Myanmar and Rohingya: More than meets the eye?

Myanmar, Rakhine State, Rohingya, massacres. These are the key words being used in the story of the oppressed Rohingya people in Myanmar's northern state of Rakhine, being attacked by the authorities and forced to flee to neighboring Bangladesh. Yet Myanmar's de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, speaks of "a huge iceberg of misinformation". Where lies the truth?

Aung San and the Rohingya

Aung San Suu Kyi's late husband and children are foreign citizens (British) and so under the terms of the Constitution, she cannot be President. Therefore she accepted the post of First State Counsellor, equivalent to a Prime Minister in the cabinet of President Htin Kyaw. The international community followed Aung San Suu Kyi as she championed Democracy against the military dictatorship in Myanmar (formerly Burma), culminating in her winning the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize as her party, the National League for Democracy of Myanmar, gradually forced the military rulers to accept democratic and civilian rule. Her party won a landslide victory in the 2015 election.

Myanmar, formerly Burma. North-western State of Rakhine, where the majority of the population are from the Rohingya ethnic group, Moslems, speaking a different language from the other inhabitants of the State (Bengali-based Chittagonian). One of the most persecuted peoples in the world, according to the UNO. The one-million-strong population has been reduced by half as they fled to neighboring countries following action against them from the Myanmar (Buddhist) army and other militants. Under the 1982 Burmese citizenship law, people who moved into what is now Myanmar from the British Indian Territories to the west are denied nationality. So the Rohingya are a different religion from the rest of the country, they are a minority and they are stateless. They do not have Indian or Bangladeshi passports, they do not have Myanmar passports.


With 135 official ethnic groups in Myanmar, the Rohingya are not one of them and the Rohingya issue is the thorniest. So putting the two sides together, where does the daughter of the founder of modern Burna/Myanmar stand? Aung San Suu Kyi has not taken the Rohingya side, but rather blames terrorist groups for the latest violence and speaks of "a huge iceberg of misinformation" in reporting the story. So this is not about the Myanmar authorities massacring the Rohingya?


Also...but not only. There is also a player called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, an armed group which has been accused of attacking other ethnic groups in the region, and which has sparked off a huge security clampdown by the authorities, which in turn are accused of indiscriminate killing and unproportional force. In short, Rakhine State is home to violence between Rakhine Bushists and Rakhine Moslems but also among other groups in this seaside State in north-western Myanmar.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, has spoken of "syetematic indiscrimination and recurrent violence" in Rakhine State, speaking of action by "extremists" and "excessive" actions by the authorities, which is worsening an already delicate situation. She particularly condemned the act of the authorities providing more assistance to the non-Moslem communities than to other groups.

So reading between the lines, we have a story of discrimination, denial of citizenship, marginalization and radicalization, hatred and non-acceptance engendering hatred, action generating reaction, cycles of violence becoming downward spirals. Indeed, the Special Rapporteur speaks of human rights issues and political and economic marginalization culminating in a breeding ground for radicalization and recruitment by extremists.

The ensuing tit-for-tat has led to a situation in which just in the last few days, nearly fifth thousand Rohingya have had to flee their homes, 27,000 crossing westwards into Bangladesh and twenty thousand stranded between the two countries. Since August 125,000 people have been homeless and the UN camps are full to overflowing.

The people are hungry, they are frightened, they are sick. Carrying what few possessions they can, leaving their homes not knowing what to expect when they return, they are hiding in jungles and swamps, desperately trying to find shelter and a safe place to stay. And bring up their families. This is the human side of the tragedy. Aung San Suu Kyi may find it politically more expedient to remain silent because going against the grain garners more support than rocking the boat. What she forgets is that she spent her life going against the grain, sacrificing a family life for a political struggle, which she won...through rocking the boat.

Photo By Foreign and Commonwealth Office - Flickr, OGL,

Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey


Twitter: @TimothyBHinchey

[email protected]


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*Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey has worked as a correspondent, journalist, deputy editor, editor, chief editor, director, project manager, executive director, partner and owner of printed and online daily, weekly, monthly and yearly publications, TV stations and media groups printed, aired and distributed in Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Portugal, Mozambique and São Tomé and Principe Isles; the Russian Foreign Ministry publication Dialog and the Cuban Foreign Ministry Official Publications. He has spent the last two decades in humanitarian projects, connecting communities, working to document and catalog disappearing languages, cultures, traditions, working to network with the LGBT communities helping to set up shelters for abused or frightened victims and as Media Partner with UN Women, working to foster the UN Women project to fight against gender violence and to strive for an end to sexism, racism and homophobia. A Vegan, he is also a Media Partner of Humane Society International, fighting for animal rights. He is Director and Chief Editor of the Portuguese version of Pravda.Ru.


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Author`s name Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey