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The Rohingya Crisis: The tireless plight of a persecuted population

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Aayet Ashary

The largest exodus, which encompasses approximately greater than 1.3 million Rohingya persons, has been circulating in Bangladesh as a result of the systematic expulsion of Rohingya Muslims by Myanmar authority. Rohingya Muslims are known to be distinctive from other ethnic groups in Myanmar due to their South Asian heritage, their language that is similar to the Bengali dialect, and their names, which commonly are of Islamic origins instead of traditional Buddhist name, like the majority of Myanmar’s population. Hence, the Rohingya have become easy targets of both institutional and communal violence due to their foreign roots. The violence directed at this distinct population has consisted of rape, murder, beheadings, and other human rights violations. Paradoxically, Myanmar was one of the first states to adopt the Declaration of Human Rights, which condemned the use of, “torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” (Article 5).
In escape from this discriminate neglect, the Rohingya people have chosen to flee by taking boats and by hiking through jungles. Both of these methods of escape prove that their chances of survival are slim; nevertheless it fares to be the favorable option in comparison to residing in a hostile state. This has led to a profound growth in the numbers of refugees fleeing from Myanmar, which subsequently has ensued deficiency in the number of basic supplies and land available for refugee settlements.
Moreover, Medical resources are becoming exceedingly strained to properly accommodate the thousands of refugees coming with severe injuries and also assisting those going through malnutrition in the camps due to the deficient amount of food available. These conditions have resulted in a quarter of Rohingya children living in severe malnourishment, and an influx of more than thirty makeshift refugee camps. The refusal of Myanmar’s authority to the hold accountability of ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya has exacerbated the persistence of the catastrophe.
In order to comprehend the extremity and complexity of the Rohingya crisis, this research paper will be centered on investigating the various facets of this issue. This policy brief will explore the origin of the issue, as well as provide current context of problem, and will then examine present policy resolutions pertaining to Rohingya crisis. Conclusively, this brief will offer a relevant and comprehensive solution in response to the crisis.
The Rohingya Muslims have long been at odds with the Myanmar government due to their divergent ethnicities and religious identity throughout a timeline of dispute, which stems back to the British colonial era and World War II. Although the Rohingya have been present in the state from the ninth century, during the British colonial era, the state of Myanmar saw an influx of Muslims from eastern Bangladesh due to labor incentives. Many Buddhists perceived them as foreign agents and more economically favored by the British, which made the Rohingya the entity of resentment. Another factor that contributed to their dissention stems back to World War II, when the Rohingya population supported the British, whereas the Buddhists of Myanmar were in support of the Japanese during World War II – this highlighted another major political divide that alienated Rohingya from the rest of the population. In 1982, the Rohingya were officially declared illegitimate when Myanmar announced the 135 recognized ethnic groups by the state, of which Rohingya were intentionally excluded from. This law is in contrast to UNDHR’s declaration of belonging to nation:
UDHR, Article 15 “(1) Everyone has the right to a nationality. (2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.”
This human rights violation left the population not only physically vulnerable to the military, but also legally vulnerable, as they have befallen into a stateless population. By 2012, the violence against Rohingya residents in the Rakhine State kicked off, leaving more than 100,000 homeless. Not only that, the Rohingya were stripped off their voting rights in the 2015 so-called democratic elections. This distorted the playing field drastically, as the Rohingya became subject to increasing amounts of violence in the following years until present time due to several waves of militant oppression.
A notable militant wave erupted in 2017. A critical military crackdown, what the Myanmar militant authority justified as a “clearance operation”, began, which heightened the violence that the Rohingya had been facing in Rakhine state. This violence consisted of mass killings and the burning down of villages in the northern Rakhine state. The militant action lead to the death of 6,700 Rohingya, as confirmed by internal group Medecins Sans Frontieres, and pushed more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to neighboring countries.
These acts of violence against the Rohingya fit within the legal parameters for the classification of genocide. The systematic act of violence against the Rohingya is appropriately regarded as genocide due to its correlation with the model of genocide classification as provided by Genocide Watch. The model consists of ten stages, which focus on discrimination, targeted attacks, persecution, and extermination. Many advocacy groups are working to officially classify this act as genocide, including the investigations by multiple groups on the ground who are gathering concrete evidence from refugees to legally confront the government of Myanmar. In alignment with the last stage of the classification of genocide, which is denial, the government of Myanmar, along with their military state, attempt to justify that they only target armed rebels. Hence, authority of Myanmar continues to deny the atrocities committed against he Rohingya as hundreds and thousands of Rohingya desperately flee their homes. The military leaders and the civilian government, along with their leader Aung Su must take responsibility in order for reparations to take place.
