As Muslims around the world prepare for the holy month of Ramadan, the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar are being painfully subjected to barbaric and appalling atrocities of extremist Buddhists. Their lives are in a constant state of trepidation and suffering.
Branded by the United Nations as one of the most persecuted minorities of the world, Rohingyas are a Muslim people living in the Rakhine State, located in the west of Myanmar. With a population of 3 million, Rakhine state is bordered by the Bay of Bengal to the west and the majority of its residents are Theravada Buddhists and Hindus.
The suppression of the Rohingya Muslims of the Arakan region dates back to World War II. On March 28, 1942, about 5,000 Rohingya Muslims were brutally massacred by the Rakhine nationalists in the Minbya and Mrohaung Townships. After this incident, the Muslims of the region were frequently subject to harassment by the Burmese government which has so far refused to grant them official citizenship. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, this lack of full citizenship rights means that the Rohingyas should tolerate other abuses, including restrictions on their freedom of movement, discriminatory limitations on access to education, and arbitrary confiscation of property.
It's said that as a result of dire living conditions and discriminatory treatment by the government, some 300,000 Rohingyas have so far immigrated to Bangladesh and 24,000 of them have also escaped to Malaysia in search of a better life. Many of them have also fled to Thailand, but neither Bangladesh nor Thailand has received them warmly. Bangladesh is negotiating with the Burmese government to return the Rohingyas and Thailand has sporadically rejected them. There have been instances where boats of Rohingyas reaching Thailand have been towed out to sea and allowed to sink, sparking international anger among Muslims and non-Muslims.
Human Rights Watch says that the government authorities continue to require Rohingya Muslims to perform forced labor. According to HRW, those who refuse or complain are physically threatened, sometimes with death, and children as young as seven years old have been seen on forced labour teams.
Writing for The Egyptian Gazette, University of Waterloo professor Dr. Mohamed Elmasry has enumerated the different hardships the Rohingya Muslims have historically undergone. He writes that they are subjected to various forms of extortion and arbitrary taxation, land confiscation, forced eviction and house destruction and financial restrictions on marriage. Rohingyas continue to be used as forced labourers on roads and at military camps.
The Myanmar government's mistreatment of the Rohingyas, however, has long been contested and protested by international organizations. For several years, human rights activists have decried the arbitrary measures levelled against the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar by the government and extremist Buddhists. In May 2009, Elaine Pearson, the Human Rights Watch's deputy Asia director issued a statement in protest at the deteriorating conditions of the Rohingya Muslims, calling on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to press the Burmese government to end its brutal practices: "the treatment of the Rohingya in Burma is deplorable – the Burmese government doesn't just deny Rohingya their basic rights, it denies they are even Burmese citizens."
Now, conflict has escalated in the Rakhine State again and Muslims are once more experiencing difficult days. It was reported that 10 Rohingya Muslims were killed by a mob of 300 Rakhines while on their way back from the country's former capital Rangoon. According to a group of UK-based NGOs, 650 Rohingyas were massacred from June 10 to 28. The United Nations estimates that between 50,000 and 90,000 Rohingyas were displaced since the eruption of violence in the Asian nation. However, due to the absence of independent reporters and monitors in the country, it's impossible to verify the exact number of those who have been displaced.
It's also reported that some 9,000 homes belonging to Muslims in the western state of Rakhine were destroyed. On July 20, Amnesty International called the recent attacks against minority Rohingyas and other Muslims in Myanmar a "step back" in the country's recent progress on human rights, citing increased violence and unlawful arrests following a state of emergency declared six weeks ago.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has voiced its concern over the recent violence in the state of Rakhine and the varying reports which have leaked out as to the number of the Muslims killed. As reported by the TimeTurk News Agency, over 1,000 Rohingya Muslims have been murdered thus far in conflicts in the region.
The mainstream media in the West have been largely silent about the massacre of Muslims in Myanmar and the ordeal that has befallen them.
Along with the mainstream media, the Western governments have also blatantly turned a blind eye to the heartrending anguish and suffering of the Rohingya Muslims. Even the renowned Burmese political activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi who has been released from house arrest and was just invited to Norway to deliver her Nobel acceptance speech 21 years after being awarded the prize, preferred not to speak about the affliction of her fellow citizens.
People around the world, however, should realize that coming to the help of a subjugated minority that is undergoing excruciating hardship is a moral responsibility and although the so-called international community is silent about the inhumane massacre of Muslims in Myanmar, each of us can lend a hand in putting an end to their suffering.