(Sucharita Sengupta works at Calcutta Research Group and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
2015 was a landmark year for Myanmar. In the first half it made news for all the wrong reasons and in the second half for a supposedly positive change. The first half of the year saw tragic deaths of thousands of Rohingya Muslims, who, although hailing from the Rakhine state situated in the South West coast of Myanmar, are denied citizenship and hence are ‘stateless’, forced to flee. Starvation deaths in border detention camps of countries like Thailand, Malaysia and images of overloaded boats capsizing in the Bay of Bengal evoked worldwide sympathy for the Rohingyas. The enormity of their being victims of international trafficking-smuggling rackets also came to the forefront making it difficult for states to feign ignorance. Amidst criticism from the UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies, all eyes were fixed on the recent election in Myanmar, on 8 November 2015. It was believed that a solution would be attained if Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) comes to power. On the contrary, however, even after a landslide victory of her party, Aung Suu Kyi has still now refrained from taking any positive stance on the issue. In fact, following a report by the UN which states the Rohingyas in Myanmar have suffered crimes that “amount to crimes against humanity”; the Myanmar leader has told an UN special Reporter on Human Rights that the newly elected government, sworn in April 2016, will avoid using the term “Rohingya” to avoid controversy of any sort. Aung Suu Kyi’s comments clearly indicate the discomfort that the government has in recognizing the Rohingyas as Myanmar’s citizens, denoting how even the nomenclature ‘Rohingya’ is a subject of controversy in the country. The previously military backed government believed the Rohingyas to be illegal “Bengali” migrants. Although a new committee has been formed to establish peace and development in May, the plans of the committee are not clear.
The extensive Annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights entitled ‘Situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar’, published on 28 June 2016reportcalls for introspection and inquiry of the Myanmar government’s minority policy that has remained abusive, denying even basic fundamental rights to the Rohingyas. It mentions an alarming rise of incidents of hatred and religious persecution post the 2012 violence in the Rakhine State of Myanmar. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussain has mentioned in the report that the Rohingyas have been excluded from a number of professions in Myanmar. They also need special permission to avail treatment in hospitals, as a result of which there have been delays in treatment and deaths of babies or their mothers during childbirth. Therefore this is the first time when Zeid unequivocally states that long standing violations such as these equal to crimes against humanity; series of “serious, widespread and systematic violations” amounting to an “international crime”. The Rohingyas are also subjected to arbitrary arrests within the country, detention, forced labour, poor conditions of health, lack of education rights, sexual violence, severely restricted mobility and a persistent threat to their life and security. Praising the signing of a nationwide ceasefire agreement last year, Zeid further assures every help needed for the government to usher in a positive change for the Rohingyas. He states, “We stand ready to support the Government of Myanmar in ensuring a successful transition to a society based firmly on the rule of law and the protection of human rights for all.”
For Detailed Report on the above please check the following links:
Report Number- A/HRC/32/18, Human Rights Violations and abuses against Rohingya Muslims and other Minorities in Myanmar, Report of the UNHCR, advanced edited version, 28 June 2016. http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session32/Pages/ListReports.aspx, accessed on 4 July 2016
Un Link that mentions the Report -http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=54268#.V3uTHNR95ki ; and http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=20137&LangID=E
‘Aung San Suu Kyi tells UN that the term 'Rohingya' will be avoided’, The Guardian, 21 June 2016
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jun/21/aung-san-suu-kyi-tells-un-that-the-term-rohingya-will-be-avoided , accessed on 5 July 2016.