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As Burmese Rohingya bleed, immigrants in Karachi share grief

Published Aug 02, 2012 11:13am


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Myanmar's ethnic Rohingya Muslims display placards near the British embassy in Kuala Lumpur on July 19, 2012.  Rohingya refugees protested outside the British High Commission to end violence and humanitarian crisis against Rohingya in Arakan State in Burma. — File photo by AFP
Myanmar's ethnic Rohingya Muslims display placards near the British embassy in Kuala Lumpur on July 19, 2012. Rohingya refugees protested outside the British High Commission to end violence and humanitarian crisis against Rohingya in Arakan State in Burma. — File photo by AFP

As the world rallies in favour of non-violence and mobilises against unjust oppression, a small community in Pakistan’s largest city struggles to raise its voice: these are Karachi’s Rohingya Muslims – a small band of immigrants who managed to escape from the Burmese oppression when the time was right. Today, they helplessly look upon the citizens of the world for a gleam of hope as their kith and kin are persecuted in Myanmar’s Arakan province.

Mahmud, a Rohingya Muslim living in Karachi says that over 90,000 men, women and children have been left displaced in Arakan. “Many were pushed into the water whilst they were trying to escape to neighbouring Bangladesh and several were beaten to death. We know this because we have been using the internet to stay in touch,” he says.

Pakistan’s stance on this issue of contention remains shrouded. Following Tehrik-e-Taliban’s threat directed towards the governments of Myanmar and Pakistan, the Pakistani Foreign Office said in a brief statement on July 26 2012 that there were reports claiming that the situation in Arakan had improved.

This claim made by Pakistan’s Foreign Office goes against Amnesty International’s report on the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Arakan. The report states that ‘targeted attacks and other violations by security forces against minority Rohingyas and other Muslims have increased’ since emergency was declared six weeks ago and that ‘Amnesty International has also received credible reports of other human rights abuses against Rohingyas and other Rakhine Muslims– including physical abuse, rape, destruction of property, and unlawful killings – carried out by both Rakhine Buddhists and security forces.’

It goes on to state that the ‘authorities’ should prevent such acts from occurring. The solution proposed by these ‘authorities’, namely Myanmar’s President, runs along the lines of forcing the nation’s Rohingya Muslims numbering close to a million, into refugee camps run by UNHCR or deporting them to a third country.

But UNHCR has rejected President Thein Sein’s proposals, claiming that the solution to this conflict is that Arakan’s Rohingya Muslims should be granted citizenship of Myanmar. And third countries don’t seem to want the Rohingya Muslims either.

According to reports the Bangladeshi government has given orders to force back Rohingya refugees whilst Burma Campaign UK (BCUK) claims that Rohingya Muslims fleeing to Bangladesh “are getting no aid or protection, while thousands more are turned back by the government of Bangladesh, literally at gunpoint, in violation of international law.”

The justification put forward by the Bangladeshi government for their actions is that their country does not have the capacity to bear a large influx of refugees. Nevertheless, this does not constitute as a valid justification for forcing back destitute immigrants to a land where, according to the United Nations, they are subject to many forms of “persecution, discrimination and exploitation”.

Says Nurul Islam, Chairman of London based Arakan Rohingya National Organisation: “Under present circumstances, it is impossible to get the exact number of casualties. What is coming to the press is largely distorted. However, it is estimated that many hundreds of Rohingya Muslims have been gunned or killed down whilst thousands of homes have been destroyed. Those who are injured have no access to medical treatment. People are now dying of starvation and disease.”

“Do you know that the Rohingya settled in Arakan centuries ago?” asks Ismail, a resident of Karachi. “My grandparents migrated from Myanmar to Pakistan in 1962. That was their good fortune. The Rohingya Muslims in Arakan are fired at from helicopters. When they try to escape to Bangladesh in open boats, they are pushed back into the high seas. How can you possibly rely on a death toll that puts the numbers fatalities close to a hundred?”

Specialist in Burmese Ethnic Relations, Professor Abid Bahar’s book, Burma’s Missing Dots states that Arab traders began to settle both in Arakan and Chittagong of present-day Bangladesh from the years 785 to 957 and that Persian was made the official language of Arakan under General Wali Khan’s rule of the region in the year 1431. It goes on to mention that a British historian, Francis Buchanon Hamilton, met some Rohingya people in Burma conversing in a language they called Roinga in the year 1799. His colleague, Dr Habib Siddiqui’s book mentions similar facts.

