Denouncing Genocide against Rohingya Muslims in Mayanmar
Shamsa Ashfaq


Non-violence is at the heart of Buddhist thinking and behaviour. The first of the five precepts that all Buddhists should follow is "Avoid killing, or harming any living thing." Buddhism is essentially a peaceful tradition. Nothing in Buddhist scripture gives any support to the use of violence as a way to resolve conflict.

One of Buddha’s sermons puts this very clearly with a powerful example that “even if thieves carve you limb from limb with a double-handed saw, if you make your mind hostile you are not following my teachings”. But unfortunately, Buddhism has not always lived up to these principles. Most recent example of this is genocide against Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar, which resulted into killing of thousands of innocent people including women and children.
The latest spate of ethnic violence against the Rohingya Muslim minority perpetrated by Buddhist majority in the Rakhine state of Myanmar has largely been ignored by international media and therefore, very few people around the world are aware of it.
The Rohingyas are the largest minority of Buddhist Myanmar (formerly Burma) comprising of ethnically Bengali Muslims who migrated to this land after the British had conquered it, in 1886, as cheap labor and settled in the Rakhine province. But ironically very few living in neighbouring countries to Myanmar, even have a clear idea of what exactly happened to the Rohingya people after ethnic violence broke out in Rakhine state on June 8, 2012. The scanty media coverage has mainly shed light on Rohingyas fleeing in large numbers by rickety boat, and pleading for entry into Bangladesh. Due to the heavy blockade by the Bangladesh authorities, these boatloads of haggard Rohingyas failed to land ashore in Bangladesh and were forced to turn their boats back to Myanmar with hunger, thirst and possible death ahead of them.
In 1978, over two hundred thousand Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh when the Myanmar government launched an operation under the code name of ‘Naga Min' (Dragon King) to expel illegal immigrants from its territory. The operation particularly targeted the Rohingya Muslims through killing, widespread rape, looting, forced labour, arbitrary arrest, burning homes and religious sites. Again in 1991-1992, nearly a quarter of a million Rohingyas took shelter in Bangladesh, following a dramatic increase of forced labour, torture, rape and summary executions committed by both Myanmar military and local Rakhine Buddhists. The ultimate purpose of these heinous crimes against Rohingyas was to make them invisible in their motherland.
The major uprisings against the Muslims in 1930, 1938, 1997, 2001 and now in 2012 have witnessed major human rights violations and have left thousands upon thousands of Rohingya massacred. But due to the strict control of the government over the information media the real numbers of killings are never released and estimates may go in the tens of thousands each time.
Each time the Rohingya face these waves of slaughter and are persecuted with murder, enslavement, forced imprisonment, torture and rape in the several days between mass killings, they are forced to flee the country. Devastated by the onslaught the Rohingya families would grab whatever their hands can hold and flee towards the boats; if land cannot give them refuge perhaps the water would. At such time of desperation the Rohingya have one hope in their illusioned hearts; that perhaps they can go back to Bangladesh. But what has happened to them every time is extremely heartbreaking and inhumane.
Each time the Rohingyas are hurled into boats, by the force of the riots and the designs of the Rakhine people, these boats are deliberately escorted by official boats into deep seas and left on their own there. A large number of these boats, laden with hungry, wretched, people sink in the ocean; a few that manages to reach the shores of Bangladesh, are unwelcomed. The Rohingyas are either forced to return or to remain stranded in narrow shore areas by the Bangladesh authorities.
Although the Rohingya Muslim people have been living in Myanmar since the 8th century, they are seen as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh by the Myanmar government and have been denied citizenship for decades. It is an unfortunate fact that the local Rakhine Buddhist population is heavily misled by their military government into considering the Rohingyas as aliens and treating them with hostility. There is, in fact, well-documented evidence that Rohingyas were once legitimate citizens of the Union of Burma under Article 3 of the Aung San-Attle Treaty (1947) and the First Schedule to the Burma Independence Act, 1947. They even had their own political parties and representation in the parliament, cabinet and peoples’ councils of different levels during the democratic period from 1948 to 1962. But in 1982, twenty years after the coup d'état, General Ne Win’s military regime redefined the citizenship law which has made the Rohingyas effectively stateless.
Apart from being stateless, they are subject to ongoing restrictions on their fundamental rights. The United Nations has described the Rohingyas as the most oppressed ethnic minority group in the world. The question is, what role does the international community play in stopping the systematic repression of the Rohingya population? The simple answer is none!
In the past, the US, the European Union (EU) and others have kept their mouths shut, letting the military regime do what they want. Now, they close their eyes to the plight of Rohingyas with the excuse that any intervention may thwart the process of democratization. Whereas, the international community especially the UNO, OIC, Amnesty International and International human rights NGOs taking the advantage of the current pro-reformist president Thein Sein, should exert pressure to his regime to stop the well-planned ethnic-cleansing pogrom of Rohingya Muslims and and also to find a rational solution to the complex citizenship issue, by involving the local Rakhine Buddhists, different ethnic groups, the military government as well as the international community.