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The Rohingya are an ethnic minority group, the majority of them being Muslim, who have lived for centuries in the majority Buddhist country of Myanmar. There are approximately 1.1 million Rohingya who lives in the country. Yet, they are not considered one of the state’s 135 official ethnic groups and have been denied citizenship in Myanmar since 1982. Nearly all of the Rohingya in Myanmar live in the Rakhine state, which is one of the poorest states in the country, with ghetto-like camps and a lack of basic services and opportunities.
The Rohingya have lived in what is now Myanmar “from time immemorial,” according to the Arakan Rohingya National Organization. During the years of British ruling (1824-1948) there was a significant amount of migration of workers from what is today’s India and Bangladesh, which was viewed negatively by the majority of the native population. In addition, after their independence from the British, the new government saw the aforementioned immigration as “illegal, and it is on this basis that they refuse citizenship to the majority of Rohingya.”
Shortly after Myanmar’s independence in 1948, the Union Citizenship Act was passed, which outlined what ethnicities could gain citizenship. The Rohingya were not included were not included in the act, however, it did allow those whose families had lived in Myanmar for at least two generations to apply for identity cards. However, in the 1962 military coup, Army Chief of Staff, Ne Win, became head of state as Chairman of the Revolutionary Council, suspending the constitution and dissolving the legislature, marking the beginning of the heavy dominance of the army in nearly all areas of the country, which continues to this day. This coup changed things dramatically for the Rohingya, as citizens were required to get national registration cards, however, the Rohingya were only given foreign identity cards, which meant that any job and educational opportunities that they could pursue and obtain were entirely limited.
In 1982, a new city law was passed in which the Rohingya were not recognized as one of the country’s 135 ethnic groups, leaving them stateless. This law established that in order to obtain the most basic level of citizenship, there must be proof that the person’s family had lived in Myanmar prior to 1948, as well as fluency in one of the national languages. Many Rohingya lacked such paperwork as it was either unavailable or denied to them. As a result of this, their rights to study, work, travel, marry, practice their religion and access health services have been and continue to be restricted. They cannot vote, and there is a limit placed on how many of them can practice professions like medicine, law or running for office.
Since the 1970s, a number of on-going attacks to the Rohingya in the Rakhine State have forced hundreds of thousands to flee to neighboring states such as Bangladesh, Malaysia, Thailand, and more Southeast Asian countries. During these attacks, refugees have reported cases of rape, torture, arson, and murder by Myanmar security forces, the latest being in late August, in which Rohingya fighters attacked police posts, provoking a military crackdown, which has called the attention of the international community for their “clearly disproportionate” and disregard of “basic principles of international law” as well as the UN accusing the Myanmar government of ethnic cleansing.
Since Myanmar’s independence from the British, several central governments have fought against a number of ethnic insurgent groups within the country. Over the past years of conflicts, accompanied by serious human rights abuses, such as is the case of the Rohingya, have displaced millions of people from ethnic areas. The military has been attempting to unify Myanmar under a single territorial sovereignty with a brutal central government, whilst minority groups keep fighting for political autonomy. This military strategy seeks to undermine ethnic minority political and military organizations by targeting their civilian support base, thus causing armed conflicts that damage human and food security throughout the country, therefore impoverishing large parts of the civilian population. To this day, the army remains a major political force and controls several cabinet portfolios, such as defense, foreign, border, and home affairs.
Civilians living in ethnic areas are the worst affected by the country’s ongoing civil wars. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar says that between 1996 and 2006, the conflict has generated an estimated 1 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), many of whom belong to minority groups within the country. Citizens are also forcibly relocated to state-run and heavy militarized villages where their human rights are severely violated by Burmese Army Soldiers.
Due to these violations of their human rights, the Rohingya have been forced to flee as refugees into neighboring countries. An estimated of 785,000 people have immigrated to Bangladesh, where they mostly live in makeshift camps, although the latter consider the refugees as “illegally infiltrated” into the country and has often tried to prevent them from crossing its border. Bangladesh’s foreign minister has labelled the violence against the Rohingya as “a genocide,” as well as its Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina calling the UN and the international community to pressure Myanmar’s government to allow the return of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya after visiting a refugee camp, adding that she would offer them temporary shelter and aid, but that Myanmar should soon “take their nationals back.” In contrast, refugees in Bangladesh have said that the government’s aid so far has been insufficient, with many saying they haven’t received help at all.
The response from the Myanmar government has been unsatisfactory thus far, as State Chancellor Aung San Suu Kyi, who is also the de facto leader, has not been able to address the magnitude of the situation or condemn the unfair force used by troops, stating that “ethnic cleansing is too strong an expression to use for what is happening.” The government also insists that military action in the Rakhine state is a proportionate response to the violence and has repeatedly denied accusations of its human rights violations.
The response of The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has been a critical condemnation of the violence that been spreading, calling it “textbook ethnic cleansing” and has issued a Presidential Statement pressuring the Government of Myanmar to take responsibility of the actions of the military and to help the Rohingya, which is the strongest council pronouncement of Myanmar in nearly ten years, as well as calling upon the Government to “ensure no further excessive use of military force in the Rakhine State”. The UNSC has not been able to provide more substantial help as any stronger resolution that is legally binding has been strongly opposed and vetoed by China, a neighbor and ally of Myanmar. The council has also demanded that the government grant “immediate, safe and unhindered access to United Nations agencies and their partners” so that they are able to bring more substantial aid to those in need.
The United Nations Security Council strongly condemns the violence that has happened in Myanmar and it believes that the Government of Myanmar has a responsibility to protect its population, therefore it is incredibly important to reform the security and justice sectors as the country continues to transition into democracy. The UNSC “urges the Government to also work with Bangladesh and the United Nations to allow the voluntary return of refugees in conditions of safety and dignity to their homes.” Although this might result in more displays of violence against the Rohingya as the Government has little to no control over the military and the majority Buddhist people do not care much about the Rohingya. This is why the UNSC urges the Government of Myanmar to start a reconciliation. They could start by rebuilding their burnt villages, ensuring that they have decent and proper living conditions and opportunities when they come back. Although the poor economic conditions of the country would not allow it, international communities and agencies, such as the UN, could organize to send volunteers to help and peacekeepers to oversee the violent aggression that may occur and particularly to bring humanitarian partners to pay special attention and aid to women and girls who need specialized medical and psychosocial services as survivors of sexual violence., but for that to happen, the government has to open the roads to the Rakhine State to allow these organizations to help.. The UNSC stresses the importance of a transparent investigation into the allegations of human rights violations and to hold accountable those responsible. A problem with suggestions could be that the government or military would not allow for this intervention to happen easily, as it would imply external organizations going into the country and there is no full access to the Rakhine State. Another urgent suggestion is to finally address the root causes of the crisis and recognize the Rohingya people as an official ethnic group and grant them citizenship in Burma, which might help them in the protection of their human rights without any discrimination and allow them access to basic services.
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