Bali process a test for Rohingya’s destiny

BY Muhammad Saifullah, Malaysia.
One of the most unfortunate Muslim ethnic minorities Rohingya is untold sufferer of more than 40 years silent genocide and victims of defecto-statelessness in Arakan state, the western province of Myanmar (Burma). Now a day, the termed Rohingya becomes on the spot-light and international attention has been drawn when scores of Rohingyas landed to the Indonesian shores following the allegation of their boats being dragged to sea by Thai Navy and abandoned in rickety, engine-less boat, which resulted more than 500 Rohingyas lost their lives in the ocean, while the policy has provoked widespread condemnation.

Rohingya refugees died after their boats being dragged to sea by Thai Navy

At the end of recent ASEAN summit in Hua Hin, Thailand, the ASEAN leaders already decided to call them illegal migrants from the Indian Ocean? Does anybody believe that human beings are produced by the ocean? If so, it might not be wrong that the Thai army towed the boats of Rohingya refugees and setting them adrift toward Indian Ocean and deserted them to die, because they are creation of ocean according to decision made by ASEAN leaders. As they could not find out the solution of Rohingya in their summit, it has been shifted to Bali Process which will be held on 14-15 April, 2009. The faith of Rohingyas would be tested by Bali Process so far.

All leaders who confess themselves that they respect and ready to establish human rights, are more voracious for their own benefits throughout big business rather than maintaining human rights in the regions in the course of saving lives of innocent people facing various human rights violations in their own and neighboring countries like the Rohingya inside Burma and exile.

The Tiger of ASEAN (Myanmar) denied the Rohingyas citizenship since 1982 because of their religious and political belief. In the summit, at the foreign ministry level meeting the Foreign Minister of Myanmar mentioned that it could only take those who could be identified as its Bengali ethnic minority and not the Rohingya. It makes acknowledged that they military regime has been treating them as illegal and oppressing unconditionally in Arakna, Burma according to their statement.

Besides, a memo faxed to journalists and published in various media by the Burmese consul in Hong Kong, insisted Rohingya cannot be real Burmese, as they are dark-skinned and as ugly as ogres. It does not make scene that dark-skinned cannot be citizen of red skinned country. In this case, sending them back to a country where they face even worse treatment than the average Burmese citizen does not emerge a sensible solution.

According to reliable information from Arakan State, now the military regime has been snatching the previous ID card from Rohingyas which indicates to citizen of Burma and issuing white ID card instead, which points toward FRC as foreigners, while the Rohingya are being made to receive it forcefully. The FRC holders cannot get passports to travel and they do not have right to take part in any election.

Few days later, it might be happened soon that the regime will announce the Rohingyas are agree on the term ‘Bengali Rohingya’, hiding the reality.

Now, some of the original Bengali people who are making benefits doing business and staying in safe inside Burma have been being given chance to travel abroad and to stay legally on the banner of Rohingya by the military regime for their personal-profits. Such people are being used as Bengali Rohingya by the military regime to show and able to prove the world that the Rohingyas are from Bangladesh, destroying the good images and the origins of Arakanes-Rohingya who have been staying in Arakan State since 7 Century.

Historically it is revealed that Arakan was neither a part of Burma nor Bangladesh. Arakan was an independent region ruled by Muslims for years. Bangladesh was gained independence from Pakistan merely in 1971 and the Rohingyas have been living in Arakan since 7 century. So, how can the Rohingyas be Bengalese?

Rohingyas are not extremists or separatists group and they never thought of separate a country. Thus they are struggling for their peace, freedom and to save their future generation from darkness. The Rohingyas are peace loving people and so far they want to work together with other Burmese pro-democracy groups who have been struggling to insure democracy in Burma.

But they do not have their own voice to advocate their cause to the international community as it has become well-known to everybody in the world that “the Rohingyas are made educationally back warded, economically crippled, politically liquidated, religiously persecuted, culturally assimilated, racially discriminated, ethnically exterminated, socially degraded and traditionally doomed by the military regime for decades.”

According to UNHCR report, 230,000 Rohingyas now live a precarious stateless existence in Bangladesh, having fled their ancestral homeland Arakan after decades of abuse and harassment at the hands of its dictator military regime. Beside Bangladesh, there are large numbers of Rohingya refugees languishing in Malaysia, Thailand and middle-east.

