Have we forgotten the Rohingyas?
M Fazlul Bari
the last few decades, the ill-fated Rahingyas have gone through oppression,
torture and frequent massacres in their historical homeland of Arakan.
Since 1948, expelling the Rohingyas from their ancestral land and depriving
them of properties have become almost a recurring phenomenon.
is the most affected neighbour
Millions of uprooted Rohingyas have taken shelter in many countries
of the world since ethnic cleansing of 1942 in Arakan. The crisis took
a serious turn in 1992 when 250877 refugees had trekked into Bangladesh
fleeing persecution on the other side of border-Myanmar. Bangladesh
has almost been successful in handling the issue by sending back 236490
refugees to their homeland. Bangladesh itself is encumbered with its
vast population and beset with multifarious problems, yet the way it
has dealt the crisis is hailed internationally. The UN (UNHCR in particular)
has also played commendable role in this regard. Arithmetically the
number of the refugees is now supposed to be around 2000; but in reality
the figure exceeds 20000. Apart from new born babies in Rohingya camps,
the influx of refugees has been continuous for years. The Bangladesh
government provides inadequate facilities in the refugee camps where
the vulnerable Rohingyas are passing their days in a shabby and inhuman
condition. Again, many trespassers have been mixed with the local populace.
It is almost impossible to identify the illegal immigrants as both are
identical in appearance and complexion. Most of them are reluctant to
return Myanmar as well. These settlers, being ill-paid labourers, are
frequently engaged in criminal activities and environmental degradation
in the hilly areas of Cox'sbazar, Chittagong, Bandarban etc. There is
no official census available regarding their number and status.
Arakan, a continuation of the Chittagong plain, was neither purely a
Burmese nor an Indian territory until 18th century AD culturally, socially,
economically and politically, the people of Arakan (also known as Rosang)
were independent for centuries. It had remained district due to its
topographical peculiarity. Arakan was virtually ruled by Muslim rulers
under Sultanate system from 1430 to 1531. The Muslims (Rohingyas) and
the Buddists (Maghs or Rakhines) constituted the population of this
area. In addition to these majority groups, these are other minority
people lived here. In fact, Rohingyas and Maghs had been peacefully
co-existing in Arakan like twin brothers in perfect amity until Burmese
occupation in 1784. During Burmese rule, two sister communities were
put at loggerheads and this heinous policy has been continued with more
(preciously Burma till 1989) has been ruled by a despots or military
junta since 1952. The successive ruling councils are bent on eradicating
Rohingyas by terming them illegal settlers. The Buddist settlers have
also gradually marginalized and allowed the Rohingyas out of their homestead
under clear state-patronage. Actually, Myanmar under military dictatorship
continues to be centre of instability and, political and ethnic persecution.
The rule of law, human rights, democracy -- these phrases are still
far cry in autocratic rule.
doctrine of self determination
The doctrine of self determination is one of the major concepts in political
theory and jurisprudence. If played an important role in the process
of decolonisation and emergence of many sovereign states in Asia, Africa
and Latin America. The issue of self determination and the right to
secede versus the territorial integrity attracts huge discussion among
scholars and politicians. Nevertheless, this concept has acquired new
significance under the UN charter. Subsequently the UN General Assembly
attempted to provide greater content to provisions of the charter on
self determination through its resolutions and declarations, viz --
Declaration on the Granting of Independence to the colonial countries
and peoples (1960);
(b) Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly
Relations and co-operations among states (1970);
(c) Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 1993
General Assembly Resolutions nor Declarations provide legal framework
for the right to self determination as they fall within the ambit of
soft international law. Two International Covenants on Economic, social
and cultural rights and on civil and political rights (1966), being
directly binding on state-parties, contain the right to self determination
in identical language in common article 1. Upon close examination of
article 1 of both the covenants, self determination is classified as
internal and external self determination.
1 of Article 1 refers to the internal aspect of self determination when
it states that 'all peoples have the right to self determination.' Here
the reference is not only to the people of dependent countries, but
also to the peoples of sovereign states as well. Therefore, internal
aspect of self determination is universally applicable to all people.
Article 1 conveys two ideas. Firstly, the choice of domestic political
institutions must be ascertained by the peoples themselves through free
and fair election. Secondly, it necessitates other related rights enshrined
in the covenants such as freedom of speech and expression, the right
to peaceful assembly, association, right to vote and to be elected and
more importantly right to take part in the conduct of public affairs
through representatives. Wherever these rights are recognised and respected,
the people enjoy the right of internal self determination: and whenever
it is tramped down, it is infringed.
1(3) commits all state parties to respect and promote the right to self
determination. A close study of the provision reveals that the emphasis
is clearly on the trust and other non-self-governing territories.
the internal self determination is closely linked to the realisation
of basic human rights, the external aspect played a key role in ending
self determination relevant for Rohingyas?
With the passage of time, wave of change all over the world, human thirst
for knowledge, honour and dignity, a man can no longer tolerate the
oppression and injustice of another man. No government is allowed to
treat its people in any damn way it likes. Non interference in the domestic
affairs of a country is no more available in contemporary international
law when it concerns the human rights. The UN charter places human rights
in a pivotal position. Several international treaties and declarations
in unequivocal terms affirm that gross violations, as seen in Myanmar,
of human rights is an issue of international concern. The barbaric and
inhuman acts of the junta with an indigenous minority Muslim community
is not only insult to UN charter, it is a dangerous signal to the peace
& security of the region.
indicated earlier, Arakan is a territory geographically separate to
Myanmar. Its people particularly the Rohingyas are ethnically and culturally
distract from others. Besides, it has been arbitrarily placed in a situation
of subordination. Furthermore, they are not listed among 135 ethnic
nationalities of the country. Since they been persistently subjected
to persecution, genocide and expulsion from their homeland, their right
to self determination accrues from many standpoints. As the UN practice
has not been to endorse the right to secede outside decolonization at
least internal aspect of self determination is quite relevant for Rohingyas.
Regarding Rohingya issue the most important of all is a permanent solution
to their long-standing problem. It inter alia involves inviolable human
rights commitment about rights and freedoms of the Rohingyas that should
be incorporated in the constitution of Myanmar. In this regard, a true
representative government is welcome in the process of roadmap to Democracy
in Myanmar. Bangladesh, as the affected neighbour, may come forward
for viable political solution of the crisis. Actually the conclusion
is declared by the then UN Secretary General Boutros B Ghali at the
time of Rohingya influx to Bangladesh in 1992.
'UN should endeavour to achieve a political solution to the crisis not
merely for the time being but for future as well."
M Fazlul Bari is an advocate.