by Syarif Hidayat
The Nobel Peace Prize winner US President Barack Obama is also silent about the oppressed Rohingya Mulims in Burma also known as Myanmar. The other Nobel Peace Prize winners Aung San Suu Kyi and Tibetan buddhist spiritual leader Dalai Lama have been keeping silent on Rohingya Muslims problem in Burma. Their attitudes were very shocking ones for the entire world from the people who supposed to have won the “Noble Peace Prizes.”
Nobel Prize winner,” Aung San Suu Kyi, even does not consider Muslims as citizens. Speaking at London School of Economics meeting on June 2012 during her visit to the UK, she said “Rohingya Muslims should not be considered citizens.” Later during her press conference at Downing Street, she did not condemn the killings of Rohingya Muslims taking place in Burma. Instead, she simply said that this “ethnic conflict should be investigated and dealt with wisdom.”
Dalai Lama, continues to globe trot without mentioning a single word of the dangerously growing Buddhist intolerance in Burma, Thailand, Tibet and across the world. Such intolerance and persecution invariably result in resistance by the oppressed. It wasn’t just an insufficient response but a very shocking one from someone supposed to have won a “Noble Peace Prize.”
The Rohingya, or Roh, are the largest Muslim people group in Myanmar. Over 1 million live in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine (Arakan) State, along the border with Bangladesh and the Bay of Bengal. Roh can also be found in Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Thailand and Malaysia. In Myanmar, a majority Buddhist nation, the Roh are more likely to say they are “Muslim” than to identify themselves with a particular ethnicity. There is evidence that Muslims have had a presence in Rakhine State for over 1000 years.
Muslims around the world have shown concern over the recent news of Genocide of the Muslims in Burma, but they don’t realize that it’s not the first time that Muslims have been killed in Burma. Bayat Wi and Bayat Ta were the first Muslims documented in the history of Burma in 1050AD. Bayat Wi was killed by the king because the king was concerned about his strength. Bayat Ta managed to escape to Bagan and took refuge with King Anawratha. He married a girl from Popa with whom he had two sons, the Shwe Byin brothers. His children were also executed by the king because they refused to obey the forced labor order of the king.
Shah Shuja was the second son of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, the one who built the Taj Mahal. Shah Shuja lost a battle against his brother and fled with his family and army to Arakan-Burma. The King of Arakan Sandathudama (1652-1687 AD), allowed Shah Shuja to settle in Arakan. Shah Shuja wanted to go to Makah. For this purpose he needed a ship and was willing to pay with silver and gold to buy a ship.
When the king came to know this he become greedy for his wealth and asked for the daughter of Shah Shuja. After the rejection of his proposal by Shah Shuja all his followers were killed. Anyone with beard was supposed to be a follower of Shah Shuja and was beheaded. Women were sent to prison where they died of hunger. In such way the Muslim refugees from India were targeted.
In 1930’s the Burmese started the ‘ Burma for Burmese Campaign’, as many people had migrated to Burma from India because India and Burma both were under British rule, the Burmese were worried that all the jobs will be occupied by these new immigrants. They marched to the Muslim (Surti) Bazaar. While the Indian Police under British Administration broke the violent demonstration, three monks were hurt.
Burmese newspapers use the pictures of the Indian police attacking the Buddhist monks to further incite the spread of riots. Muslim properties: shops, houses and mosques were looted, destroyed and burned. They assaulted and even massacred the Muslims. The riot spread all over Burma and a recorded 113 mosques were damaged. Similar kind of anti-Muslim Riots also happened in 1997 and 2001.
Obama’s visit to Burma overlooks the oppressed Muslims
According to the White House, President Barack Obama is to make a historic trip to Burma in a show of support for political reforms as part of an Asian tour underscoring the Administration’s “Asia pivot” aimed at countering China’s regional expansion, but ignoring the serious problem of the oppressed Muslim minority in Burma.
Obama’s spokesman, Jay Carney, said that the President would be discussing issues including “economic prosperity and job creation through increased trade and partnerships”, during his visits to Burma, Thailand and Cambodia from November 17 to 20.