During the recent visit of Mr. Antonio Guterres, United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to Arakan State of Myanmar (Burma) 鈥渃ame to conclusion that UNHCR’s current level of activities in northern Rakhing state where Rohingyas live does not correspond to the actual needs and a decision was taken to upgrade the program with immediate effect, a UN statement announced on 12th of March 2009.

He visited Sittwe, the capital city of Arakan (Rakhing state) and also traveled to the port town of a big ocean where many of the Rohingya migrants are thought to have deceased. Being a Chief Representative of UNHCR, he came to understand that what is going on Rohingyas and how they are surviving after just his first visit. So, he kind heartedly urges to extend focus on the Rohingyas who have been passing lives in Arakan under military rule.

Now, you may think why the Rohingyas are jumping in the sea and ready to die instead of passing lives in their homeland. But some of the leaders still decline to say Rohingyas are refugees and kept the Rohingya problem unsolved. .

There are more than thirteen thousand Rohingyas refugees in Malaysia, registered with United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Most of them are languishing for more than decades, while the future of their first generation has already been destroyed for the lack of facility to be educated. Neither the government recognized the Rohingyas and nor the UNHCR as its mandated refugees. The Rohingya children are not allowed to study in government school even religious school as Refugees are considered illegal in Malaysia.

It is very disappointing matter to see some of the policies of UNHCR in Malaysia are almost indicate to dissatisfactory, now refugees are categorized into different ways, such as, some refugees have been issued UNHCR Identity Card (ID) writing ‘UNHCR MANDATED REFUGEE’ on the back side of their cards and the categorized refugees like Rohingyas were written in different way, which does not indicate or understand whether they are refugee or not.

As a result, if they find for work to survive, the employers say you are not allowed to work in our country because you are still ‘illegal’ and the resettling countries also feel in doubt to relocate them in their countries only because of the word Refugee.

In 2007, in an interview with TV7, Mr. Volka Turk, the former Representative of UNHCR in Malaysia said, “refugee is a person like you and me and they belong to same rights as human beings regardless of race and religion.”

It is a surprising matter to be heard that in 2008, 17,000 (Seventeen thousands) refugees were newly registered and 6,000(Six thousands) were resettled in third-countries by the UNHCR in Malaysia. But unfortunately, there were not more than 100 Rohingyas among them.

However, the UNHCR Malaysia has been denying the allegation and saying that they are treating the refugees as equal basis, regardless of race and religion. Among the Burmese refugee groups registered with the UNHCR, Rohingyas were the large and first refugee community in Malaysia since 1992 and their long standing problem still remains unsolved. They are victims of torture and Rohingya women are at risk both in Burma and exile.

It is well-known and obvious that Malaysian government has already announced it does not recognized Refugees at all as Malaysia is not a signatory to 1951 convention and 1967 Protocol related to the status of refugees.

After the recent ASEAN summit, when Datuk Sri Abdullah Ahmed Badawi, the prime minister of Malaysia was asked to had comment on the Rohingya, he said e have some problems with the Rohingya. When they come to us of course we know that they are from Myanmar, but when we ask Myanmar, they ask: “are you sure they are our people?  What evidence have you got?” So, we have to be firm at all borders to turn them back. If the International groups help them we will be very happy. It clearly indicates that Malaysia has no policy to accept refugees or asylum seekers even Rohingya.

According to United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), a refugee is ‘who has been forced to leave his/her own country because of circumstances, such as human rights abuses, conflict and non-acceptance by the government because of religious or political beliefs or ethnic group.’  Are the Rohingyas deserved for the Refugee status? Does the UNHCR need to find permanent solution for the Rohingya? But UNHCR pay less attention on this persecuted minority group and International Community is not well-aware of the situation faced by Rohingya inside Burma and exile.

As their repatriation to Burma and local solution in Malaysia become impossible, UNHCR Malaysia should interfere in the Rohingya-case and need to find the way to permanent solution through the resettlement program like other Burmese refugees in order to solve their long standing problem and to save their future generation as Rohingya refugees always depend on UNHCR and International Community to get every sort of assistance for the sake of humanity and thus they are deserved for it.

Muhammad Saifullah, Malaysia.
E Mail :


The Bali Process & R2P: Who is to Protect the Rohingyas?

