Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Rohingya, ethnic cleansing and Buddhism

This statement is drawn from many sources, acknowledged by hyperlinks and endnotes. This subject is extremely complex and disputed. Many authors, on each side, are partisan. I may add to and edit this document.


  1. The situation relating to the Rohingya in Myanmar is complicated and disputed. Many  articles about the Rohingya are incomplete; some are noticeably biased
  2.  Violence and discrimination by the Myanmar state against the Rohingya is extreme, longstanding and disproportionate. This discrimination is contrary to the basic teachings of Buddhism and also to international norms and laws, such as those embodied in the United Nations declaration of universal human rights.   
  3.  The violence and discrimination by the Myanmar state is particularly directed towards people who identify as “Rohingya” but is only one of many forms of discrimination practiced by the Myanmar government, supported by its dominant ethnic group, the Bamar, against many minorities. 
  4.  This discrimination has been obvious since the late 18th century, when the first documented mass flight of people we now identify as Rohingya occurred, leading to the establishment of Cox’s Bazaar, in Bangladesh.
  5. While most of the people expelled and/or fleeing to Bangladesh in the most recent (2017) large-scale outbreak of violence in Rakhine (a coastal state of northern Myanmar) are Muslim, people who have fled Rakhine include Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and perhaps others. It is unclear if these minorities self-identify as Rohingya; their existence is overlooked in all pro-Rohingya sources we have so far found. 
  6. Counter violence by Muslim Rohingya against the Myanmar state and civilian populations in Rakhine has been documented since 1942, during World War II.
  7. While no individual or single element can or should be exclusively blamed for the tragedy of modern Myanmar and the flight and plight of the Rohingya, some factors are more responsible than others. In addition to the more obvious cultural and behavioural determinants, it is plausible that deep evolutionary factors inhibit resolution. If so, peaceful resolution of the Rohingya crisis requires their exploration and consideration. 
Part 1. Background: a brief history of Burma, Myanmar, Arakan and the Rakhine: from the 7th century to the present
The word Myanmar is derived from the name for the dominant ethnic group, the Bamar, of this south-east Asian name, bordered by Bangladesh, China, India, Laos, and Thailand, as well as the Indian Ocean. The Bamar are largely Buddhist, but the nation has many minorities, very few of whom identify as Buddhist. Until 1989 this country was called Burma (1). Myanmar has been independent since 1948, following its partial and then complete colonisation by the British, followed by the Japanese invasion in World War II (WWII). It is not unfair to characterise modern Myanmar as itself a coloniser and invader, of states and areas that share a common boundary with central Burma. Some documents refer to the Burmese “empire”.
Diversity and conflict
-->Myanmar has a complex diversity. Its founding constitution recognised 135 ethnicities, none of whom were Rohingya (2). Making this diversity more complex, several numerically important groups lack official recognition within Myanmar, even of people descended from parents or even great grandparents born within the nation’s borders (3). Of these “stateless” minorities, the best known group to the outside world are called (and call themselves) the Rohingya, but they are not the only significant stateless minority (4) within Myanmar. We stress that state recognition as citizens in Myanmar does not guarantee protection from severe, in some cases brutal state discrimination.

Myanmar’s history can be characterised as dominated by a seemingly ceaseless struggle for power among its different peoples, who are divided by ethnicity, language, religion, culture, skin colour and wealth, as well as citizenship. These struggles are and have often been violent; it is likely that civil war has existed in a part or even several parts of Burma for every year independence. Significant, violent conflicts are documented between the Barma and at least six of the other seven main ethnicities.

These are the Chin (5), Kachin (6), Karen (7), Karenni (8), Mon (9) and Shan (10). This spares only the Rakhine, as a major group, from recent conflict. However, the main territory of the Rakhine was itself invaded and annexed by the Bamar, in 1785, raising the possibility that recent and current animosity between the Barma and the Rakhine may be an under-recognised component of the Rohingya crisis (11).
The geography of Rakine and its long-standing links with Bengal

The coastal province of Rakine (once called Arakan (12)) is a narrow strip in the north west of Myanmar (see Figure 1) separated from the interior of the country by the Arakan Yoma mountains (13) Its dominant ethnic group is the Rakhine, who are predominantly Buddhist. Both geography and migration have long favoured cultural and political links between Rakhine (especially in its north) and Bengal, which has been predominantly Muslim since the 13th century in the common era. (14) For example, according to many sources, the kingdom of Mrauk_U (1429-1785) ruled not only Arakan, but parts of what is today southern Bangladesh, including Chittagong (until 1666).

Figure 1. The modern state of Rakhine is shaded black. The area in light yellow is the rest of Myanmar.

