Ethnic Cleansing in Myanmar Part I

By | October 27, 2021

Since August 2017, the army in Myanmar has forced around 600,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee across the border into Bangladesh. An unknown number have been killed. Aung San Suu Kyi, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 and now heads the civilian part of Myanmar’s government, has failed to criticize the army’s conduct. Many countries are now sharply criticizing both General Min Aung Hlaing , Chief of Defense (Commander-in-Chief) of the Myanmar Army, and Suu Kyi. The Peace Prize winner’s hero glory has been dragged down into the mud .

2: What happened?

On August 24, 2017, a press conference was convened in Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar, a country located in Asia according to Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan put forward 88 proposals for measures to improve conditions for the two poorer ethnic groups in the state of Rakhine in western Myanmar:

  • the Buddhistrakhine who are in the majority, and
  • the Muslimminority Rohingya.

Earlier in the day, he had presented the report to Suu Kyi, who had set up the commission a year earlier, and to Chief of Defense Min Aung Hlaing. The following night, the group Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) launched a poorly armed attack on the military and police in villages in three districts of northern Rakhine, where the majority of the population were Muslim Rohingya.

The army must have prepared for something like this to happen. ARSA had carried out a similar attack in October 2016, and it had been met with strong punitive measures (reprisals) and the burning of a dozen villages. After the attack on 25 August 2017, the army launched a brutal major operation against several Rohingya villages in the border area with Bangladesh. Soldiers moved in, forced people to flee and burned down their homes. In some places, local rakhine groups also participated . There were clashes in several places between well-armed soldiers and poorly-armed ARSA groups.

Rumors of the army and rakhine militias’ conduct with rapes and killings of adults and children spread rapidly in the area, where many have mobile phones . In the villages that had not yet been attacked, most chose to flee across the border river to Bangladesh.

In November 2017, the UN estimated that more than 600,000 new refugees had arrived at the camps in Bangladesh, where there were several hundred thousand before. Only a minority of the Rohingya population is still in Myanmar. Satellite photographs from before and after the operation show that the houses in at least 230 villages have been burned down in whole or in part, of which 212 are Rohingya villages.

3: Who is Rohingya?

Rohingya is one of several historical names of the Muslims who lived in the Buddhist principality of Arakan before it was conquered by Myanmar (Burma) in 1783, or who settled there later. Many moved from the west to Myanmar under British colonial rule (1823–1937) when Myanmar was part of British India.

Other names of the people have been Chittagongs, Bengals and Arakan or Rakhine Muslims. They speak the same language (Bengali) and have the same religion (Islam) as the people of Chittagong province in Bangladesh. There is also a small group of “Kaman Muslims” in Rakhine who are more integrated and recognized by the Buddhist majority. Bangladesh also has a small Buddhist rakhine minority.

The history of Buddhist opposition to Muslim immigration dates back to colonial times. In 1942, during World War II, the Japanese forced both Muslims and Hindus to flee west . 500-600 000 fled, and tens of thousands died during the flight. Japan received support from a local army led by General Aung San (Aung San Suu Kyi’s father).

In March 1945, he switched sides in the war, contacted the British and negotiated Myanmar’s independence. Aung San is considered the founder of modern Myanmar, but he did not manage to become the leader of the new state, because he was assassinated before Independence Day.

Under the chaotic conditions that prevailed in the early years of independent Myanmar, the northern part of Rakhine was controlled by an armed Muslim group, which had supported the British during World War II. It was defeated by the army in Myanmar. Then the Rohingya political movement arose .

In the 1950s, it adopted the name Rohingya as the name of itself and its people, and eventually most Muslims in or from the state of Rakhine have made Rohingya their identity . The movement demanded that the Rohingya be recognized as one of the many ethnic groups in Myanmar. This demand was met with increased repression. A large number of Rohingya were forced to flee to Bangladesh in 1978 and again in 1991-92 . Since then, the Rohingya have had difficulty finding work and poor access to health care.

The goal of recognition has not yet been reached . In 1982, the military dictatorship of Myanmar passed a law granting citizenship to all who belonged to what were called ” national ethnic groups .” Rohingya were not among the 135 groups that fell under this designation.

A new constitution, introduced in 2008, provided no improvement. In 2010, the Rohingya were granted the right to vote in elections to the National Assembly, but at the next election in 2015, they were not allowed to vote. In fact, the position of the Rohingya deteriorated after 2011, when Myanmar introduced a more democratic form of government. (The military had ruled the country since 1962.)

Ethnic cleansing in Myanmar