ChapterPDF Available

Myanmar’s Unwanted Ethnic Minority: A History and Analysis of the Rohingya Crisis



The Myanmar army’s disproportionate use of military force in response to attacks in 2016 and 2017 by Harakah Al-Yaqin (Faith Movement) drove some 700,000 Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine across the border to Bangladesh. While not the first military-driven exodus of Rohingya from Rakhine, the current humanitarian crisis is linked to violence that broke out in 2012 between the Rohingya and another Myanmar minority, the Rakhine Buddhists, who first came into conflict during World War II. This chapter aims to present an understanding of the conflict in Rakhine, including the factors that have shaped it over time until the present, its incompatibilities, and their management. The first part of the chapter discusses competing Buddhist-Muslim perceptions of history and identity, which form a core incompatibility in the conflict, the long history of Buddhist-Muslim relations in the state, and the effects of British colonial policy. The chapter then turns to the post-independence period and examines the triangular nature of the conflict, the ‘Burmanization’ programme that followed Ne Win’s 1962 coup, discriminatory measures introduced by the government, the introduction of the 1982 Citizenship Law, the role of the ‘War on Terror’, and the tenuous links of Rohingya militant groups to international terrorist organizations. The final part focuses on the build-up to the 2012 violence and the current crisis, including the role of international media.
Mikio Oishi
Managing Conicts
in a Globalizing ASEAN
Incompatibility Management Through Good
ISBN 978-981-32-9569-8 ISBN 978-981-32-9570-4 (eBook)
© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2020
This work is subject to copyright. All rights are reserved by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of
the material is concerned, specically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation,
broadcasting, reproduction on microlms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information
storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology
now known or hereafter developed.
The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication
does not imply, even in the absence of a specic statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant
protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use.
The publisher, the authors, and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this book
are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the publisher nor the authors or the
editors give a warranty, express or implied, with respect to the material contained herein or for any errors
or omissions that may have been made. The publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims
in published maps and institutional afliations.
This Springer imprint is published by the registered company Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd.
The registered company address is: 152 Beach Road, #21-01/04 Gateway East, Singapore 189721,
Mikio Oishi
Faculty of Humanities, Arts & Heritage
Universiti Malaysia Sabah
Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
17© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2020
M. Oishi (ed.), Managing Conicts inaGlobalizing ASEAN,
Chapter 2
Myanmar’s Unwanted Ethnic Minority:
AHistory andAnalysis oftheRohingya
2.1 Introduction
At the time this chapter was submitted for publication, some 700,000 Muslims from
Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine (known as Arakan until 19891), who refer to
themselves as Rohingya, had been driven from the country and were existing in
squalid refugee camps along the Bangladesh side of the border.2 This mass exodus
is mainly the result of the Myanmar army’s disproportionate use of military force in
response to attacks in 2016 and 2017 by the recently established militant group
Harakah Al-Yaqin (Faith Movement), known in English as the Arakan Rohingya
Salvation Army (ARSA). While not the rst military-driven exodus of Rohingya
from Rakhine, the current humanitarian crisis is linked to violence that broke out in
2012 between the Rohingya community and another Myanmar minority, the
Rakhine Buddhists, the largest ethnic group in Rakhine state. The violence of 2012
was the latest chapter in a long running conict between these two communities that
rst erupted during World War II (WWII) and was largely a consequence of eigh-
teenth- and nineteenth-century British colonial policies, including large-scale
movements of South Asians into Myanmar. When Myanmar became independent
after WWII, the conict became triangular in nature as the two minorities felt
disaffected by the new Burman-dominated government.3 Members of both
communities launched separate and mutually incompatible rebellions against the
1 I use both Arakan and Rakhine in this chapter to refer to the geographic area of the current con-
ict, generally using Arakan in historical contexts.
2 Recent data from the Bangladesh government suggests the number of Rohingya in refugee camps
could be as high as one million (The Straits Times 2018).
3 The term Burman, or Bamar, refers to Myanmar’s dominant ethnic group who make up about
two-thirds of the population and control the military and the government.
S. C. Druce (*)
Universiti Brunei Darussalam, Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei
central government with the Rakhine demanding an autonomous Arakan state
within Myanmar and some Rohingya ghting for a separate Muslim state after fail-
ing to have the Muslim-dominated areas of Arakan included in the newly created
East Pakistan.
