The Palestine of the East: Buddhist-led State sponsored ethnic cleansing of minority Muslims in Myanmar *Graphic Photos*
by Barry Grossman, Former Academic Lecturer and Attorney
Publisher’s Prologue: Arakan, formerly called Rohang, lies on the north–western part of Burma with 360 miles coastal belt from the Bay of Bengal. It borders 167 miles with Bangladesh both by land and sea. Rohingyas have been living in Arakan from time immemorial. They are a people with distinct culture and civilization of their own. They trace their ancestry to Arabs, Moors, Pathans, Moghuls, Bengalis and some Indo-Mongoloid people. Muslim settlements have existed in Arakan since the arrival of Arabs there in the 8th century CE. Early evidence of Bengali Muslim settlements in Arakan date back to the time of King Narameikhla (1430–1434) of Kingdom of Mrauk U. Rohingyas are staunch followers of Islam. Burma is a home to numerous ethnic groups and about 60% of the area is inhabited by nearly 140 ethnic races and Rohingya is one of them. Burma has a population of about 50 million of which nearly 8 millions are Muslims. Of the Muslim population about 3.5 millions (both at home and at the places of refuge) are Rohingyas of Arakan. The Rohingyas are a majority community in Arakan. Due to large scale persecution through ethnic cleansing and genocidal action against them, about 1.5 million Rohingyas are forced to leave their hearth and home since Burmese independence in 1948. This unfortunate uprooted people are mostly found in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia; also in UAE, Thailand and Malaysia. Unfortunately, today the cultural problem becomes one of the most important problems of the Rohingyas in Burma. The Muslims have to encounter strong pressure of the Buddhist culture. Particularly the Rohingyas have to confront ideological assault from all directions. The Rohingyas are considered practicing the foreign way of life having no origin in Burma. According to the ruling military the Rohingyas are to adopt and entertain no ideas but those of Burman race and culture and Buddhism. The Muslims or Rohingyas are told to discard Islamic names and adopt Burman names. Everywhere Muslims’ or Islamic are razed to the ground. Hundreds of mosques have been demolished. Construction of new mosques or repairs to the old ones are prohibited. Pagodas, monasteries and Buddhist temples have been erected in every nook and cranny of the Rohingya homeland. Muslim students have been brainwashed in schools where anti-Islamic materials are being taught to them. Islam and Islamic culture are always projected or presented inhumiliating, derogatory, degrading and distorted forms. The Rohingya people have been described as “among the world’s least wanted” and “one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.” They have been stripped of their citizenship since a 1982 citizenship law. They are not allowed to travel without official permission, are banned from owning land and are required to sign a commitment to have not more than two children.
As a non-aligned new paradigm for responsible journalism and the Voice for intelligent perspectives for a New Multipolar World of the 21st Century, The Santos Republic recognizes, respects and honors the sovereignty of every individual, group and nations around the world. We believe in a multipolar world where justice, fairness, respect, common prosperity, peace, love, noble virtues and truth are upheld by these standards. While this complex issue started before I was born, the physical extermination, ethnic cleansing operations, large scale persecution and uprooting of villages and eviction of about 1.5 million Rohingyas since 1948 likens this to the plight of the Palestinians when Zionists took over. Thus, this new TSR specialized column, under Hot Button Issues (category: Rohinyas), therefore aims to educate Humanity about this ‘Palestine of the East’. It is another horrendous example of Islamophobia, the new anti-semitism of our age, that needs to be scrutinized and faced because the mainstream media and the public relations spins are belittling and adding to the dehumanization of an ethnic minority who also have the right to be on this planet. It is important for this generation to know that anyone from any religious groups are capable of atrocities and therefore understand that religious rivalries has been one of the main root causes of conflicts in our societies. This is our gift to the world: True Knowledge. May this weapon empower and help Humanity to grow up, make a stand and fight Crimes Against Peace. We strongly urge Peace Warriors to care, spread TSR TRUTHS and multiply. We’ve only just begun. – Lady Michelle-Jennifer Santos, TSR Founder & Publisher, Political Strategist and Strategy/Peace Negotiator with the UN Security Council Special Envoy to the Arab Nations
August 6, 2012 (TSR) – “My sisters, brothers and other relatives were all burned,” an illegal Rohingya refugee from Myanmar reports to the western journalist.
“They burned my own children! We couldn’t bear it anymore so we came to Bangladesh. The coast guard towed us back 3 times. We floated at sea for 4 days and four nights and then we managed to sneak in. Three of our children were burned to death in Burma, another two died in the boat getting here.”
Rohingya protesting the ethnic cleansing in Myanmar.
A Rohingya man in the group hiding illegally with a local Bangladeshi family adds: “There were three boats together when we set off and another three followed us. The three boats that lagged behind were attacked by a helicopter and caught fire. The helicopter was circling in the sky as we saw something red fall onto the boats and they instantly exploded.”
In the journalist’s local hotel room, between mouthfuls of rice, another man explains: “They slashed our children. They put a sharp sword on the ground and they held up infants above the sword and let the infants fall on to the sword. They killed babies that way. I saw it with my own eyes,” he adds.
A mother cradles her child.
Another western journalist interviews a distraught Rohingya man at a make shift camp in Bangladesh near the Naff river where nearly 40,000 of the 300,000 Rohingya who have fled from Myanmar are taking illegal refuge in a nation that does not want them. Overcoming his fear, the distraught man explains that “the minute you go away we’ll get beaten,” before pleading “when will people like you bring us justice and peace?”
To Western Journalist:
“When will people like you bring us justice and peace?”
Many Rohingya live in a state of constant terror.
The Rohingya are again fleeing to Bangladesh by the thousands, following yet another outbreak of systematic ethnic cleansing in June by the preferred Buddhist majority of Rakhine State, who are supported in their inhumane efforts by Myanmar’s security forces. Buddhist Monks in Rakhine State are said to be urging the Buddhist majority to violence and inciting locals to expel the Rohingya people from their villages by force. All international observers have been removed from Rakhine State after 10 Aid workers, including 5 UN staff were arrested on 13 July.
The Buddhist-led acts of violence drive to expel the Rohingya from their villages.
In 1982, Burma’s military ruler Ne Win stripped the Rohingya of their citizenship by enacting Burma’s citizenship Law which superseded the 1948 Constitution. The Burmese military has carried out 19 military operations directed at the Rohingya since 1948, with the most brutal being the Na-Sa-Ka Operation which commenced in 1992 and continues today. The Rohingya, who have been living for centuries in Burma with a distinct socio-cultural entity, are not tolerated by the Buddhist majority, and they have long been oppressed and persecuted in a planned way in order to transform Arakan into a purely Burmanized Buddhist State. Successive military governments, assisted by the Rakhine (Magh) have long been pursuing a policy of de-Muslimization of Arakan by implementing inhuman polices to drive out the Rohingya minority.
The Rohingya, who have been living for centuries in Burma with a distinct socio-cultural entity, are not tolerated by the Buddhist majority, and they have long been oppressed and persecuted in a planned way in order to transform Arakan into a purely Burmanized Buddhist State. Successive military governments, assisted by the Rakhine (Magh) have long been pursuing a policy of de-Muslimization of Arakan by implementing inhuman polices to drive out the Rohingya minority.
Today’s Myanmar government continues to justify denying the Rohingya status on the spurious grounds that they are illegal Bengali migrants and terrorists. In fact, the Islamic Ronhingya people have lived in Rakhine State (formerly known as Ararakn) since the 8th century; long before the ethnic Burmese made their way to Arakan more a century later. Former army General and current Myanmar President Thein Sein recently announced to the world that the only solution is for the almost 800,000 Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar to leave! Nobel Prize laureate and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been distinctly silent on the issue, saying only that she cannot be sure the Rohingya are Burmese. The Rohingya are a stateless people. They are denied refugee status by the international community and live in terror. Without status to claim the most basic human rights, they are enslaved, raped and killed at will wherever they take refuge. As they flee Myanmar, predominantly in overloaded fishing boats, the Rohingya have become an unwanted problem in Thailand, Bangladesh and Malaysia. There have been countless well documented instances of unseaworthy boats overloaded with Rohingya Muslims being turned back to sea in neighboring countries reported in recent years. In Malaysia, 90% of Rohingya refugees under the age of 16 are reported to be working at rubbish collection or as slave labour.
Rohingya aboard a boat.
The Guardian recently reported that Aid groups fear the Rohingya minority is now being starved into fleeing Myanmar as they struggle to reach those hit by sectarian violence. Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said the group “would expect a strong international response” to any attempt to deport the Rohingya. HRW staff who recently returned from Arakan state said that while both Rohingya and Arakanese were complicit in “terrible violence” during the June rioting, the subsequent mass arrests “focused on Rohingya”.
To journalist: “When will people like you bring us justice and peace?”
“Local police, the military, and border police have shot and killed Rohingya during sweep operations, [while] those detained are being held incommunicado,” she said.
A resident of Maungdaw in northern Arakan said he had witnessed Rohingya men and children as young as 12 being tortured in a police station in early July. After interrogating them about arson attacks in the town, police “handed them over” to Arakanese youths inside the station.
A Rohingya child was severely burned in a fire.
“I saw these youths burning the testicles and penis of old men with a cheroot [Burmese cigar] and also hitting young Muslim detainees with an iron rod and pushing a wooden stick in their anus.”
The Myanmar government and local press is trying to paint a very different picture by accusing the Rohingya minority of terror and violence against the Buddhist majority in Rakhine State. But the clearly documented history of state sponsored genocide against the Rohingya in Myanmar and other Burmese minorities together with the strident concerns being voiced by International Aid Agencies exposes the official line propaganda. Indeed, this propaganda which may be serving the regime well locally, has made its way on-line and stands as shocking evidence of the regimes brutality as it orchestrates genocide on a scale not seen since the murderous ethnic cleansing inflicted by Bosnian Serbs on Muslims in 1995.
