An Inside Scoop From A Different Burmese Citizen's Perspective by Zwe Wai Yan
In 1977, when the army launched a national drive to register citizens, the Rohingya were considered illegal. More than 200,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh at the time because of further atrocities. Authorities pointed to their flight as purported evidence of their illegal status. The Citizenship Act of Myanmar, enacted in 1982, formally denying the group citizenship rights. This law required that a person’s ancestors belong to a national race or group present in Myanmar prior to British rule in 1823 to become a citizen. The Rohingya were still classified as illegal immigrants allowed in by British colonizers. As Human Rights Watch has noted, however, their presence actually dates back to the 12th century.
Today, the Rohingya are the single largest “stateless” community in the world. Their “statelessness” and lack of citizenship increases their vulnerability; they are not entitled to any legal protection from the government. Without citizenship, they are deprived of basic rights such as access to health services, education, and employment. For example, the illiteracy rate among the Rohingya is 80 percent. They also face restrictions on the right to marry, move freely and own property because of their ethnic identity. They have even been denied the right to worship freely. Even though Rohingya population growth has slowed , anxieties not only persist but are codified in law: Rohingya couples are allowed no more than two children. Those who break the law risk imprisonment and the government blacklists their children. Without legal status, they cannot go to school, travel or buy property. The police can also arrest and imprison them.
Despite Myanmar’s recent democratic transition, the persecution persists. The current humanitarian catastrophe ostensibly began with an assault on police posts by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, a new insurgency group. Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh told Human Rights Watch that Myanmar government forces had carried out armed attacks, and burned down their homes. In addition, they beheaded men, raped women and murdered children. Prior to this crisis, 120,000 displaced Rohingya had been living in internment camps. Now, tens of thousands of Rohingya have become internally displaced. The Myanmar Army, meanwhile, denies any wrongdoing. Despite the global outcry, they claim to be conducting “counterterrorism” operations. To demonstrate international censure, Malala Yousafzai recently tweeted and condemned with a collaboration of other different human rights activist and politicians, that has no correlation with her or the other individuals, and "declared" (more like claimed) that the Bengalis, deserve citizenship in Myanmar, for they were born in the country.
Currently, the state counselor, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize role model for many people, has given residential permits to the Rohingya Muslims. This action has angered the majority of citizens, who are Buddhist nationalists, furthering the disapproval rates of Daw Suu. Her position, however, is more interesting as she is a human rights activist, but while remaining a position of being state counselor. In the country, the majority of the people idolize her, but the audience themselves are ultra-nationalist Buddhists. The hatred for the minority is existent due to the cultural and religious differences that the Buddhists have for the Rohingya. Aung San Suu Kyi won her position due to the popularity of polls, and in a case that she is in, conducts an action that could upset the majority of the people, as recently, she has given out residence permits for the remaining Rohingyas to be under some form of protection, causing mass anger from her supporters. Not only this, but the Constitution in itself also has restricted the amount of power that could be exercised by Daw Suu, as lawfully stating, the military junta has full authorization to permit any sort of military action without consequence.
For the betterment of peace in the country, international organizations shouldn’t waste efforts on condemning actions and leaders that are in precarious situations and elaborate further on the exploitation of the Rohingya Muslims. But instead, the focus on changing the mindset of the majority of the people with help or assistance offered to the only National League of Democracy’s leader, to reform the Constitution to actually make an impact on this issue.