Part II. Islam and Arakan

According to pro-Rohingya sources, local traditions trace Arab contact with people of Arakan as predating the establishment of Islam, (15) with the first exposure of the people of Arakan to Islam occurring in the 7th or 8th century, (16) soon after Islam was founded. Many sources, including the early British administrator and historian Sir Arthur Phayre (1841) (17) report strong cultural links between Bengal and Arakan, especially during the 3.5 centuries of the Mrauk-U Kingdom (1425-1785). King Min Saw Mon, the founder of this dynasty, is reported to have regained his throne in 1433 (18) after twenty-four years of exile in exile in Bengal, with military help from the Sultan of Bengal (19). The court he then established had a strong Muslim influence. 

By 1784, the people of Arakan had had approximately 1,000 years of contact with Islam. An article published under the banner of the Arakhan Rohingya National Organisation (ARNO) (20) described Arakan in this period as a “land of peace (21) and plenty inhabited by many communities” (22). However, while at least two of these communities, the Kamens and the Rohingya, are Muslim, or predominantly Muslim, I have not been able to determine if many, or indeed any, Rakhine or other groups converted to Islam in this time (23). Phayre (1841) describes the population of Arakan as “about 15%” Muslim, and as “foreigners” (i.e. suggesting they are synonymous and that few if any local people had converted by then). While such long ago facts would be seen as trivial in many countries, this issue unfortunately is still seen as very important in Myanmar.

Figure 2. Map showing areas discussed in this essay: blue: current national names; red: national capitals; black dots: the cities Cox's Bazaar and Yangon. Bangladesh was called East Bengal during the British Raj; Assam once constituted most of north east India, apart from Bengal.

Burmese rule of Arakan

Arakanese independence ended in 1784, when, early in his reign, the expansionist (24) Burmese King Bodawphaya crossed the mountains to invade Arakhan, capturing the Rakhine King, Thamada. According to one website Bodawphaya deported more than 20,000 captured people into “Myanmar” (presumably interior Burma) as slaves. King Bodawphaya’s army struggled to hold Arakan until his death in 1819. His rule was oppressive, generating a revolt in the 1790s (25) leading to thousands of refugees (26) fleeing to British India (both Bengal and Assam) chased by Burmese troops, who crossed the Indian border in pursuit of the rebel leaders. 
This first documented refugee flight from Arakan led to the British army officer, Cox, founding the town now called Cox’s Bazaar, in modern Bangladesh (see figure 2). The roots of tension between British India and Burma, which led to three Anglo-Burmese wars, also date from this period. Within 5 years of King Bodawphaya’s death the First Anglo-Burmese War (1824-1826) occurred, leading to the ceding of Arakan by the defeated Burmese, to British India under the terms of the Treaty of Yandabo (Chan, 2005) (27).

The British occupation of Arakan: additional factors for the current resentment of Rohingya.

For the following 120 years Arakan was part of “British” territory, governed from London, as part of the largest empire then on Earth. In 1895 British India finally incorporated the rest of what is today Myanmar, ten years after the third and final Anglo-Burmese War (28). Hays reports that a tactic used by the British to overcome final resistance was the systematic destruction of villages, a tactic now used by the Mynamar military and state against the Rohingya.

The British were highly skilled at extracting material (29) and other resources from their territories (30) as well as, for most of their reign, holding a very tight grip on power. A tactic used by the British, in myriad locations, was “divide and rule”, particularly the harnessing of local resentment and tensions in ways that would bolster British authority. A means to do this in Arakan, as in many other parts of the British empire, was to promote the migration of Muslims into Arakan, both as labourers and as minor officials (31).

The British also encouraged the migration of large numbers of Hindus into Arakan, for the same reasons. Each imported group could be considered as likely to be more loyal to the British (in the context of Arakan) than the native Rakhine people. Increased religious and ethnic diversity probably was seen by the British as enhancing stability, as none of the imported groups would have been considered likely to form a majority, and neither was highly likely to form a loyal alliance with the Rakine, from whom they were separated by religion, language, culture, and at least in some cases, appearance. 

These factors (i.e. comparatively recent migrants into Rakhine not bonding with the ethnic Rakhine against an obviously foreign power) have undoubtedly contributed to modern resentment by the Rakhine and the Barma against the Muslim, Hindu and other minorities in Rakhine and elsewhere in Myanmar. 

Note, however, that few if any migrants should be blamed for their lack of assimilation, and nor should their descendants. Human cultures commonly transmit behaviours and prejudices that can enhance division between groups, especially apparent if resources are scarce, perceived as scarce, or perceived as having a highly unequal distribution.

The long occupation of Arakan (divided into several sub-regions) by the British started to come to an end when the Japanese invaded British Burma in WWII. Many of the Muslims in Arakan fought against the Japanese; indeed there is a report that up to 20,000 Muslims were recruited from British India during WWII to assist in this fight. Many other minorities in British Burma also sided with the British. However, to many of the Burmese, the Japanese would have been regarded as liberators. 

The Chinese and Burma

The Chinese have for many years had influence in Upper Burma, the government of which paid a decadal tribute to China, a practice that the British continued under the 1886 Convention relating to Burma and Thibet, made following the Third Anglo-Burmese war (1885). However, in this treaty, China made no other claims over Burmese territory or property. To the present, the Chinese retain a strong interest in Myanmar, and are noticeably unsympathetic concerning the Rohingya.

