Myanmar: Stop discriminating against the Royingha
It is does not matter what they are known as - Rohingya or Bengali - but they must have basic rights and be protected from violence and fear while living in Myanmar, which is supposed to be their homeland.
In responding to violence in western Rakhine state, the authorities in Myanmar tried to launch a political discourse to say there are no people called Rohingya in the country, and therefore the authorities have no responsibility for what happened to them.
Rather than finding the truth and the root cause of the violence in June and October last year, lawmakers, officials and intellectuals in Myanmar are debating the very existence of the ethnic group called Rohingya. They have tried to build a consensus within their society and the international community to deny the existence of Rohingya and call them instead "Bengali", to make this group of people seem alien.
The latest report of the United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana, indicates that "Rakhine state is going through a profound crisis". The violence might spread to other parts of the country and has the potential to undermine the country's entire reform process, the report said.
The violence caused by the communal conflict between Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya or 'Bengalis', as many in Myanmar call them, saw nearly 200 people killed and more than 100 others injured. About 120,000 people have been displaced in the state since initial clashes last June.
There have also been ongoing allegations of harassment, arbitrary arrests, arbitrary restriction of movement, destruction of places of worship and restrictions on religious worship, the UN report said.
The 27-member Investigation Commission set up by President Thein Sein on August 17, 2012 to investigate the violence was originally due to present its report in November, but is now scheduled to present its report on March 31, 2013, the UN said.
It is widely feared that the government-sponsored investigation report will not properly address the rights issue and the truth of what happened. Judging from what Myanmar officials, lawmakers and the elite in society are discussing these days, perhaps such fears might become true. The Investigation Commission's report might not reflect the reality.
Quintana emphasised in his report that "establishing the truth of what has happened and holding those responsible to account will be integral to reconciliation and re-establishing trustful and harmonious relations between communities".
Feeling of fear, distrust, hatred and anger remained high between Buddhist and Muslim communities in the state. Prejudice, bias and discrimination on the basis of race and religions are major obstacles to find out the truth.
As a result of discrimination, treatment of the Muslim population now living in camps for internally displaced persons in Rakhine state is not proper, as they face restrictions on movement. They cannot access food or enjoy a normal livelihood.
As long as the promotion of a political discourse to paint the Rohingya as "outsiders" in Myanmar goes on, discrimination against some 800,000 Muslim Rohingya will continue.
A basic requirement to resolve the problem in Rakhine state is a review of the Rohingyas' legal status and their access to basic rights. As long as Myanmar society regards them as "others", foreigners or aliens, the Rohingya or Bengalis will not able to live in harmony with Rakhine people.
Myanmar intellectuals and the elite are keen to promote this political discourse. Some two decades ago, they coined the name "Myanmar", and changed the country's name from Burma, in order to include all races and nationalities into the notion of state building for modern times.
To carry forward the spirit of "Myanmar", the Rohingya should be included, rather than excluded.