The Development of Burma’s Authoritarian Rule and

Depopulation of Targeted Ethnic Minorities including

Rohingya Muslims of Arakan State



Written by Nora E. Rowley M.D. M.P.H.   August 22, 2012

Crimes and Human Rights Violations by

Burma’s Ruling and Government Military

Against the Rohingya Muslims:

  • Ethnic Cleansing
  • Denial of Citizenship rendered practically stateless.
  • Arbitrary arrest, torture and extra-judicial killing
  • Abuse of Rohingya Women and Elders including  

Using rape as a weapon of war

  • Restriction of Movement -permit required traveling outside village.
  • Restriction on Ability to work or find job
  • Arbitrary Taxation and Extortion-including taxation on all produce and animal offspring, travel permits, repair of housing
  • Forced Labor – mostly violent, military income projects, includes use of pregnant women, children and elderly, connected with detention.

Family income is lost and family unprotected.

  • Land Confiscation – loss of agricultural income generation
  • Forced eviction – loss of income and social network, displacement
  • Destruction of homes, offices, schools, mosques, etc.
  • Religious persecution – systematic destruction of Islamic sites- illegal to repair and rebuild
  • Ethnic and religious discrimination
  • Restrictions on Marriage and number of children
  • Registration of Births and Deaths in Families
  • Restriction on peaceful assembly
  • Restriction on Education – discrimination, cost, travel unsafe.

Governments of Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia have committed human rights violations and brutal persecution of Rohingya and others populations fleeing Burma.

History of Rohingya and Burma

  • 7th-14th Century First Muslims were Arab merchants, who came and married locals in Arakan Territory, followed by other Muslims by sea then land.
  • Peacefully-coexist with and part of Arakan Kingdom.
  • 15th Century Arakan Kingdom Coin with Arakan and Arabic Inscriptions
  • 1784 Burman Kingdom attacked and captured Arakan Kingdom.
  • 100,000+ Rohingya and Arakan Buddhists killed, enslaved or fled into Bengal India.

British Colonial Burmainvoluntary collective of kingdoms and territories with borders designated by the British not the inhabitants.

  • 1824 Arakan region captured and under British Colonial India rule, by 1883 remainder of today’s Burma was captured by the British.
  • British Strategy of Divide and Rule –creation of allies and control
  • Arakan and other border kingdoms and tribes allowed some autonomy and role in rule, administration and colonial army.
  • Burmans forced from area brutally dominant to most submissive.

Burma ~1900 One of world’s largest rice exporter, richest British colony and had high literacy rate.

WWII Many Burma border ethnic minorities joined British Forces in fight against Japanese and Burman forces.

  • Atrocities against border ethnic minority civilians committed by Burman, Japanese and local allied forces.

In Arakan, most Arakan Buddhists opposed British-India colonial occupation and, therefore, some Arakan Buddhists fought with Burman-Japanese armed forces.  Whereas, most Rohinhgya preferred their alliance with British-India and, therefore, some Rohingya fought with the British-Indian armed forces.  Therefore, some Arakan Buddhists and some Rohingya fought against each other in the context of their preferred alliance.  Both Arakan Buddhist and Rohingya civilians suffered large number of casualties from this armed conflict.

  • 294 villages depleted of Muslims by murder, escape and destruction.
  • Rohingya Muslims shifted their population toward Northern Rakhine.
  • Arakan Buddhists shifted their population toward Southern Rakhine.
  • In 1945, British military promised Rohingya an autonomous zone in Northern Rakhine.

Burma’s Independence

General Aung San negotiated peace and indepence from Britain.

General Aung San negotiated the Pangalong vision with minorities, most of whom opposed Burman dominant constitution and government.  The Pangalong vision set up a federalist government that ensured minorities some autonomous rule and equal rights and representation with the Burman majority.

In 1947 General Aung San was assassinated and the Pangalong vision gone.      

  • 1948 constitution gave ethnic minorities national representation without equal rights.
  • Political and armed ethnic minority opposition to Burman dominant rule without minority equal rights arose in all  seven ethnic borders areas.  
  • Factions of both Arakan Buddhists and Rohingya formed political parties and militia’s opposed to Burman dominant rule.
  • Some Arakan Buddhist and one small Rohingya opposition faction pursued independence from the new Burman dominant Country of Burma.

