We need to see an end to the widespread and systematic abuses of Rohingya rights which for too long have been ignored. I appeal to all the people for action, today. Please help end the “slow burning genocide of more than 1 million Rohingya in Myanmar. The Burmese government’s plan is to drive us out of our own ancestral land. This cannot happen – we are people of Myanmar, and should be treated as such. Failure to act will have devastating consequences and lead to untold suffering. – Tun Khin
It is a great honor to speak at this event today. First of all I would like to express many thanks to the organizers for arranging this timely conference and for inviting me to share the history and reality of Rohingya people.
My own personal history in Burma dates back generations. My family had long resided in Buthidaung, and my paternal grandfather, Mt Gaffar, was a parliamentary secretary during Prime Minister U Nu’s parliamentary government. A British-educated Burmese national – and a Rohingya man – he served the newly independent Burma. Other members of my family have served the government and as part of the civil service.
I was born and brought up in Buthidaung Arakan State. My parents, along with over 200,000 Rohingya, were forced to fled the country on foot into neighbouring Bangladesh Burma’s first large scale campaign against the Rohingya – nagamin or “Dragon King” operation. They left in the spring of 1978 were repatriated back to Burma – and their home in Buthidaung – in the autumn the same year. I was born three years later.
Despite of our ancestral roots in western Burma, my family, and many others have been stripped of our citizenship and denied a nationality in Burma. This has had long lasting consequences, and has made it increasingly difficult for Rohingyas in Myanmar to exercise other rights and live in dignity. The latest round of violence against Rohingya in Burma is part of a long standing pattern of discrimination, abuse and oppression which I will speak about in some detail later.
Before I do, I want to talk a little bit about the history of the Rohingya in Burma. The government has often claimed that Rohingyas do not exist in the country, that there is no such thing as Rohingya, and that we are in fact “illegal migrants” from Bangladesh. This is not true.
Rohingyas were ancient settlers of Indo- Aryan descendant converted into Islam in 8th century A.D and new generation of mixed blood of Arab (788 A.D – 801 A.D ) plus Persian (700 AD -1500 A.D) plus Bangali (1400 AD – 1736 AD) plus mogul in 16th century AD.
In ancient times the Rakhine State was called Rohang and the people in Rohang were called as Rohingyas so that Rohingya was a name of an ethnic group only occurred under historic event. Rohingya was not created under politics and not the same as Mujahids, armed group.Although Rohingyas’ spoken dialect are not the same as Rakhines’ spoken words, it ought to be taken care of the fact that their words are the same as ancient waithali (vesali) words and the culture is same too based on Ananda Sandra Stone Monument or Shitthoung Temple pillar of Arakan translated by Oxford University in 1935-42 which was erected in 8th Century.
According to history, Islam reached Arakan before 788 AD and it attracted the local people to come to the fold of Islam en masse all over Arakan. Since then Islam had played an important part towards advancement of civilization in Arakan where Muslim, Buddhists and Hindus lived side by side for centuries with amity and concord as one family and ruled the country together. Coins and medallions were issued bearing “Kalima” (the profession of faith in Islam) in Arabic Language and persian script. Persian was the Court Language of Arakan and it was common for the kings to adopt Muslim names.
Rohingya Muslims of Arakan who have their proud history, culture and tradition as other indigenous races of Burma and there is no justification to take them as foreign race for the simple reason that they profess Islam and keep Islamic names. Other Nationals can easily distinguish from their features who are them. They are also different from one another in their Language, customs and culture. Similar is the case with Rohingya Muslims who have been together as a race in a group from time immoral in a territory included within the Arakan and Burma.
The word “Rohingya”, use of the term in the English language can be traced back at least until 1799, when researcher Francis Buchanan wrote of a dialect in western Burma “spoken by the [Muslims], who have long settled in Arakan, and who call themselves Rooinga, or natives of Arakan.” Rohingya ethnicity was also identified in the Journal of London published in 1811, as well as in the 1815 of collectiones vocabulorum in Berlin of Germany.
By denying our existence and identity, the Burmese government have sought to distract attention from the appalling human rights violations we are and continue to be subjected to. This cannot continue.
Before I speak about the recent violence and the atrocities taking place in northern Rakhine State, I want first to talk about the situation for Rohingyas and other Muslims in Rakhine state before 9 October. It is important to place this recent violence in a historical context of state sponsored discrimination, oppression and persecution of the Rohingya.
Since Burmese independence on 4 January 1948, 19 full-fledged armed operations with frequent state patronized communal riots, have been engineered and carried out against the Rohingyas resulting in their death, massive destruction of their settlements, holy places of worship, economic bases and expulsion from their hearths and homes.
Some of the major armed operations against the Rohingya people, orchestrated by the Burmese government since 1948 are mentioned below:
• Military Operation (5th Burma Regiment) – November 1948
• Burma Territorial Force (BTF) – Operation 1949-50
• Military Operation (2nd Emergency Chin regiment) – March 1951-52
• Mayu Operation – October 1952-53
• Mone-thone Operation – October 1954
• Combined Immigration and Army Operation – January 1955
• Union Military Police (UMP) Operation – 1955-58
• Captain Htin Kyaw Operation – 1959
• Shwe Kyi Operation – October 1966
• Kyi Gan Operation – October-December 1966 (Buthidaung-Maung Daw)
• Ngazinka Operation – 1967-69
• Myat Mon Operation – February 1969-71(” in Sittway and Kyaukpyu districts)
• Major Aung Than Operation – 1973
• Sabe Operation February – 1974-78
• Naga-Min (King Dragon) Operation – February 1978-79 (resulting in exodus of some 300,000 Rohingyas to Bangladesh)
• Shwe Hintha Operation – August 1978-80
• Galone Operation – 1979
• Pyi Thaya Operation – July 1991-92 (resulting in exodus of some 268,000 Rohingyas to Bangladesh)
• Na-Sa-Ka Operation – (ongoing )since 1992
The first issue I want to talk about is citizenship. As many of you know, Rohingyas in Myanmar are not granted full citizenship rights. Indeed, we have gradually stripped of our citizenship and our right to a nationality, notably by the 1982 Citizenship Law. While many of our countrymen and women were given national identity cards, we Rohingyas – myself included – were issued with temporary registration cards known as a “white cards”. With this card, we are neither citizens nor foreigners, but instead live somewhere in between in legal limbo.