The United Nations estimates that there are approximately 800,000 Rohingya Muslims in Arakan. Yet, Myanmar’s Citizenship Law of 1982 does not recognise the members of this ethnic group as citizens. They are thus stateless and protection-less within their own country.

A statement jointly released on this issue by 34 organizations including the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, BCUK and the International Federation for Human Rights states that Myanmar’s Citizenship Law is not compatible with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights or with Burma’s legal obligations under international treaties. Furthermore, the statement proposes that the 1982 Citizenship Law should be repealed, and replaced with a new law founded on basic principles of human rights, should honour equality and non-discrimination, and help create an inclusive and tolerant Burma.

A report published in 2006 by the Alternative Asean Network on Burma brings to light, unheard warnings sounded in the past. The report states that “the campaign of displacement, denial of culture and identity, restrictions on the right to marry and form a family, killings, rape, torture and denial of food are a slow-burning genocide”.

It also mentions United Nations Resolution 47/144 passed in December 1992 which urges the Government of Myanmar to ensure full respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the protection of the rights of persons belonging to ethnic and religious minorities. Twenty years post, the Rohingya community is languishing in Arakan.

“Official restrictions on the Rohingya including marriage and reproduction are relevant to the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The harsh responses by racist extremists, the traditional role of the authorities in targeting the Rohingya for abuses, the absence of independent witnesses and the UN in the area,  and Bangladesh's refusal to allow fleeing Rohingya to seek protection all point to the strong possibility of genocide,” says Debbie Stothard, coordinator of the Alternative Asean Network on Burma.

As the violence in Arakan escalates to new levels and the number of people displaced climbs, it has become increasingly evident that the time for action is ripe.

“The governments of Burma and Bangladesh need to allow provision of basic supplies to the displaced and free access to independent fact-finding teams to establish the facts. There have to be effective community relations mechanisms to resolve conflicts between individuals and groups and to prevent them from escalating,” says Debbie Stothard, regarding the path towards establishing stability in Arakan.

She adds: “Most importantly there has to be rule of law where the law is fair to all sides and is implemented impartially. Many laws must be reformed to reflect modern standards and values, including the Citizenship Law. I am extremely concerned that the lack of effective responses could lead to similar situations for other minority groups in the country.”

The government of Myanmar has allowed UN investigator Tomas Ojea Quintana to visit the volatile region from July 30 to August 4. This measure should serve as a precedent for Myanmar’s authorities. It is imperative that transparent international humanitarian organizations and journalists are granted access to Arakan in order to bring all forms of human rights abuse to a halt and provide Arakan’s impoverished inhabitants with much needed aid and protection. Only then will this crisis turn towards the path of resolution.

The author is a freelance contributor based in Karachi.


