faults, i mean, ist just 70 years ago, my grandmother was part of the naziparty. there was so much pain-
but eh, that were jews, these werent germans, so you can deport them, hit them in the street, spit on them, use them as slaves etc and if you start deporting, why not taking their money, houses,'s..
now swap jews with rakhine. yeah, i know there arent extermination camps.
but the idea behind is there.

WE against THEM.
them-rakhine are dangerous? tell me 3 incidence in the whole history, where a poor, small minority without any help destroyed one country, took power and wrecked everything? No 3?
(no, Syria doesn't count. Alawids are very rich, are 10% AND also have protection through other neighbouring countries which help them. also the Alawids control the military and big party of economy. so doenst count)


okay. and now some Cases in which the majority or a very influential minority suppressed and even murdered a minority-genocide or lesser.
hero&Nama-by germans at the colonies.(today Namibia)(rich majority which had an army there which controlled the people)
jews, gays, black, szinti, roma, jenishe by the germans 33-45
Hungary-i think more than 20 mio people during holodomor-the communists&their army under stalin starved the country systematically to death
Rwanda: Tutsi(which was a minority, but they were wealthy and got control because the people which colonialized rwanda gave them power. Also everybodyw who hade more than a certain anount of land&wealth was automatically considered tutsi.So the rich and powerful minority which had control over the military and over the government-also if any hutu could become tutsi by getting enough money-there are no big differences, they speak the same language and are even genetically similar(well, that is irrelevant, because genetically there are NO human races.)so the very rich an powerful minority (15%)(killing the hutu-the victims are poor, the perps are rich, more influential, the weeks before some important politicians helped with the notion that their victims arent really worth anything because "they are not part of US"
Khmer rouge-one half of the country kills the other half-you die if you look too intelligent. if you wear glasses or can read. so here is the WE-group:agrarians. the intelligentsia is the THEY group and deemed worthless.
Srebrenica -a city lies under siege since 3 years because some politicians say "WE need ALL the country and we want a PURE country.everyone who isnt Serb should flee or die. We ant OUR country(and take it by killing people, burning their houses, steeling their stuff and driving them away into camps.(camps-existed also in the genocide against the Armenian, in British colonies, in the german colonies(they jailed the herero and nama and killed them or they forced them to flee into the desert to die there-the soldiers had to shoot anyone who tried to flee the desert. even women and children. but hey, they dont count, arent in OUR group)
oh and there are so much more..

so: case where the small poor minority controlled the majority, killed&destroyed the country through being poor and getting killed&raped?
cases in which majority or bigger minority with power and influence/control, murders a minority and controls all?
7+x (x menast:there are more but i dont want to count any more)

so. do you see?

having fear that a poor minority with NO human rights and victim of severe racism will harm the country in which they "live" is utter bullsht.
people who have no power and no influence, who cant even walk to the nearest village, people which see that the authorities watches in apathy while their people get killed, these people suffer. yeah, they are angry, sure.

but power and control? over burma? *bwahahahahahahah* as if the military would be standing and watching while malnourished people try what?
not really. also, the government is excellent in shifting blame. the rakhine-some of them live in that state since 1000 years-and the people went along (like here the geramns and the jews, or like in serbia&co where serbs, croats and rest went along as neighbours hundreds of years.. and then it needs a little sparkle,1,2 years of WE AGAINST THEM, THEY HARM US, WE have to PROTECT US FROM THEM..

and the killing can begin. its so easy. and so sad. dont be a person which ignores this injustice. dont be. be a decent human being

Amanda Goldmann
April 22, 2013 at 10:02

The Rohingya still under attack: 

The BBC has obtained police video showing officers standing by while Buddhist rioters attacked minority Muslims in the town of Meiktila.