Without citizenship many of the rights we would normally take for granted were no longer guaranteed for Rohingyas. Rohingyas movement was – and remains – severely restricted, and they are subject to a tightly controlled system of travel permissions. Whether they want to travel to the next village or to neighboring townships, Rohingyas can only go with authorization of the authorities. This has major consequences for their day to day lives. It makes it very difficult to travel to find work and to travel to market to sell and buy goods. Rohingyas are also barred from studying at universities and colleges in Burma. I should note that in the past during Rohingya students not only studied at higher education institutions, they formed official Rohingya student associations and cultural organizations in Rangoon. Not anymore. In taking away our citizenship the government took away something just as precious: our future.
Many of you will be aware of the 2012 violence, primarily between Rakhine and Buddhists, and later supported by the state, which led to loss of lives and massive destruction of Rohingya and Rakhine homes and other property. Over 140,000 people were displaced by that violence, and today almost five years later over 120,000 people, the vast majority of them Rohingyas, live in squalid displacement camps. The government has no plan for them to return to their homes, or to ensure they can live their lives in dignity. Instead, they keep them segregated in these camps, prevent them from travelling outside –and cruelly, and restrict humanitarian organizations from providing vital support and assistance.
In fact the government can be said to trying starve Rohingya in to submission by placing extreme constraints on our livelihood opportunities and by blocking and/or severely restricting humanitarian assistance to our communities, either in internal refugee camps or in Rohingya villages.
Recent years have also seen the political disenfranchisement of the Rohingya. Where as in previous elections Rohingyas had been allowed to vote and even run as Parliamentary candidates – indeed in 2010 a Rohingya MP was elected for Buthidaung – this was not the case in 2015. Rohingyas, and other white card holders, were barred from voting, and Rohingya candidates were not allowed to stand as candidates on the basis of deeply discriminatory criteria and procedures enforced by the Election commission at the local and national levels.
The government relied on various security forces – police, Border Guard Police (BGP) Special Branch, the military and other agencies – to control Rohingyas lives, whether our physical movement, ability to build and repair homes, pray and gather together in mosques or register newly born babies. These forces extort money, extract forced labor, and confiscate food and other produce with total impunity. As Rohingyas, people are not able to complain or access justice mechanisms. Human rights violations and other abuses against Rohingyas are usually met with impunity.
This brings me to the present day, where security forces have committed the most unspeakable atrocities against Rohingyas since armed group attacked border police posts on 9 October. Let me be clear: there is no justification or excuse for the use of violence and these attacks were unacceptable. But the disproportionate response by the security forces, who have essentially rampaged thought Rohingya villages with total impunity is unacceptable and must be met with the strongest condemnation and responses by the international community.
To date, the government of Burma has failed to even acknowledge human rights violations have occurred. This is despite mounting evidence to the contrary. The UN Office of the High Commissioner published a report in early February which contained detailed of the most unspeakable acts of cruelty. These findings have also been documented by human rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. They have documented unlawful killings, extrajudicial executions, rape, torture, enforced disappearances and mass arrests. The military have burned hundreds of Rohingya homes and buildings to the ground. The UN has concluded that these crimes very likely amount to crimes against humanity.
Almost 100,000 people have been displaced as a result of the violence and around 73,000 of them had now fled to Bangladesh. I recently met with some of the survivors and they recounted to be tales of violence and devastation so appalling. As a Rohingya refugee myself, I was especially moved and cannot bear to watch our fellow Rohingya people being treated like animals, hunted by the security forces in this way.
Instead of speaking out the government has continued its long standing policy of denying security force violations. State media has published article after article of propaganda, accusing Rohingyas of lying about the situation, and of spreading “fake news”.What’s more, they have allowed advocacy of hatred, of discrimination and of violence to go unchallenged.
All this is happening today in a country which the British government, the USA, and other countries describe as making great progress, where human rights are improving, and is making a transition to democracy. Indeed, Since the Burmese military government announced six years ago its intention to open up the country to western investors and engage with the anti-China Western forces, various western governments, including EU and its members states like the UK, the USA and others have applauded the government in Naypyaydaw for allowing limited human rights reforms and undertaking market reforms. A great deal of global praise has been showered on the Burmese government – while all the new waves of violence and persecution have flared up.
The reality is, the situation cannot continue. We need to see an end to the widespread and systematic abuses of Rohingya rights which for too long have been ignored. I appeal to all the people for action, today. Please help end the “slow burning genocide of more than 1 million Rohingya in Myanmar. The Burmese government’s plan is to drive us out of our own ancestral land. This cannot happen – we are people of Myanmar, and should be treated as such. Failure to act will have devastating consequences and lead to untold suffering.
Thank you very much. May Allah bless you!