Who are the Rohingyas? Their Situation in Arakan & in Exile
The Arakan State of Burma, bordering Bangladesh, is inhabited by two ethnic sister communities, the Rakhine Buddhist and the Rohingya Muslim. The Rakhine Buddhists are the majority group while the Rohingya Muslims are minority group.
The Rohingyas numbering approximately 1.5 million, enduring continued persecution and the ethnic cleansing policy of military regime in Burma. Also about 1.5 million Rohingyas have been living in exile in many countries all over the world. The Rohingyas in Burma continue to suffer from several forms of restrictions and human rights violations. The Rohingyas freedom of movement is severely restricted and right to education is harshly deprived.
The Rohingyas have effectively been denied Burmese citizenship by the current State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) military regime, although the previous Democratically elected governments had recognized them as the citizens of Burma. They are also subjected to various forms of extortion and arbitrary taxation; land confiscation, forced eviction and house destruction and restrictions on marriage.
Arakan was neither a part of Burma nor Bangladesh, it was a separated region and ruled by Muslilms for hundreds years. The last dynasty of Arakan was the Mrauk Oo dynasty which ruled from 15th to 18th century. It was highly influenced by Muslim culture. The official language was Persian, the written language of Muslims of that time. The basis of Muslim religious faith, the kalima was inscribed on all of the coins.
Almost all kings had Muslim titles. Courteous, arm forces and personnel in many other fields were almost all Muslims. So Rohingya Muslims are not migrant people as is accused today by the military government of Burma. They are natives of that region of Burma.
The colonial British census records in 1825 A.D show one Muslim for every two Buddhists in Arakan. The year 1825 is a landmark in the history of Burma. All of Burma’s constitution and citizenship acts provide indigenous status to all people who were permanently residing in Arakan or in the Union of Burma before 1825.
So, above mentioned Muslims prior 1825 (before British occupation of Burma) were counted as one of the lawfully indigenous race’s of Burma. But, today the military regime is blindly denying historical reality and accusing all Rohingyas as to be Bangladeshi illegal immigrants. It is a deliberate conspiracy on the part of military government to make Rohingyas stateless.
Until the advent of the military regime, Rohingyas have enjoyed full fledge Burmese citizenship. There have been foreigner’s acts and foreigner’s Registration Rules.
Rohingyas were not required to register under those acts and rules. According to the Burmese Constitution’s of 1947 and 1974, as well as according to 1948 Citizenship Acts, Rohingyas are Burmese citizens. Rohingyas enjoyed public employment and obtained Burmese Passport. The Rohingyas got the rights to elect and to be elected in all levels of administrative institutions including parliament.
The general elections for the Constituent Assembly was held in Arakan in 1947 (before the independence of Burma), excluding two areas of Maungdaw and Buthidaung. After independence, however, elections were held there; Mr.Sultan Ahmed and Mr. Abdul Ghaffar, both Rohingyas, were elected from those two areas.
From the holding of the Constituent Assembly elections (1947) until the 1962 military takeover, three parliamentary general elections were held for both houses of Parliament in 1951, 1956, and 1960 respectively. In the 1951 general elections Rohingyas won 5 seats, four in the Lower House, and one in the Upper House. The Rohingyas had no political Party of their own. They stood either as independents or as supporters of AFPFL. In 1956 and in the 1960 general elections Rohingya retained all their five seats of north Arakan.
Rohingyas had parliamentarians, parliament secretaries, even ministerial posts. Mr.Sultan Mahmood, Ex-Parliamentary Secretary, in the British-India Legislative Assembly was inducted into the Cabinet of Former Prime Minister U Nu as a Health minister in 1961.
In 1990 SLORC sponsored multiparty general elections; however, the Rohingyas were not only able to vote but were allowed to stand as candidates, a right normally denied to non-citizens. The National Democratic Party for Human Rights (NDPHR), a Rohingya political Party, won four seats, capturing all the constituencies in Buthidaung and Maungdaw. Subsequently, the NDPHR was, like many other political parties, which won seats in the 1990 elections, deregistered by the military regime in March 1992.
