David N. Rosenwald
Due to ignorance and silence of the international community on the massive humanitarian crisis centering over one million Rohingya refugees who are stranded in Bangladesh since 2018, Myanmar’s majority Buddhists, being instigated by the military establishments have evidently become radical and audacious and now are openly demanding conversion of Muslims, Christians and Hindus for having the right of living in that country. This had been exposed when a Buddhist activist in Myanmar, Yangon Thar made offensive remarks in response to a news item published in Blitz. Replying to a report titled ‘Risk of playing with the Rohingya issue’, Thar said, “ARSA is afraid of connecting with ISIS or Al Qaeda because of a big boy like US and NATO potential involvement which could lead to their total demise. So, Yakhine [Rakhine] Muslim have no base for political support inside Yakhine or Burma proper. The people of Burma and its Army are united to resist any attempt to Islamization of their states or country.
“The only other alternative is like the Muslim inside the refugee camp to convert to Buddhism. If these Muslim want to return and stay peacefully, they must convert to Buddhism, give up the separative idea and loyal to Burma”.
It may be mentioned here that 83 percent of the total population of Myanmar are Theravada Buddhists, while 7 percent are Christians, 4 percent each are Muslims and Hindus and remaining one percent are Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhists.
Myanmar’s Christian population has been increasing dramatically with 4.9 percent in 1983 to 6.2 percent in 2015. By 2050, the size of the Christian population in Myanmar will cross 30 percent while the Muslim and Hindu population will decline significantly.
Meanwhile, the Christian population in Kachin and Kayin states in Myanmar are already facing attacks by the Buddhists, which include rape and murder and according to various reports, members of Myanmar army are accused of raping Christian girls and women on a regular basis.
In 2015, Christians in Karen have also been threatened by a spate of Buddhist nationalists illegally building pagodas on church grounds.
Political analysts are already seeing another genocide on the Christian population in Myanmar, once the Rohingya refugees are permanent stopped from returning.
Radical Buddhists initiated the genocide on the Rohinghas
According to a report titled ‘Burmese Buddhist Monks demand limits to mixed marriages and Rohingya civil rights’ published in the Asia News, back in 2014, a petition in support of a law that placed strong constraints on mixed marriages, especially between Buddhist women and men of other faiths was gaining support. Launched by a group of Buddhist monks it was due to be presented to Myanmar Parliament. A conference was held in Mandalay attended by thousands of monks who had – at the same time – re-proposed a law to restrict the rights of the Muslim Rohingya ethnic minority, who live mainly in Rakhine State in western Myanmar.
In the 2014-letter Buddhist monks also demanded that the approximately 800 thousand members of the Muslim minority in Rakhine State be referred to by the name “Bengali”, arguing that they are) allegedly “illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh and consequently deprived of any right to citizenship.
Bangladesh embassy in Myanmar should have already learnt about this serious issue and it is unknown if they had communicated the matter with due importance to Dhaka. Diplomatic analysts say, Bangladesh should have immediately raised objection to the matter and should also have brought the matter to the attention of the international community.
Background of the Rohingya crisis
The Myanmar government refuses to grant the Rohingya citizenship, and as a result, most of the group’s members have no legal documentation, effectively making them stateless. Myanmar’s 1948 citizenship law was already exclusionary, and the military junta, which seized power in 1962, introduced another law twenty years later that stripped the Rohingya of access to full citizenship. Until recently, the Rohingya had been able to register as temporary residents with identification cards, known as white cards, which the junta began issuing to many Muslims, both Rohingya and non-Rohingya, in the 1990s. The white cards conferred limited rights but were not recognized as proof of citizenship. Still, Lewa says that they did provide some recognition of temporary stay for the Rohingya in Myanmar.
In 2014 the government held a UN-backed national census, its first in thirty years. The Muslim minority group was initially permitted to identify as Rohingya, but after Buddhist nationalists threatened to boycott the census, the government decided Rohingya could only register if they identified as Bengali instead.
Similarly, under pressure from Buddhist nationalists protesting the Rohingya’s right to vote in a 2015 constitutional referendum, then President Thein Sein canceled the temporary identity cards in February 2015, effectively revoking their newly gained right to vote. (White card holders were allowed to vote in Myanmar’s 2008 constitutional referendum and 2010 general elections.) In the 2015 elections, which were widely touted by international monitors as free and fair, no parliamentary candidate was of the Muslim faith. “Country-wide anti-Muslim sentiment makes it politically difficult for the government to take steps seen as supportive of Muslim rights,” writes the International Crisis Group.
State-patronized discrimination against Rohingyas
The Myanmar government has effectively institutionalized discrimination against the ethnic group through restrictions on marriage, family planning, employment, education, religious choice, and freedom of movement. For example, Rohingya couples in the northern towns of Maungdaw and Buthidaung are only allowed to have two children. Rohingya must also seek permission to marry, which may require them to bribe authorities and provide photographs of the bride without a headscarf and the groom with a clean-shaven face, practices that conflict with Muslim customs. To move to a new home or travel outside their townships, Rohingya must gain government approval.
Moreover, Rakhine State is Myanmar’s least developed state, with a poverty rate of 78 percent, compared to the 37.5 percent national average, according to World Bank estimates. Widespread poverty, poor infrastructure, and a lack of employment opportunities in Rakhine have exacerbated the cleavage between Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya. This tension is deepened by religious differences that have at times erupted into conflict.
The reason behind the beginning of 2017-crisis
Clashes in Rakhine broke out in August 2017, after a militant group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) claimed responsibility for attacks on police and army posts. The government declared ARSA a terrorist organization and the military mounted a brutal campaign that destroyed hundreds of Rohingya villages and forced nearly seven hundred thousand Rohingya to leave Myanmar. At least 6,700 Rohingya were killed in the first month of attacks, between August 25 and September 24, 2017, according to the international medical charity Doctors Without Borders. Myanmar’s security forces also allegedly opened fire on fleeing civilians and planted land mines near border crossings used by Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh.
Since the start of 2018, Myanmar authorities have reportedly cleared abandoned Rohingya villages and farmlands to build homes, security bases, and infrastructure. The government says this development is in preparation for the repatriation of refugees, but rights activists have expressed concern these moves could be intended to accommodate other populations in Rakhine State. Furthermore, some have raised doubts that the government’s tactics have been in response to ARSA attacks, with reports showing that the military began implementing its policies nearly a year before ARSA struck.