ASEANTODAY: The myth of the stateless Rohingya

Aung San Suu Kyi continues to bury her head in the sand on the Rohingya issue. She avoideddiscussing sexual violence against women in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. She met with senior UN official, Pramila Patten during Patten’s four-day visit in December. Patten recounted how she dodged meaningful discussion about widespread rape in Rakhine State.

Human Rights Watch released a report on the situation in November. They interviewed 29 rape survivors. Three were under the age of 18.

Aung San Suu Kyi continues to hold the military line. The official military line is that the Rohingya are illegally squatting in Myanmar. The military maintains they are stateless ethnic Bengalis. It maintains they are illegal migrants. Should they go back to Bangladesh?

The Rohingya are a persecuted race

The Burmese military has denied Rohingya citizenship rights. After the military came to power in 1962, the Rohingya had foreign identity cards. They could not hold certain jobs. The military banned the Rohingya from practicing law or medicine. They could not run for office.

Then in 1982, they received the stateless label. The military refused to recognise them as an official ethnic group. They could no longer vote. They had restricted access to health services. The violent crackdowns began in the 1970s.

The military constructed the idea that they are stateless

The idea of the Rohingya as a stateless people is a Burmese military construct. Muslims have inhabited the Rakhine region of Myanmar since the 12th century. During British colonial rule, Myanmar was a province of India. There was migration from Bangladesh and India to Rakhine State. But it was legal. It was internal migration.

In 1948, Myanmar secured its independence. The Burmese government passed the first Union Citizenship act. Rohingya who had been in Myanmar for at least two generations could apply for identity cards. They also served in parliament.

The military came to power in a coup in 1962. The new government created the myth of the Rohingya as a stateless population. It was a tool to justify the restriction of Rohingya rights. President of Refugees International, Eric Schwartz summed it up. He said, “the notion that they [the Rohingya] are stateless is nonsense. It is nonsense. It is a myth perpetrated by the authorities in Myanmar.”

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