Denial of Citizenship:
The Rohingyas of Burma are vulnerable as they have no legal status in their homeland and are considered non-citizens. The plight of the Rohingyas demonstrate how people without citizenship rights in their own country can be forced out and become refugees, leaving them still vulnerable and without citizenship in their country of origin.
The “so-called” Burma Citizenship Law of 1982, which violates several fundamental principles of customary International Law standards, has reduced the Rohingyas to the status of Stateless people. Although the 1982 Citizenship law is also discriminatory towards the vast majority of the Indian and Chinese populations of Burma, as the promulgation of this law took place soon after the exodus of Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh in 1978.
Once the refugees had been repatriated, this law was specifically designed effectively to deny Rohingyas the right to a nationality. The 1982 Citizenship law has had the effect of rendering the vast majority of Rohingyas ineligible to be Burma citizens. The law also makes no provision in relation to stateless persons. (i.e. Rohingyas).
The current 1982 Burma citizenship law unlike , the preceding 1948 Act, which conferred equal right on all citizens, creates three classes of citizen; full citizens, associate citizens and naturalized citizens (the Rohingya don’t qualify into any of these three). The Rohingyas are not issued any new national identity cards which are issued to other citizens.
The withholding of citizenship has become a mechanism for discrimination and persecution on the basis of ethnicity. ID cards are very essential in all national activities. ID cards must be carried at all times and a card number has to be given when buying, or selling anything, staying overnight with friends or relatives outside own council area, applying for any civil service and professional post and other daily activities.
Most of the National Registration cards (NRCs) issued to the Rohingyas during the parliamentary governments or before SLORC/SPDC regime has been confiscated by the authorities. The authorities had issued Temporary Registration Cards (TRCs) to some Rohingyas in Maungdaw and Buthidaung, locally known as “white cards” against their protest.
This was nothing but a design to degrade their national status and put them in a state of uncertainty. In the past few months the authorities in the capital Rangoon arrested and detained several Rohingyas who had been living there for more than 4 decades and got National Scrutiny cards legally. The authorities are extorting money from their family members and those who are unable to pay are sent to jail.
Restriction of Movement:
Rohingyas in Arakan State must routinely apply for permission to leave their village, even if it is just to go another nearby village. This has had serious repercussions on their livelihood and food security, as they are often unable to seek employment outside their village or trade goods and produce unless they have official permission and obtain a pass which they must pay for.
Most Rohingyas cannot afford to pay on a regular basis for these permits. As two-third of the Rohingyas is poor day laborers, the restrictions on their movement also greatly affect their ability to find work in other villages or towns.
The constraints on freedom of movement are one of the major problems facing Rohingyas. These restrictions prevented people from seeking work in other villages, trading, fishing or even attending a funeral of a relative or visiting a doctor.
When Rohingyas want to travel to a village in the same township they must obtain a local travel pass at the VPDC. If they need to go further, for example to another township, they need to apply for a different kind of travel permit at the Immigration department at the Nasaka camp, the so-called “form 4”.
It is almost impossible for Rohingyas of Maungdaw and Buthidaung to visit Sittwe, the capital city of Rakhine State (Arakan). If Rohingya from Sittwe manage to travel to north Rakhin State, it is extremely difficult for them to return to their homes in Sittwe.
Freedom of movement is fundamental human rights, upon which other human rights are contingent. Rohingyas’ inability to travel freely greatly inhibits their ability to earn a living, obtain proper health care, and to seek higher education.
In October 2004, over 165 Rohingya students were deprived of appearance in their supplementary examination as they were denied issuing their travel document to go to Sittwe by the authorities. The reason given was that DPDC Chairman was directed not to issue any travel documents without the knowledge of the Western Command Commander Brig.General Maung Oo based in Ann town, Arakan state.
The ordinary Rohingyas can hardly think of going to Sittwe where students are sometimes allowed to travel with the special travel permission from authorities under very much humiliating conditions and by paying large sums of money.
The sweeping restrictions on the movement of Rohingyas are disproportionate and discriminatory; they are imposed on all Rohingyas because they are Rohingyas, not on members of other ethnic nationalities in Rakhine State. They are broad and indiscriminate in their application and such are unlawful.
