By Vithusan Kuganathan
The Forgotten, the Lost, the Scapegoats. These words, as negative as they may sound, have become synonymous with the Rohingya. The Rohingya are an ethnic minority that live on the Western border of Myanmar in the Rakhine state and they have been persecuted based on their religion and culture and the UN has dubbed such acts as ethnical cleansing. I use the term, “persecution”, which may raise a few raise a few eyebrows. They have been forced out of the country through several acts of social ostracization. In 1982, the government didn’t recognise the Rohingya as an ethnic group. Keep in mind that the Rohingya make up roughly 2 percent of Myanmar’s population (roughly 1.1 million left) and 135 ethnic groups were identified in a national census and the Rohingya were classed as foreigners and were not given legal citizenship. But where did it all start?
"PLEASE USE YOUR LIBERTY TO PROMOTE OURS."
A powerful sentiment indeed, of which its origins can be traced back to Aung San Suu Kyi, the state counsellor of Myanmar – i.e. the prime minister. She would be in the presidential position, had it not been for the Myanmar army putting forward legislation which prevented her from becoming president, as she has two British citizen sons. If you have any pre-existing knowledge of this topic, you would know that there is controversy surrounding Suu Kyi. This is due to one reason – the hypocrisy of what she advocated. Before you understand what I mean, you must attain a better understanding of Myanmar’s history.
In 1962, Myanmar had undergone a coup, where the military seized power and Myanmar had become a military junta – a military dictatorship. Throughout the following decades, Myanmar was rife with corruption and a figure – Aung San Suu Kyi, daughter to Aung San a key figure in the coup, was living in the UK at home due to her mother’s work and the assassination of her father. In 1987, Suu Kyi decided to return to Myanmar to tend to her ill mother, where she decided to stand up for the people of Myanmar. Having noticed her influence, the military felt threatened and placed her under house arrest. This takes us to 1988, where there were mass protests from half a million civilians in Myanmar, to which the military responded with violence. Myanmar was once Burma but decided to change their name in 1989 to Myanmar. This is because the military junta tried to appease the people and they promised an election in 1990. In 1990, Suu Kyi’s party, the national league for democracy, a socialist party won, but Suu Kyi was forced to remain under house arrest. They also introduced the measure to prevent Suu Kyi’s ascension to power. Suu Kyi followed in the footsteps of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. and decided to remain subservient to the military, whilst doing speeches from her garden to the many that would listen. Subsequently, she was awarded a Nobel peace prize in 1991. Then, fast forward sixteen years to the Saffron revolution. Buddhist monks in Myanmar all protested for democracy and social, economic and political reforms. Due to violence towards the monks and the killing of a Japanese photographer, international pressure allowed for moderate reforms and the release of Suu Kyi in 2010, which brings us to present day 2017, where Suu Kyi remains as the state counsellor of Myanmar after an election in 2015.
Now this is where the hypocrisy begins. All the following quotes are from Suu Kyi.
"FUNDAMENTAL VIOLATIONS OF HUMAN RIGHTS ALWAYS LEAD TO PEOPLE FEELING LESS AND LESS HUMAN."
As aforementioned, there have been crimes against the Rohingya. Mass slaughter, rapes, slitting of throats, burning of homes to the Rohingya, who have become the victims of such awful violations of their human rights. This has since become a concern of the international community, who are looking to solve the issue. However, human rights teams have been denied access to Myanmar due to Suu Kyi’s interference, who denies ethnic cleansing. The UN definition for ethnic cleansing is, “rendering an area ethnically homogenous by using force or intimidation to remove persons of given groups from the area.” My intent is to inform, not persuade, however in this instance force is being used to systematically remove the Rohingya from Myanmar under false claims that they are Bengalis who had illegally migrated into Myanmar, which corresponds with the definition of ethnic cleansing.
The most recent exodus to Bangladesh was caused by insurgents within the Rohingya, who essentially attacked 30 police posts in Myanmar on the 25th of August. In a bid for revenge, the “security” forces have been mercilessly slaughtering the Rohingya and driving them out of their homes. This is the reason for the 530,000 Rohingya who have fled the country. Suu Kyi blames terrorists for these actions as well as circulating images of violence against the Rohingya. This may seem like a stretch, yet plausible, if this were an isolated incident. However, in June 2012, news had broken out that a woman had been raped and killed causing riots throughout the Rakhine state, resulting in the clash of Rakhine Buddhists and Muslims. This left 200 dead and forced thousands out of their homes. In August 2013, rioters in the Rakhine state destroyed Muslim owned stores in a town called Kanbalu, after police refused to give them a Muslim man who raped a woman. In January 2014, roughly 40 people were killed due to accusations that the Rohingya had killed a policeman. Then in Mandalay, in June of the same year, rumours were spread on social media saying that a Buddhist woman was raped by a Muslim man, fuelling riots and the deaths of 2 people and the injury of 5 people. These incidents in Myanmar demonstrate it wasn’t a mere single altercation between the minority Muslim population and the Buddhist population, but rather pre-existing cultural tensions that have led to violence on so many fronts between not only the Rohingya and Buddhists, but also Muslims who in general have been affected. This has led to a decisive separation in the country that scars its people.
"TO BE FORGOTTEN IS TO DIE A LITTLE."
As I mentioned this story is especially interesting due to the hypocrisy associated with the government of Myanmar, mostly with Aung San Suu Kyi of which the quotes originate. As a campaigner for equality and love and peace, her lack of actions speaks volumes of the opposite. Obviously, many of these riots have taken place due to a lack of transparency between the Myanmar government and the citizens, but also communal mistrust. The only way to move forward from such a humanitarian crisis is communication and acceptance as a world divided by difference is a world united in despair.