 1962 Start of Military Dictatorship Authoritarian Rule

  • Dictator General Ne Win-Isolationist, anti-intellectual, Burman Buddhist supremacist.
  • All Opposition Crushed.
  • Regime formed new and only political party permitted.
  • Divide and rule strategy– to diffuse and redirect regime opposition by pitting subpopulations against each other and make local allies in conflict.
  • Creation of Enemies to blame for hardships and militarization.
  • Information control through censorship and propaganda.
  • General oppression to make populace vulnerable and submissive.

Economic barriers including military corruption

  • Dismantling education system. Schools began teaching that Muslims and other opposition minorities were a threat to security and civilization, i.e. take over, hatred and violent. University students were the first Burman opposition group, started peacefully protesting Summer 1962. Immediate military government response was deadly violence.  Propaganda labeled students as dangers to society.
  • Rule labeled “Socialism” to gain full military State control through ownership while corrupting and neglecting government services.
  • Economic Isolation

Initially many Burmans welcomed the military that help free them from colonial suppressive rule. Early regime propaganda and censorship set the military role as protector.  Military imposed oppressive economic hardships were idealized as the populace’s sacrifice for the military forces’ protection from enemies.

Regime Targeted Brutal Persecution of Border Minorities-Why?

  • Burmanization Only Burman Buddhism, i.e. one ethnicity, one race and one religion as acceptable members of State.
  • British divide and rule strategy- Burmans resented higher colonial subjugation than minorities.

– Many minorities joined British WWII fight against Burmans.

  • Minority political and armed opposition to Burman-dominant rule and lack of equal rights upon independence and with military rule.
  • Borders are rich in natural resources.
  • Strict control of human, commerce and information traffic flow

Development of Anti-Muslim Attitudes – Why?

  • Burman ethnic, racial and religious elitism
  • Regime aided and abetted Islam phobia, i.e. belief that Muslims intent on takeover, violence and forced conversion.
  • Remaining resentment and fear regarding Colonial Indian armed forces and civil servants dominance, often brutal, over Burman and previous Burman Kingdom.
  • Land lost to Indian Hindu Chetliar moneylenders, especially in The Depression
  • Perceived preferential treatment of Rohingya versus Arakan Buddhists by British India.

Eventual regime tactic to divide populace to gain control and instigate strategic sectarian conflict.

Use of Religion as a Weapon, also race, ethnicity, education and age.

  • Any differences used to create mistrust and fear within the populace.
  • Regime rulers have built huge gilded pagodas to create image of Buddhist piety and trust.
  • Military intelligence infiltrated Buddhist monasteries to ensure regime allegiance.
  • Regime Buddhist local allies used to instigate conflict that lead to military intervention and control.
Rohingya and Arakan State under Authoritarian Military RuleMost Arakan Buddhists have opposed Burman dominant regime rule and some factions have continued to pursue Arakan independence from Burma. Regime divide and rule strategy has favored Arakan Buddhists. Many Arakan Buddhists have been regime allies in the discrimination and brutal persecution of Rohingya.

  • Rohingyas not allowed government jobs, Arakans were.
  • Rohingya’s movement and travel controlled and restricted.
  • Rohingya businesses began to be confiscated by the ruling military.
  • Only Arakan Buddhists were inducted into the military regime political party.
  • Rohingya suffered military forced labor, land confiscation and arbitrary taxation and extortion, which prevented and depleted income and created economic insecurity.
  • Increasing military violence toward Rohingya.
  • Government schools- teachers discriminate, extort money, mistreat and force Rohingya to learn Buddhism.  Poverty, safety and restricted travel create barriers to Rohingya school attendance.
  • Rohingya forced to use government services often run by corrupt and discriminating military and Arakan Buddhists.