They have a severe negative impact on the lives of thousands of Rohingyas who have not committed any offence. Especially serious is the fact that these restrictions constitute, in addition, violations of other basic human rights for the Rohingyas including the right to work, and the right to an adequate standard of living.
North Arakan has turned into a militarized zone resulting in the increase of forced labor and other violations of human rights. Still forced Labor is phenomenal all over Arakan, particularly in the Rohingya areas, although under increasing pressure from ILO. The SPDC officials are extracting statements from the people that there is no forced Labor .The armed forces routinely confiscate property, cash, food and use coercive and abusive recruitment methods to procure porters.
The Rohingyas have to build, without wages, military establishments, roads, bridges, embankments, pagodas and ponds. .The villagers have had to plough the farm land and grow various vegetables, to construct buildings of the camps, to carry woods from the forest to bake bricks, to clean up the camp compounds every day, and to repair the damaged roads and the streets nearby the camps.
Besides, since January 2, 2005, the villagers have also to pay sentry guards for Na Ka Pa along the rivers and seashores from 5pm to 6am every day.
Forced labor demands from the authorities’ place a large burden on the Rohingya population as it leaves them with not enough time to do their own work. The kind of forced labor that is requested and frequency differs from place to place and appears to be related to the attitude of local authorities and number of military or Na Sa Ka camps near the village. Most of the times it is the poorest who must undertake forced labor, as people who can afford it often are able to pay a bribe to the authorities.
The burden of forced labor demands from the authorities falls mainly on the Rohingya population as the Rakhine population living in the same areas appears to often be exempted from it. In Maungdaw and Buthidaung and to a lesser degree in Rathidaung Township, only Rohingyas are normally required to perform forced labor .The forced labor situation has become so excruciating that the Rohingyas have been rendered jobless and shelter less.
Land Confiscation, Forced Eviction and House Destruction:
The confiscation of land in Northern Rakhine state is related to the establishment of “model villages”, the construction or expansion of Na Sa Ka, military and police camps and establishing plantations for security forces and also for new settlers. Recently the process of forced eviction had been intensified by the authorities.
The military regime policy of relocating Rakhine Buddhists and other non-Rohingyas to especially established model villages to Northern Arakan state has resulted in the confiscation of land from the Rohingya population.
A model village is usually built to house about 100 families. Each family receives four acres of land, a pair of oxen and house .These model villages have been built on land that was confiscated from the Rohingya population.
Houses and health centers in the model villages are built by forced labor by the Rohingya. The majority of people in model villages do not cultivate the land allocated to them and instead rent it out to Rohingya farmers, in some cases the same people from whom the land was originally confiscated.
The confiscation of land from Rohingyas to build model villages deprives them of opportunities to sustain their livelihood as these are rice field, shrimp farms grazing grounds for their cattle. Furthermore, the Rohingya population of nearby villages is often forced to build the houses and other facilities of the model villages without pay. They had to provide the building materials as well.
The building and the extension of military camps mainly for the Na Sa Ka have also led to land confiscation. Moreover the Na Sa Ka has confiscated land for commercial purposes, mainly to establish shrimp farms but also rice fields for themselves. The Rohingya never receive compensation and are also forced to work on the same fields that were confiscated from them.
Since 2002 the Na Sa Ka intensified in strictly implement land use policies and this has led to numbers of evictions of Rohingyas from their homes. Due to population growth, some families built their houses on land registered as paddy fields decades ago.
Recently they have been issued with expulsion orders and forced to dismantle their homes. The eviction process strictly implemented about two years ago. First they evicted 40 houses in a village near Maungdaw. Eighteen families protested and refused to dismantle their houses. They were arrested and sent to Buthidaung jail. They are still there. They detained mostly the head of the family but they also jailed some women, even one pregnant woman. She gave birth inside the jail. They were not given any other place to go.
These have forced the Rohingyas to become increasingly landless, internally displaced, to eventually starve them out to cross the border into Bangladesh. The right to housing is a basic right which is a fundamental component of the right to an adequate standard of living and central to the enjoyment of other human rights. Restrictions on Marriage of Rohingyas Since the creation of Na Sa Ka in 1992, the authorities in Northern Rakhine State have forcefully introduced a regulation that the Rohingyas are required to ask for permission to get married.
