Religious clashes in Myanmar, a Buddhist-majority country, have driven more than 400,000 Rohingya Muslims out of the country, provoking the United Nations’ top human rights official to call the campaign against them “ethnic cleansing.” It’s tarnished the reputation of the country’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi: Her long silence on the violence has had some critics petitioning to rescind her 1991 Nobel Peace Prize. It has raised doubts about whether Myanmar can keep attracting the levels of foreign investment the Southeast Asian nation has counted on to modernise the economy since it opened up to the outside world six years ago.
Who are Rohingyas?
The Rohingyas are a Muslim ethnic-minority with few Hindus group that has lived as a people in Myanmar for centuries. A minority of Rohingya are Hindus. They are Indo-Aryan people from Rakhine state of the country.
As of now, an estimate of more than a million of Rohingyas them live in the country. Most of them are settled in the western coastal state of Rakhine, where they make up around a third of the population. They speak their own language, which isn't recognized by the state. The Rohingya stress the fact that a Muslim community existed in the state, the site of independent kingdoms since antiquity, before Burma took control of Rakhine in 1784. Their critics call the Muslims foreign interlopers and emphasize that during British colonial rule, starting in the 1820s, workers from Bengal, in
what is now Bangladesh, arrived in Rakhine and the Muslim community grew significantly.
The United Nations in 2013 recognised Rohingyas as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world,
the Rohingya population are denied citizenship under the 1982 Myanmar nationality law.
There are regular clashes between the Rohingya and the country's security forces, as well as other ethnic groups in Rakhine, which are predominantly Buddhist. Rohingya militant groups are often involved in the clashes.
Even Buddhist monks have been accused of inciting violence against the Rohingya there and led a boycott movement against them during deadly clashes in 2012.
A community of Rohingya refugees also lives in Bangladesh and some migrate to Malaysia, where they typically work illegally.
Around 40,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to India over the past decade, out of which 16,500 are registered with the UN's refugee agency.Myanmar’s government refuses to use the word Rohingya, as that might imply the Muslims of Rakhine are a distinct ethnic group, deserving of recognition.
What’s causing the violence?
The latest tensions were sparked on Aug. 25 when militants from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacked 25 police and army posts, killing a dozen security officials in the eastern state of Rakhine. The military responded with what it calls “clearance operations.” There have been reports of security forces and Buddhist vigilantes indiscriminately attacking Muslims in the state and burning their villages. The army said more than 400 people have died, most of them militants, while human-rights groups say hundreds of villagers have been killed. The military’s response has been similar to its reaction after an ARSA operation in October 2016: UN investigators concluded soldiers “very likely” committed crimes against humanity. An estimated 87,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar then.
The Rohingyas claim to have descended from Arab traders and that they have been in the area for generations. However, they are seen as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh by the Myanmar government, which includes the present elected government. As a result they are not given citizenship. This serves the purpose of exploiting the situation for communal reasons. This happened under the earlier military junta and has not been put down now. Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi has said that the Buddhist populist in the western Rakhine state feel they now constitute a smaller percentage of the population.
How have the Rohingya been treated?
Myanmar’s authorities have progressively denied the Rohingya rights and, along with vigilantes sometimes led by Buddhist monks, persecuted them, driving them from their homes and into neighboring countries, mostly Bangladesh. In 1982, the government stripped the Rohingya of citizenship. In the name of bringing order to Rakhine, the army launched an operation in 1991 featuring forced labour, rape and religious suppression. The Rohingya face numerous legal restrictions. Couples need government permission to marry and to travel beyond their home town or move to a new one. Those in two of Rakhine’s cities are limited to having two children.
What does the crisis mean for foreign investment?
The crisis threatens to sap investor confidence in the nation, which saw the U.S. and European countries drop sanctions after a ruling military junta released Suu Kyi from house arrest in 2010. Companies that rushed in are again worried about risks from human rights concerns. Foreign investment plunged 30 percent last fiscal year after a record $9.5 billion was pumped into the economy the prior 12 months. The shortfall coincided with concern over the direction of the government’s economic agenda and an increased focus on Rakhine.