The lack of accountability by Myanmar has led to neighboring states to take on the responsibility of harboring persecuted refugees. Bangladesh is a key player in this crisis, as it hosts approximately a million refugees. Bangladesh has apportioned 5,000 acres of land for shelters and has also constructed water points. A first hand account has reported being exiled due to shootings and then having to walk for several days through a jungle to be able to escape. Rohingya refugees often arrive to these areas with wounds from militant violence, hunger, and post-traumatic disorders from militant behavior. Not only that, but the camp is threatened by monsoon seasons for the refugee residing in makeshift tents. Furthermore, the beginning of 2019 brought another wave of violence approximately 4,500 refugees to the already saturated camps. This brings about the very important inquiry if there is an end in sight for this crisis.
As a response to international pressure of the crisis produced in Myanmar, the state’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi decided to reach a solution through a joint collaboration with the United Nations. In 2016, Suu Kyi appointed former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to lead a commission against human right abuses in Myanmar, which left it up to the Myanmar government to implement.
The commission has produced several advisory guidelines and suggestions pertaining to “development, strengthening of institutions, humanitarian assistance, reconciliation and conflict prevention.” One of the recommendations called for a safe zone to be created for the Rohingya. In response to that, the government created refugee/safeguard camps, a term that is used loosely in this situation, for the displaced Rohingya. Nonetheless, the term refugee camp is to be used loosely in this situation as death rates are high for individuals as young as two years old dying from diarrhea and malnutrition. To aggravate the situation, the government has been actively evicting international groups providing aid. Hence, the camp’s understaffed nurses and doctors are left to handle around forty patients to one doctor a day, who are treated with second-rate medication without proper references to hospitals, as reported by Times. The Myanmar government has kept the Rohingya in these camps isolated from outside contact, especially by keeping international groups at a distance so they cannot form reports of how the camp is being run. By this logic, these camps fit along the lines of concentration or containment camps; instead of helping displaced Rohingya resettle, these camps alienate the Rohingya from the rest of community in Myanmar. Hence, this solution is not only ineffective, but it downright contributes to the violence and suppression of the Rohingya in the state of Myanmar. This camp is only reinforcing Myanmar’s systematic abuse and treatment of Rohingya as foreigners, instead of re-incorporating them into their community.
Additionally, the decision to collaborate with the High Commissions has sprouted criticisms, accusing Aung San Suu of not taking direct responsibility for her actions, and instead, “outsourcing” this critical problem instead of addressing the root of Rohingya abuse, which originates from the continuous denial of their existence. The solution taken by the Myanmar government is not only temporary, it also fails to hold the state of Myanmar liable to act on the issue and ceases to have long-term results to end a conundrum that has been persistent for approximately a century.
Another attempt at mitigating the Rohingya crisis is the reparation that is being discussed by Bangladesh and Myanmar. In 2018, due to international pressure and immense build up of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, both Bangladesh and Myanmar began to seek out repatriation efforts to slowly resettle the refugees back in Myanmar. The deal comprised of Rohingya refugees being sent back to Myanmar in increments of thousands in order to return 5,000 refugees back into Myanmar by the end of the month. However, this premature reparation holds a number of flaws.
First of all, the Rohingya refugees were left out of the negotiation and decision-making process for reparation even though the deal was geared toward them. This is a critical flaw as the power is still absent from the hands of the Rohingya to decide their own fate for reparations. Moreover, this leads to the second flaw that it would be a coercive resettlement as the living situation in Myanmar is still hostile and unsafe for the Rohingya refugees to return to. In fact, one interviewee described Myanmar as a “Death hole” that they would not prefer falling back into. Hence, in order to ensure that resettling back into what was their homeland is safe again, Myanmar and Bangladesh must open the floor to Rohingya input, international organizations, and persuade the Buddhist population of Myanmar to comply with the reemergence of the Rohingya.
To sum it up, these flawed resolutions share the commonality of highlighting the passive role Myanmar has consistently played in addressing and attempting to resolving this crisis. Myanmar’s passiveness with Kofi Annan’s advisory commission left little to no proper implementation of the suggestions. Moreover, Myanmar’s willingness to go along with reparation showcases the lack of consideration given to the Rohingya and their situation upon return. Until and unless Myanmar plays an active role in resolving the crisis, the solution will remain turbulent and underdeveloped, as the Rohingya will lack a stable homeland. Furthermore, these solutions merely scratch the surface of the crisis, as they cease to address the issue regarding the centrality and importance of Rohingya citizenship in the state they reside in. This citizenship will not only legitimatize their identity and sense of belonging to a state, but also enable them with political tools to fight other injustices they may be confronted with.
Hence, Myanmar must hold it self to be responsible in actively pursuing a solution that acknowledges the problem from a holistic approach that encompasses the input of the party the solution is aimed at and a proper system of accountability to follow the solution as suggested by the policy recommendation produced below.
