The first Muslims landed in Myanmar / Burma’s Ayeyarwady River delta, Tanintharyi coast and Rakhine as seamen in the ninth century, prior to the establishment of the first Myanmar (Burmese) empire in 1055 AD by King Anawrahta of Bagan (or Pagan). The dawn of the Muslim settlements and the propagation of Islam was widely documented by the Arab, Persian, European and Chinese travelers of ninth century. The Rohingya are a Muslim minority population living mainly in the state of Arakan, in Myanmar (Burma). Although approximately 800,000 Rohingya live in Myanmar, and apparently their ancestors were in the country for centuries, the Burmese government does not recognize’ Rohingya’ people as Burmese citizens. People without a state, the Rohingya face harsh persecution in Myanmar, and in refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh and Thailand as well. In 1785, Buddhist Burmese from the south of the country conquered Arakan. They drove out or executed all of the Muslim Rohingya men they could find; When World War II broke out, Britain abandoned Arakan in the face of Japanese expansion into Southeast Asia. In the chaos of Britain’s withdrawal, both Muslim and Buddhist forces took the opportunity to inflict massacres on one another. Since that time, the Rohingya in Myanmar have lived in limbo. In recent years, they have faced increasing persecution and attacks, even in some cases from Buddhist monks.
The Muslim Rohingya, as both non-Burmese and non-Buddhist, were labeled foreigners and incorrectly called “illegal Bengali immigrants” who came to Myanmar under British rule. Beginning in the 1970s, the Burmese military embarked on campaigns to ethnically cleanse the nation of the Rohingya. The first of these, Operation Naga Min or King Dragon, was initiated in 1978 for the purpose of identifying “illegal immigrants” in the country and expelling them. The symbol of the King Dragon is an important aspect of Buddhist mythology. Naga, a mythological dragon, is originally an Indian motif and figures prominently in the legends of the Buddha. A Nagayon, or “sheltered by dragon”, temple in Myanmar is closely tied with the idea of the dragon as protector. The temples carry a carving of this dragon, resembling a hooded cobra, protecting a Buddha image with its hood. Identification became the first step in this large scale ethnic cleansing operation of the military “protecting” the sanctity of Buddhism from the “foreigners” who posed a “threat.” During this operation, the Rohingya were subjected to widespread rape, arbitrary arrests, destruction of mosques and villages, and seizure of their lands. Rubble from mosques was often used to pave roads between military bases in the region. A mass exodus of nearly a quarter-of-a-million Rohingya refugees fled across the Naaf River for neighbouring Bangladesh in a period of only three months. Many of these refugees were repatriated to Myanmar the following year.
In 1991, a second military operation, Operation PyiThaya or Operation Clean and Beautiful Nation, was launched for the same purpose of expelling the Rohingya population.
Over the last few years the sustained campaign escalated and accusations of sexual assault and local disputes have created a flashpoint for violence that has quickly escalated into widespread communal clashes. The first and most deadly incident began in June 2012 when widespread rioting and clashes between Rakhine Buddhists and Muslims, largely thought to be Rohingya Muslims, left 200 dead and displaced thousands. It was the rape and murder of a young Buddhist woman which sparked off that deadly chain of events. In March 2013 an argument in a gold shop in Meiktila in central Myanmar led to violence between Buddhists and Muslims which left more than 40 people dead and entire neighbourhoods razed. In August 2013 rioters burnt Muslim-owned houses and shops in the central town of Kanbalu after police refused to hand over a Muslim man accused of raping a Buddhist woman. In January 2014, the UN said that more than 40 Rohingya men, women and children were killed in Rakhine state in violence that flared after accusations that Rohingyas killed a Rakhine policeman. In June 2014, two people were killed and five hurt in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second city, following a rumour that spread on social media that a Buddhist woman had been raped by one or more Muslim men. Human Rights Reported that local authorities, politicians, and monks have acted, often through public statements and force, to prevent the Rohingya and Kaman populations in their midst from conducting ordinary day-to-day activities. They have denied Muslims their rights to freedom of movement, opportunities to earn a living, and access to markets and to humanitarian aid. The apparent goal has been to coerce them to abandon their homes and leave the area. United Nations bodies have long acknowledged deportation, forced population transfers, and other abuses against Rohingya in Arakan State. Since the 1990s, UN special rapporteurs have identified these abuses in terms indicating the commission of international crimes, referring to the abuses as “widespread,” “systematic,” and resulting from “state policy.” The events of 2012 provide strong new evidence of such crimes.
