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Rohingya - A Stateless People

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Rohingya – A Stateless People

Published on 11th September 2017

Myanmar became the 48th member of the United Nations in 1958. To this date, it has ratified only three core human rights conventions, the Convention on the Elimination of all kinds of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Convention on the Rights of Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Myanmar has been in the spotlight for human rights abuses since 1991 with the United Nations General Assembly adopting, to this date, a total of 22 resolutions addressing the situation of human rights in Myanmar. Furthermore, the Human Rights Council (since 2007) has adopted a total of 16 resolutions raising human rights violations in the country. Periodic reports published by the CEDAW and CRC committees constantly raise concern over human rights abuses in Myanmar. In particular, the treaty bodies have highlighted the systematic persecution against the Rohingya minority, an ethnic and religious minority in the country. Rohingya people are confined to the northern Rakhine state, situated on the Western Coast of the country. Rakhine is one of the poorest states in the country with civilians having little access to basic necessities of life. The Rohingya Muslim minority in Rakhine have been the target of discrimination and persecution for years. They are identified as “Bengalis” by the Buddhist majority, and hence their claim to Myanmar citizenship is not considered legitimate. Their ties to the state of Myanmar are contested which gives rise to feelings of hatred and intolerance against them. Rohingya are considered a threat to the religion and race in Myanmar, and this has resulted in occasional violence between the Rakhine Buddhists (and also the government security forces) and Rohingya Muslims. This means that Rohingya, just over 1 million in total, is a stateless minority in a land where their ancestry could be traced back to the 8th century. The ingrained feelings of hatred and intolerance against the Rohingya, combined with extreme poverty, systematic discrimination and occasional incidents of harassment and abuse by state officials have made them a severely persecuted minority of this world.
In February 2017, the United Nations (UNHCR) published a report  to assess potential human rights violations taking place in Rakhine, Myanmar. The UNHCR report was prepared after interviewing Rohingya who had fled to Bangladesh. The interviewees had witnessed or suffered extreme trauma. The report mentioned cases of extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, physical abuse, property damage, lootings, and burnings. The report highlighted a pattern of systematic violence against Rohingya by Myanmar security forces, namely the Myanmar Armed Force, the Border Guard Police Force of Myanmar, Police Forces of Myanmar and Rakhine Villagers. Furthermore, in its most recent resolution, adopted in April 2017, the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) welcomed the strengthening of democratic institutions in Myanmar, but it also urged the government to work towards establishing peace and security in the Rakhine District and providing protection to the Rohingya Muslims. After the violent outbreaks of 2012 in Rakhine, the government imposed severe restrictions on Rohingya. As a result of these restrictions, their freedom to movement and assembly is severely compromised. Rohingya individuals need special authorizations to move between villages within the Rakhine state. This process is onerous and often includes harassment and discrimination by public officials. Failure to comply with these rules could result in arrest and prosecution. Consequently, it is easier for Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh, than to other parts of the country. HRC called upon the state to revise its citizenship laws in order to provide full citizenship status to Rohingya, which would ensure full protection of rights to them. Furthermore, it urged the state to provide protection and relief to thousands of displaced Rohingya immigrants and help them settle as full citizens of Myanmar. The continued restrictions on freedom of movement and assembly and restrictions on the enjoyment of civil and political rights of Rohingya people have created an effective system for marginalizing and shunning the Rohingya.
The recent (25th August 2017) outbreak of violence in Rakhine state occurred after a Rohingya armed group targeted a police post, killing 12 security officials. In response to this, the security forces cracked down on the minority, forcing unarmed people to flee the state in fear of their lives. The UN estimates that over 3 hundred thousand Rohingya have fled the state in less than two weeks. They have been forced out of their homes in order to save their lives. Sadly, not all those fleeing make it across the border alive - women, children, and men have drowned or died while crossing the border. This has become a mass humanitarian crisis in the region, as warned by the UN Security General, in his letter to the Security Council. The mass movement of thousands of Rohingya to Bangladesh has posed a serious challenge for Bangladesh administration. The refugee camps in Bangladesh have exhausted their capacity. People who are fleeing to Bangladesh have suffered immensely, and are in need of immediate assistance, from health care to shelter to a chance at a better life, a safe life.
At present, the world is shaken by the graphic images and videos of the violence inflicted on the Rohingya. The world has seen videos of children, women, and men running for their lives, being burned alive, thrown out of their homes and denied refuge by neighboring countries. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, expressed his concern over the abuse against Rohingya. Pakistan Nobel laureate, Malala Yousafzai condemned the violence against Rohingya. Another Nobel Laureate, Desmond Tutu, wrote a public letter to fellow Nobel Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi, the Myanmar State Counsellor, expressing his grief over the plight of Rohingya and urging her to save the Rohingya of Myanmar. Pakistan’s prominent politician, Imran Khan, wrote an open letter to UN SG to take appropriate action to alleviate the plight of Rohingya. Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Turkey protested and condemned the attacks on Rohingya. Leading global news outlets, such as Guardian, Russia Today, BBC, CNN, Aljazeera, Newsweek, Washington Post, Fox News, Telegraph, New York Times, are covering this issue. Actors, politicians, media personnel, scholars, advocates, NGOs, INGOs, have taken it to the social media with condemning messages. The government of Myanmar is blamed for carrying out a ‘genocide’ and ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the Rohingya. Civilians have initiated online petitions asking for the removal of Aung San Suu Kyi, for failing to provide effective protection to her nation’s Rohingya minority.
At such times, the world turns towards the Security Council to fulfill the mandate it was given 70 years ago, i.e. ‘to maintain international peace and security’, but unfortunately it has failed us. The UN General Assembly has yet to adopt any resolution condemning the violence on Rohingya minority. It has yet to hold an emergency session to address the ongoing violence. Unfortunately, the UN Security Council, tasked with the responsibility to maintain international peace and security, has followed the same pattern. It has failed to adopt any resolution addressing this issue. UN relief agencies are currently operative in Bangladesh, trying to provide relief to the victims of Rohingya Genocide. But they need help. During times like these, it becomes extremely important to make efforts on an individual and/or on a collective level. We need to raise voice against any form of persecution and call upon local and foreign governments alike to put an end to practices which cause human rights abuses. In this case, we need to protest and condemn the failure of the state in fulfilling its most basic duty – providing security to its citizens. We need to call upon the UN SC to take effective steps to provide safety and recognition to those who need it the most. A published note, an online petition, a column in the paper, any form of voice against injustice matters. We call upon our readers to condemn the persecution of Rohingya and to do whatever they can to help them through this excruciating time. We ask of you to show your support and stand with a people who are in dire need of your help, a people remember, who are fleeing certain death - we ask you to show simple human compassion and raise your voice against this injustice.

