Tensions have increased in Myanmar with the rape and murder of a Buddhist woman by a group of Muslim men in 2012. This prompted a series of violent attacks between the majority Buddhist community and the Muslim Rohingya population. The official death toll reached seventy-eight during these attacks, but it is widely believed that there were many unaccounted deaths.
The Rohingya Muslim minority population has always been largely discriminated and persecuted in Myanmar. The Rohingya, are a group from western Myanmar, that claim to be rightful settlers and have lived on the land as farmers and fishermen many centuries ago. The United Nations has named the Rohingya as the most persecuted population in the world. Forced to flee in makeshift boats from Myanmar, and turned away by neighbouring Thailand and Bangladesh, they ultimately do not have a place to call home. In addition, the Rohingya have resorted to leaving on ships owned and operated by human traffickers, leaving their lives at the mercy of criminals. Myanmar has refused to grant this group citizenship, citing them as illegal immigrants, a call which is supported by the majority Buddhist population. The Rohingyas are forbidden from participating in the political process and are not allowed to vote or legally marry. Furthermore, they are not allowed to attend public schools and are forced to work under illegal and inhuman conditions without an adequate salary; a practice which constitutes as modern day slavery.
Further, tensions between Rohingyas and Buddhists have forced the Rohingyas to leave their homes on the mainland and settle in refuge camps along the coastlines. The Myanmar military and government share the view that the minority Muslim population should be exterminated and as a result, encourage sectarian violence. The rule of the military junta in the 1960s prompted a new-found nationalism that emphasized the purity of a Buddhist state and ethnicity, but that also discriminated minorities, including the Rohingya. This resulted in a wave of ethnic cleansing which subjected minorities to unlawful arrests, torture and the confiscation of lands at the hands of the Myanmar government. In 2011, Myanmar made international headlines when the country progressed toward an open democratic society. Many believed that democracy would end sectarian violence and discrimination, but the country has yet to see any real changes.
The migration of Rohingya in makeshift boats to neighbouring countries has attracted worldwide media attention. Indonesia and Malaysia have agreed to accept the migrants on the condition that they would resettle in Myanmar in one year. Although this is s a great step toward protecting the vulnerable and mistreated minorities of Myanmar, one year is not nearly enough time to end sectarian violence and tensions in the country. International organizations and world governments must intervene in order to uphold universal human rights.
In addition, the Dalai Lama, leader of the Tibetan Buddhist faith, has spoken out in wake of this tragedy. He called for Myanmar activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Aung San Suu Ki to address the persecution of the Rohingya. However, Suu Ki has not spoken about the issue because many believe she is looking to become president in the next election. Discussing these events will ultimately harm her chances of winning an election. On the other hand, Philanthropist and activist, George Soros has compared the atrocities of the Rohingya, to the Jewish persecution by the Nazis across Europe in the 1940s. The segregation of the Rohingya is disturbingly similar to the deprivation the Jews faced during the Holocaust. With a media spotlight on Myanmar’s Rohingya, there is hope that democracy will prevail and in turn ethnic tensions will subside.