No Citizenship Equals No Rights: The Legal Implications For Stateless Rohingya In Burma.
Without legal recognition by the government, the Rohingya population is unable to own land, marry, or even have children. Until world leaders unite behind their cause, the Rohingya will continue to suffer terrible inequalities.
The Rohingya people in Burma are fleeing their homes in mass numbers as violence continues against them. They are one of the most persecuted groups in the world with no allies or connections. Their situation is a good case study for analyzing the international human rights implications of statelessness. Groups like the Rohingya are powerless to prevent the mistreatment by their government because they have no legal rights anywhere in the world. Burma must give the Rohingya citizenship and stop the violence to set an international precedent for the empowerment of stateless people.
Individuals and groups become stateless because of war, ethnic strife, or changes in sovereignty, for example the dissolution of the former Soviet Union into many independent nations. Statelessness oppresses people by withholding basic rights and freedoms, such as the right to own land, legal right to work and access to education. It places legal restrictions on the right to marry and right to obtain recognition of birth and death certificates. Statelessness puts people’s everyday lives beyond their own control.
The Rohingya live in the state of Rakhine, known formerly as Arakan, in west Burma. There is a long history of strife between the Rohingya and the majority group, the Burmese Buddhists. The Rohingya minority is Muslim, has their own language and a population of roughly one million people. The Burmese Buddhists argue that the Rohingya are immigrants from Bengal brought over by the British, while the Rohingya claim they have been in the region for centuries. Unfortunately, the Burmese government sided with the Buddhists and passed a Citizenship Law in 1982 that denied the Rohingya their citizenship.
A recent murder in Rakhine transformed the simmering animosity into widespread violence. In May or June 2012, a Buddhist girl was raped and murdered, allegedly by Muslim men. Both sides participated in the violence. The repercussions of the fighting forced over 90,000 Rohingya people to abandon their homes and live in internal refugee camps and abroad. Many people were displaced, attacked or killed. The Burmese government attempted to gain control by issuing a state of emergency that allowed officials to make mass arrests and detentions of the Rohingya. Some people left and joined others living illegally in Bangladesh, Malaysia, Thailand and beyond. Many Rohingya live in unregulated refugee camps in Burma and Bangladesh, where they face severe malnourishment and unsanitary conditions. These refugee camps are an atrocity that the UN has criticized as a ‘dire’ situation. Other Rohingya have crossed the Andaman Sea to Malaysia and Thailand in hope of a more peaceful and calm life.
The complexity of the situation has united world leaders weighing in on separate sides of the issue. Burma’s pro-democracy leader and Nobel laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi has been criticized for her lack of response to the human rights violations. She stated, “violence has been committed by both sides. This is why I prefer not to take sides. And, also I want to work toward reconciliation between these two communities. I am not going to be able to do that if I take sides.”
Her statements are in contrast to the more moderate U.S. President Barack Obama who spoke in Burma and recognized the disaster of the Rohingya, stating “[f]or too long, the people of this state, including ethnic Rakhine, have faced crushing poverty and persecution. But there’s no excuse for violence against innocent people.” The Burmese government did not comment on Obama’s speech.
The Dalai Lama (the Tibetan Buddhist leader) and other Buddhist officials have also spoken out, calling on Buddhist people to stop the violence against the Rohingya. While it is optimistic that Obama and the Dalai Lama have taken a stance against this violence, the persecution will continue so long as the minority is denied their rightful citizenship. The time has come for Burma and its citizens to make amends with the Rohingya. This is a chance for Burma to set an international precedent and demonstrate to the world that it is serious about becoming a self-governing state, by ensuring democratic protections and rights for all of its people.
 The official name, decided by the junta, is Myanmar. However, most Burmese people call the country Burma. We choose to refer to the country as Burma.
 Dan Rivers, Terrorized, starving and homeless: Myanmar’s Rohingya still forgotten, Cnn, (Nov. 26, 2012 6:09AM), http://www.cnn.com/2012/11/25/world/asia/myanmar-rohingya-violence-rivers/index.html.
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 Goris, supra note 1.
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 Anjana Pasricha, Aung San Suu Kyi Explains Silence on Rohingyas, Voice of America, (Nov. 15, 2012), http://www.voanews.com/content/aung-san-suu-kyi-explains-silence-on-rohingyas/1546809.html.
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 Dalai Lama, Buddhist leaders in Rohingya compassion call, Bdnews24.com (Dec. 9, 2012 10:20PM) http://bdnews24.com/details.php?id=237881&cid=1