Friday April 03 2009 14:51:49 PM BDT

By Ahmedur Rahman Farooq

The Responsibility to Protect the populations from genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes and crimes against humanity is an international commitment by governments to prevent and react to grave crises, wherever they may occur. In 2005, world leaders agreed, for the first time, that states have a primary responsibility to protect their own populations and that the international community has a responsibility to act when these governments fail to protect the vulnerable populations.

There is no denying the fact that the ASEAN has failed to address the root causes of the Rohingya problem. Now the Rohingya problem is set to be discussed in the forthcoming Bali Process Meeting to be held on April 14-15,2009. The Bali Process brings together more than 50 countries, mainly Asian, to work on practical measures to help combat transnational crime, human trafficking and smuggling in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. Burma is not a member of the Bali Process. IOM and the UNHCR are part of the secretariat and help facilitate the group’s meetings.

But most importantly, the Rohingya problem is not simply a case of human trafficking. It is purely political. Its root causes are far beyond the issues of the Bali Process. Any effort to find out a solution to the Rohingya problem under the framework of human traficking, will simply disappoint the entire Rohingya community and at the sametime will mislead the international community about the root causes of the Rohingya problem. It will either serve as cutting the heads of Rohingyas to remove the Rohingya headache or it will be a failed effort to cure a deep rooted scar of the Rohingyas with an ointment.

The Rohingya community of Arakan, Burma is one of the most down-trodden ethnic minorities of the world. They are victim of political oppression, economic exploitation, cultural slavery and communal violence in their ancestral land Arakan where they have been living centuries after centuries and whose presence in Arakan can be historically traced back to the 7th century. The military regime has turned Arakan into a concentration camp for the Rohingyas. Their plight is one of the most under-reported humanitarian crises of the world.

In order to annihilate the entire Rohingya populations from Arakan, the Burmese regime has stripped their legitimate right to the citizenship of Burma through an amendment to the country’s citizenship law in 1982 on the pretext that the Rohingyas are the Bengali immigrants simply because they are closely related linguistically, culturally and religiously with the people of the greater Chittagong of Bangladesh which has a border of 208 km with Arakan State of Burma. The Burmese regime allege that ‘In the time of the British government, it was that the British brought Bengalis and Indians of India (now Pakistan, India and Bangladesh) into the nation with various intentions. ….The British ruled Rakine State (Arakan) for 123 years from 1827 to 1948. During that period, Bengalis entered the nation en masse.’

However, being victim of systmatic genocidal operations and gross human rights violations like a ban on marriage without government permission, severe restrictions of movement, religious persecution, extortion, land confiscation, restrictions on access to education etc, the Rohingyas have been fleeing Burma everyday. Being crowded in hundreds in rickety wooden boats, they try to escape persecutions and grinding poverty and wash ashore in countries like Thailand and Indonesia. Being uprooted from their ancestral land Arakan, today over 1.5 million Rohingyas are leading a gypsy life in different countries of the world without any official recognition as refugees. Due to the lack of the official papers, they are often subject to arrest, detention, punishment for immigration offences and deportation etc.

In an article titled Nurma’s Muslim Rohingya Minority Dwell at the “Brink of Extermination”, Benedict Rogers, the Deputy Chairman of the UK Conservative Party’s Human Rights Commission and the Advocacy Officer of the CSW for South Asia, said, ” senior UN official, who has served in Darfur and other humanitarian crisis situations and who, in the words of a foreign diplomat, “knows human misery when he sees it”, recently described the situation in northern Arakan as “as bad as anything he has seen in terms of the denial of basic human freedoms”. M閐ecins Sans Fronti鑢es (MSF), which works in northern Arakan State and has also operated in the camps for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, has described the Rohingya as one of the ten world populations in danger of extinction.?

Mr. Benedict Rogers also writes, “if Burma as a whole is under-reported, the people on its western borders are almost unknown to the world. Journalists, activists and aid agencies who visit the region tend to head for the Thailand-Burma border, where access to refugees, displaced people and democracy groups is greatest. Few visit Burma’s borders with India, where a famine is unfolding, or with China, where women are trafficked into prostitution, and fewer still make it to the Bangladesh border where a slow, forgotten genocide is taking place.”

