As I begin my blog about Human Rights in Burma, focusing on the Rohingya I would like to share various writings about my experiences with Rohingya.
Written February 2013.
“We want peace,“ were the Rohingya’s sentiments expressed to me again, as I recently revisited Rohingya in Rakhine State, a population of Muslims living for centuries in Rakhine State, Myanmar/Burma.
Once again, I was immersed into widespread Rohingya individual and communal resilience, strength of character and wholesome peace‐loving‐and‐seeking outlook on life. Much hasn’t changed, i.e. the kindness, playful children following and calling me Feri, fathers carrying around their small children and woman worrying where my husband and children were.
The Rakhine, aka Rakhine Buddhists, that I encountered have changed from when I was last in Rakhine State. Before, Rakhine on the street were usually nice and returned a foreigner’s smile. Rakhine shop owners were helpful. Rakhine were also beneficiaries of multiple International Non-Government Organizations (INGO’s) services. Now, there is palpable animosity and mistrust on most Rakhine faces in the streets and businesses. My hotel desk hostesses went out of their way to not help me. I would leave the kind world of Rohingya IDP camps and return to Sittwe City where it was a cauldron of unwarrented Rakhine venom. I encountered smiling and kind Rakhine, but only the minority of the time.
I believe the Rakhine anti‐Rohingya aggressors do not see themselves as wrongdoers. Too many Rakhine have forgotten decades of government military oppression and human rights abuses that have limited their economic, education and healthcare opportunity and control. Since June 2012, Rakhine aggressors have been standing with and supporting their oppressors who still run the country and Rakhine State and continue to take Rakhine land. Rakhine aggressors blame their misfortune on their Rohingya neighbors, who clearly have been targeted with much worse government human rights violations and persecution. Rakhine, in a frenzy of manufactured offenses, have willfully commited verbal and physical attacks where national and Rakhine political and religious leadership have pointed them. Yet they act as though they believe they are the victims and aggression is defensive.
The continuous multi-pronged assault on the Rohingya of Rakhine State since June 2012 is an acute escalation of decades of government human rights violations and brutal persecution with variable discrimination from Rakhine. The major change since before June is the new role of Rakhine politicians, authorities, monks and civilians as the frontline soldiers of brutality toward Rohingya. Before June 2012, there was Rakhine brutality toward Rohingya, but mainly in upper Rakhine State and no where near to profound and cruel abuse inflicted upon Rohingya by the government and security forces. Yet, the national military army and border security forces, aka NaSaKa, still determine and enforce the same and worse policies that strangle what little life is left out of Rohingya in camps and their villages. Meanwhile, Rakhine roam freely spewing nazi‐like vitriol raising alarms that additional assaults on Rohingya is pending.
National government leadership’s interests need for the whole of anti‐Rohingya aggression to be blamed on Rakhine, i.e the local populace. The government has avoided international interference by claiming national sovereignty with their shaping the appearance of the Rakhine conflict as local and, therefore, internal. The government, which tightly controls the news about Rakhine, has allowed the liberal distribution of Rakhine men, women, children and monks waving weapons as frontline attackers and protesting international agencies and organization visits and presence in Rakhine State.
Before government restricted all access to international journalists, they were only allowed in some Sittwe Township IDP camps but nowhere else. Sittwe Rohingya IDP conditions are far from acceptable, but they have the possibility of access to some international relief. Outside of Sittwe Township, there have been multiple growing dire emergencies that the government still will not allow meaningful relief access for Rohingya IDP’s. Also, Rohingya elsewhere live in homes and IDP camps surrounded by government imposed and tolerated Rakhine and military attacks, arbitrary arrests and taxation, absolute restricted movement and widespread rape. Also, Rakhine reporters have often contributed to international news outlet stories covering the Rakhine Crisis. One of the October attacks was followed by multiple stories and photographs of Rakhine being treated in the local hospital for wounds sustained in Rohingya attacks on Rakhine. In the photographs I only saw one person with physical evidence of injury out of 20 photos without any blood on skin, clothing, sheets or the tons of bandages applied to victims.
Since June 2012, the “inter‐communal” label of the Rakhine State Crisis persists and is contrary to most Rohingya’s experience and my research and observations. Human Rights Watch reported that inter‐communal violence, i.e. from both Rakhine and Rohingya toward the other community, lasted 48 hours from June 8‐10, 2012. June 10, President Thein Sein declared a State of Emergency taking national military control of the state. Only Rohingya was subject to curfews, which were enforced with deadly force. Since June 10, the aggression has disproportionately been national authorities and local Rakhine attacking, segregating and persecuting Rohingya. All attacks since October have been against Rohingya.
In Sittwe Township, Rohingya adults and children still suffer from the trauma of attacks, death and destruction as additional human rights abuses and other injustices are compiled via government restrictions, forced relocation and encampment and NaSaKa, border security forces’, arbitrary taxation begins. The government has denied many Rohingya IDP status and has offered registration to some IDP’s if they move to a designated IDP camps. Many want to stay in Sittwe Township, others want to return to their own village and township. But, none want to move where the government designates.
Sittwe registered and unregistered Rohingya IDP’s are living in densely populated areas with insufficient land and other opportunities for self sufficiency. When registered IDP’s rations are delivered on time they are not sufficient to cover basic human needs.
Simultaneous to Rohingya’s struggles with multiple traumas, the government propaganda continues to label Rohingya as equal aggressors and offenders. In Sittwe, there are ~12,000 Rohingya IDP families, which clearly outnumber the few military army and NaSaKa soldiers near the camps. But, Rohingya do not want to fight. They are secure in their identity and do not have the irrational need to diminish others. They want the peace that they have been working and praying for for over 50 years. They want the peace that comes through the immediate cessation of aggression, not through battle. They fear for their children’s safety and well‐being in the present conditions. But, most believe there will be more worse assaults against Rohingya and they are caged prey