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11 October, 2017 01:20:33 PM / LAST MODIFIED: 11 October, 2017 01:26:13 PM


Outlining ethnic human rights violations against Rohingyas

Violence against the Rohingya like rape, murder, arson, land seizure and refugees fleeing from the country has been taking place on a massive scale
Maliha Karim
Outlining ethnic human rights violations against Rohingyas

Myanmar is a sovereign state located in the region of Southeast Asia and is officially known as the Republic of the Union of Myanmar and also alternatively known as Burma. Myanmar is a highly-populated country with approximately 51 million people sharing a 676,578 square kilometres’ area.

Myanmar also shares its borders with countries such as India and Bangladesh to its west, Thailand and Laos to its east and China to its north and northeast. In 1948, Myanmar became an independent nation and in 1962, it went back to being a military dictatorship after a coup d’état. However, in 2010 after a general election the country reverted back to a democracy and the military junta was dissolved. The country has been engrossed in an ethnic war and Burma’s myriad ethnic groups have been engrossed in the longest running ongoing civil wars in the world. During the period of unrest many organisations such as the United Nations have attempted to uphold human rights and avoid any violations of human rights of the minorities in Myanmar. United Nation as an organisation has the sole aim of bettering the lives of all individuals despite of their race, religion or gender. Legislations such as the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European Convention on Human Rights upheld the fundamental rights of every individual and ensure that every individual enjoys basic rights that have been accorded them on birth rather than based on where they have been born. Fundamental rights such as the right to life, right to freedom, freedom of speech and freedom from oppression, etc. are amongst one of the many rights that have been accorded to us in birth. However, although this may seem like the ideal scenario but in reality, in some countries fundamental rights such as these seem to be a distant dream. One of such examples is the condition of human rights in Myanmar.

Myanmar has been facing constant harsh restrictions and treatment based on certain ethnic and religious minorities, which is aimed especially against the Rohingya Muslims, who live predominantly in the North-western region of Rakhine. The ‘969 Movement’ was established by the Buddhist monks as an effort to make Myanmar an anti-Muslim nation. This goes grossly against the fundamental right of freedom to practice one’s religion as in Myanmar this could mean as asking for the death penalty. In the past two years, this particular situation has become immensely worse and defective. According to Buddhist extremists and monks, Myanmar must get rid of Rohingya Muslims in order to purify their nation. Hence violence against the Rohingya Muslims like rape, murder, arson, land seizure and refugees fleeing from the country has been taking place on a massive scale. Hundreds and thousands of people struggle to survive without the freedom to exercise their rights properly.

Although there are arguably a number of human rights being breached in Myanmar such as the breach of freedom of practicing your religion, freedom from oppression, freedom from inhuman treatment, amongst many others. However, the type of human rights abuse which will be discussed over here in this paper is ‘Rape against Rohingya Muslim women’ in Myanmar. Around 700 rape cases are reported yearly in Myanmar which is stated in national police records.  But the rate has increased since 2014 as Myanmar faces huge crisis especially in the region of North Rakhine State. Hundreds of young girls and women are raped brutally and later killed as well. It is to be noted down as a major breach of their human rights and can be considered as ‘Ethnically and Religion Motivated Rape’ which is often committed by military personnel. In my opinion, it appears so that encouraging spoiling and rape of civilians is a reward for victory to the criminals committing the crime.

Human Rights Watch has interviewed a couple of victims who have narrated their brutal experience which would help us get a clear picture regarding how the abuse has been occurring.

“A Burmese woman named Fatima described a scenario when four armed soldiers entered her house and grabbed one of her children and two of the soldiers grabbed her by the arms. They owned pistols, guns and rifles along with long knives. As her daughter screamed and begged to leave them, one of the soldiers killed her and started beating Fatima brutally with a wooden stick. One of the soldiers tore off her clothes and two soldiers raped her one by one. At the end when another soldier tried to rape her she resisted so they burned her leg.”