However, in the wake of the recent Andaman tragedy of the Rohingya boat people where hundreds of Rohingyas have perished in the deep sea after being towed by the Thai Navy to international waters, the Burmese military regime has reiterated its position not to accept the Rohingyas as the citizens of Burma. The graphic pictures of the desperate, skeletal Rohingyas aboard old boats without engines, who bobbed aimlessly at sea for weeks, without sufficient food and water, after having been beaten, towed out, and abandoned, have rocked the world conscience.

During the 14th Asean Summit in Hua Hin, Thailand, between Feb 27 and March 1, 2009, the Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said, quoting his Burmese counterpart Nyan Win, that Burma is ready to take back the Rohingya migrants if they can prove they are of Bengali descent, even though the Burmese military regime has snatched away Rohingyas’ right to citizenship of Burma simply branding them as the descendants of the Bengalis and thus denied them of their ethnic status. On March 22,2009, the Thai Foreign Minister paid a visit to Burma in an effort to solve the Rohingya problem but the outcome was status quo. On March 16-17,2009, the Burmese Prime Minister Gen Thein Sein paid an official visit to Indonesia where Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono raised the Rohingya issue with the Burmese Prime Minister, but there was no solution to the problem.

On the last February, the ASEAN secretary general, Mr Surin said in an exclusive interview.”The Rohingya issue is a very complicated challenge to the entire region of Southeast Asia.” The Rohingya issue featured prominently in bilateral talks in the south Asian region in February. US Secretary for State Hillary Clinton discussed it during meetings with both the Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and the foreign minister, Hasan Wirajuda. The Thai Army chief Anupong Paojinda reportedly raised the issue with the Burmese junta’s leader General Than Shwe when he visited the Burmese capital Naypyidaw in February. The Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva also compared notes with his Indonesian counterpart during his visit to Jakarta. Addressing the issue of the stateless Rohingyas for the first time, the Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said: ‘We must address this (Rohingya issue) seriously. Asean will lose credibility if we are unable to sort out a problem in our own region.’

There is no doubt that a regional solution is needed to cure this chronic humanitarian crisis of the Rohingyas. In order for it to be effective, it must be carefully designed ?otherwise, it can plunge Rohingyas into deeper suffering, cause resistance amongst host societies, and fail at stemming the onward movement of Rohingyas into the region.

Firstly, Burma and all other member states of the ASEAN or the Bali Process must recognize that the Rohingya problem is purely a political problem. They must drop the idea that the Rohingya problem might have emerged from economic problems and they also must drop the use of the phrase ‘Bengalis’ which the Burmese regime uses for Rohingyas. They must recognize that Rohingyas are not Bengali. They are an ethnic group of Arakan of Burma who have been living in their ancestral land centuries after centuries. They did not wash ashore in Arakan from the Indian ocean or the Bay of Bengal. Until Gen Ne Win’s military takeover in 1962, their ethnic status was recognized by the democratic government of U Nu. Then they had political representatives, a right to vote, a role in the Union Day Celebrations, and a Rohingya language programme on the official Burma Broadcasting Service(BBS).

However, as a part of the Responsibilities to Protect (R2P), it is extremely important for the international community to let the Rohingyas live in this earth as the bonafide citizens of Burma enjoying their human rights through: (1) To recognize the Rohingyas as one of the ethnic indigenous groups of Burma and to restore their legitimate rights to the citizenship of the Union of Burma. (2) To abrogate all discrminatory measures taken by the Burmese authority against the Rohingyas and to take allout steps to stop all human rights violations against the Rohingyas. (3) To create a congenial atmosphere for the peaceful coexistence of all communities of Arakan particularly the Rohingyas and Rakhines. (4) To create a congenial atmosphere for the safe return of the Rohingyas in exile to their original hearths and homes with the guarantee of their all out security in Burma under a democratic government; and (5) To facilitate a tripartite agreement among three parties (a) the Rohingya representatives (b) the Burmese authority and (c) the UNHCR on the issues of the above four clauses for the protection of the Rohingyas both at home and abroad and to allow UNHCR and other international bodies to fully function in Arakan to supervise the protection of Rohingyas as long as the Rohingya representatives deem necessary.#

Ahmedur Rahman Farooq

chairman, Rohingya Human Rights Council (RHRC). Address: 2975 Vang i Valdres, Norway. Email:


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