Origins of the Rohingya Conflict

By Shucheesmita Simonti

Image result for rohingya crisis
Source: CFR
A group of Rohingya refugees after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, September 1, 2017. Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters

"Religious tolerance is something we should all practice; however, there have been more persecution and atrocities committed in the name of religion and religious freedom than anything else."
Walter Koenig

According to United Nations, the Rohingya community is one of the most persecuted minority communities in the world. The recent news suggests the problem will continue to deteriorate as rising Buddhist nationalism in Myanmar aims to wipe out the minority Muslims from the land through Ethnic Cleansing”. 

It has been widely argued whether or not the atrocities carried out against ethnic Rohingyas can be defined as genocide. The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide is the principal document of international law that defines genocide. The Convention was adopted by Resolution 260 (III) A of the U.N. General Assembly on 9 December 1948. The Article II of this convention defines genocide ―any of the following act committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group‖ (United Nations, 1951:277). 

These acts include: 
a) Killing members of the group; 
b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group 
c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; 
d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; 
e) Forcing transferring children of the group to another group(United Nations, 1951:277) 

To begin with, the Rohingya community, who are the residents of Arakan state, has always been considered to be different and not part of ―Burmese Identityhowever there has never been hostility towards them by the state. Around the 18th century, a small Muslim settlement was the establishment in Arakan province, which was a sovereign state back then. However, followed by the annexure of the province by the Burman King Bodawpaya in the year 1785, the community found itself becoming minority as part of a state where the majority were Buddhists. 

In those days, as borders were not distinct and the province shared a porous border with Chittagong division of undivided Bengal, there was an interaction between people of Chittagong and Arakan through trading and marriages. Moreover, a large number of Chittagongians migrated to Arakan in those days. It was shared the religious sentiment and geographical proximity that brought the people of the two provinces together. 

From 1948, during the period of decolonization, the time Myanmar finally gained independence from British rule; it started undergoing rapid political changes, like other newly independent states around the world. Excessive militarization by the British ruler made the foundation of the new states weak and fragile in structure. Civil conflict broke out in Myanmar only within six months of independence. Ethnic rebellion emerged as a crisis, given the political instability and the fact that Myanmar is home to more than hundred ethnic groups. 

With regard to Rohingya community, the hostility towards them gained momentum in the 1970s. In 1978, as an aftermath of Operation Nagmin, a brutal act of ethnic cleansing carried out under the instruction of General Ne Win, more than 2 lakhs of Rohingyas escaped and sought refuge in neighboring country Bangladesh. However, by the end of 1979, the majority of them were sent back, as a result of negotiation between governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar. Nonetheless, the hostilities continued to accelerate, causing migration of Rohingyas to Bangladesh, India, Thailand and Malaysia over last few decades. 

In 1982, the Citizenship Act which came into action legalized the hostilities by declaring that Rohingyas can only obtain associate citizenship. They were declared as ―Bengali Muslims‖ who had been residing illegally in Myanmar. Evicted by the Burmese Army in 1991, more than 2.5 lakhs of Rohingyas found themselves without protection and fled to Bangladesh.
 
Most recently, in February 2015, protests took place across Myanmar, led by Buddhist monks, demanding the voting rights granted to the Rohingyas be withdrawn. Earlier, the president Thein Sein had decided to grant voting rights to the Rohingya community, which could not be implemented as a result of the protests. 

The Rohingya refugees are scattered across the neighboring countries, living in abysmal conditions. Over period of time, the governments of Bangladesh and Thailand have refused entry to the refugees from entering their state, while western powers, donor agencies and UN are constantly persuading them to grant refugee status. As Md.Shah, a 23-year-old refugee ruefully says that his family, along with several others, decided to migrate to India because Bangladesh government stopped providing aid to them given that, ―a lot of people are coming from Burma.‖ 

In India, UNHCR issues a refugee card and provides medicine supply. As I the researcher found out through the field interviews, in the Kalindi Kunj slum occupied by Rohingya refugees, the land belongs to Zakat foundation. Most of the men made a living by selling vegetables or as vendors, whereas the women confined themselves to their tiny cramped rooms, reluctant to venture out. 

Mohd.Shah also narrated in his interview that in Myanmar they were issued a Mehman card which stated them to be Bengali Muslims and while leaving Myanmar, that card was confiscated by the government and their names were removed from the list of Mehman card holders. As their Mehman card is seized, it implies they cannot return to Myanmar again.



This article is extracted from the Research paper titled 'Gender Based Violence and Subsequent Safety Challenges experienced by Rohingya Women'  in Chapter 3 of the Safety Report by SAFIGI Foundation 'Safety First for Girls'.








The Safety Report by SAFIGI is a two-fold Open research on 'Core Issues Affecting Safety of Girls in the Developing World.' The first part of the Safety Report is a Research Paper. The second part is a detailed Data Analysis. 

The Safety Report Research paper is titled: 'Core Issues Affecting Safety of Girls in the Developing World.' The paper starts with an abstract before focusing on subjects in the key regions of Africa, Asia, and the Americas. A total of 7 Research papers make up the safety Report (sans the introduction and conclusion), including:


  1. The psychological effect of mass sexual harassment on girls in Egypt (P.24) by Heba Elasiouty.
  2. Safety concerns in relation to social media: Growing up female in an increasingly digital world (P.45) by Karin Temperley.
  3. Psychosocial challenges faced by parents raising children with physical disabilities in Oshana region (P.68) by Misumbi Shikaputo.
  4. Gender-based violence and subsequent safety challenges experienced by Rohingya women (P.119) by Shucheesmita Simonti.
  5. LGBT policies and overall safety in Brazil (P.141) by Alinne Lopes Gomes.
  6. Silent voices‘: Violence against the female body as consequence of machismo culture (P.177)  by Steffica Warwick.
  7. America‘s Public Policy on Sexuality: The Repression of Girls in Vulnerable Populations (P.208) by Dr. Christina Sisti.


SAFIGI Outreach Foundation Ltd, a volunteer-based and youth led NGO registered in Zambia, implemented the Safety Report in order to understand the multifaceted concept of safety and how it applies to the female gender in diverse settings. And therefore, further prove safety is intrinsic, and that vices in society stem from an intimate level of the human being before its manifestation. This way, when we create safety solutions, whether it be in a developing nation, conflict zone, refugee camp, or patriarchal society, the problem is resolved from a deeply rooted cause. Such that, we treat the disease itself and not mere symptoms.

This study is as a result of collaborative effort pursued in the spirit of volunteerism via UN Online Volunteers.

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