Rohingya in Myanmar and Pakistan

But this isn’t all, we can do more for Rohingya people. In Karachi, a place named Arakanabad slum "Land of Arakan," (a reference to the former Burmese name for Rakhine) is home to many Rohingya families. The population estimates vary from fifty thousand to three hundred thousand. Many of these families arrived in Pakistan, decades ago. They are engaged in low-paying work, and despite living in Pakistan for years, the government has denied them any rights, let alone citizenship.
Pakistan has not ratified the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol. Pakistan has not enacted any national legislation for the protection of refugees. There are no established procedures to determine the refugee status of immigrants seeking asylum within its territory. Persons seeking protection in Pakistan are governed in accordance with the 1946 Foreigners Act. The 1946 Act grants broad powers to the government to monitor, restrict and prohibit the movement of immigrants. Their residence can be limited to a prescribed area, they can be denied freedom of movement, assembly, and association. Since the government of Pakistan does not have criteria to determine refugee status, immigrants staying in Pakistan without proper authorization are classified as illegal immigrants. The government does not issue Identification Cards to illegal immigrants, without which their access to basic services is severely hampered.
The Federal Cabinet of Pakistan, on Friday, condemned the violence against Rohingya in Burma and termed it a ‘genocide’. Sadly, the national assembly failed to mention the thousands of Rohingya currently living as stateless people in Pakistan. There are obvious parallels between the treatment of Rohingya in Rakhine and the treatment of Rohingya in Karachi. Both groups are denied citizenship and full enjoyment of rights. Their freedoms to move, assemble, associate are restricted. Their basic civil and political rights are limited. Both groups are living a stateless life in lands where they are perceived as ‘others’ and ‘foreigners’ – they are a people living without homes, without identity.
As individuals, there is little we can do for thousands of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh or thousands of Rohingya people being persecuted in Myanmar, but there is much that we can do for the Rohingya who have been living in our country for years. We call upon the government of Pakistan to officially recognize Rohingya as asylum seekers and grant them access to basic health facilities, education services, and employment opportunities. We call upon the government to accord them the basic protection of fundamental rights irrespective of their country of origin, race, religion or ethnicity. We call upon the government of Pakistan to ratify the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol. We call upon the government to design effective procedures to determine refugee status of immigrants. We call upon the government to grant citizenship to individuals who have lived most part of their lives, or all parts of their lives in the state of Pakistan. And finally, we call upon the citizens of Pakistan to welcome and accept these immigrants and show them love and respect which overcomes differences of nationality, religion, race, and ethnicity.

This statement uses data from UN Reports and International and National News outlets. Opinions expressed in this statement are of CHRJ. CHRJ has no political affiliations.


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