The evidence indicates that political and religious leaders in Arakan State planned, organized, and incited attacks against the Rohingya and other Muslims with the intent to drive them from the state or at least relocate them from areas in which they had been residing – particularly from areas shared with the majority Buddhist population. While more moderate voices exist within the political and religious establishment in Arakan State, they were and remain sidelined. Myanmar’s government does not recognise the Rohingya – who make up the majority of the migrants involved in the current crisis – as an ethnic group, arguing instead they are really Bangladeshis. Bangladesh also does not recognise the Rohingya as citizens. According to Human Rights Watch, Rohingya – who have lived in Myanmar for generations – are victims of an ongoing ethnic cleansing.
In June 2014, the UN Human Rights Council urged the Burmese government to take immediate steps to stop violence and human rights violations committed in the name of religion. It called on the government to take all necessary measures to ensure accountability for such abuses and expedite the establishment of a UN human rights office in Burma. The British government says it is one of the biggest bilateral donors to Burma and that it will spend more than £180m between 2011 and 2015. The government says this money is being targeted on health, education and wealth creation, as well as humanitarian aid. In total, the UK is spending £6.4m in Rakhine state. Mr Duncan’s department claimed it had helped 80,000 people secure access to safe drinking water, helped children under the age of five who were suffering from severe malnutrition and given hygiene kits 40,000 people.
Amnesty International’s Burma Researcher Benjamin Zawacki said in 2012, “For too long Burma’s human rights record has been marred by the continued denial of citizenship for Rohingyas and a host of discriminatory practices against them”.It a fair demand that The Government of Burma should amend or repeal the 1982 Burma Citizenship Law and provide the Rohingya people with full citizenship in the country. How Aang Saan Sochi is keeping quiet at this nerve reckoning developments is beyond comprehension. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, the US, Australia and other governments and international organisations, have held a string of emergency meetings to discuss possible next steps.
While Burma’s Muslim neighbours struggle to respond, Saudi Arabia has thrown money at the problem. It has fallen to Turkey to act decisively by further extending its newly found benevolence to the Islamic world. As images of the Turkish Prime Minister’s wife sobbing as she witnessed the effects of the violence herself begin to be passed around online – further cementing the Rohingya cause to the long list of Muslims’ suffering – Muslim prayers have bemoaned the global silence as proof of the grand conspiracy against Islam. Yet little is being done by Muslims to actually reverse the treatment of their purported brethren themselves. Pakistani Premier Nawaz Sharif has also set up a committee under his two foreign office aides to gauge and act to help those stuck between rock and hard place in Burma. Looking at the Kashmiris, and Palestinians, the matter of Rohingya people seems beyond statements and require remedial process and actions by Security Council of the United Nations.
The depiction of atrocities can’t escape the eyes of commoners and social media but no matter how much discomforting it may be, the deafness of the international community continues. Had it been any other western country media would have hit the roof and investigating teams would be in affected areas forthwith and parliamentarians gossiping to act with vigour. But , alas, the international attention always remained confined to ‘East Timor’ not ‘kashmnir’and the extortion continues to Palestinians and the Rohingyans. It’s time that OIC (organisation of Islamic countries must sit down with UN and push security council to put an end to this ethnic cleansing and religious onslaught, as it could be their countries next, if not checked here. May Allah feel pity on Burmese Muslims, but it is a relevant question to ask as to where is United Nations in Burma and where we can find Aang Saan Sochi, a recipient of Nobel Prize winner at the time of fatal human catastrophe.