After suffering decades of oppression, Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar are now caught between two fires from the country’s repressive military junta and the rebel Buddhist Arakan Army, according to local Arakanese activists.
The UN and other international human rights organizations have called the violence against the country’s Rohingya “ethnic cleansing” or “genocide,” saying the Muslim group is “the most persecuted minority in the world.”
Mohammed Rafik and Nay San Lwin, Arakanese activists spoke with Anadolu Agency about the rights violations that Rohingya Muslims have been facing since the February 2021 military coup.
Human rights violations
Saying that what has been done to Arakanese society is not new, Rafik stressed: “In addition to human rights violations, numerous military campaigns have been carried out to eliminate and render Arakanese Muslims stateless in their own country and in neighboring countries where they have taken refuge.”
“Calling them the 'most persecuted' doesn’t solve the problems,” he said, adding: “The UN has failed on the issue of Arakanese society.”
“With the exception of a few 'concerns' that have reached the deaf ears of the oppressors in Myanmar, justice has not been achieved for this community,” he underlined.
“In 1978, about 300,000 Rohingya Muslims were deported to Bangladesh with Operation Dragon King (Nagamin).
“In 1982, a citizenship law was passed and the citizenship of the Rohingya Muslims was taken away overnight,” he stated.
“Deprived of basic rights such as health services, education, and the right to property, the Rohingya were also left vulnerable to torture and harassment,” he stressed.
“Gen. Than Shwe similarly forced more than 200,000 Rohingya, including me and my family, to leave the country with Operation Clean and Beautiful Nation in 1991-1992,” he said.
Rafik underlined that President Thein Sein, who served from 2011 to 2016 after an election held by the army, also displaced 120,000 Rohingya Muslims with "systematic policies.”
"About 100,000 of them live in internally displaced persons camps. These rights of Arakanese Muslims, who had the right to vote and be elected from independence in 1948 until 2015, were completely taken away,” he lamented.
“Between 2016 and 2017, two more major genocide campaigns were carried out,” he continued.
“Due to these two campaigns, 75% of the population of Arakan (Rakhine state) was displaced and became asylum seekers in Bangladesh.”
Bringing the story to the present day, he said: “In November 2022, the army declared empty Arakanese villages property of the border forces. The Rohingya, who were once equal citizens of Myanmar, are now deprived of citizenship, their homes, and basic human rights."
Pointing out that Rohingya Muslims are still the "largest, only Muslim community" that has been stripped of citizenship in Myanmar, Rafik added: "One of the policies of successive governments since 1962 is to refuse to grant citizenship to Rohingya Muslims.”
“Other Muslims living in different parts of Myanmar have citizenship and basic human rights. They are also being targeted due to hate campaigns spread by extremist Buddhist monks in the early 2000s, but their citizenship has never been taken away," he said.
Targeted by both junta regime, rebel Arakan Army
During clashes between the Buddhist Arakan Army and government forces, Arakan villages in Rakhine state have become battlefields.
Most of the Rohingya Muslim villages have been emptied, and those still living in the villages that have now become battlegrounds have also been forced to flee, he said.
"The Arakan Army, a Buddhist militant group, currently controls most of the state of Arakan and frequently clashes with the Myanmar army,” Rafik said.
“The army has been carrying out atrocities against Muslims in the region since its establishment in 2009.
“Rohingya Muslims are forced to escape from their villages and homes to save their loved ones in the war between the Myanmar army and the Buddhist Rohingya Army," he underlined.
The activist stressed that the Arakan Army "quickly seized the province and declared its own legislature, judiciary, and administration," adding: "The Arakan Army began collecting taxes from Arakan Muslims, who also had to pay taxes to the military-controlled government. There is now a double taxation for Arakanese society."
For his part, Nay San Lwin also said Myanmar’s junta regime flouts the rulings of the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
“Following this decision, the government stopped punishing Rohingya Muslims who ran away but the junta started to sentence these Muslim people after the military coup,” he said, adding that prison sentences that began with six months were increased first to two years and then to five.
“So, the effect of the military coup has become more oppression against Arakanese,” he criticized.
“The army committed the crime of carrying out a genocide and aimed to destroy all Rohingya Muslims.
“Now they are talking about bringing them back to the country but the army has created an insecure environment already,” he said.
On Feb. 1, 2021, Aung San Suu Kyi’s government was deposed in a military coup after her National League for Democracy party’s victory in national elections the previous November.
The coup was met with widespread civic unrest, as people denounced her removal and military rule. The junta repressed the protests violently, with the UN warning that the country had descended into civil war.
The junta forces have since killed more than 1,500 people in a crackdown on dissent, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a local monitoring group.