Burmese independence

World War II greatly weakened the capacity and desire of Britain to maintain its vast empire. Burma finally achieved independence from Britain in January 1948, a few months after the partition of India, in which East Bengal became East Pakistan, incorporating the Chittagong Hill Tracts, then dominated by Buddhist, Hindu and Christian Jummas. 

A leading figure in Burmese independence from the British was General Aung San (1915-1947), the father of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Laureate and current civilian leader of Myanmar. She was born in June 1945, and had just turned two when her father was assassinated. 

According to the Oxford Burma Alliance, Aung San was initially allied with the Japanese during World War II, and therefore, against the Rohingya, who, as has been stated, opposed the Japanese (32). The same source reports that Aung San was prominent and effective in “uniting various national groups of Burma and securing their independence”. This report makes no mention of the Rohingya and it seems unlikely that the Rohingya were part of this alliance.

Aung San had been a prominent student politician, and was involved in the founding of nationalist organisations. He is reported as supporting and assisting in the Japanese invasion from 1942-5. But the Oxford Burma Alliance reports that he then became skeptical both of Japanese promises of true independence and of the new invader’s ability to win the war. As the war drew to an end, he switched sides, helping to organise an uprising that, with British help, expelled the Japanese. In late 1946 he was appointed (by the British) as deputy chairman of Burma's Executive Council. Soon after (January, 1947) he signed an agreement with the British Prime Minister (Clement Atlee) which promised Burma’s independence within one year. 

In April 1947, an election was held for a constitutional assembly, in preparation of independence. Aung San’s party, the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League (AFPFL), won a landslide victory. But, on July 19th, Aung San and six of his colleagues, including his brother, were assassinated in the council chamber in Rangoon while the executive council was in session. Aung San’s political rival, U Saw, a former prime minister of the Burmese colony (i.e. when Burma was British Burma) was found guilty of ordering this assassination and was executed in May 1948 (33).

The Oxford Burma Alliance reports that Aung San is still widely admired and fondly remembered in Burma, because of his campaign for independence and the efforts of his daughter. 

Great instability followed his murder, marked by several insurgencies. However, despite this political instability, some Burmese diplomatic qualities were so well-regarded by the international community that Burmese U Thant was elected, in 1961, to succeed Dag Hammarskjöld, (34) as the third Secretary-General of the United Nations, becoming the first non-European to hold that position. U Thant remained as Secretary-General for over 10 years, still a record. 

Soon after U Thant’s election, another coup occurred, led by another charismatic General, General Ne Win. This precipitated 26 years of seclusion, often with brutality, under what The Economist magazine (35) called a quasi-Marxist “Burmese Way to Socialism”. The isolation of Myanmar (then still called Burma) in this period was extreme, not unlike North Korea today (or perhaps until very recently).

PART III. More details

The origin of the term Rohingya

The origin of the word Rohingya is disputed. Pro-Rohingya writers, such as Noor Kamal (36), claim (37) it is derived from numerous older words for Arakan such as Rohang and Roshang (38). Ibrahim states that the word “Rohingya” is documented in the region prior to the British occupation. Ibrahim (whose recent book The Rohingyas (39) appears to not accept that the term includes non-Muslims) (40) also claims that before 1824 the British referred to the region as Rohang and those who lived there as Rohingyas (41). On the other hand, the Rakhine writer U Khin Maung Saw is dismissive of this assertion (42).

Chan, who also appears to unsympathetic to the Rohingya, dates the term to the early 1950s (43). He quotes Phayre (44), as identifying one of the races in Arakan as “Ro-khoing-tha”. Phayre (45) starts his 1841 account, with the sentence “Arakan Proper, called by the natives Ra-hoing-pyee, or Ra-khoing country”. However, Phayre is clear that this group is Buddhist (46). Phayre does identify a minority Muslim population living in Arakan (47) which he refers to as “foreign”, comprising 15% of the population (as mentioned above). He also reported that the Muslims in Arakan were “descendants of slaves”, deriving from the time when the kingdom extended far into southern Bengal.

Irrespective of the etymology of the name Rohingya, there can be no doubt a substantial minority of Muslims inhabited Arakan by 1841. However, it seems likely that most of these Rohingya are descendants of people who migrated (whether or not voluntarily) to the region, perhaps from the start of the Mrauk-U Dynasty in the 15th century, rather than the Rakhine, whose roots in Arakhan appear to be far longer. 

Arakan and the Rakhine

In summary, the Rohingya (or Rohingyas) is a name for a predominantly Sunni Muslim population living mostly in the northern section of Rakhine. Before the 2017 violence and flight, the number of Rohingya in Myanmar may have been 1.3 million, of a total population of almost 3.2 million, according to the 2014 census (48). A small proportion of Rohingya are Hindu, (49) while some are Buddhist and Christian. (50-51) Rakhine is shared with many Buddhists, mostly from an ethnic group called the Rakhine. There is also a population of Indigenous Jummas, including some Chakmas, living in Arakan (52). These have citizenship, do not identify as Rohingya, and are known in Rakhine as Dienet. 