This restriction is only enforced on the Muslim in this area and not on the Buddhist Rakhine population, nor any of the other ethnic minority groups living in the region. In fact, there are no written rules or procedures for the marriages of Rohingyas. All are verbal orders but they are to be followed without question. Non-compliance is resulted in heavy punishment.
In recent years, imposition of restrictions on marriage of Rohingya couple has further intensified. The marriageable age is at 18 for girls and 20-25 for boys. Marriages need to be solemnized with the consent and sometimes, in the presence of the army officers. It is near impossible for the intended couples and their guardians to observe all the formalities which include medical tests, recommendations from various administrative departments and army commanders including Na Sa Ka border security forces and other law enforcing agencies and police.
Since 2002, the authorities had begun to demand large amounts in taxes from Rohingyas who request for permission to get married. The authorities also appear to have limited the number of permissions given each year. People have had to wait for two to three years to get permission, even after paying large sums of money, and they had to go to the Na Sa Ka camp several times for it.
In general, Rohingya couples must pay a substantial amount of money to the Na Sa Ka varying from 50,000 to 300,000 Kyats. Usually the bride and groom must each pay the same amount of money. After payment, permission is not always given. This restriction especially affects poor people, who are unable to obtain such large amounts of money. In some villages there have been no marriages at all during the last year because of this restriction.
There are also consistent reports of young couples fleeing to Bangladesh because this is the only way for them to get married. Once in Bangladesh it is very difficult for them to return, as their names have often been removed from their family list by the authorities.
Arbitrary Taxation and Extortion:
Rohingyas in northern Rakhine State are subjected to extortion and arbitrary taxation at the hands of the authorities. These vary from tax on collecting firewood and bamboo to fees for the registration of deaths and births in the family lists, on livestock and fruit -bearing trees, and even on football matches. The type of taxes and the amounts people have to pay appear to be applied in an arbitrary fashion and vary from place to place, depending on the local authorities.
The authorities imposed very high rate of taxation on the food grains and on various agricultural products of Rohingya including staple food, rice. In addition, shrimp tax, vegetable tax, animal or bird tax (for cows, buffalos, goats, fowl), roof tax , house-building or repair taxes, etc, are collected by force. Every Rohingya who breeds either cattle or domestic livestock has to pay certain amount for each and every item they possess. Every new born or death of the above has to be reported paying a fee.
The Rohingyas have to pay taxes for everything, for cutting bamboos or woods in the jungles, fishing in the rivers and breeding animals at homesteads from December 2002. A Rohingya family has to pay kyats 1500 when a new child is born and Kyat 1000 when a member dies, to register it in their family list.
The Rohingya villagers have to pay yearly a new tree tax of Kyat 2500 per betal-nut tree and kyat 5000 per coconut tree. Na Sa Ka authorities have appointed agents for every essential item and warned the Rohingya not to sell their products directly except through such agents. They are paid prices fixed by the Na Sa Ka, which is usually one-third of the market price.
There have been several reports of Rohingyas being arrested and accused of breaking various regulations such as having been to Bangladesh or failing to pay their taxes. If they can pay a sum of money, which varies but is often extremely high, they can be released.
Registration of Births and Deaths in Families. All Rohingya households are obliged to report any changes to the family list to the authorities for the registration of births and deaths in families. Rohingyas are forced to pay fees to the VPDC or the Na Sa Ka.
The amounts people have to pay to register births and deaths are different from place to place and vary from 1000 to 8000 kyats. On some occasions people had to work for the authorities. The sale of the cattle must also be registered and paid for. Since mid-2002, Rohingya pregnant women have had to register themselves in person at the nearest Na Sa Ka camp, which may be some hours walk away from their village. Women were asked to show their faces and their abdomens.
Deprivation of Right to Education:
Since promulgation of new Burma Citizenship law in 1982, the Rohingya students are denied the right to education. It becomes a great problematic matter to pursue higher studies while professional courses are barred to them. Rohingya students who stood in selection tests and got formal admission in various institutions located in Rangoon and Burma proper are unable to pursue their studies as they are disallowed to travel. During recent years about 1500 students have to stop their further studies.
