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Conflict Analysis: The Rohingya Case, Policy Recommendations

 Category: Reports  Publisher: Adheip Rahul Rashada  Published: 1 January 2020  Tags: Myanmar GenocideMyanmar MilitaryRakhineRohingya |  Download


In the context of the modern system of nation-states where territories are demarcated, an individual without a national identity is an irregularity. This is because people cannot escape being connected to a state even when a state does not recognize them’ (Farzana). The debate about identity formation is important as it ‘demands an exploration of how the state practices its sovereignty and suppresses the voices of the citizens’ and non-citizens’ experiences of conflict to produce the state’s unity.’ This process usually results in the failure of the state to resolve cases of violence, generation of forced migration and the creation of stateless peoples (Farzana)2.

As we see in many state-centric conflicts today, both citizens and non-citizens have to forcefully emigrate from their country (of origin) to neighboring countries that are usually reluctant in letting them enter. They flee to avoid violence, persecution, and other existential threats which are often produced by the governments (Farzana). The problems also don’t end when people choose to flee. In addition to the loss of a ‘familiar socio-economic, natural, and political environments,’ involuntary migrants such as the refugees and asylum seekers often face humanitarian problems at their newly arrived destinations. As a result, ‘displaced people worldwide are largely marginalized’ (Farzana). Examples of such displacement arising out of state action would include; ‘the flight of Tibetans from China to India, the exodus of Sri Lankan Tamils to India, Palestinian refugees in Jordan, the immigration of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar into Bangladesh and India etc.’

 The state-centric conflict that we will be looking at is that of Rohingyas in the Arakan region of Myanmar/Burma. (Refer to Map1.1 in Appendix). ‘As Muslims with a culture and Chittagonian dialect of their own, residing in a predominantly Buddhist province of the Arakan (also known as Rakhine, ‘an isolated province in the western part of the country across Naaf River as boundary from Bangladesh.’), the Rohingya are a minority within a minority’ in Myanmar’s ‘diverse ethnic landscape’ (Al-Adawy 2013)7.

According to the Rohingya narrative of history, the Arakans had an independent kingdom before it was occupied in 1784 (by the Burmese) and the right to be indigenous to the region is justified in their literature although the claims of the antiquity of existence in the Arakan is quite questionable. Based on evidence, their roots can be traced back to migration form Chittagong (now in Bangladesh), which was triggered when the British empire took over the jurisdiction of the province at the conclusion of the First-Anglo Burmese War. Further, the British colonial records refer to the migrants as Chittagonians. “The usage of the term ‘Rohingyas,’ now generally used to refer to the Muslims in the north of the Rakhine state”, signified in its essence a political movement prominent during the 1950s which endorsed “a socio-cultural understanding of Muslims in Arakan as a separate ethnic group fighting for political autonomy.” In the larger scheme, it was a step in the process of legitimization of the right to self-determination over the region. This core belief also led to the formation of a political consciousness of distinct Muslim interests in the region which was a precursor to a succession of militant organizations trying to achieve the same. Regardless of the truth value of their historical narrative, the longevity of the ‘Rohingya’ presence in the Rakhine region gives them a substantial claim for the right to be recognized by the Myanmar government along with the right to reside in the Arakan region.

In the post-independence period (after 1948), Myanmar has experienced a myriad of ethnic conflicts.14 Rakhine and Rohingya insurgencies erupted in the two decades that followed. As Fanon puts it, decolonization is an unsettling and a violent process resulting from years of oppression by the colonizers. This has certainly been the case in Myanmar where latent inter-ethnic struggles in the region have manifested into violent confrontations in recent history. One of the main reasons for this is that while one ethnic group had the means to gain a significant advantage (through state recognition), the other didn’t. The apparatuses of the central government in Myanmar were occupied by the majority ethnic group, the Burmese in the de facto ‘dictatorship’s seizure of power in 1962’ that gave institutional agency to the Burmese to secure their right to self-determination. The Burmese clearly had no intention of being inclusive of the Rakhine and especially the Rohingyas. As a result, today they are one of the most persecuted ethnic groups in the world.

A problem that is central to the Rohingyas is the ambiguity that is often found with the formation of their political identity. They are in a state of national limbo (Haque 2017). Out of approximately 2 million Rohingyas in Myanmar, about 800,000 live in the Northern Rakhine state and about 500,000 have migrated to the other parts of the world. A further estimate of 500,00022 now live in Bangladesh. While they claim that they have the right to access all the facilities that a Burmese citizen is entitled to, the Burmese government uses rhetoric that paint them as outsiders and the other (by calling them Bengali, illegal immigrants and ostracizing their historical experiences in the region) with no legitimate right to reside in the region. The rhetoric in the country of destination, usually Bangladesh and India also paint them as temporary residents or outsiders and despite acknowledging their refugee status and the existential threat that they face at ‘home,’ they intend to eventually push for their return.

President Thein Sein, upon the announcement of the state of emergency, gave the control of the riot-ridden regions to the Myanmar military. The clashes took place in both June and October. Both basically resulted in the systematic persecution of the Rohingyas. Despite the state government denying complicity of the state in the systematic persecution of the Rohingyas, it nevertheless played a role in stoking fear and animosity. The ‘only solution’ as suggested by President Thein was of the expulsion of the Rohingyas to other countries, or to camps that are overseen by the UNHCR (Al-Adawy).