The Rohingya are best known to the outside world due to their extensive and well-documented persecution extending over more than two centuries. This tension was prominent during WWII when the Rohingya in Burma supported the British in their fight against the Japanese invaders, while most Buddhist Burmese supported the Japanese (53). They hoped, in exchange, for a Muslim state they could live in, as the majority, and which would be incorporated into either predominantly Muslim East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), or predominantly Hindu India. This is analogous to the situation of the Jummas in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, most of whom remained in East Pakistan, rather than becoming part of majority Hindu India, as they hoped.


As described (54), Burma finally became independent in January 1948, soon after the British colonisers were forced from India, in partition that led to the creation of Pakistan. The 1948 Union Citizenship Act defined Myanmar citizenship and identified specific ethnicities—the “indigenous races of Burma”—that were allowed to gain citizenship (55). The Rohingya were excluded.

This Act had a loophole, which seems generous compared to that which was to evolve. The Act permitted people who could prove that their families had lived in Myanmar for at least two generations to apply for identity cards. Citizens also had to be fluent in one of Myanmar’s national languages. However, many Rohingya lacked records of their family’s historical residence, and most speak a dialect, which is not nationally recognized as a language. With limited access to education, they had little opportunity to learn one.

Initially, many Rohingya were provided with such cards; some were granted citizenship. However, after General Ne Win’s 1962 coup, the government began giving documentation to fewer and fewer Rohingya children, refusing to fully recognize new Rohingya generations not only as citizens, but as even eligible for an identity card.
In 1974 the rules tightened further. Myanmar began requiring all citizens to obtain national registration cards but restricted Rohingya from so doing. Instead, they were forced to obtain foreign registration cards, which limited educational and job opportunities. These processes thus strengthened the feedbacks which increased separation between the Rohingya and the other groups. 

In 1982, citizenship restrictions worsened yet again. A new citizenship law prohibited Rohingya from obtaining equal access to full Myanmar citizenship, effectively rendering a majority of Rohingya stateless. Statelessness has many other harmful consequences. One is that the Rohingya have no legal rights to the land on which they live and work. Their land (and presumably any building on such land) is vulnerable to confiscation by the government.  

Do the Rohingya have a comparatively high birth rate?

There are many claims that the Rohingya have a higher birth rate than the Buddhist population in Myanmar (56). Anedotally, this impression is supported by the enormous number of children now living in exile in camps. However, demographic data are scarce and contested. As the Rohingya are stateless, they are likely to be undercounted in any state census, due to government and collector bias and fear of the Rohingya to be identified and recorded (57).

Some prominent Buddhists in Myanmar have claimed that the alleged disproportionate increase in the Muslim population is an existential threat. Perhaps the most notorious exemplar of this is a Buddhist monk called Wirathu (58). Some politicians have also alleged this (59).

According to Blomquist (2015), the political scientist Leuprecht postulates the existence of a “demographic security dilemma”. This is a cyclical relationship of the interactions between a politically dominant low-fertility population and a large, more youthful minority. In this model, conflict arises when the politically dominant majority perceives that a ‘youthful’ secondary minority population will one day overtake and displace the majority. The perceived threat leads to political suppression of the minority, exacerbating communal conflict and sustaining high fertility and growth rates of the minority" (60).

Although the British conducted regular censuses (61), there have only been three since Myanmar’s independence (62). I have not independently analyzed these censuses, but rely instead chiefly on two unrelated reports, one by researchers at Harvard University (63), and the other an MA thesis undertaken at Georgetown University, also in the US (64).

Countering the dominant view of the Rohingya having rapid population growth Abdelkader (2014) cites a report by Human Rights Watch, which documents that the Myanmar state has tried to enforce a two child policy on Muslim Rohingya since at least 2006 (65). Abdelkader (2014) also states that the Harvard study “debunked” this “rapid population growth myth”. However, Blomquist (2015) disputes this. It seems likely to me that the birth rate of the Rohingya is indeed higher than the average in Myanmar. This is also likely given their low levels of education, limited access to family planning, likely cultural resistance, and the lack of discussion of this issue in almost all pro-Rohingya material.

Has there been an influx of Rohingya to Myanmar from East Pakistan and Bangladesh?

Myanmar has been a distinct nation for almost 70 years. In that time the total population has grown from 17 to 52 million (66), a rise of just over 300%. It is difficult to estimate the change in the Rohingya population in this period, and calculations are made more complex by hundreds of thousands living as refugees in Bangladesh, Malaysia (67) and elsewhere. Until the recent ethnic cleansing the fraction of the total population identifying as Rohingya was about 2.5%, if we accept a total of 1.3M. Although it is possible that some of this increase has been through illegal migration since independence, it seems more plausible that most has been through "natural increase" (i.e. children). 