No American President has visited Burma or Cambodia, while Thailand is a solid United States ally which will seek reassurance about America’s continued engagement in regional affairs as an Asia-Pacific power.
The high spot of the trip will be Obama’s maiden visit to Burma, prepared by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who bonded with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi last December when she became the first US Secretary of State to visit Rangoon in 56 years.
Suu Kyi, who spent 15 years under house arrest, was welcomed to Washington in September where she received Congress’ highest honour for her peaceful struggle for democracy, and held private talks with Obama at the White House.
Carney said Obama would meet President Thein Sein, who has taken steps towards ending Burma’s isolation through economic and political reforms, and with the Nobel peace prize laureate.
But he would also “speak to civil society to encourage Burma’s ongoing democratic transition”. The unspoken aim of the visit, though, will be to attempt to drive a wedge between Burma and its erstwhile diplomatic and military ally, China.
The historic trip comes as Myanmar’s new reformist president has created a opening for further democracy there.
Under Thein Sein, the Myanmar government has released hundreds of political prisoners in the past year, part of a series of reforms that have followed decades of repressive military rule. Western governments have responded to the efforts by starting to ease sanctions put in place to pressure the military regime.
Myanmar authorities have also engaged in peace talks with rebel ethnic groups and allowed Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy, to successfully participate in special elections for the national parliament in April.
Suu Kyi, a democratic freedom activist who spent 15 years under house arrest, traveled to Washington earlier this year to accept the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal.
She was kept for the better part of two decades under house arrest for advocating for democracy in Myanmar. The country’s former military rulers ordered her detention, and in recent years her case has received an international spotlight. She paid a hefty personal price for standing up for freedom in Myanmar, which suffered under 50 years of autocratic, repressive rule.
Suu Kyi, who was awarded the medal in 2008, freed from house arrest two years later and elected to the Myanmar parliament this year, a historic moment in the country.
The Obama visit, lasting only a few hours, has already been criticised by human rights activists who say that Burma remains a repressive society and that Washington should not rush to normalise relations. More recently, Myanmar has faced unrest between majority Buddhists and the Rohingya, an ethnic Muslim minority.
The unrest began five months ago and has tested the efforts of Thein Sein’s administration to seek reconciliation with Myanmar’s different ethnic groups and move the country toward more democratic governance.
The ugly side of Myanmar’s democratic trasition
LAST spring, a flowering of democracy in Myanmar mesmerized the world. But now, three months after the democracy activist Daw Aung San Suu Kyi won a parliamentary seat, and a month after she traveled to Oslo to belatedly receive the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, an alarm bell is ringing in Myanmar. In the villages of Arakan State, near the Bangladeshi border, a pogrom against a population of Muslims called the Rohingyas began in June. It is the ugly side of Myanmar’s democratic transition — a rotting of the flower, even as it seems to bloom.
Cruelty toward the Rohingyas is not new. They have faced torture, neglect and repression in the Buddhist-majority land since it achieved independence in 1948. Its constitution closes all options for Rohingyas to be citizens, on grounds that their ancestors didn’t live there when the land, once called Burma, came under British rule in the 19th century (a contention the Rohingyas dispute). Even now, as military rulers have begun to loosen their grip, there is no sign of change for the Rohingyas. Instead, the Burmese are trying to cast them out.
The current violence can be traced to the rape and killing in late May of a Buddhist woman, for which the police reportedly detained three Muslims. That was followed by mob attacks on Rohingyas and other Muslims that killed dozens of people. According to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, state security forces have now conducted mass arrests of Muslims; they destroyed thousands of homes, with the impact falling most heavily on the Rohingyas. Displaced Rohingyas have tried to flee across the Naf River to neighboring Bangladesh; some have died in the effort.
The Burmese media have cited early rioting by Rohingyas and have cast them as terrorists and traitors. In mid-June, in the name of stopping such violence, the government declared a state of emergency. But it has used its border security force to burn houses, kill men and evict Rohingyas from their villages. And on Thursday, President Thein Sein suggested that Myanmar could end the crisis by expelling all of its Rohingyas or by having the United Nations resettle them — a proposal that a United Nations official quickly rejected.
