What’s behind the persecution of Burma’s Rohingya Muslims?

SHAFAQNA – Muslim Rohingya facing discrimination and violence from the Buddhist majority in Burma but plight going unnoticed by world at large.

Abdul Razak Ali Artan, the Somali-born student accused of carrying out a car-and-knife attack at Ohio State University this week, reportedly protested on his Facebook page about the killing of minority Muslims in Burma.

Muslim Rohingya face discrimination and violence from the Buddhist majority in the country, also called Myanmar. Their plight generally goes unnoticed by the world at large, even though some rights activists say their persecution amounts to ethnic cleansing.

Here are several things to know about the group.

‘The most friendless people in the world’

Although Rohingya – a Muslim ethnic minority of about 1 million among Burma’s predominantly Buddhist 52 million people – have lived in Burma for generations, most people view them as foreign intruders from neighbouring Bangladesh.

Bangladesh, which hosts many Rohingya refugees, also refuses to recognise them as citizens.

“The Rohingya are probably the most friendless people in the world. They just have no one advocating for them at all,” Kitty McKinsey, a spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, said in 2009.

Border attacks led to latest outbreak of violence

Almost all Rohingya live in western Burma’s Rakhine state, where the military has stepped up operations since November, when nine police officers were killed in attacks on posts along the border with Bangladesh.

The identity of the perpetrators remains unclear.

Rohingya villagers armed with homemade weapons resisted troops and an unknown number of villagers died, along with a handful of soldiers and officials.

Rohingya solidarity groups say several hundred civilians have been killed since October.

The New York-based group Human Rights Watch says satellite imagery shows 1,250 houses and other structures have been burned down.

In 2012, violence between Rohingya and the Buddhist community killed hundreds and forced about 140,000 people – predominantly Rohingya – to flee their homes to camps for the internally displaced.

About 100,000 remain in the squalid camps and dependent on charity.

Disappointment with Suu Kyi

There has been great disappointment that Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, whose political party took power in Burma this year after decades of military rule, has failed to ease the plight of Rohingya despite her reputation as a fighter for human rights.

Speaking out for Rohingya rights is an unpopular political position. However, Suu Kyi’s government in August appointed former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to head an advisory panel aimed at finding lasting solutions to the conflict in Rakhine state.

He is scheduled to visit Rakhine on Friday.

The UN special adviser on the prevention of genocide, Adama Dieng, on Tuesday expressed concern about reports of excessive use of force and other serious human rights violations against civilians, particularly Rohingya, including allegations of extrajudicial executions, torture, rape and the destruction of religious property.

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