Targeted Persecution Increased Border Area Regime-Opposition

1978 Start of Regime Border ‘Four Cuts’ Campaign – cut the supplies of food, funds, recruits and information to weaken armed opposition groups by systematically terrorizing the civilian population in resistance areas.                                                                                                                                                                                                  1978 Regime Military Campaign Against Rohingya

  • Mass arrest, torture, rape and killing of Rohingya
  • Destruction of mosques and other religious persecution

Mass Exodus to Bangladesh

Over 200,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh.  Bangladesh relief minister immediately set food rations too low in order to compel Rohingya to leave Bangladesh.  By, February, 1979 and excess about 10,000 Rohingya refugee deaths were attributed to inedaquate food rations.

Initially, Burma regime refused repatriation talks claiming refugees were not from Burma but were Bangladesh people trying to get food.  Eventually, ~182,000 repatriated back to Arakan, many involuntarily by violence and coercion.  Many returned to find property and means of income generation lost.

 1982 Burma Citizenship Law denies Rohingya as Burmese national ethnicity and declared Rohingya not citizens, at best foreign residents.  Previously, Rohingya were recognized as citizens and a national ethnicity.

– Used to escalate discrimination, persecution, human rights violations and ethnic cleansing against Rohingya.

–  Used to deny repatriation of all future Rohingya victims of ethnic cleansing flight.  Believed to be regime backlash against 1978 international pressure to repatriate Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh.

1988-1990 Pro-Democracy Peaceful Protests against Military Rule

Started with university students attacked, killed, detained and tortured for speaking out against military control, corruption, brutality and human rights violations.  Populace awoke to military brutality when on 8-8-1988, 25 8-9 year old primary students were killed by military machine guns while participating in Yangon peaceful protests for Democracy.

Many escaping students and other pro-Democracy protestors hunted by military, took up arms for self-defense.  Beginning of massive cross border flight of political refugees and international involvement in Pro-Democracy movement.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s wisdom and non-violent leadership united regime-divided nation. She was placed under house arrest. She won 1990 election, military ignored results. She was awarded ‘91 Nobel Peace Prize.

  • New Burman Buddhist supremacist dictators sought to brutally crush all internal opposition.
  • Regime pursued international financial and geo-political relationships using Burma’s abundant natural energy and other rich resources.
  • Natural resources plentiful in minority opposition border areas.
  • Beginning association between regime natural resource development and export and military commission of severe human rights violations and brutal persecution. 
  • Beginning of mass cross border of minorities fleeing deadly military persecution.
  • Burma renamed Myanmar, Arakan renamed Rakhine.  Other prominent names changed, too.

1991 Military Crackdown on Border Opposition hits Rakhine

  • Though Arakan Buddhists also continued political and armed opposition to regime military rule, Rohingya civilians suffered a worse escalation of military mass killing, rape, torture, detention and home & mosque destruction than 1978.

‘91-‘92 Mass Exodus to Bangladesh

  • 250,000+ Rohingya fled to Bangladesh.

May 1992 Government of Bangladesh (GoB) stopped granting refugee status despite continued Rohingya arrivals fleeing the same brutal persecution.

  • GoB forced repatriation by withholding food, violence and coercion.
  • ~20,000 Rohingya remained in two UNHCR funded refugee camps.
  • GoB has restricted UNHCR access limiting protection of refugees.
  • GoB has forced new arrivals back to Burma by threat and actual violence.                                                 

1992 Regime military establishes NaSaKa Border Force throughout Northern Rakhine (NRS), where majority of Rohingya live. Since, NaSaKa forces have been the cited the most for committing human rights violations against Rohingya.  Restriction on the freedom of movement and other abuses increased significantly after the creation of the NaSaKa.

1992 Burmanization began which has replaced Rohingya villages with Burman Buddhists = NaTaLa Villages. The intent was to decrease the % Muslims in Rakhine.

Rohingya villages taken by forced eviction and land confiscation.

Rohingya forced labor used to build many new villages, including Buddhist pagodas.

Burmans transferred in from central Burma, often poor or criminals.

New NaTaLa villagers increasingly implicated in individual and mass anti-Rohingya violence, theft and property destruction.                              

1995-9 Regime campaign to reduce uncontrolled rural villages.

1997  Violence Exodus of ~30,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh

  • Included Rohingya forcibly repatriated and returned 1992-4.
  • All denied refuge by GoB.  Most integrate in Bangladesh villages.

