The Rohingya Muslims, a Muslim minority in the widely Buddhist Myanmar, have faced widespread persecution over the past four years. Reports of these abuses had been received with opposition from the government up until the recent leak of a video from a remote village in Rakhine State. The video depicts soldiers lining up young boys and men and even viciously beating up and kicking one boy.
Previously however, a commission set up to investigate the allegations had filed a report saying there was no evidence of Rohingya genocide. The formation of the commission was a result of international pressure on the Burmese government, currently being led by Nobel Peace Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi in collaboration with the army, to investigate the torture, rape and murder allegations against the army.
2012 marked the worst violence to be witnessed against the Rohingya Muslims, where 1,500 buildings were destroyed and unarmed men, women and children were shot dead. These happenings have been described as “crimes against humanity” by the Human Rights Watch. The world outlook to the violence had purely been based on a religious and ethnic cleansing perspective. This however has started to change now.
RE-DISCOVERING THE ROHINGYA MUSLIMS
This Muslim minority has been part of Myanmar since the 15th Century. The term Rohingya surfaced in the 1950s as a self-identifying term for them. Most of them are found in the plentiful, but little developed Rakhine State. According to the World Bank, 78 percent of this community lives below the poverty line. Although coexistence had never been perfectly peaceful, it got worse in 2012, resulting in about 200 deaths and the displacement of over 140,000 Rohingya Muslims, according to the U.S. State Department.
THE LAND TUSSLES
Some recent findings have however brought forward the possibility that the persecution of the Rohingya Muslims might have some other reasons behind it and it is not religious as it was previously believed. In addition to this, it has also been found that not only the Muslim but also Buddhist smallholders have been expelled from their lands in the past few years. For all the people being replaced, they are being replaced by large scale water projects, mining and even timber extraction projects. In fact, the government allocated 1,268,077 hectares (3,100,000 acres) for corporate rural development in the Rohingya’s area of Myanmar. This is a major leap as compared to 7,000 hectares (17,000 acres) back in 2012.
These land grabs had managed to be kept out of the public eye, masked by the perceived religious genocide of the Rohingya Muslims. Grabbing of land by the army is reported to have begun back in the 1990s and has even gotten worse with the change of law in 2012 that opens Myanmar to foreign investors. This change of law included annulation of the 1963 Peasant Law that protected smallholders and included the “tiller’s rights to land”. This law had been in place since the socialist era.