Myanmar’s western coastal state of Rakhine has been the scene of ceaseless communal violence since mid-June, leading to murder, rape and torture of the Muslim Rohingyas and burning or destruction of their homes. On Friday, Amnesty International came out with a statement accusing both security forces and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists of carrying out new attacks against the Muslim community. Myanmar has a large Muslim population settled mostly in the border regions close to China, Thailand and Bangladesh.
They came to the country from different parts of the Muslim world as far back as the 9th century onwards. Rohingya settlers though arrived during the British rule – mostly from the present-day Bangladesh but India as well – until 1941 when immigration was stopped under an Indo-Burma agreement.
Unending insecurity has forced countless Burmese Muslims to escape to the neighbouring countries, or wherever they could find refuge. It may be recalled that in the early 1990s, after the country’s military junta unleashed a bloody crackdown on them, a large number of Rohingya Muslims escaped to Bangladesh where they are treated as unwelcome aliens. They are housed in refugee camps with minimal facilities so as to discourage fresh arrivals. Just the other day, Bangladesh Foreign Minister Dipu Moni asked Myanmar to take back thousands of Rohingya refugees who fled the latest spate of violence. Sadly, the Rohingya Muslims are being turned into a people without a country. Arguably, communal tensions generally are the result of economic rivalries, political reasons related to history or just plain social backwardness. The anti-Muslim violence in Myanmar may be traceable to some such reason. Yet, needless to say, there is no justification whatsoever for subjecting any community to violence or injustice.
As noted earlier, most of the Myanmar Muslims have lived there for centuries. Even those in the western region next to Bangladesh go back several generations. Myanmar is their only country, which must do all that is necessary to protect its minority community citizens. That it is disinclined to do so is clear from Amnesty’s statement on the anti-Muslim attacks: “some of this is by security forces’ own hands, some by Rakhine Buddhists with the security forces turning a blind eye in some cases.” The country’s neighbours, especially India and China, with which the military government has had good relations, could use their influence but they are more interested in benefiting from its rich resources of hydro carbons, minerals, and gems than in human rights. Besides, India’s own track record regarding protection of Muslim community is quite awful. It falls on rights organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to keep spotlighting the issue so that the international community and the UN human rights body take a serious interest in the issue and ensure the Rohingya Muslims can live in peace, side by side with the Buddhist majority population, in their own country.