Rathidaung Township, third most Northern and populated with Rohingya, military brutal persecution campaign depleted from 53 Muslim villages in 1995 to two in 1999.

2001 Burma Anti-Muslim violence starting in February.  Buddhists monks often part of initiating events claiming Muslim offenses.  Muslims arrested and freedoms further restricted.

2003 Regime Population Control of Rohingya.

Mandatory regime permission to marry for Rohingya only.  Permits too expensive for many Rohingya, who are very poor and unable to legally marry.  Pattern of permission delays for many months.

Marriage without permission punished with prison, very high fines, violence, expulsion and forced public bride nudity reported. 

– Rohingya must sign contract to have no more than three children.

In 2006, regime deceased allowed children to no more than two. 

Export of energy sources became largest source of regime private income and geo-political power.

Regime Natural Resource Development Associated with Minority Human Rights Violations gains international attention.

  • The Human Cost of Energy reported forced labor porters and other border minority villagers abused by Burmese military along construction of 60 kilometer Chevron and Total’s, French energy company, natural gas pipelines to Thailand.
  • Uranium is a natural resource of Burma – N. Korea, Iran have been military allies of the regime.
  • August 2012 Physicians For Human Rights[i]border minoritys  [i] Physicians For Human Rights (2012) https://s3.amazonaws.com/PHR_Reports/burma-karen-rpt-ltr-2012.pdf 10 times more severe human rights abuses suffered by border minorities in association with regime development.

Regime transformation of Rakhine State to International Economic Zone after 2004 discovery of large natural gas reserves offshore Rakhine, also inland Northern Rakhine.

  • India funding and building river and road corridor (L) Massive land confiscation, forced eviction, loss of income and military brutality.
  • Kaladan Multimodal Transportation Project
  • Sittwe Deep Sea Port 2012
  • China development in Rakhine
  • Kyauk Phyu Special Economic Zone
  • China’s Shwe Gas Project’s trans-Burma natural gas and oil pipelines.


2007 Saffron Revolution– Burman Buddhist monks and nuns peacefully protested regime price inflation (5X’s) of domestic energy and other essential goods amidst widespread protracted severe poverty.


Regime response to any opposition- Buddhist monks and nuns attacked, hunted into jungle arrested, tortured and killed.

2008 May 2 Cyclone Nargis– Regime initially refuses international aid.

  • Eventually allows and confiscates food and other aid.
  • Good quality rice exported for profit as victims fed moldy, rotten rice.
  • Many arrested and tortured for aiding victims and criticizing regime.
  • UN SG accepted regime relief team report that aid delivered and people OK.

2008 May 10 – Referendum for New Pro-regime Constitution

  •  92% Approval with widespread fraud, coercion and intimidation.
  • Constitution mandates 25% parliament seats to military
  • Nargis aid used to coerce vote for new pro-regime constitution.

 2003 and 2008 Western Country impose financial and other sanctions on Burma’s regime in response to worsening sever human rights violations.

Jan 2009 Thai authorities tow Rohingya to their death at sea. November to April is the calm-sea season when many Rohingya have travelled by sea to Malaysia for refuge and/or work.  This travel has become dominated by human traffickers who increase the dangers of the sea crossing by overloading, under-fueling boats that end up adrift or sunk in the sea. In December 2008-January 2009, Thai Guards beat and detained about 1000 stranded Rohingya men and boys while taking stripping Rohingya’s boats of engine.  Then they towed the Rohingya and their powerless boats to deeps seas.  About 400 Rohingya survived to be rescued by Indian naval forces.  In Indonesia, these Rohingya survivors were labeled economic migrants and initially denied access to UN High Commission on Refugees while recuperating from malnutrition and exposure. Rohingya flight via sea and victims of human trafficking continues and has accelerated as hopelessness gives them no choice.

