The Rohingya Crisis: A major civil conflict

By Ruth Cheriyan


Is Myanmar’s leadership paving its way for a major civil conflict in the country?  

The incident of violence on August 25th where a group of Rohingya insurgents attacked about 30 police posts and an army camp, killing about 12 people, has sparked military backlash on the entire Rohingya community in Myanmar. The violence has continued since then, forcing families to flee their homes and villages. If escaping from their own land wasn’t enough, the agony experienced by the community increased when neighbouring countries now threaten to deport them once they reach foreign soil.

The Rohingyas are an ethnic Muslim minority, currently from the Rakhine state of Myanmar, who practice a Sufi-inflected variation of Sunni Islam. They trace their origins in the country to the fifteenth century, when thousands of Muslims came to the former Arakan Kingdom. Many others arrived during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when Rakhine was governed by the colonial rule as part of British India.

The belief of Rohingyas being just illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, and not a true separate ethnicity, has justified the denial of citizenship for the Rohingyas who lived in Rakhine before the recent crisis. The predominantly Buddhist country has a long history of communal mistrust, which was allowed to simmer, and was at times exploited, under decades of military rule.

The estimated number of Rohingyas who have fled Rakhine to Bangladesh are estimated to be 400,000. The recent violent protest to stop a boat being loaded with 50 tonnes of aid at a dock in Rakhine is a testament to rising communal animosity in the region where even the delivery of vital supplies has brought people of the region out with sticks, metal bars and petrol bombs.

The violence and the exodus of refugees has brought international condemnation and raised questions about the commitment of Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi to human rights. Aung San Suu Kyi, the historic figurine of persistence and democratic conclusion, has refused to speak on the Rohingya crisis except for a vague statement about condemning the violence. She did not clarify the issue further or give a solution to the impending tension in Rakhine. She has also refused to publicly urge restraint from the military. The Myanmar army, on the other hand, denies the accusations and instead insists its operations are a proportional response to the raids by Rohingya militants in August, this year.

Although the military stepped down from outright Junta rule in 2011, it kept control of security policy and key levers of government. It is evident that the delicate power-sharing arrangement between her and the military has put Aung San Suu Kyi in the crossfire.

The United Nations high commissioner for human rights, has called the violence a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.” Suu Kyi did not attend the UN General Assembly held in New York this week. At the General Assembly, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari likened the violence in Myanmar to genocides in Bosnia and Rwanda, while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan cited the international community’s failure in Syria. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) described the Rohingya community as one of the most “excluded, persecuted, and vulnerable communities in the world.”

It is necessary that Suu Kyi works towards balancing the world’s opinion of Myanmar’s young democracy, as well as the Islamaphobic anti-Rohingya mind-set in the country. Myanmar’s leadership needs to show that the democracy they fought so hard for can work for all the people of Myanmar, beyond ethnic, social and religious boundaries. True democracy calls for equal representation, equal treatment and equal distribution of government services.

It is imperative for Suu Kyi and other governmental leaders to address the issue unambiguously and not delay further as they are on a ticking bomb. A few independent Rohingya groups have already started to retaliate and there have been reports of recruiters from terrorist organisations in the neighbouring countries of Myanmar, trying to tap into the injustice done to this community. This situation could therefore potentially turn into another Sri Lankan civil conflict.


About the Author

Ruth Cheriyan currently works at MitKat as a Research Analyst in the Information Services. She completed her Masters in International Studies at Christ University, Bangalore and also holds a Bachelor’s degree in Economics from St. Xavier’s, Ahmedabad.

Disclaimer: Any views or opinions represented in this blog are of the author and do not represent those of MitKat. Any views or opinions are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, or individual.

Published On - Sep 22,2017


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