In October 2004, over 165 Rohingya University Students were deprived of appearance in their supplementary examination as they were denied issuing their travel documents to go to Sittwe by the authorities. The reason given was that DPDC chairman was directed not to issue any travel documents without the knowledge of the western Command Commander Brig. General Maung Oo based in Ann town, Arakan State.
The ordinary Rohingya can hardly think of going to Sittwe where Rohingya Students are sometimes allowed to travel with the special travel permission from authorities under very much humiliating conditions and by paying large sums of money. Furthermore, in February 2005, the SPDC authorities had totally banned the Rohingya students from going to University in Sittwee and Yangon.
Arbitrary arrest, torture and Extra-Judicial Killing:
While Arakan remained totally shut from outsiders, the Burmese authorities has been carrying out a relentless torture and killing campaign in Arakan particularly against the youths without putting anyone on trail. Over 100 innocent Rohingyas have been killed during last one year in different parts of Arakan. Hundreds of Rohingyas are put behind the bar and are subjected to inhuman torture.
They are also used as human shields and are forced at gun point to act as watchmen against any possible rebel attack. The inhuman forced labor treating the Rohingyas as human cattle is on the increase. They are treated worse than slaves and are subjected to severe beatings and random killings while pottering or engaged in other works.
Aftermaths of the removal of Gen.Khin Nyunt, the then Prime Minister and Military Intelligence Chief, hundreds of Rohingya businessmen have been arrested by the authorities alleging them as the collaborators of his military intelligence or corrupt Na Sa Ka officers.
On 27th January 2005, two men were killed and two others were injured by gun fire by Na Sa Ka at Inn Din Village of Maungdaw in Arakan State. The men were fired by an army of the battalion No.233, now as Na Sa Ka, while they were trying to flee from a boat in which they were loading rice, goats, and fowls in a creek of Inn Din Village and it was to be carried to Maungdaw town by sea.
The dead persons were identified as Sultan Ahmed 29, son of Mr.Ali Ahmed and Mohamed Meah 27 son of Mr.Ali Abbas while Abu Taher and his sons were injured by bullets. All the dead and injured person were hailed from Inn Din village.
The Rohingya elected representative in 1990 General Elections of the NO.1. Constituency of Buthidaung Township Arakan State, U Kyaw Min (a) Mr. Mohamed Shomshul Anwarul Hoque, 55, was arrested by the authorities for unknown reason.
He is an executive committee member of National Democratic Party for Human Rights (NDPHR), which is only Rohingya political party with the winner seats in 1990 General Elections. He is also a member of Committee for Representatives Peoples Parliament (CRPP).
He was picked up from his Rangoon home by the Burmese military agent on 17th March 2005. Special Police agent went to his house around midnight and told him to follow them for some questions and then he was carried away by police car. His family members do not able to trace his whereabouts.
Abuse of Rohingya Women and Elders:
Rohingya women have become victims of rape, molestation and dishonor, increasingly at the hands of security forces. They are not allowed to wear hijab; their age of marriage is limited and is subjected to forcible contraception. Many Rohingya women were forcibly married by security forces and then left them away.
Rohingya women are compelled to stay in camps set up by the security forces for so-called training where they are subjected to rape and dishonor. Under various pretexts, the SPDC armed forces intruded the houses of Rohingya villagers in odd times and seized and carried away the women to their camps for unholy purpose. There were many instances that women were raped in their houses before the very eyes of the children or parents.
Rohingya religious figures and elders are increasingly harassed, tortured and sometimes their beards are shaven off and are forced to issue religious decree to allow non-Islamic practices.
The authorities continued to discriminate against members of minority religions, restricting their educational, Mosque building and church activities in the minority Christian areas. Mosque buildings are totally banned since 2000 in Arakan State while several existing Mosque and madarasa were dismantleby Na Sa Ka. The Rohingyas religious houses dismantling process is intensified recently in Arakan.
In the first week of September 2004, Col. Tun Tun Oo, the commander of the Na Sa Ka sector No.6 of Maungdaw Township ordered the villagers of Zum Baina to destroy the ancient Mosque of the village. The Na Sa Ka arrested 3 members of Mosque committee for not complying the order of Na Sa Ka.