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Comments (53) Closed

arif Aug 03, 2012 05:39pm
Zeeshan, pakistan is not such a strong state as you wish it to. A country which depends on USA for their budget and defence,cannot be a mother to all muslims.
Yunuskhan Pathan Aug 03, 2012 11:52am
We urgent the immediate action to stop this serious genocide, ethnic cleaning by sending UN peace-keeping force to Arakan to protect innocent people.
waqar khan Aug 03, 2012 06:41pm
haha china has banned muslims from fasting in ramzan and not a word of protest from islamic nations ...
waqar khan Aug 03, 2012 06:42pm
what about muslims in xinjiang will u use nuclear bomb there too
gBhat Aug 02, 2012 11:32am
Wish the Bodo's had exhibited similar courage against the illegal immigrant Bangladeshi muslims in Asom.
geekay09 Aug 03, 2012 12:08pm
not migrated in(immigrate) but migrated out(emigrate) of East Pakistan. You are deluded if you think otherwise. They(Hindus) were targeted first also by Pakistani forces in 1971. But it certainly does not mean Bengali muslims should be targeted now.
some1 Aug 03, 2012 05:35pm
well it's America, they support Israel who are blatantly killing Palestinians...why would you expect them to raise an issue of muslims being killed??
gopal Aug 03, 2012 05:36pm
Pakistanis have also forgotten the poor biharis in dhaka.
steadyfriend Aug 03, 2012 04:52pm
Absolutely! No Pakistani ever talks about the Kashmiri Hindu Pandits driven out of the Vale, they are the original Kashmiris! In a perverse way, if driving out the Pandits (they were asked to leave their women behind) is okay, I suppose the Burmese driving out Rohingya Muslims is also okay!!
Vittal Aug 03, 2012 04:45pm
As a country(sacred) established for the sake of Muslims, Pakistan has a duty to invite and accept all those so called "oppressed" Rohangyas and other muslims around the world including the Ughyur muslims from China. One wonders why ISI is not helping Ughyus Muslims in China to fight & rise against the communist oppression!
Muazzam Siddiqui Aug 03, 2012 04:29pm
Is anyone from Pakistan even allowed by "Intensedebate" to write comments on Dawn News articles? Looks like only our neighbors from India have unlimited access whereas my comments never show up whether I agree with the article or not.
porkchop Aug 03, 2012 04:21pm
Very well said, bull's eye bravo!
mohammed Aug 03, 2012 04:03pm
get Rohingyas in Pakistan, unklike pundits who are slaughtered
islam Aug 03, 2012 11:00am
I would like to supplicate to World's hon'able leaders and peace loving peoples for a fair trial about the long-standing issue of Rohingya. Thanks to all.
Abdullah Aug 03, 2012 10:39am
This brutality, torture and abuse is going on since last six weeks and our govt, media and analysts are quiet. Very few articles like this we see in news nowadays. And they call Muslims as terrorists, why not call buddists as terrorists? Why America is quiet on this issue who calims himself to be No.1 in human rights prevention? Every where in the world Muslims are being killed brutally bcoz we r not united.
Al Fatmi Aug 04, 2012 11:56am
Well said, and not just that we cry hoarse over Palestinians & others, but never look at our own backyard & see how we treat others. Hypocrisy at its best
London2012 Aug 04, 2012 10:57am
arakani Aug 02, 2012 12:29pm
Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic minority living in Western Myanmar they face religious and ethnic discrimination by Myanmar’s military regime
ismail ansari Aug 02, 2012 12:19pm
We urged the immediate action to stop this serious genocide, ethnic cleaning by sending UN peace-keeping force to Arakan to protect innocent people.
arakani Aug 02, 2012 12:28pm
Rohingya in Burma r being systematically persecuted by the government & denied basic human rights- Pres of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation
hina khan Aug 02, 2012 05:14pm
killing of massive Burmese Muslims minority is clearly the blatant violation of human rights .International community like UN US should play role to stop it .Media should highlight more to raise this issue internationally
aja Aug 03, 2012 03:31pm
Syrians Muslims should be saved from Assad
Hashir Aug 02, 2012 06:35pm
What a nasty, nasty thought!
Ravi Aug 02, 2012 08:02pm
Very sad story.. But muslims only understand the plight of fellow muslims, not of the fellow human beings.. Sad people who cry for help from the same UN peace-keeping who have been killing them elsewhere.. I refrain from calling any muslim a brother. You guys cannot be brothers but pshycos...
Gerry D'Cunha Aug 03, 2012 03:08pm
Raja your comments makes sense:I am surprised that why no body in Pakistan is raising voice against the crimes done on Ulhighar muslims in china, are they some different muslims!!! Look at the hyprocrate moulvis 'dump' no hesitation.Had it been USA, the whole Muslim umma on Fridays would have come out to condemn. Shame!!!!
Saad (DXB) Aug 02, 2012 09:13pm
Where's the champion of Human and Burmese rights Suu Kyi now? Or is she the champion of only the Buddhist Burmese's rights?
does not matter Aug 02, 2012 10:06pm
Absolutely. Similarly a UN mission needs to be sent to Pakistan as well to save hindus, sikhs, christians, shias, ahmedais, qadiani etc from state backed terrorist organisations.
Zulekha Soorma Aug 03, 2012 12:17am
