EXPERT VIEW: Myanmar's policies to blame for systemic discrimination
KUALA LUMPUR: A FORMER Amnesty International Thailand researcher said violence against the Rohingya in Myanmar was because of systemic discrimination, which was manifested in law, policy and practices of the Myanmar government.
In his presentation at the Perdana Global Peace Foundation international conference on "Plight of the Rohingya: Solutions?" on Monday, Benjamin Zawacki said the system made such direct violence against the Rohingya far more possible and likely than it would otherwise be.
"In the eyes of the Myanmar authorities, at least as evidenced by the lack of accountability for civilians and officials alike, discrimination also makes the violence and violations somehow justifiable. That is the problem."
The international consultant, a law graduate from Pennsylvania, the United States, said the Rohingya's sufferings began with the 1978 "Dragon King" operation, where the Myanmar army committed widespread killings and rape of Rohingya civilians and mass destruction of mosques and other religious persecution, resulting in the exodus of about 200,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh.
"A similar campaign of forced labour, summary executions, torture and rape in 1992 led to a similar number of Rohingya again fleeing across the border.
"In February 2001, communal violence between the Muslim and Buddhist populations in Sittwe resulted in an unknown number of people killed and Muslim property destroyed.
"Late 2009 featured the pushing back by Thai authorities onto the high seas."
He said that if Myanmar had never put its system of discrimination against the Rohingya into place, these events would not have occurred.
"Eliminating it (systemic discrimination) now is urgently required for a sustainable future peace in Rakhine state and is a human rights imperative."
Zawacki said the core of Myanmar's systemic discrimination against the Rohingya was its 1982 Citizenship Law, which denies the right of nationality to the Rohingya population.
"The law creates three classes of citizens -- full, associate, and naturalised -- none of which has been conferred on the Rohingya.
"Full citizenship is reserved for those whose ancestors settled in Myanmar before 1823 or are among Myanmar's more than 130 recognised national ethnic groups, of which the Rohingya are not one."
Zawacki said the Rohingya, lacking citizenship were, therefore, rendered stateless and subjected to policies and practices which constituted violations of their human rights and fundamental freedoms.
"These include restrictions on movement, forced labour, land confiscation, forced eviction, and destruction of houses, extortion and arbitrary taxation, and restrictions on marriage, employment and education.
A solution to the Rohingya problem, said Zawacki would be for the Myanmar government to amend the Citizenship Law or repeal it, so that the Rohingya could be made citizens.