The government refuses to recognize nearly-one-million-strong Rohingya Muslims community, which the UN calls one of the world’s most prosecuted people.
Myanmar claims the Rohingya are not native and classify them as illegal migrants although they have lived in the country for generations. Myanmar’s opposition and National League for Democracy party (NLD) leader Aung Suu Kyi was elected to parliament after she was released from house arrest earlier this year. However, many people are disappointed at the way she has been avoiding the issue.
Last Month at a press conference in Geneva, Suu Kyi said she ‘didn’t know’ if Rohingya Muslims were Myanmar’s citizens. Bangash said Washington is also criminally silent over the issue as the US tries to coax the countries in the Southeast Asia region to stop them from having better relations with the People’s Republic of China.
“Southeast Asia is becoming much more inconspicuous on the economic map for the United States of America,” he added. “They should rather strengthen the sanctions against Myanmar until this problem should be solved but they are not doing that,” Bangash added.
Myanmar’s current government is run by military figures, which have been accused of rights abuse.
Who are the Rohingya?
The Rohingya are a stateless Muslim minority living in Rakhine — thought to number between 800,000 and one million — who claim they were persecuted by Myanmar’s military during its decades of authoritarian rule.
Myanmar does not recognize them as citizens or one of the 135 recognized ethnic groups living in the country.
Much of this is rooted in their heritage in East Bengal, now called Bangladesh. Though many Rohingya have only known life in Myanmar, they are viewed by Rakhine’s estimated three million Buddhists as intruders from across the border.
According to Human Rights Watch, the country’s laws discriminate against the Rohingya, infringing on their rights to freedom of movement, education, and employment. They are denied land and property rights and ownership. The land on which they live can be taken away at any given time.
HRW has also accused security forces of opening fire on the Rohingya population during the recent wave of violence — an accusation denied by the government.
What are the authorities doing?
In August, Myanmar’s president, Thein Sein, announced that an internal commission, including representatives from different political parties and religious organizations, had been formed to investigate the recent sectarian violence — a move welcomed by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
“This commission is comprised of a representative cross-section of national figures in the country,” Ban said in a statement. “It could make important contributions to restoring peace and harmony in the state and in creating a conducive environment for a more inclusive way forward to tackle the underlying causes of the violence, including the condition of the Muslim communities in Rakhine.”
President Sein discussed the situation with Ban during the U.N. General Assembly in New York in September, pledging to “address the root causes of the tensions,” according to a U.N. spokesman.
The move followed Sein’s warning in June that the ongoing ethnic strife could harm Myanmar’s development and stability as it continues its rehabilitation as a fledgling democracy.
What is the world saying?
Tomas Quintana, the U.N.’s human rights rapporteur for Myanmar, in August called for an independent investigation into allegations that authorities are using excessive force and committing other human rights violations while trying to restore order in Rakhine state.
Quintana said such an investigation was needed to guarantee accountability.
“Reconciliation will not be possible without this, and exaggerations and distortions will fill the vacuum to further fuel distrust and tensions between communities,” he said.
Thousands of Rohingya have attempted to flee the unrest, with neighboring Bangladesh the main destination. But many have been turned away by the authorities.
Bangladesh has reinforced its border, amassing troops and security officials along the River Naf, which provides a natural boundary between the two countries, where rickety fishing boats filled with refugees attempt to cross over.
In June, Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Dipu Moni said her country was not willing to give shelter to anymore refugees, despite international calls to open its borders. “We’re already burdened with thousands of Rohingya refugees staying in Bangladesh and we don’t want anymore,” she said.
Human Rights Watch says tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees are currently staying in makeshift camps in Bangladesh, with many living in conditions that seasoned aid workers have described as “the worst they have ever seen.”
According to the rights group, the inhabitants face overcrowding, shortages of food leading to widespread malnourishment among the children, a lack of clean water and sanitation resulting in disease, and restrictions on movement coupled with extortion and human rights abuses. (HSH)
1. “Obama plans to visit Myanmar during upcoming Asia trip, White House says”
2. “Obama to go on bonding visit to Asia” The New Zealand Herald