[Blog] Burden of Humanity: The Question of the Horrible Plight of the Rohingya. By Jose Mario De Vega

Burden of Humanity: The Question of the Horrible Plight of the Rohingya
By Jose Mario De Vega

I refer to the Guardian report, “UN urges Burma to investigate Rohingya deaths after latest violence”, January 24.

I cannot understand why the world, it seems ironically is lacking in concern and apparently is taking an apathetic stand with regard to the Rohingya people.

The Rohingya people are one of the ethnicities of Burma and according to the United Nations itself, “are one of the most persecuted minorities in the world”.

Mario De Vega

They are Muslim people who live in the Arakan region. They are aptly dubbed as the Palestine of Asia!

As of 2012, there are 800,000 Rohingya who live in Myanmar, 300, 000 in Bangladesh and 24, 000 in Malaysia.

The 2012 Rakhine State riots, according to Wikipedia:

“are a series of ongoing conflicts between Rohingya Muslims and ethnic Rakhine in northern Rakhine State, Myanmar. The riots came after weeks of sectarian disputes and have been condemned by most people on both sides of the conflict. The immediate cause of the riots is unclear, with many commentators citing the killing of ten Burmese Muslims by ethnic Rakhine after the rape and murder of a Rakhine woman as the main cause. Over three hundred houses and a number of public buildings have been razed. According to Tun Khin, the President of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK, as of June 28, 650 Rohingyas have been killed, 1,200 are missing, and more than 80,000 have been displaced. According to the Myanmar authorities, the violence, between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, left 78 people dead, 87 injured, and thousands of homes destroyed. It also displaced more than 52,000 people.

“The government has responded by imposing curfews and by deploying troops in the regions. On June 10, state of emergency was declared in Rakhine, allowing military to participate in administration of the region. The Burmese army and police have been accused of targeting Rohingya Muslims through mass arrests and arbitrary violence. A number of monks’ organizations that played vital role in Burma’s struggle for democracy have taken measures to block any humanitarian assistance to the Rohingya community.”

According to Amnesty International (The Rohingya Minority: Fundamental Rights Denied [2004]), the Muslim Rohingya people have continued to suffer from human rights violations under the Burmese Buddhist junta since 1978, and many have fled to neighboring Bangladesh as a result:

“The Rohingyas’ freedom of movement is severely restricted and the vast majority of them have effectively been denied Burma citizenship. They are also subjected to various forms of extortion and arbitrary taxation; land confiscation; forced eviction and house destruction; and financial restrictions on marriage. Rohingyas continue to be used as forced labourers on roads and at military camps, although the amount of forced labour in northern Rakhine State has decreased over the last decade.”

“In 1978 over 200,000 Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh, following the ‘Nagamin’ (‘Dragon King’) operation of the Myanmar army. Officially this campaign aimed at “scrutinising each individual living in the state, designating citizens and foreigners in accordance with the law and taking actions against foreigners who have filtered into the country illegally.” This military campaign directly targeted civilians, and resulted in widespread killings, rape and destruction of mosques and further religious persecution.”

“During 1991-92 a new wave of over a quarter of a million Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh. They reported widespread forced labour, as well as summary executions, torture, and rape. Rohingyas were forced to work without pay by the Burmese army on infrastructure and economic projects, often under harsh conditions. Many other human rights violations occurred in the context of forced labour of Rohingya civilians by the security forces.”

It feels like that the people of the world does not give a damn to their suffering and completely shut their eyes to the unimaginably horrendous and indescribable misery undergoing by this ethnic minority in Burma.

This in my view is the ultimate heights of irony and the undeniably the lowest pits of absurdity. This is a massive shame to all of us, to humanity as a whole. Yet, having said that, all is not lost, for there is hope!

It is on this great sense that I am applauding the United Nations for standing up and taking the cudgel of the Rohingya people and bringing it on to the attention of a seemingly passive world!

I am specifically commending the commissioner of the UN Human Rights, Madame Navi Pillay for steadfastly and consistently highlighting the sorry and grim plight of this ethnic group.

The “UN human rights agency says it has information of 48 Muslims killed in Rakhine by Buddhist mobs, the deadliest in a year.” This accusation came directly from The UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay.

Said commissioner also dared Yangon to tell the truth “by responding to these incidents quickly, the Burmese government has an opportunity to show transparency and accountability.”

According further to the Guardian report:

“At least 48 Muslims were killed when Buddhist mobs attacked a village in an isolated corner of western Burma earlier this month, the United Nations has said, calling on the government to carry out a swift, impartial investigation and to hold those responsible accountable.”

As usual, the Presidential spokesman Ye Htut “has vehemently denied reports of a massacre” and “strongly objected to the UN claims.”

According to him, “the facts and figures” that pertains to this incident were “totally wrong”, but “evidence of a massacre has been steadily mounting.”

As already noted, “Burma, a predominantly Buddhist nation of 60 million people, has been grappling with sectarian violence since June 2012.”

Undeniably, “the incident in Du Chee Yar Tan, a village in northern Rakhine state, appears to be the deadliest in a year, and would bring the total number killed nationwide to more than 280, most of them Muslims. Another 250,000 people have fled their homes.”

The UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, said that “she had received credible information that eight Rohingya Muslim men were attacked and killed in Du Chee Yar Tan village by local Rakhine on 9 January.”

The commissioner also pointed out that “the UN believes at least 40 Rohingya Muslim men, women and children were killed, bringing the total to at least 48.”
Pillay categorically stated that:

“I deplore the loss of life … and call on the authorities to carry out a full, prompt and impartial investigation and ensure that victims and their families receive justice…”

Further, said commissioner also admonished Yangon to answer to this bloody incident:

“By responding to these incidents quickly and decisively, the government has an opportunity to show transparency and accountability, which will strengthen democracy and the rule of law in Myanmar.”

It was reported that after the aftermath, “the village has been emptied and sealed off since the massacre.”

I concur with the call to the government of the executive director of the Thailand-based rights group, Fortify Rights, Matthew Smith “to give humanitarian workers, independent observers and journalists, unfettered access to the area. He said hundreds were still in hiding and may need help.”

I am also in agreement with him that the mass arrests must stop.

Smith said that:

“These arbitrary detentions broaden the scope of the human rights violations in the area and should be immediately brought to an end. There needs to be accountability for this wave of horrific violence … but mass arrests of Muslim men and boys are not the way.”

Though the Burmese government has repeatedly denied that any violence that took place on the said area on the said date, I am compel to say that I do not believe on their repeated denial. If what they are saying is true, then they should allow the UN workers, independent media and journalists and other pertinent global humanistic organization to go to the said area to see for themselves the true state of affairs.

I call upon the international community and all humanists to join the struggle of the Rohingya people.

Once, the late great President Nelson Mandela said that:

“We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”
Nonetheless, I would like to add to those words of wisdom of that great man:

That our freedom is incomplete without the freedom, not only of the Palestinian people, but also those of the Rohingyas and all people who are victims of violence, marginalization, discrimination, exploitation and dehumanization, etc!

To paraphrase the immortal words of Rosa Luxemburg:

What I want is a universal system that will enable me to love everybody with a clear conscience.


Jose Mario Dolor De Vega

Philosophy lecturer
College of Arts and Letters
Polytechnic University of the Philippines

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