More From Alder's Ledge

April 15, 2013

A History of Broken Promises

Rohingya Genocide 1942 - Present
(part of The Darkness Visible series)

How long should a people have to suffer before the world decides to act? How often do they have to be killed in senseless pogroms and orgies of violence? Why do they have to grow-up in a culture of oppression and fear? Why do they have to raise their children without food or education? When will the cycle of neglect and abuse end?

Since the days of British colonialism in Myanmar the Rohingya people have been been subject to systemic racism in the governments that have come and gone over the years. The British gave them just enough to keep them alive, to make them useful, but never the rewards for loyalty that the United Kingdom had promised them. The Japanese both paid their murderers for each dead Rohingya and engaged in massacres of the Rohingya themselves. And then there came the Rakhine... the Buddhists... the supposed peaceful monks.

In 1942 the British were forced out of the Arakan state as the Japanese continued to spread out over Asia. Able to hold onto Bengal, the Brits were just near enough to the Rohingya to keep them alive under the horrific rule of the Japanese. Yet this was just the next chapter in a long history of suffering for the Rohingya people. This was the start of the modern genocide of the Rohingya people.

Japanese forces fed the Rakhine peoples' hatred for the Rohingya people. They goaded on the wrath of the Buddhists as they rewarded each passing massacre of Rohingya. And yet the rate of death amongst Rohingya communities was not enough to satisfy Japanese lust for blood. The Japanese decided that their forces had to use the modern weapons of war to annihilate the Rohingya. Bullets were more efficiently distributed from modern rifles rather than those of homemade Rakhine mobs.

Around 22,000 Rohingya fled the Japanese's wrath in the Arakan. Their families and friends had fought the invasion. They had remained loyal to the British. So clearly the old master, no matter how miserable, was clearly better than this new tyrant.

Upon arriving the British suddenly realized what a stroke of luck they had just been given. The Japaneses' excesses had driven a small army across the border. The abuses of the Japanese had given the British a group of people that had lost everything and therefore could be promised everything. And that was just what the British began to do... they promised the Rohingya a "national area" in the Arakan if they would simply fight for the British.

In times of upheaval the Rohingya had fought for the British before. So why should they set this one out? After all, the land they would be going back to was their homeland. This was the place they had raised their children. This was the home where they had been born. And this was the only land where they could ever envision their future generations living for the rest of time.

When the Japanese massacres were ended and the invader was driven out the Rohingya were seen by the Rakhine as traitors. They had once again sided with the British. They had once again gone against the original goal of expelling the colonialist. And thus the genocide of the Rohingya would continue.

So when the British pulled out of Pakistan and Myanmar the Rohingya were faced with few options. They had established an army to defend themselves against Rakhine aggression. But now, as the Arakan was drawn into Burma rather than Bengal, the Rohingya were trapped. Their homeland was once again given away to someone else. Their land was once again taken out from underneath their own feet. Thus in 1947 the Rohingya approached the government of Pakistan and pleaded for a desperate solution to a desperate situation. It was then that the Rohingya asked to be incorporated into East Pakistan (Bangladesh).

From that point on the Rohingya sealed their fate in Myanmar. Pakistan would never allow the Rohingya into Pakistan due to their own innate bigotry. And the Rakhine, along with the rest of Myanmar, would forever see the Rohingya as outsiders. This act of asking to leave Burma and take their homeland with them was another act of treason in the eyes of their Rakhine neighbors.

In response, upon Burmese independence in 1948, the leaders of Myanmar began to impose countless limitations upon the Rohingya. In direct response to the move to leave Burma and join Pakistan the Rohingya were given limitations upon their movement within Burma. Then to add to this the Burmese wrote laws that allowed Rohingya to be used as slave laborers within the Arakan. And those who had fled Burma during the war with Japan, around 13,000, were not given the right to return to their homes after the war.

In effect, the Rohingya were stripped of their nationality and their citizenship to their own homeland.

The next chapter of the Rohingya genocide began with the military coup that led to the Junta rule of Myanmar in 1962. Under the military rule the generals began initiating programs that would "encourage the Rohingya to leave Burma". These included the total withdraw of Rohingya citizenship and severe restrictions upon their freedoms. From the 1970's the Rohingya were forced out of the military and none have been allowed to join the military since. Then in 1974 when the citizens of Burma were required to carry National Registration Certificates the Rohingya were forced to carry Foreign Registration Cards (which few were even allowed to have).  And finally came the Nagamin programs (Kingdom of Dragons) that were meant to increase harassment of Rohingya and allow for their deportation.

In 1991 the Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh from Myanmar began to tell the West about vast human rights abuses in the Arakan. This was the largest migration of Rohingya across the border since the Junta took power. In May of 1991 nearly 10,000 Rohingya fled the Arakan. They told reporters of summary executions, rape camps, vast amounts of torture used by the Burmese military and Rakhine mobs in the Arakan. They told of forced labor in which the Rohingya were worked till they either died or could be of little use once they collapsed. And yet their stories remained muted even as 270,000 Rohingya fled by March of 1992.

The same atrocities continue to this day. The main weapon used to justify the ongoing atrocities is the 1982 race laws (actually called the Citizenship Law) that were designed to restrict citizenship of the Rohingya who fled in 1978. Though today they are still employed to deny all Rohingya their due citizenship. They are also used to clarify that the Rohingya are not Burmese but rather foreign invaders.

Today the Rohingya face starvation as they are forced into concentration camp style ghettos and refugee camps. Nasaka, the Burmese gestapo, kill the Rohingya who attempt to flee the mobs that carry out the massacres of Rohingya. In addition, the government of Burma continues to deny the Rohingya access to food, water, and medical treatment.

All of this leaves me, the main author here at Alder's Ledge, to ask just how much different history would have been if those who have used and abused the Rohingya had simply kept their promise? Would the Rohingya been spared this seemingly endless genocide? Or would they simply been subjected to some other form of neglect and abuse by those who have helped ensure their current plight?

Better yet, the question still remains...

How much longer should the Rohingya be left to suffer before the world acts to save their lives?

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