Why would Bengalis seek to migrate to Rakhine in recent decades?

A report from Harvard University discusses this question. It finds (as numerous other sources have, discussed in this report) that “there is no doubt that there was a high level of migration from Bengal in the decades before and after 1900" (68). However, it concludes that there was little if any influx since Indian partition. 

A report by the International State Crime Initiative also indicates high migration into Rakhine during and after WWII, but not necessarily after Indian partition (1947) (69). However, it seems rather implausible that illegal migration would instantly have ceased in 1947, when India achieved independence. There is consensus that there has been a high rate of illegal migration from East Pakistan, later Bangladesh, into India, for many decades. In response, India has fenced at least half of its 4,000 km border with Bangladesh, and the remainder is intended to be finished by 2019. This fence has been funded by India, to restrict Bangladeshi migration into India. 

Myanmar and Bangladesh also share a border, which at 270 kms is far shorter. Of this, about 75% is already fenced, and Myanmar plans to soon complete the job. It is implausible that Myanmar would undertake this considerable expense without a reason, and the most likely is because there is a perceived or actual risk of pro-Rohingya insurgents entering the country, perhaps in addition to a flow of economic migrants (70). However, a substantial flow of economic migrants into Myanmar, especially if Muslim, seems implausible.

In any case, Bangladesh will soon be a completely fenced country, with a guarded barrier funded entirely by its neighbours. Part of each border is also riverine. The river dividing Bangladesh from Myanmar is the Naf. Sea crossings from Myanmar to Bangladesh are also possible, though hazardous. No neighbour of Bangladesh is likely to fence its coastline in the foreseeable future.

Aggressive persecution of the Rohingya in recent decades (71)

In 1978 the first recent active recent persecution against the Rohingya was reported, leading to more than 200,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh for safety. In response, the then recently independent Bangladeshi government is alleged to have deliberately withheld food and humanitarian aid from the Rohingya refugee camps, leading to the death by starvation of more than 12,000 refugees. Following international condemnation, Myanmar repatriated many of these refugees, but they continued to face persecution within Myanmar. Over the following decades many Rohingya fled to Bangladesh, generally to the region near Cox’s Bazaar, but faced repeated attempts by the Bangladeshi government to expel them, including as recently as 2010. 

Thousands of Rohingya have also fled by sea, attempting mainly to reach Malaysia, sometimes via Thailand, especially in 2008 and 2009. In 2011, Thailand towed the boats of Rohingya refugees back to sea, leaving hundreds of people to their fate in the ocean, something criticised in an issue of BODHI Times at the time (72).

Increasing persecution of the Rohingya since 2013

In 2013, Human Rights Watch identified crimes against the Rohingya which it argued amounted to ethnic cleansing. In 2015, students of the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School, supervised by Professor James Silk prepared a 78 page report called Persecution of the Rohingya Muslims: Is Genocide Occurring in Myanmar’s Rakhine State? – A Legal Analysis for an NGO called Fortify Rights. This report found ‘strong evidence of genocide against the Rohingya’, but also noted that it was difficult to establish intent for genocide on the part of the Myanmar state. Also, in 2015 the International State Crime Initiative from the School of Law at Queen Mary University of London, UK concluded that genocide was taking place in Myanmar. 

The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA)

For many years it has been considered likely that the Rohingya would one day turn to violent resistance against the Buddhist majority in Myanmar. Massacres, perpetrated by each party (Rohingya and Rakhine) in Arakan, now Rakhine, date from 1942 (73). According to the International Crisis Group, a Rohingya-led mujahidin rebellion started in April 1948. Rebels wanted northern Rakhine to be annexed as part of East Pakistan, but this was rejected by Pakistan. Six years of struggle and lawlessness ensued (74).
In recent years this resistance has, also according to the International Crisis Group taken the form of an increasingly well-funded and equipped paramilitary called The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). This is led by Ata Ullah, born in Pakistan, to a father who is reported to have left Rakine.

In a report published in December 2016, the International Crisis Group argued that a “qualitatively different” form of Rohingya-led violence emerged in Rakhine in October 2016. It noted this upsurge in violence “seriously threatens the prospects of stability and development in the state and has serious implications for Myanmar as a whole." (75) Almost a year later, the Myamar state turned ferociously against the Rohingya, in late August 2017.

According to interviews with newly arrived refugees in Bangladesh, conducted by BBC reporter Jonathan Head, (published October 11, 2017, hence conducted within 6 weeks of August 25) ARSA violence was an important trigger for the most recent wave of violence against the Rohingya. Head also reports the killing of informers (themselves Rohingya) in the months leading to a concerted series of attacks on about 30 police and army posts, reported as starting early on 25 August. However, in contrast to the International Crisis Group Assessment, Head writes that "even the accounts given by the Myanmar security forces suggest that these attacks were "mostly simple, almost suicidal charges by groups of men, most armed only with machetes and sharpened bamboo sticks." Head’s conversations with refugees and displaced militants in Bangladesh led him to conclude that ARSA’s strategy is poorly-formed, and not supported by all Rohingya.

