A Few Notes on the Violation of Muslims Rights in Myanmar

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Mahmoud Reza Golshanpazhooh
Executive Editor of Iran Review

Violation of Muslims rights in Myanmar has aroused the sentiments of the Muslim community world over especially since June 2012. News, statistics and images depicting the extreme violence which is going on against the Muslim minority of the Southeast Asian nation have drawn the attention of part of the Muslim society to problems and plight of this remote and mostly forgotten Muslim minority. The present article will try to point out some considerations on the mass killing of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar by discussing a number of separate propositions.

First - Regardless of how and why clashes began, one thing is for sure. Many factors have been at work to bring about the existing situation in Myanmar. Long-term discrimination against the Rohingya Muslim minority which started about a century ago; deplorable living situation of this minority which has about one million members who have been living in a homeless state along the common border between Myanmar and Bangladesh; involvement in or, at least, the indifference of Myanmar security forces toward organized violence exercised against Muslims by extremist Buddhists; the inaction of the Myanmarese government for making a final decision on Rohingya Muslim, and indifference of the Bangladeshi government toward their predicament are all among factors precipitating the plight of Rohingya Muslims.

Second – The violation of the rights of the Muslim minority in Myanmar is a long story. Apparently after Myanmar gained its independence in 1948, the country’s constitution contained an article which practically bars Rohingya Muslims from being recognized as Myanmarese nationals. The pretext used to deny their nationality is that their ancestors did not live in the country (formerly known as Burma) before the 19th century. Of course, Myanmarese Muslims believe that their ancestors have been living in Burma (the present-day Myanmar) since the 9th century AD. This constitutional problem has left Rohingya Muslims practically “stateless” and has paved the ground for radical elements to abuse this situation due to carelessness and inaction of the security forces of Myanmar and even Bangladesh. At present, a major reason which has raised casualties among Rohingya Muslims is that Bangladeshi border guards prevent them from entering Bangladesh by crossing the common border. The supporters of Rohingya Muslims have frequently noted that discrimination, injustice and violence against the Muslim minority by extremist Buddhists and the military government of Myanmar has been there for many long years. For example, head of a Muslim organization belonging to Rohingya Muslims recently noted that the government of Myanmar expelled more than 300,000 Muslims to Bangladesh in 1978 and also revoked the nationality of Myanmarese Muslims in 1982. The government then announced that Rohingya Muslims are, in fact, illegal immigrants. The same source noted that Myanmar further banished about 300,000 Muslims to Bangladesh in 1992. The government of Myanmar is also implementing calculated policies to eradicate Muslims and is trying to restrict their small population by enforcing family planning programs.

The important point was recent remarks made by Myanmar’s President Thein Sein about the situation of Muslims in his country. He said there were two solutions to Muslims’ problem: either to expel all Rohingya Muslims to a third country or sending them to refugee camps under the oversight of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The United Nations, however, rapidly denied that request. Such an attitude at the highest level of Myanmarese government clearly shows the catastrophic situation with which Myanmarese Muslims are now faced.

Third – A review of the volume and diversity of reactions shown to this issue will reveal many unknown angles. The most important reaction to be shown by an international organization came from Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, who condemned the massacre of Muslims. She added that based on available reports published by independent sources, Myanmar’s security forces have been intensifying discrimination against Muslims and have been even involved in the crackdown on the Muslim minority. According to Pillay, reports show that the reaction shown by Myanmarese officials to sectarian strife in the country has been basically meant to crack down on the Muslim minority.

The UN special rapporteur on human rights has also visited Myanmar in late July and is supposed to prepare a fact-finding report to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council.

At official levels, Iranian authorities have shown the most vehement and the most categorical reaction to mass killing of Myanmarese Muslims. The most important of those reactions was shown by the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei during his recent visit with the Iranian Quranic community (reciters and memorizers of the holy Quran) on the first day of the fasting month of Ramadan (July 21, 2012). The leader said, “Today thousands of human beings are killed due to ignorance and prejudices in Myanmar while the false advocates of human rights do not say a word and those who sympathize with animals have kept total mum here in the face of the mass murder of a group of innocent people and are (even) trying to justify it.” Interestingly enough, the Leader had also pointed to the plight of Myanmarese Muslims about 21 years ago, again at the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan, when the government of Myanmar had just started to escalate pressure on the Muslim community in that country. In a speech on March 4, 1992, the Leader said, “This is the situation of the oppressed and deprived Muslims in Myanmar where tens of thousands of them are now living in the worst conceivable conditions in Bangladesh. Our representatives went there and came back and gave us news which will make any human being really sleepless at night! A bunch of boot-wearing (military men) have driven tens of thousands of Myanmarese Muslims from their homes in the most vicious possible manner; they have killed their children, women and men; have pillaged their property; anybody who has been able to save their life, has escaped; (and) nobody in the world cares about them; neither the United Nations says anything, nor there is an outcry from the human rights committee; neither the (International Committee of) the Red Cross feels any responsibility (toward them), nor these spurious conferences and institutes which claim to be advocating human rights and defending peace and so forth say a word; as if these (Muslims) are not humans! This shows the hostility of the world to Islam and Islamic concepts and values; this shows how careless they are toward human beings and what they say about the human rights and similar concepts is just a political means (which they use) to pound somebody in somewhere or to lift somebody up; (they use it) to weaken a government and drive people out of the scene (of political participation).”

A phone conversation between Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet  Davutoglu and his Bangladeshi counterpart, Dipu Moni; public remarks and letters from Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu to Myanmarese officials and the country’s Nobel Peace prize laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi; positions taken by spokesman of the Foreign Ministry of Pakistan as well as sporadic remarks by some religious leaders in Muslim countries have been among few instances of reactions shown to the plight of Muslims in Myanmar. On the other side, there has been total mum in the West on this issue and no important position has been taken on it. Meanwhile, popular protests by people in Pakistan, Turkey, Iran, and some other Islamic and European countries have been remarkable.

Fourth – Application of double standards to human rights has always been an issue and in view of the current international dynamism, it will never be done away with. The fact that the West has remained silent toward developments in Myanmar and has preferred maintaining its nascent relations with the country to protecting the human rights of Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims cannot be denied in any way. It seems that the United States is afraid of doing anything which may cause this close neighbor of China to become disillusioned with the West and inclined toward China. As a result, Washington is of the opinion that the process which has started about a year ago for the improvement of relations with Myanmar and the movement that the military rulers of this country have started toward the realization of the Western democracy should not be blocked under any conditions. However, the following measures are necessary to be taken in this regard:

A. Any measure taken by the Islamic countries would become much more effective if it is taken within framework of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. In addition to recent measures taken by secretary-general of the organization, convening an emergency meeting or, at least, issuing a unanimous statement by the Islamic states to condemn the massacre and urge the Myanmarese officials to allow for a fact-finding group formed by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to visit the country, will be an active step taken in this regard by the Islamic countries.

B. If the current situation continues and after publication of the expected report of the UN special human rights rapporteur on the situation in Myanmar, Islamic countries can call for an emergency meeting of the UN Human Rights Council. Such sessions can be convened when requested by 16 member states and can be used as a very effective means to increase international attention to mass killing of Myanmar’s Muslims and to galvanize international organizations into action on this issue. This measure will be of special importance if the operations of Myanmarese security forces against Muslims could be described as “ethnic cleansing” or “genocide” on the strength of the expected report of the UN special human rights rapporteur or other available evidence.

Key words: Muslims Rights in Myanmar, Extreme Violence, International Organization, Human Rights Council, Iran's Supreme Leader, Western Democracy, Islamic states, Golshanpazhooh

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