In the parliamentary era, there were attempts to manage and resolve the conict
in Arakan and the conict between the two ethnic groups and the central govern-
ment. However, following General Ne Win’s 1962 coup, management of these con-
icts changed dramatically. The new military government began a “Burmanization”
programme that aimed to create a politically centralized and homogeneous nation in
which they attempted to assimilate Buddhist minorities, such as the Rakhine, into a
Burman nationalism while striving to erode their independent histories and under-
mining ethnic languages. Non-Buddhist minorities were less favoured in this assim-
ilation process, in particular the Rohingya, who because of their distinct language,
ethnic and religious “otherness”, and large population concentration in northern
Arakan were considered a potential threat to the nation and incompatible with the
military vision of the country. Over time, management of the Rakhine conict
changed in favour of the Rakhine Buddhists with the Rohingya community increas-
ingly portrayed as foreign intruders who had no loyalty and no place in Myanmar.
In order to manage the perceived Rohingya problem, the government increasingly
introduced numerous discriminatory policies against them, most notably the 1982
Citizenship Law that left most of them stateless. In addition, there were periodic
military actions that drove large numbers of Rohingya across the border to
Bangladesh, although most later returned due to international pressure or pragmatic
government policies. While the Rakhine were favoured in the conict, its triangular
nature nevertheless remained as the government continually played on Rakhine
fears of a Muslim takeover in order to maintain control over both minorities and
reduce the potential for Rakhine nationalism. This was evident as recently as 2010
when the military government attempted to recruit Rohingya support with false
promises of citizenship in the 2010 elections in order to limit the success of Rakhine
nationalist politicians. As the military became more concerned with the threat posed
by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), they came to see
Rakhine nationalists as potential allies and in the build-up to the 2015 election
afforded them political space to engage in political violence against the Rohingya
community, which was evident from 2012. Further fuelling the ethnic conict is
Rakhine state’s lack of economic development. Consistent government neglect has
left the state as one of Myanmar’s poorest regions, which has forced the two com-
munities to compete for limited jobs and resources.
Much of the global media response to the violence of 2012 and the subsequent
unfolding tragedy has tended to depict the conict as one between a victimized
Muslim minority and the state, often highlighting the rise of xenophobic Buddhist
nationalist movements in Myanmar and denial of citizenship to the Rohingya. Other
issues fundamental to understanding the conict and its origins, incompatibilities,
and complexities have often been ignored by non-specialists. These include the
roles of history, ethnicity and identity, the effects of a long-standing “Burmanization”
S. C. Druce
agenda, and the triangular nature of the conict. This chapter aims to present an
understanding of the conict in Rakhine, including the factors that have shaped it
over time, its incompatibilities, and their management.
The chapter begins with an overview of the competing Buddhist-Muslim percep-
tions of Arakan history and identity, which form a core incompatibility in the con-
ict. This is followed by a historical overview of Arakan focusing specically on
Buddhist-Muslim relations from early times until its conquest by the Burmans in
1784 and the following British colonial period that was to have profound conse-
quences for Buddhist-Muslim relations. I then turn to developments in the post-
independence period, such as discriminatory actions by the government, the
introduction of the 1982 Citizenship Law, the role of the “War on Terror”, and the
tenuous links of Rohingya militant groups to international terrorist organizations.
The following section focuses on the build-up to the 2012 violence and the current
crisis, including the role of international media and the international response.
2.2 History andIdentity
Both Buddhists and Muslims have produced competing interpretations of Arakan
history that share little common ground and simply serves to polarize the two com-
munities by attempting to establish separate histories and identities. Most Buddhists
portray Arakan and its inhabitants as having an unbroken history of Buddhism dat-
ing back about 2500years, with some repeating myths found in Arakan chronicles
that claim Gautama Buddha himself introduced the religion. Little or no attention is
paid to the historical presence and inuence of Muslims in Arakan’s history, who
are collectively portrayed as recent Bengali immigrants who arrived during the
British colonial period and continued to migrate illegally to Arakan after Myanmar
independence. Buddhists therefore reject the notion that the term Rohingya repre-
sents an ethnic group, which they view to be a conscious political construction cre-
ated in the 1950s by Bengali immigrants in an attempt to claim legitimacy as an
indigenous Myanmar ethnic group and take over their land.4 Conversely, Muslim
writers from Rakhine and some South Asian academics, mainly from Bangladesh,
have set out to create a Rohingya history that denies, or at least limits, the Bengali
connection.5 This constructed history attempts to portray the Rohingya as Arakan’s
indigenous people and ignores the well-documented large-scale immigrations of
mainly Bengalis into Arakan during the British colonial period. It further neglects
the dominance of Theravada Buddhism in Arakan’s history, often supplanting it
with a narrative that presents Islam as the more important and inuential religion,
with some writers making the claim that Arakan was once a sultanate. A 2012 report