BODHI and the Rohingya

For many years some members of the Australian-based NGO BODHI Australia (of which I am co-founder) have been critical of the Myanmar state for its clearly oppressive policies against the Rohingya (an example is here). This violent conflict in Myanmar is one of dozens, probably hundreds, in the world at the moment, over territory and other resources. The analysis of nearly all of these disputes is simplified by supporters, keen to deny the complexity and reluctant to admit that there are at least two sides to conflict. (That includes the so-called "War on Terror" which also has two or more sides.) 


I cannot think of any feasible short-term solution to this and the other resource-based conflicts, but argue that it is important that academics and NGOs acknowledge the deep causal factors involved. If they are not acknowledged (and they very rarely are, including by organizations as wonderful as Human Rights Watch) then lasting solutions will not be possible.

One of the many underlying factors in the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar is that the majority Buddhist population fear the higher fertility of the Rohingya. But a consequence of the systematic exclusion of the Rohingya from Myanmar society is their poor education and other factors that elevate fertility. As pointed out by James T Davies, any solution must also involve the Rakhine communities who have for centuries lived alongside the Rohingya in Arakan.

[1] In 2010 Mynamar’s name was changed again, to the Republic of the Union of Myanmar.
[2] Wikipedia lists 8 main groups, of whom the majority Bamar constitute over 60% of the total population.
[3] Many countries, including Australia, have strict rules restricting citizenship. Myanmar is not the only country to deny citizenship to generations of its inhabitants; it is not even the only predominantly Buddhist nation; Bhutan is another recent example.
[4] The Gurkha in Myanmar, descended from soldiers, originally Nepali, brought to occupied Burma to serve and protect the British are also stateless. The loyalty of the Gurka to the British is well-known (at least when away from their home territory), as is their militarism. Burmese Chinese also face discrimination, but have citizenship.
[5]We are like forgotten people". The Chin people of Burma: unsafe in Burma, unprotected in India. This report (Human Rights Watch) describes how Mizo authorities (i.e. in India) threaten the mainly Christian Chin with forcible return to Burma; a pattern of flight and forced return echoing the plight of the Rohingya.
[6] Inside the Kachin war against Burma. This article, in Time, quotes a Kachin: “The Burmese want the ethnics to become extinct,”  ... “But we will never give up our struggle.” Many Kachins are also Christian (eg see).
[7] Myanmar and the Karen conflict: the longest civil war you have never heard of (1948-present) states that the Karen, who converted to Christianity in the 19th century, later allied with the British in all Anglo-Burmese Wars and in WWII against the Japanese. When the British retreated, “Burman and Japanese”, began “systematically killing the Karen”. Analogous to the Rohingya, the Karen leaders believed their aid to the British would be rewarded, but the reverse occurred.
[8] A short history of conflict in Karenni State (1948-2012) claims the Karenni, independent from 1875-1948, were invaded by the Burmese army in August, 1948 after refusing to join then newly independent Burma.
[9] A cautionary tale of displacement in Mon State describes how 6,000 Mon fled to Thailand in 1990. Although repatriated, more than 20 years later the “vast majority re­main displaced” without durable livelihood.
[10] Burma's latest ethnic conflict intensifies as violence spreads in Shan State includes this passage: “Maran Ja Taung’s husband went to look for vegetables, not realising that whoever had destroyed their livelihoods had left one last surprise: a landmine. “When he stepped on the landmine, he did not die,” she says through her tears. “I heard the bomb blast and ran to him. He had lost his legs. He was lying there, bleeding.”  He died on the way to the second hospital. “On the way there he said to me: ‘Please forgive me because I cannot support our family any more,’” she says. “I told him I can earn, we can survive. I thought he was asleep, then I realised he wasn’t breathing.”
[11] Tensions between Buddhist Barma and Buddhist Rakhine certainly exist. A report by the ISCI [International State Crime Initiative] states “Rakhine Buddhists described to ISCI systematic and ongoing oppression by the ruling Bamar elite, who many perceive as oppressors committed to the erosion of Rakhine culture and identity.”
[12] For centuries, until 1989
[13] Which still holds great though little explored ecological diversity, rich, or once rich, in birds, still (hopefully) home to endangered gibbons, tigers, leopards, sun bears and gaur. See.
[14] Eaton, R. M. (1993). The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204–1760. Berkeley, University of California Press.
[15] 7th century in the common era.
[16] One source attributes the first contact with Islam following ship wrecked Arabs in 788 CE.
[17] Phayre, A. (1841). Account of Arakan. Journal of the Asiatic Society 10: 629–712 (accessible via ANU library); see also Lost Myanmar Empire is stage for modern violence for a possibly romanticised description of this dynasty.
[18] According to Wikipedia, his throne was regained from Crown Prince Minye Kyawswa of Ava, a kingdom in greater Assam that had little if any Islamic influence.