The arrestees are Zahir Ahmed, 56 son of Omer Abbass, Molvi Zakaria son of Lukman Hakim and Abul Kasim 54, son of Tanda Meah on 25th September 2004. However, they were released on 2nd October after bribing Kyat 1.5 million to the concerned authorities. But the order is not withdrawn yet and the Mosque still exists. This is an ancient Mosque in the village built with concrete and roofed with tin sheets.
The Forgotten Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh:
The Roingyas have faced continuing persecution by the military government in Burma and have escaped to Bangladesh in large numbers, with the biggest influx in 1991-1992 when about 270000 of them crossed the border. Although many of these refugees have since then been forcefully repatriated to Burma under the supervision of UNHCR, there are still about 22000 refugees living in two camps in southern Bangladesh. The refugees are completely dependent on UN and aid agencies for food.
In addition, an estimated 200,000 Rohingyas are living illegally in Bangladesh without access to protection or humanitarian assistance. Since economic opportunities in Bangladesh are limited, the Rohingya outside of camps are not living in Bangladesh for economic security, rather they are fleeing a history of persecution and human rights abuses in their hearths and homes by the Burmese government.
At first the Government of Bangladesh was welcoming towards the Rohingyas and made efforts to accommodate them. In recent years, however, it has pushed for all refugees to be sent back to Burma and has rejected any possibility of local reintegration for them.
Recently, the Government of Bangladesh, in order to improve economic relations with Burmese military regime, has declared that the remaining Rohingya refugees in the camps should be repatriated by any mean. Meanwhile the military Government of Burma has not cleared most of the refugees in the two camps for return and accuses them of having contact with insurgents. The Burmese military regime has created a complicated system of bureaucratic conditions and procedures which make it very difficult for refugees to be cleared and repatriated. Even though the Government of Bangladesh wants the refugees to leave, there is a very slow rate of repatriation.
The refugees who eventually make it to Burma find conditions there as bad as before, with restrictions on movement, forced labor, violence and intimidation. They often have no choice but to reenter Bangladesh.
In last six months, over 1000 of those who have been sent back to Burma have returned to Bangladesh.
Conclusion and Appeal:
Widespread violations of basic human rights against Rohingyas population in Burma continue unabated at the hand of Burmese military regime despite the presence of UNHCR officials.
These rights abuses are carried out severely in places not out of the sight of UNHCR, but misleading and false propaganda are often circulated to conceal the truth. One the cheapest propaganda is that the Rohingyas are leaving Arakan for economic reasons. But the truth is never spoken.
In fact, there is no security of life, property, honor, and dignity of the Rohingya. Extra-judicial killing and summary executions, rape of women, arbitrary arrest and tortures, forced labor, force relocation, confiscation of moveable and immovable properties, religious sacrileges etc are regular occurrences in Arakan.
To solve the Rohingya problem through political and permanent solution we The Rohingya Community in U.K invites the attention of the international community, the United Nations may be apprised that the ruling Burmese military SPDC is a regime characterized by brutality, and is bent on exterminating the Rohingya people from Arakan by using of force, distorting their history, spreading malicious propaganda, perpetrating genocide and grave human rights abuses against them.
We the Rohingya Community in U.K would like to request International Community and UNHCR to explore a permanent solution to the outstanding Rohingya problem within the frame work of international law, pacts, human rights and other international practices;
To pressurize SPDC to nullify Burma citizenship law 1982 in order to bring them into line with international standards and recognize the Rohingya people of Arakan as one of the indigenous nationalities and therefore, natural citizens of Burma;
To continue assistance to the Rohingyas refugees in Bangladeshi camps and elsewhere for their basic necessities, those governments, notably United Kingdom, the United States, Japan, European Union countries, which have contributed funds to the Rohingya refugee and resettlement programmed, should encourage Bangladesh to continue allow refugees to enjoy asylum.
To urge SPDC to stop all kinds of human rights abuses and release all political prisoners including recently detained prominent Rohingya political leader U Kyaw Min and politicians implicated in false crime cases in Arakan and in all Burma.
To mount effective pressure on the SPDC for the initiation of the meaningful “Tripartite Dialogue” with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the NLD and representative of the non-Burma ethnic nationalities including Rohingyas of Arakan.