Ethnic Rohingya Muslims Are Entitled to Enjoy Their Fundamental Rights

27/07/2016 11:42 | Updated 27 July 2016

Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that all individuals have rights based upon their race, colour, gender, language, religion, property, and others. But, unfortunately, not everyone enjoys all of these privileges; the Rohingya community is a prime example.

Born as a Rohingya in Myanmar is considered as a big mistake, a disgrace, and an abominable sin that must be borne. They face hatred from their fellow countrymen and injustice from their government. The consequence is clear. The Rohingyas have become the butt of all forms of injustice: living in Rakhine state that resemble a ghetto; prohibited from living in their homeland without the government's permission; not recognised as one of 135 legitimate ethnic groups in Myanmar; not considered citizens of their own country; and expressly forbidden from participating in all forms of politics. The reason for such discrimination is simple; they belong to the Rohingya ethnic minority. Their skins are not as light as other Myanmarese and they are not Buddhist.

While historians continue to argue over the origin of Rohingyas, whether they are indigenous to Rakhine state or migrants from Bengal during British colonialism, it cannot be denied that the Rohingyas have inhabited Myanmar for hundreds of years. This is evidenced by a census conducted by the British in 1891, which reported approximately 58,255 Muslims living in Arakan; known presently as Rakhine state. Nonetheless, the current number of the Rohingya community continues to erode. Even in Aung Mingalar, a ghetto area in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine state, only 4,000 Rohingyas remain. This population decline is caused by Rakhine state no longer being friendly towards Rohingyas and forcing people to leave their homelands.

Leaving the Rakhine state is essential for the Rohingyas. To resist is to surrender their lives to the Buddhist extremists who target them. History doesn't lie. Abominations against Rohingyas in 2012, for example, have resulted in hundreds of deaths. Ironically, these inhumane actions were supported and orchestrated by many Buddhist religious leaders through their religious classes that reek of chauvinism. They tell their followers that if ethnic Rohingyas are not crushed, Myanmar will become a Muslim country and their position as a majority will turn into a minority. Of course, all such claims are unfounded.

One Buddhist figure most active in spreading the seeds of hatred against Rohingyas is Ashin Wirathu. Head of the 969 movement, a controversial Buddhist group in Myanmar, he regards Islam as the greatest threat to the country. Therefore, he believes that its development must be suppressed by making the lives of its adherents uncomfortable. Strategies adopted by Wirathu include urging people to boycott Muslim-owned shops, prohibiting interracial marriage, and disseminating the notion that mosques are 'enemy bases.' Therefore, it makes sense that Wirathu is considered by many as the 'Bin Laden of Burma.'

The Myanmar government deliberately helps suppression of the Rohingya community through official policies. For instance, these people are not permitted to have more than two children. Young couples who wish to get married should seek permission from the government.

Efforts to disrupt the lives of Rohingya have troubling consequences. Besides those who have been slaughtered, thousands more have been forced to leave their homes. Many decide to risk their lives crossing the ocean in search of shelter. Unmitigated, the number of 'boat people' - a term used to describe Rohingyas fleeing Myanmar by sea - for the first three months of 2015 alone has reached 25,000 people. Today, this number continues to rise.

Unfortunately, fleeing suppression in Myanmar does not necessarily end their unfortunate fate as Rohingyas. Stories of their grief continue with different plots. 100 individuals were reportedly killed in Indonesia, and 200 were killed on their way to Malaysia. It is important to note that these figures are those that are known; many more lives have been lost at sea, which are, of course, more difficult to report.

Throughout this time, Rohingya who seek shelter in neighbouring countries have been kicked to and fro by those governments. Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand deny these people entry for a variety of reasons. Those who have successfully entered also receive unpleasant welcomes. They are not awarded permanent residency and have to content themselves with remaining in the refugee camps where there are limited water and food supplies.

The return of Myanmar to the system of democracy with the election of Aung San Suu Kyi as the country's counsellor had not brought fresh wind to the Rohingya community. Even the Nobel Peace Prize receiver still refuses to call the ethnic minority by the name 'Rohingya', because they are not considered citizens of Myanmar. Not only that, she was also furious when she found out that the person who interviewed her on BBC Today, Mishal Husain, is a Muslim. Such discriminatory and racist attitudes certainly make many people question the propriety of San Suu Kyi to being a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

What happens to Rohingyas in Myanmar is undoubtedly inhumane and unacceptable. It is time for the international community to put pressure on the Myanmar government to stop their suppression of the Rohingyas. Basic human rights, as they are written in the UDHR, must be afforded to everyone, including the Rohingya community.

This piece is co-authored with Muhammad Beni Saputra, a postgraduate student at the University of Manchester.