Recent reports from Myanmar have evidently shown that there is no respite for the Muslim minority of the country. The recent violence targeted the Rohingya Muslims, who are permanently settled in western parts of the country. In early June, Buddhist extremists, on a flimsy pretext, killed 11 Rohingya Muslims after taking them out from a bus. There was understandably some reaction to the killings, which was strongly quelled by the Buddhist-dominated army and extremist monks. While no exact figures are available, it has been reported that following the 11 killings, hundreds of more Muslims may have been killed and their properties destroyed in the Rakhine or Arakan state.
Tensions further amplified in July when president of Myanmar advocated expulsion of Rohingya Muslims from the Rakhine state and their settlement in refugee camps to be run by the United Nations.
In late July 2012, the Amnesty International was reported by the media as saying that communal violence was “continuing in western Myanmar six weeks after the government declared a state of emergency, with much of it directed at minority Muslim Rohingyas who have been beaten, raped and killed.”
The rights group “accused both security forces and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists of carrying out fresh attacks against Rohingya Muslims, who are regarded as foreigners by the ethnic majority and denied citizenship by the government because it considers them illegal settlers from neighbouring Bangladesh.”
The Amnesty added: “While the restoration of order, security, and the protection of human rights is necessary, most arrests appear to have been arbitrary and discriminatory, violating the rights to liberty and to freedom from discrimination on grounds of religion.”
History shows that Muslims had landed in Myanmar some 10 centuries ago. The earliest Muslims were traders, soldiers, seamen and others who settled in the country and intermarried with the local Burmese. The present day Muslims are mostly descendants of those who had arrived during the last 1,000 years or more. The Muslims served the Buddhist kings as advisers and administrators and were also amply rewarded by them.
Unfortunately, there have been several attacks on Muslims in the last 100 years or so in Myanmar or Myanmar, which is its new name. There were attacks on Indian Muslims in 1930 and 1938 under the British rule. In March 1997, Buddhists attacked Muslims and their properties in Mandalay; in 2001 this was repeated on a much wider scale in Taungoo, where 200 Muslims were killed, 400 houses set ablaze and 400 mosques destroyed.
Unfortunately, basic fundamental rights are denied to Muslims in Myanmar, especially the Rohingyas. They are discriminated in government jobs, education, health and ownership of land and even face marriage restrictions.
The US State Department, in its international freedom report in 2006, said that the population of all minorities, including Muslims, was deliberately under-estimated by the Burmese government, which claims that only four percent of the country’s population is Muslim. Meanwhile, Muslim leaders have disputed the figure, saying that up to 20 percent population of Myanmar is Muslim.
According to the UN resolution 96(I), genocide is a crime under international law and all signatories of the UN convention will cooperate to prevent genocide in order to liberate the mankind from such an odious scourge. Inspiring words but we have not seen action in real terms either from the UN or the Organization of Islamic countries.