Such scenarios seem to be impossible to apprehend in the 21st century where women are seen as equal to women, however, Fatima’s story appears to be the harsh reality which many of the minority women face in Myanmar. Another Rohingya woman in her 20s named Ayesha described to the Human Rights Watch an incident where in the soldiers made her and other women gather together and they began to beat them and also kick them with their boots. They subsequently raped Ayesha by tearing off her clothes. Additionally, soldiers stormed into a house of another woman named Noor who was in her 40s and they placed a rifle on her forehead, tore off her clothes and raped her as well. Subsequently, she suffered bleeding followed by severe pain. These are only a few instances which have been recorded, however, it is unimaginable how many such stories haunt the minorities in Myanmar. Similar to Fatima, Ayesha and Noor hundreds of women are sexually abused and later sometimes killed. Girls of a very young age specifically those of 13 to 16 years old who can be considered to be merely children are also not spared at the hands of the soldiers and are also reportedly raped by them. This is a major breach of the fundamental human rights which dictates that nobody should be oppressed due to their religion or gender. However, it appears that these women are solely targeted due to their religion and often because women are considered weak the soldiers are able to beat and rape them. This can be confirmed by the statement which the women interviewed by the Human Rights Watch quoted the solders as saying, “we are going to rape and kill you because you are Muslim” or “you all are raising your children in order to kill us” etc. This clearly shows that the reason women like Fatima or Ayesha were targeted was because they were Muslim.

In my opinion these kinds of sexual violence cases have not been happening entirely out of nowhere in fact it is taking place in a very systematic and synchronized way against all Muslim Rohingyas because of their ethnicity and religion. Moreover, there might be many reasons as to which why this abuse is difficult to resolve. For example, any sexual violence case against a woman must be performed in front of a camera which is stated according to the Criminal Procedure Code hence victims perceives the situation would be uncomfortable for them and that is why they hesitate to file a case and also fear threats or being re-victimized by military personnel. Sometimes there is  lack of information and evidence to review the case in a panel code which makes the legal procedure slower in such cases where issuing protection order is very essential - as stated in the UN reports. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women notes that there is a zero-tolerance policy against any sexual misconduct by military personnel . But on the other hand, when these kinds of crimes are committed by military personnel not too many actions are taken. While cases are being heard, and prosecuted it is very mostly done through military procedures hence there is an insufficiency of justice and lacks clarity.

As far as I believe, a government is supposed to be the backbone of a nation where in case of Myanmar it seems to be the government is somewhat against the ethnic minorities.  Myanmar government denies several reports of human rights abuses, declares they are attacking only violent people who killed 9 border guards on October 9th since hundreds have been killed and around 600 others arrested. Human Rights Watch also released NASA satellite images which they say indicates more than 1200 homes of Rohingyas were burned down by the authorities which the government once again denies stating that attackers performed out the arson. Therefore, it is very clear on why this particular abuse keeps occurring as there has been no legal action taken which would show there is a punishment for breaking the law.

Human rights are basically respectable principles or norms which describes a particular standard of an individual and are always secured as legal rights in local and international law. The doctrine of human rights is exceptionally dominant within internationally, globally and also within regional organisations.

International human rights law applies to all people and nations and it was established when the United Nations General Assembly created the UDHR in 1948. International human rights merely provide a guideline and principle for nations to adopt. All nations are bound to respect and follow international human rights and are under an obligation to protect national human rights of their citizens. The state is responsible to protect individuals from any kind of human rights abuses hence the state is required to take a positive action if any abuses occur.

The origin of international laws can be established in Article 38.1 of the statute of the International Law of Justice (ICJ). This Article has come to constitute the foundation stone for any credible discussion on sources of international law and also it has been an organized guide for all. Art 38.1 requires courts whose duty is to abide by the international law of such disputes that are submitted will apply to- i) International Conventions ii) International Customs iii) General principles of law iv) Conditional to the allocation of Art 59. Article 38 has helped define international law as a discipline distinct from politics and international relations.   Hence Myanmar might consider taking this Article into account. On the other hand, treaties and conventions are the most effective sources of international law and are recognised as ‘hard law’. Treaties can perform the role of agreement between parties for example a deportation treaty or a defence protocol. Treaties can also act as a legislation to supervise a particular feature of international relations or configure constitution of international organisations. Thus, methods or policy by treaties become a legal binding source of law which can also be considered that - it is law creating.  

The writer is studying in the Department of Law and Social Sciences,  London South Bank University, London




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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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