I really don't know what many of those commenting on this article are on about. For one, you guys obviously need to get your facts right. Second, leave your prejudices out the door. Third, get a reality check – the days of Nazi Germany are long gone. Apartheid gone.  The only reason why those tragedies were allowed to exist in humankind's history was because of people like you, supporting regimes that oppress minorities. Wake up.

raju das
January 12, 2013 at 21:43

rohingyas are bangladeshi . . . Burma have all the right to kick them out of their country . . .we indian are always with myanmar govt. . . .it’s arab countries responsibility to take rohingya as refugee . . .

Amanda Goldmann
October 11, 2012 at 05:07

The fact remains that the Rohingya are one of the most persecuted people on Earth.  I think the writers rightly point that out and build on that idea by arguing that the Rohingya are "unwanted at home, and unwelcome abroad", effectively leaving them helpless.  There's also a lot of hot air right now about Myanmar's reforms – I would side with the authors here: reforms are good, but we should hold off on any major congratulatory remarks for now. Hopefully it'll get better – but things must get better for all, not just for some.

October 10, 2012 at 20:57

The facts are infinitely more complex than the writers ever suppose. The bottom line though is that the 'Rohingyas', as they have been labelled since the 1950s, must be treated with compassion and humanity, even though most of them arrived in Arakan only after the British took control in 1825.
The 1982 law certainly made it more difficult for Muslims in Arakan to become Burmese citizens, but that law did not take citizenship away from anyone.
The writers seem unaware that throughout British rule of Arakan (1825 – 1948), the term ‘Rohingya’ was never used in any official report or even private papers. The designation only came into use after the Mujahid rebellion of 1949-1954. Indeed, the period from 1942 to 1954 saw some vicious pogroms against both Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists, which are the source of so much tension today.
The solution lies with Bangladesh and Myanmar. The international community should offer its good offices and substantial resources. The Islamic countries have made an excellent start in this context. Both Turkey and Indonesia, in particular, seem to understand the complexities. So too does Suu Kyi.

Suitor you
October 10, 2012 at 20:28

Another misinformed western article.

October 10, 2012 at 16:31

James is right. It's ridiculous to call them a minority. They are Indian, muslim Indians and they have always been. To be exact, they are Bengalis, speakers of Chittagong bengali dialect (Chittagong is Bangladesh's second largest city). Neither Indians nor Bengalis nor Muslims are a minority in South Asia. Actually, Bengali speakers are the fifth or sixth national community in the world! It's kind of tricky to call them a minority when they infiltrate other countries, neighbouring or not, although it migh suite some anti-Burmese agenda and the NGO firang industry (jobs for the bourgeois boys). But yes, Bengali infiltration and encroaching  IS A MAJOR PROBLEM in the region, as it is threatening REAL MINORITIES, either buddhists (Chakmas in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, as well as the last Indian uninterrupted buddhists in Cox's Bazar side, harassed last week, their houses burnt by some of the few refugees/displaced allowed by Dacca government), hindus (Boros in Assam) and other tribals, animists or christians, in Meghalaya, Tripura and soon all over North East India. Bangladesh is a hopeless demographic clock-bomb and inventing minorities doesn't help to tackle this issues. Human suffering is human suffering everywhere, but this dumb NGO approach that misses the big picture doesn't help. 

kyaw moe
October 9, 2012 at 22:46

Byat Wi was killed by King due to his ignorance of duty . By the time the king come to inspect the construction site, they r drunk. There r no evidence of their religion and belief. However , they r more likely to be Hinduism or Buddhism. This Muslims Byat Wi and Muslims Byat Ta story came out very recently in about 30 years from the sources of Nat Ka Daw ( worshipers of old Ghosts).

October 9, 2012 at 20:49

who said Byat Wi was muslim? what a laugh.

October 9, 2012 at 16:03

What an absurd comment !!  Rohingya have been part of Burmese history for hundreds of years. Will you also advocate expelling persons of European descent from the Americas? Rohingyas are just being used as scapegoats in Arakan state by the govt to deflect peoples attention and exploit natural resources. 

October 9, 2012 at 05:32

No place for Rohingya in Burma history.
They are the refugees from Bangaladash (former Pakistan state).

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