30 July 2012A leading expert on the Rohingya issue has said the international community should keep the pressure on the government of Myanmar to solve the ongoing crisis in Arakan state.
"International actors should keep the pressure on the government of Myanmar. Moreover, the international community should assist victims," said Rohingya expert Chris Lewa, who is also the Director of the "Arakan Project", while commenting on the violence against Rohingya Muslims in an interview with AA.
Commenting on the demographics of Myanmar's Arakan state, where tension between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims has escalated recently, Lewa said Rakhines constituted the two-third of the total population.
Lewa said the "stateless" Rohingya Muslim minority were the main target of the latest acts of violence in Arakan, although "Kaman Muslims", the other Muslim group living in the state and recognized as a national race, were also affected.
The researcher described the incidents as "ethno-religious violence".
''Rohingya are in Myanmar for generations''
Regarding the origin of Rohingya Muslims in Arakan, Lewa said some scholars claimed the community had arrived in the state in 9th century, while some said they had been living there since 14th century.
"I don't like this discussion so much. For me, the fact is that there is no doubt that Rohingya today have lived for generations in Burma whether it's for a century or ten centuries. I don't think it makes a difference. They should have rights and they should be recognized citizens," she said.
Lewa said Myanmar's citizenship law of 1948 had not defined any national races and the Rohingya had been given national registration cards, just like all other ethnic groups, under a residency act in early 1950s.
Citizenship regulations had changed with the new law introduced in 1982, the expert said, adding that 135 national races were recognized in Myanmar and out of this figure 8 groups were considered as the main ones.
"Obviously, Rohingya is not one of them," she said.
Lewa underscored that, in order to be a "full citizen" in Myanmar, one had to be a member of the national races recognized by the state.
Pointing to the major Rohingya migration from Arakan to Bangladesh in 1978, Lewa said Myanmar had taken back those refugees in a couple of years due to intense international pressure.
"What is interesting is that the law of 1982 was introduced shortly after the first big exodus of the refugees into Bangladesh. So many people say the timing was to target the Rohingya and to make sure that they cannot be citizens of the country," she said.
Linguistic, ethnic, religious minorities not recognized
Lewa said there were other "stateless" communities in Myanmar such as Indians and the Chinese, but they were not treated as badly as the Rohingya.
"One of the key problems is that Myanmar only recognizes people who would fit with the definition of 'indigenous', it does not recognize there are other linguistic, ethnic or religious minorities," she said.
Upon a question on whether granting citizenship to the Rohingya population would solve the problem, Lewa said Rohingya people had a long history with Myanmar and they should be recognized as citizens.
"This kind of violence is also caused by the fact that there are two groups in Arakan, one with all the rights and the citizenship, and the other one with no rights, obviously that is an imbalance," Lewa said.
"The stateless population in Arakan has no power so the Buddhist population attack them. This needs to be solved. I think giving citizenship is a part of the solution, definitely not all," she added.
Lewa noted that the animosity and hatred the Rakhine had towards the Rohingya was long standing and deep rooted.
"That will not happen from one day to another, but the government must support some kind of program so that the two communities can participate, exchange things and slowly build relations," the expert said.