Meanwhile, as further outbreaks of organized violence and burnings have been reported following the recent visit of the Special UN Rapporteur to Burma last week and the International community’s policy of rapprochement with the Myanmar regime continues. On 03 August, the World Bank’s master plan for Burma was announced publically by the Myanmar state run New Light of Myanmar and other media outlets. Under the master plan, a Foreign Exchange Management Law will be enacted, Minister of Finance and Revenue Hla Tun told a meeting held at the Central Bank of Myanmar in Rangoon. Hla Tun, said that committees have also been formed to develop a capital market plan, and to introduce a securities dealing law soon. He said a stock exchange developed in conjunction with Japan would be launched in 2015 based on the capital market development plan. Japan is undertaking the development of a computer system in conjunction with the opening of the stock market. A joint office of the World Bank, International Monetary Corporation and the Asian Development Bank was opened at the Inya Lake Hotel in Rangoon on 1 August 2012, marking the return of international financial institutions to operations in Burma.
Amidst this hubbub of International interest in Burma, the horrendous human rights abuses long endured by the Rohingya as documented in secret Diplomatic cables since 2003 continue unabated. In one leaked cable circulated in 2006 to the US Secretary of State and widely to various International embassies/agencies following a fact finding mission by a group of International diplomats who visited what the cable described as “a vast internment camp in Northern Rakhine State.” The cable, reported:
- The district military commander and the district peace and development council have almost a blank check to control the Muslims as they see fit. The primary tactic they use is humiliation.
- UNHCR presence there may be required indefinitely to ensure the basic survival of these people “of concern” living in the most miserable of circumstances–lacking freedom of movement, citizenship, and land.
- The Muslims of Northern Rakhine State (they call themselves Rohingyas, which the regime rejects, instead calling them Bengali-speaking Muslims) have been persecuted for more than 40 years.
- The previous dictator, Ne Win, tried to force them from their native Rakhine lands in the 1960s. An estimated one million left, according to the Pakistani Ambassador, with many ending up in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, as well as neighboring Bangladesh. Many returned home in the 1970s, but then faced persecution again in 1977-78 when 500,000 fled to Bangladesh (again most returned) and the early 1990s when 350,000 left (and again most returned). Today, according to UN estimates, 850,000 people live in Northern Rakhine State (the three northernmost townships of Rakhine State bordering Bangladesh);
- With half the population and 90 percent of the returnees landless, the people become more vulnerable to demands for forced labor and forced contributions. The forced labor can vary from carrying loads for government officials, standing sentry duty on the major paths around the villages to report any outsiders without approvals, repairing roads, and anything else an official feels entitled to demand of the population.
- In one case, the authorities populated a model village with urban criminals released from prison. The authorities provided the released criminals with large homes with metal roofs and electricity along with substantial farmland on the condition that they live in Northern Rakhine State. The authorities then told the criminals that they could make the Muslims work their lands.
This is the gruesome aftermath of attacks on Rohingya.
- Since there are relatively few Buddhists in the region, the authorities force Muslims to build Buddhist temples and monasteries, while denying them permission to make repairs to their mosques.
- The Muslims must request permission to travel from one village to another, to marry, to improve their homes, and to do anything else the authorities can think of. These permits usually also require payment of a fee. Women must register their pregnancies. The procedures change frequently and largely depend on the whim of the approving authority keeping the Muslims confused and becoming a costly burden.
- To guard this “vast internment camp” the military has stationed 8000 soldiers and customs and immigration officials at 108 locations manning 50 checkpoints. This makes it difficult for the people to access health clinics, schools and other programs set up by NGOs to provide basic services and training.
- The Bangladesh Ambassador participated in this visit. Although he acknowledged the terrible conditions, he found conditions in some ways better than in Bangladesh. “In Bangladesh people have a state, but no land; here they have no state, but land to farm.” He made clear his primary concern is that the Northern Rakhine Muslims do not return to Bangladesh.
- The Pakistan Ambassador participated in this visit. He provided historical background on how Pakistan had tried to help in the past, but did not offer to do anything more than wring his hands now. He whispered that the U.S. must speak out about this, and could not respond when asked why Pakistan did not speak out. When asked why other Muslim nations did not speak out, he said they all have problems with minorities, who claim some separateness, citing the example of the Kurds. If these nations highlighted the plight of the Rohingyas, then they would, at a minimum, look hypocritical, for not addressing the demands of minority groups in their own countries.
- The Indian Ambassador and DCM both agreed that the situation was inhumane, but they professed greater concern that the Rohingyas would become terrorists, saying we should focus our attention there, rather than trying to improve their plight. Saudi Arabia: They have just opened an Embassy in Rangoon.
The Saudi Charge made clear that the primary goal of their Embassy is to repatriate 120,000 Rohingyas living without documents in Saudi Arabia for many years.
AUTHOR: Barry Grossman
Barry Grossman holds a BComm from the University of Calgary (1984) and LLB for Osgoode Hall Law School – York University (1987). He was formerly an academic at the University Of Melbourne Faculty of Law (1988 to 1990) and a Law Lecturer at Monash University’s faculty of Law (1990 to 1992). He is widely published on various legal topics such as Law Book Company, Butterworths, ICH and various refereed academic journals. He also worked with Toronto lawfirm Goodman & Carr and was Consultant to the National Australian Lawfirm Freehill, Hollingdale & Page.