This is an age old problem and should be resolved by both the Myanmar and Bangladeshi governments with UN support. The world community should take action as it did in east Timor and South Sudan.
Zeeshan Aug 03, 2012 01:34am
What good is Pakistan as an Islamic Nuclear Nation when as a mother it cannot provide for its muslim Brethren in the rest of the world.
Raja Aug 03, 2012 07:24am
I am surprised that why no body in Pakistan is raising voice against the crimes done on Ulhighar muslims in china, are they some different muslims, secondly everybody is celebrating the release of pakistanis by Somali pirates after paying 1 million US$ ransom, these Somali Pirates are also muslims.
Ayesha Mohammad Aug 03, 2012 05:36am
Funny that the faraway Rohingya excite more sympathy than the Shias and Ahamadias at home. Pakisatni Muslims have a strange sense justice.
ashok Aug 03, 2012 05:37am
So as in Pakistan.
Arfan Aug 03, 2012 05:46am
Racist.... U know how many hindus migrated to Bangladesh after 1947?
Khan Aug 03, 2012 05:54am
Send all of them to land of pure..what they are doing in Burma?
Concerned Netizen Aug 03, 2012 12:49pm
What about the Muslims and other minorities inside Pakistan?
FearAllah Aug 03, 2012 02:06pm
Ayesha Shias are not being systematically masacard in Pakistan. Shias in Pakistan enjoy a good position in the societly, educated and hold key positions in Govt, including the Presidency. There are a lot of injustices against women, minorities, certain ethenic group, there is no denying it. This article was about murder of unarmmed muslims. Pakistani Muslims care about others and shame on you for your unthoughtful and over genralize comment.
@poovhenden Aug 03, 2012 09:05am
Bangladesh has a morality responsibility to help them. I think they can even lay territorial claim over Arakan as this was last confirmed outpost of Hindustan even at the time of Mughals.
Indian Aug 03, 2012 09:09am
Exactly similar to the genocides of Kashimir Pandits at the hands of terrorists!
Charlie Aug 03, 2012 07:07pm
It seems lot of indians are commenting on this site.
Muhammad Aug 03, 2012 07:56pm
I wish the same coverage is given to Shias and Ahmedis in Pakistan who too are badly persecuted but not covered enough by our media. I hope one day we'd see a fairer system in Pakistan.
tahir Aug 04, 2012 06:32am
but you're forgetting the genocides of muslims in Kashmir by indian army.
Naveed Aug 03, 2012 09:08pm
Buddhists and Hindus have joined hands to persecute Muslims in North East India and Myanmar. I am surprised that 56 Muslim countries are silent, so is OIC yet to issues a statement.
Ejaz Butt Aug 03, 2012 09:18pm
I am afraid the ilsl and evil practises have been adopted by subcntinen's Muslims t from Hindu oppressive culture that burns its widows and call fellow human beings Untuchables.
Ejaz Butt Aug 03, 2012 09:24pm
A good point but Indians trolls have thumbed you down and will do the same trick to my comments. Indian trolls, please listen to rational statements and stop your prejudices and narrowmindedness in favour of humanity.
Practical Aug 04, 2012 12:16am
Shouldn't Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) take some of the Muslim refugees from RohIngya as a RAMADHAN GIFT to help the needy.
MKB Aug 04, 2012 03:48am
Because it does not suits you. How Pakistan can cliam the champion of the Rohingya cause? It can not prevent the rights of its own mionority, it paraded Sunil to be come Mohammad Abdulla in full Public view in a TV show, it can not prevent the minority girls who regularly abducted, raped and than converted them in the religion of peace, sounds funny.
MKB Aug 04, 2012 03:53am
And still you did not learn the leason
MKB Aug 04, 2012 03:54am
No good, it can not save its own citizen how it can save others?
javeed Aug 04, 2012 04:27am
It is strange to see that all the countries in general and Muslim countries in particular are mute spectators to the Genocide. Gross human right violations are being done on Rohingya Muslims but there is almost nobody to condemn it. Oh God! are they not humans, everyone is aware that if only a single human is being killed in some of the countries(as if they are a better race of humans) the whole media, all the organizations take notice of that, but here the scenario is different, why this double standard!. It is really shameful on the part of OIC in general and Pakistan in particular not to take a stand against the injustices going on Rohingya Muslims and pressurize Burma to stop the organized genocide of the ethnic minority. Come on people they are also humans and have the right to live on this planet, let them live!
sanjay Aug 04, 2012 05:53am
Pahle Pakistan ko apne gireban mein jhankna chahiye. First you stop brutality and torture against your religious minorities.
Hitesh Aug 04, 2012 06:17am
Why don't you introspect ? They disown the Rohingyas and then they are doing what they want to do with them. But in case of Pakistan they are proclaiming equal rights for all and then what they are doing with them is well known all over the world.So tell me what is good hippocracy or tyranny.
pakistani in china Aug 04, 2012 07:55am
you should visit china and meet these so-called Uighur muslims.Their actions and their Islam would become more clear to you
justice Aug 04, 2012 03:07pm
Muslims must remain united as one nation and act as one nation if they are to challenge the hatred against them we need to act strongly.