Religious and ethnic tensions in Myanmar have created a flashpoint for violence that has quickly escalated into widespread communal clashes over the last few months. The minority Rohingya Muslim population in the country has persistently been denied basic human rights. Attacks by Buddhist extremists since 2012 have resulted in over a 100,000 people being displaced. Counterinsurgency operations are now being conducted by the Myanmar military, forcing the Rohingya population to flee their homes and villages (Al Jazeera, 30th November, 2016).
The United Nations describes Rohingya as a religious and linguistic minority from western Myanmar. However, the Burmese government claims that they are recent migrants from the Indian subcontinent and as such, the country’s constitution does not include them among indigenous groups qualifying for citizenship (Burma Citizenship Law, 1982). This law defined a concept of Burmese nationhood based on being Burmese and Buddhist, and in turn justified the discrimination and persecution of the Rohingyas. Decreed stateless status has provided the legal basis for continuing arbitrary violence against the community along with severe restrictions on their right to freedom of movement, limited access to health-care, denial of rights to education and employment opportunities. The majority Buddhist population in the western state of Rakhine has historically looked upon the Rohingya as outsiders and the public hostility against them is gaining momentum with catastrophic effects. The state sponsored violence against the community has disrupted normal functions in the region. An overtly hostile stance by the government is evident in its policies to address the issue. During the widespread violence and systematic persecution of the Rohingyas in 2012, the website of the Burmese President carried a message stating that “the only way to end communal violence in Rakhine State was to send Rohingyas to either UNHCR refugee camps or to a third country”. Furthermore, the government has continuously failed to hold security forces accountable for systematic violations of human rights (Rohingya Blogger, 13th December, 2016). Military efforts to arm and train non-muslims in the region has raised serious concerns in the international community on the legality of ethnic cleansing in the country (The Burma Times, 3rd November, 2016).
The weakest sections of the community i.e. children are paying a heavy price. Education for the Rohingya youth is all but banned in the country with security measures at school and university entrances to prevent any Rohingya Muslims from entering the premises. Government restrictions imposed on travel across the state has made it impossible for children to attend middle and high schools which are further away than village primary schools. A few schools that still remain open to Rohingya children in face issues of severe overcrowding, lack of resources and an ever present danger of attacks (VOA, 23rd February, 2016). Policies that are institutionalizing racial discrimination under the pretext of national security will most likely serve to destabilize the region further.
- Al Jazeera News, “UN: Rohingya may be enduring ‘crimes against humanity’”, 30th November,2016; retrieved on 14th December, 2016
- Taung Pyo Let Wel, Rohingya Blogger, “Several Women Raped and Elderly Men Beaten Severely in Zee Pin Chaung”, 13th December, 2016; retrieved on 14th December, 2016
- “Myanmar police to arm, train non-Muslims in conflict-torn region”, 3rd November, 2016; retrieved on 14th December, 2016
- VOA, “Myanmar: Rohingya Children Losing Future Without Education”, 23rd February, 2016; retrieved on 14th December, 2016