We must strive to generate a solution that confronts the catalyst of the Rohingya refugee crisis in order to ensure the discontinuation of the cycle of discrimination and violence that the Rohingya population has been held a victim of for decades. This is the time to enact change, given intense international scrutiny on this issue than ever before. International groups are aiding refugee with the help of the countries hosting them. However, the need to search for a long-term solution is essential due to the overflow of refugees in neighboring countries. Therefore, I would like to recommend a three-pronged solution that works to address the root of the issue, as well as alleviating the massive refugee crisis in the neighboring countries. This multifaceted solution works to cohesively to bring about a holistic solution to a complex issue.
The first step forward in the direction for proper change is for Myanmar to officially recognize and acknowledge the genocide committed against the Rohingya. The government has been stubborn in refusing to acknowledge the number of atrocities and human rights violations the military has committed against the Rohingya. Earlier in 2018, the fact-finding mission by the United Nations Human Rights Council released a 440-page report on the military of Myanmar’s role in the systematic abuse of Rohingya, including the fact that it executed more than 10,000 people. However, authorities in Myanmar deny this United Nations report and dismiss it for being “biased and politically motivated”.
Hence, the United Nations Human Rights Council should continue to build upon the report founded to continue on-ground investigation to gather more information and first-hand accounts from refugees in order to take this case to the International Court of Justice. This is being conducted through interviewing Rohingya refugees in refugee camps.
Along with the investigations, in order to expedite the process of Myanmar’s authorities coming forth and admitting to the genocide, there are needs for a soft ultimatum to take place in establishing sanctions on Myanmar to pressure them to come forth in court. If this is seen as prospectively risky to Myanmar’s authority, they must come forth before their economy is held at risk. In terms of economic pressure and sanctions, Europe can be a key player in choking the economic trade relationships with Myanmar, as it will prevent it from trading with an entire bloc of countries. Furthermore, the international community can look to United State’s action of sanctioning the military officials and utilize that as a paradigm to ensue the same consequence to Myanmar’s militant authority.
Secondly, alongside with investigation and economic pressure, the popular opinion believes that there should be a modification of the reparation deal between Bangladesh and Myanmar in involving Rohingya insight and Myanmar’s Buddhist majority demographics’ approval in creating a thorough solution. This valuable input will help to establish the rights and conditions of the refugees being brought back to Myanmar. This step will be building upon the demands of Rohingya refugee leaders who had previously represented forty villages in the Rakhine state. One of the chief demands called for Myanmar to legally recognize the Rohingya as an ethnic group and subsequently offer them citizenship. This helps build a platform for Rohingya to advocate for their rights and be able to properly legally defend their person, property, and right to remain in their region.
Non-governmental organizations can potentially assist in the modification of this reparation by establishing a mission to work closely with Rohingya leaders and write down an official list of demands. While the reparation ensures input from refugees, Myanmar has another role to play in making sure the resettlement goes through. This involves persuading the Buddhist population of Myanmar to soften their perception of Rohingya. This may require running a campaign to humanize the Rohingya to rest of Buddhist population. In incorporating Rohingya demands and having Myanmar showcase its efforts to create a less hostile state, the idea of moving back into the Rakhine state of Myanmar will seem more palatable to the Rohingya and the international community.
The third prong is suggested to be put into action is as soon as possible for the current Rohingya residing in Myanmar and for the Rohingya prospectively resettling back into Myanmar. In order to alleviate the situation of the displaced within Myanmar, it is desirable for Myanmar to open their region to international aid and doctors without borders to aid the Rohingya residing there inside and outside of the camps. Furthermore, while many international groups like Doctors Without Border, Mercy Corps, United Nations Refugee Agency could help alleviate drastic health necessities there, Myanmar should also allow international monitoring groups to hold Myanmar accountable to their duty to provide the Rohingya with the reparations as discussed in the second prong.
For decades, Rohingya have been targeted and persecuted in what should be their own homeland for having a distinctive religion and identity. This persecution is also known as the genocide of an entire ethnic group, which has led the Rohingya to becoming the largest stateless population in the world. The genocide has in whole led to a great exodus that is overwhelming neighboring countries. Bangladesh, specifically, has been at the forefront of protecting refugees. However, this problem cannot be solved on the backs of other countries. Hence, after a series of decades, it is time for the Myanmar authorities, both the government and military, to step up leaders and take responsibility for this crisis. Otherwise, they will risk the plunge of both their international image and economy. I along with many others in spectatorship of this crisis urge the nation of Myanmar to play an active role in halting this cycle of violence, beginning with acknowledging that they are the perpetrators of this genocide.