 2010 March- Emergency Report “Stateless and Starving” by Physicians for Human Rights reveals Government of  Bangladesh’s dire conditions set for Rohingya.  Food aid has been denied despite adequate sources  causing massive malnutrition crisis

 Regime “Reform to Democracy” Propaganda Campaign

  • 2010 Nov. 8 Election –Massive regime voter fraud and intimidation.  Regime wins 82% of Parliament seats
  • 2010 Nov. 13 Aung San Suu Kyi released after suspiciously timed arrest and trial.
  • 2011 Oct. ~200 Political Prisoners Conditional Release- forced to sign agreement to re-arrest if suspected of regime opposition.
  • 2011 Massive military leadership “retirement” to civilians.
  • 2011 Mar.- New President (Former General) Thein Sein
  • 2012 Jan. Prominent Political Prisoners Conditional Release.
  • 2012 Mar 31- Election Aung San Suu Kyi and NLD “landslide” = 6% parliament seats. Regime/military occupy 77% seats.  
  • 2012 April 17 –U.S. first Western Country to ease sanctions.

 Continued Regime Military Human Rights Violations

March 2011 Burma Military breaks ceasefire in Shan State.

  • Seized northern territory by destroying civilian villages, killing, rape, torture, women as human shields.
  • Regime propaganda of civil war and rebellion against election results.
  • Territory includes China’s Trans-Burma Pipelines, multiple dams for hydropower export & vast opium poppy fields.

April 2011 Burma Military began fighting in Kachin State.

  • Human rights violations- include civilians killed, raped, forced evicted, forced labor, entire villages destroyed.
  • Kachin State rich in natural resources, including jade, gold, silver, copper, waterways for hydropower and timber.
  • Physicians For Human Rights “Under Siege in Kachin State, Burma” 11/2011.   “Our findings are consistent with similar reports of human rights abuses in other ethnic states, and suggests that violations of rights of ethnic nationalities in the country by the central government is systematic and widespread.”

 2012 Feb/Mar.  Twice re-arrested Buddhist Monk U Gambira imprisoned and tortured leader of Saffron Revolution Barred from monasteries.  Felt forced to disrobe.

2012 May – “Use of Rohingya for Forced Labor Prevails” -Arakan Project

2012 July 6-7 – 20-30 Student & youth activists arrested across country for protests, despite new national law making protests legal. 

2012 Escalation of Regime Ethnic Cleansing of Rohingya

May 28 – Rakhine Buddhist woman killed.  Initial autopsy revealed no evidence of rape.  Yet government concluded and repeated that there was rape, allegedly by three Muslim men.

June 3 – Rakhine mob beat dead 10 Yangon Muslim men off a public bus in South Rakhine.

June 8 – Muangdaw Village Muslim men and boys exit 2pm prayer to encounter armed security forces and Rakhine Buddhist mobs.  The Rohingya protest turned violent.

June 8 -10- Muslim and Rakhine communities committed property and personal violence. A curfew was issued but only enforced upon Muslims. Rakhine Buddhists and security force’s anti-Muslim violence escalated and spread as Muslims became committed less offenses as they hid, escaped and, sometimes, defended themselves against mass anti-Muslim offensives from security forces and Rakhine Buddhist attackers.

June 10 – State of emergency called regime puts military in control. Only Muslims curfewed.

Start of Burma army, NaSaKa and local forces committing, instigating and allowing wave of concerted violence against Rohingya communities including

Burma: Violence in Arakan|Human Rights Watch Getty images 2012 www.HRW.org

 June 15 – UN SG Special Advisor Nambiar called for investigation into violence.

Bangladesh armed officials have actively push refuge seekers off shores.

GoB stopped relief in makeshift camp areas to avoid attracting arrivals.

Burma army and Rakhine restricting humanitarian access to Muslims.    

 July 25 2012 WHO declared that there were 114 IDP Locations in Rakhine State, 102 of these location were in Sittwe Township.

June 18 – Aung San Suu Kyi characterized the sectarian violence in Arakan State incorrectly as the result of the government’s failure to enforce immigration laws.

July 12 – President Thein Sein said that the “only solution” would be to expel the Rohingya to other countries or to camps overseen by UNHCR.

August 4 – UN Human Rights Spec. Quintana Rakhine visit concerns regarding systematic discrimination against the Rohingya community and serious human rights violations in Rakhine. Called for an independent and credible investigation into allegations of human rights violations.

August 17 – President Thein Sein refused international independent investigation team.  Appointed national investigation commission with outspoken anti-Rohingya and conditionally released political prisoners as team members.