[19] “His Bengali retinues were allowed to settle in the outskirts of Mrauk-U, where they built the well-known Santikan mosque” (Chan, 2005).
[20] Hence unlikely to be biased against the Rohingya
[21] This is exaggerated, if the report that Mrauk-U lost it northern territory (including Chittagong) is true. Wikipedia also reports that Arakan, though multicultural, was a centre for the slave trade in this time, and that raiding parties from Arakan operated into Bengal, as far north as Dhaka. There were also relationships, allegedly involving slave trading, with the Christian Portuguese, who helped to establish Chittagong.
[22] The report by ARNO lists eight groups as co-existing in this time, as well as “some hill tribes”. These eight groups are identified as Chakmas, Christians, Hindus, Kamens, Khumis, Mros, Rakhines and Rohingyas. Note the absence of ethnic Burmans from this list of communities.
[23] See following discussion of Phayre, 1841
[24] Bodawphaya also invaded Thailand (unsuccessfully) and Assam, then not a part of British India, as it became.
[25] There are conflicting years for this revolt; 1785, 1794 and later in the 1790s. Cox, after whom the bazaar is named, died in 1799.
[26] We have been unable to document much of the religious and other characteristics of this first exile, although many, perhaps most, are likely to have been Muslim.
[27] This treaty involved far more territory than Arakan. Hiranya Saikia, an Assamese, complained that the treaty “sealed the fate of the Assamese with mainland India for the next two centuries”.
[28] Burma, then minus “Upper Burma", became a province of British India in 1862.
[29] In Rakhine, important resources were rice, rubber, grown in labour-intensive plantations, and timber.
[30] e.g. see Davis, M. 2001 Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World. London: Verso
[31] There are claims that the Rakhine refused to do hard labour, however this could be prejudiced, as, for the reasons explained, migration is likely to be perceived as delivering enhanced security to the ruler, i.e. the British. Furthermore, the Rakhine were a subjugated people, with every reason to not co-operate with the British.
[32] The first documented violence involving Rohingya as aggressors against the Rakhine occurred in World War II, in 1942-3; antipathy, violence and perhaps, atrocities were mutual. See, for example Myanmar: A New Muslim Insurgency in Rakhine State, International Crisis Group Asia Report N°283
[33] A BBC report in 1997 suggested that the British were themselves involved in Aung San’s murder. Winston Churchill, UK Prime Minister in WWII, is reported as “loathing” him, due to his duplicity, as Churchill interpreted his pro-Burmese actions. See.
[34] Whose plane was possibly deliberately shot down, killing the Swedish diplomat for his independent approach to the Congo.
[35] A well-known, conservative magazine based in the UK.
[36] General secretary of the Arakan Historical Society
[38] Early European maps of India place “Roshaan” as slightly north of Arakan, just to the south of Ava, or upper Burma. See A map of Hindoostan, or the Mogul Empire : from the latest authorities and A map of Bengal, Bahar, Oude & Allahabad : with part of Agra and Delhi, exhibiting the course of the Ganges from Hurdwar
[39] Ibrahim, A. (2016). The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Hidden Genocide, Oxford University Press.
[40] This seems plausible since the word Hindu is not mentioned in association with the Rohingya, in the book.
[41] These claims, which have not verified, seem plausible, although Ibrahim also refers to Rohang, the relevance of which is challenged by the maps referred to above.
[42] in an article sub-titled “The Origin of the name "Rohingya
[44] Author of A History of Burma, published in 1883
[45] Phayre, A. (1841). Account of Arakan. Journal of the Asiatic Society 10: 629–712.
[46] “Like the Burmans their national name is Myam-ma” (Phayre, p 681)
[47] “The Kolas, or Moosulmans, are of an entirely different race to the preceding, they being of Bengalee descent” (Phayre, p 681)
[48] This is likely to be an under estimate. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN agency that helped Myanmar conduct its 2014 census, stated that it was “deeply concerned that members of the long-persecuted Rohingya Muslim population are not being counted” and accused the Myanmar government of breaking its promise to do so. The Oxford Burma Alliance states that the population in Rakhine, “as with most areas in Burma, is difficult to establish reliably, especially since the patchy census data only counts the number within the state, and not the population of the ethnic groups.” Even the official 2014 census of Myanmar states that “census enumeration did not cover some population groups in the northern parts of Rakhine State”. This is where the Rohingya are largely concentrated.
[49] One activist reports over 500 Hindus are part of the recent flight for safety into Bangladesh. The writer provides no source, but newspaper articles published by Bangladeshi journalists also refer to recent Hindu displacement, including claims that some were forced to convert to Islam or be killed. The Myanmar military, a source which is clearly not independent, has claimed that “thousands of Hindus have fled villages where they once lived alongside Muslims”. A Hindu woman called Puja Mullick, in a filmed interview undertaken near Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh, produced by India Today, states (in translation) that she was forced to abandon her markers of Hindu identity (e.g. her vermillion and bangles) and adopt Islamic practices or be killed. She also mentions how her husband and three other family members were killed in the August violence in Bangladesh, presumably by non-Rohingya, though she does not state this.
