Skip to main content area Skip to main content area Skip to institutional navigation Skip to search Skip to section navigation

Global Affairs Blog

No Country for Rohingyas

By: Usama Malik

FILE - In this June 13, 2012 file photo, a Rohingya Muslim man who fled Myanmar to Bangladesh to escape religious violence, cries as he pleads from a boat after he and others were intercepted by Bangladeshi border authorities in Taknaf, Bangladesh. She is known as the voice of Myanmar's downtrodden but there is one oppressed group that Aung San Suu Kyi does not want to discuss. For weeks, Suu Kyi has dodged questions on the plight of a Muslim minority known as the Rohingya, prompting rare criticism of the woman whose struggle for democracy and human rights in Myanmar have earned her a Nobel Peace Prize, and adoration worldwide. (AP Photo/Anurup Titu, File)According to the United Nations, Rohingya Muslims are considered to be the most persecuted minority group in the world. These unfortunate people are an ethnic Muslim minority numbering around one million living in the Buddhist majority country of Myanmar. The Rohingya have been residing in the northern parts of “Rakhine”, which is a geographically isolated state in western Myanmar. The word “Rohingya” is considered taboo in a country where they have been residing for more than a century. The continued victimization of Rohingyas at the hands of the Myanmar government is not a contemporary issue. The former British colony after achieving independence in 1948 has been struggling with armed ethnic and religious conflict.

In 1962, Myanmar witnessed its first Military coup led by General Ne Win, which produced a military state governed by socialist notions that lasted for more than six decades. The Rohingya have suffered from grave human rights violations ever since and acts of torture, murder and rape have been perpetrated by the national army against the vulnerable Rohingyas. The army has previously subjected the group to mass expulsions in the year 1977 and 1992, forcing the indigenous Rohingya to flee to an unwelcoming neighbor Bangladesh in order to seek momentary relief from the atrocities committed by the national armed forces.

However, the recent wave of violence against Rohingyas began in 2012, after the murder and rape of a young Buddhist woman. The backlash by the Myanmar authorities claimed hundreds of Rohingyan lives and resulted in the displacement of thousands of Rohingya.  The situation for the Muslim minority group worsened this year in August, when militants belonging to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), branded as a militant group by the national authorities, reportedly attacked an army base in the western part of Rakhine province. The brutal military campaign launched against the Rohingya after this dubious attack has claimed dozens of lives including women and children. This has led to an unprecedented mass exodus to neighboring Bangladesh.  According to the UNHCR, 370,000 Rohingyas have since crossed the border in order to flee from the surging violence. The United Nations Human Rights Chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has termed the ongoing brutality as a “ textbook example of ethnic cleansing.

The tragic condition of Rohingya Muslims is predominantly exasperated by their official “ statelessness”. Statelessness refers to individuals who do not possess the nationality of any state. Nationals of a state are those persons who owe permanent allegiance to a country. It signifies the legal tie between individuals and the state. The state guarantees its citizens and nationals full civil and political rights and as such is a custodian and protector of their rights. Rohingya Muslims were arbitrarily stripped from their citizenship rights in 1982 after the enactment of the draconian Citizenship Act. Under this law Rohingyas were declared “non-national” or “foreign residents”.  The act recognized 135 national races excluding the one million Rohingya, who were previously accepted as nationals under the Union Citizenship Act 1948. The 1982 act was promulgated under the Socialist Military regime of Myanmar and has been a source of continued oppression for the Muslim minority group.

The introduction of the Citizenship Act of 1982 is a grave violation of International law.  Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, conceived by the United Nations states that “ everyone has the right to a nationality” and that “ no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality”.  This deprivation of nationality has resulted in the widespread infringement of human rights. The Rohingyas do not have access to education, employment and face restrictions on their inherent right of movement and travel, including their right to vote. ‘Statelessness’ has made the Rohingyas more vulnerable to arbitrary detention, forced labor, discriminatory taxation and confiscation of property. It also snatches their basic human right to profess their religion freely as the states anti-discrimination laws does not afford any protection since they are non-nationals. The denial of citizenship has also provided the Myanmar authorities with a de-facto license to use unrestrained lethal force against the Rohingyas. The illegal deprivation of nationality has rendered Rohingya Muslims foreigners in their homeland and has exposed them to extreme violence and savagery.

The long lasting solution to the Rohingya predicament lies in the repeal of the repressive 1982 Citizenship Act. The plight of Rohingyan Muslims can only be improved if they are granted full citizenship rights, which were arbitrarily taken away from them. The role of the United Nations in this context is of paramount importance. The UN should use its influence to pressurize the current democratic government led by Noble Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to abrogate the 1982 act. Moreover, Muslim countries should also move past their current rhetoric of condemning the human rights violations in Myanmar and take practical steps to improve the condition of Rohingyas. Pakistan should also reconsider its deal of selling 16 JF-17 aircrafts to Myanmar in order to pressurize the latter to ameliorate the Rohingya situation and grant them nationality, which was stripped arbitrarily in contravention to principles of international law.



Usama Malik is a lawyer and human rights activist based in Pakistan. He holds a Masters in International Development law & Human Rights from University of Warwick Uk. He is currently practicing law with a leading human rights lawyer in Pakistan.


Related News

  • November 13

    Shane Fischman L’19,  President of Penn Law Students for Israel and Penn Law Global Affairs Blog Editor & Rachel Chiger L ’19, President of the Penn Law Chapter of the Louis B. Brandeis Society

    In the aftermath of this attack, CNN reported: “Dismay, horror, and disbelief were feelings shared by many in the aftermath of the mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.” Similar headlines blazed the front pages of international dailies, such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, BBC, and The Guardian. While the international community certainly reacted to the shooting with dismay and horror, disbelief was not among the emotions that registered in the Jewish community.

  • November 6
    By: James Albrecht L’19
    I am currently a visiting student at King’s College London, set right on the Thames River in the heart of London.  Seeking to take advantage of everything London has to offer both in the city and in the classroom, I have decided to embark on a comparative analysis of the law which I have studied so far at Penn Law.  Because I will be working in a corporate firm when I graduate, for a majority of my courses I chose a corporate concentration and I have enrolled in Competition law, the Law of the Company, and Public International Law. Though these classes are seemingly typical, it is for that reason that I chose to enroll in them here: the chance to study these topics in the EU and UK context is a privilege I would not have had at home, and it is an opportunity to compare the distinctions between the US and UK, which are both common law countries.
  • October 22
    By: Shane Fischman, JD’19 and Global Affairs Blog Editor
    Through the normalization and unanimous acceptance of treaties such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), history has proven that despite our cultural differences, diverging political and economic systems, and unique social norms, the world can agree that certain actions are unquestionably immoral. On the one hand, it, therefore, appears that the world has conceded that there are certain moral absolutes. On the other hand, however, the belief that there are rights and wrongs relative to our own moral convictions abounds.  Saudi Arabia is a case in point.