[50] There are also Christian and Buddhists among the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. Hasanul Haq Inu, the current Bangladeshi Minister of Information, responded to the claims of forced conversion to Islam in the camps by mentioning (3.5 minute mark) that segregation of Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims in the camps will now be enforced. Ajoy Kumar, a spokesman for the Indian Congress Party, also acknowledges non-Hindu, non-Muslim minorities (7.5 minutes). (This is just before most of the shouting starts!)
[51] Some or perhaps many Hindus living in Rakhine state have greater citizenship rights than Muslim Rohingya. This may be a factor explaining how so many articles and even books about the Rohingya overlook its Hindu minority; consciously or unconsciously, the authors are referring only to stateless people.
[52] A Buddhist Chakma village in Rakhine was visited and videoed in 2011 by BODHI supporter Kulottam Chakma. He reports that some of this population was attacked by the Arakan Rohingya Salavation Army in 2017, with 5 reported deaths.
[53] Challenged, by Chan (2005), based on extracts from British military sources in WWII.
[54] Much of this section is extracted and adapted from a report called Persecution of the Rohingya Muslims: Is Genocide Occurring in Myanmar’s Rakhine State? – A Legal Analysis, prepared by Yale University Report, which, in turn, is meticulously documented.
[56] Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate, Myanmar’s main civilian leader, is reported to have met with a senior diplomat in 2016, telling a cautionary tale about how Muslims had come to dominate another southeast Asian state, Indonesia, after centuries in the minority.
[57] See footnote above. In addition, according to the UNFPA, a Myanmar presidential spokesman called Ye Htut announced that anyone who called themselves Rohingya would not be counted. Htut is reported to have said only those who called themselves “Bengalis” would be included in the official tally. However, the word “Bengali” is not mentioned in the actual report, which extends for 177 pages.
[58] According to an article in the Global Post, Wirathu stated that the “Muslims are like the African carp. They breed quickly and they are very violent. They eat their own kind.”
[59] The Rakhine politician Shwe Maung is reported as telling The Economist that “they are trying to Islamize us through their terrible birth rate.” Rakhine State government spoksman Win Myaing has claimed to India’s The Hindu that the Rohingya population growth is ten times that of native Buddhists.
[60] Blomquist, R. (2015). Ethno-demographic dynamics of the Rohingya-Buddhist conflict, Georgetown University, MA thesis.
[61] In the time when they ruled Arakan.
[62] 1953/4, 1983 and 2014.
[63] Dapice, D. and N. X. Thanh (2013). Creating a Future: Using Natural Resources for New Federalism and Unity, the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.
[64] Blomquist, R. (2015). ibid
[65] Human Right Watch (2013). Burma: Revoke ‘Two-Child Policy’ For Rohingya.
[66] From 1950 to 2015, source:
[67] See Bemma, A. Malaysia: A refugee conundrum. The Lancet 2018, 319, 107-108.
[68] The British Census of 1891 recorded 58,000 Muslims in Arakan, rising to 178,000 by 1911, “suggesting over 100,000 migrants in those two decades”. 
[69] “The Muslim population of northern Arakan grew considerably during and after World War Two as a result of immigration from Chittagong. Thousands of refugees from south Arakan who had crossed into India in 1942 now returned to north Arakan. Buddhists there saw these Muslims as migrants and imperialist invaders, responsible for stealing local employment opportunities and cultivating fertile soils for the benefit of the British enemy.” Green, P.; MacManus, T.; de la Cour Venning, A. Countdown to annihilation: Genocide in myanmar; International State Crime Initiative: London, 2015.
[70] This term is often abused, as migrants often have complex reasons for re-locating.
[71] Much of this section is extracted and adapted from a report called Persecution of the Rohingya Muslims: Is Genocide Occurring in Myanmar’s Rakhine State? – A Legal Analysis, prepared by Yale University.
[72] BODHI Times issue **
[73] Green, P.; MacManus, T.; de la Cour Venning, A. Countdown to annihilation: Genocide in myanmar; International State Crime Initiative: London, 2015.
[74]  “rebels targeted Rakhine Buddhist interests as well as the government .. seizing control of large parts of the north and expelling many Buddhist villagers. Law and order almost completely broke down, with two communist insurgencies in addition to the mujahidin, as well as Rakhine nationalist groups, including the (Marxist) Arakan People’s Liberation Party, in the south of the state.  The Burmese army, facing ethnic insurgencies across the country, controlled little of Rakhine other than Sittwe. In the violence and chaos, relations between Buddhist and Muslim communities deteriorated further. Many moderate Rakhine Muslim leaders rejected the mujahidin insurgency, even vainly asking the government for arms to fight back” International Crisis Group. Myanmar: A new Muslim insurgency in Rakhine state. 2016.
[75] ibid

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