4 See, for example, Aye Chan (2005) and Khin Maung Saw (2011).
5 See Yunus (1994) and various short articles found on the Arakan Rohingya National Organization
2 Myanmar’s Unwanted Ethnic Minority: AHistory andAnalysis oftheRohingya Crisis
making the case for the Rohingya compiled by the National Democratic Party for
Development (NDPD), a political party that represents Rakhine’s Muslim popula-
tion, states:
Rohingya were descendants of Indo-Aryan converted to Islam in 8th century and the racial
admixture of Arab (788AD–810AD) plus Persian (700AD–1500AD) plus Bengali
(1400AD–1736AD) plus Mogul (1600AD). So Rohingyas is one of ethnic group of the
union of Myanmar mostly living in Rakhine State and were not immigrants during the
British rule.6
The Rakhine Nationalities Development Party (RNDP), which represents Buddhists,
responded with a counter report of its own, stating that the NDPD had “fabricated
history”, and asserts that these “Bengalis” are “damaging Arakan people and
national sovereignty” and as a solution suggests a “transfer of non-Burmese Bengali
nationals to third countries”.7
Neither of the Buddhist or Muslim narratives are objective, and both function to
“dene their acclaimed cultural, religious and ethnic identity” in an attempt to
establish “their rights to claim the land as their own” (Leider 2015: 15). Given the
importance of history and identity, the current conict, as well as its origins and
development, needs to be understood within the broader context of Arakan history
and the historical experiences of both its Buddhist and Muslim communities.
2.3 Overview ofHistorical Buddhist-Muslim Relations
2.3.1 Arakan andIts People inthePre-colonial Period
Although there is little known about early Arakan, archaeological data provides
evidence for the existence of a kingdom dating from the early centuries of the rst
millennium whose rulers appear to have practised a form of Mahayana Buddhism
that incorporated elements of Hinduism and ancestor cults. Located at Dhanyawadi
from the fourth century before shifting to Vesali in the sixth, the kingdom appears
to have been ruled by the Chandra kings with Indic inuences arriving from both
Bengal and parts of India (Gutman 2001; Gutman and Hudson 2004: 161–162).9 It
is possible that Arab and Persian traders came to Arakan from the eighth or ninth
6 Cited in Leider (2015: 19).
7 Human Rights Watch (2013a). Ardeth Maung Thawnghmung (2016) presents an analysis of the
two reports.
8 The following overview draws onobjective studies.
9 The earliest inhabitants of the Arakan region were probably various Chin groups, such as the
Kam, Mro, and Sak (Daingnets) (Gutman 1976: 9), who are ofcial Myanmar ethnic groups and
continue to inhabit the region.
S. C. Druce
century but, as with other parts of Southeast Asia, there is no evidence to suggest
they had any religious impact on local populations during this period.10
From about the ninth century, the Rakhine people arrived as part of the Tibeto-
Burman migration into Myanmar and subsequently become the most numerous and
dominant ethnic group in Arakan, probably mixing with earlier inhabitants. While
related to the Burmans who migrated into the upper and central plains, the Rakhine
developed a separate cultural identity that appears to have been a consequence of
two main factors: the Indic culture they encountered upon moving into the area and
importantly, Arakan’s geography. Located in the western part of Myanmar, Arakan
comprises of a long coastal strip that extends along the Bay of Bengal in the west.
To the east, the state is bounded by the Arakan Yoma mountain range that histori-
cally served to restrict communication, movement, and contact by land with eastern
parts of Myanmar. To the northwest is a historically porous land border with
Bangladesh marked by the Naaf River. Through much of its history, this geography
served to orientate Arakan’s people to the west and facilitated a long history of
interaction, competition, conict, and people movements between Arakan and
Bengal, particularly the Chittagong area. While the Bengal region largely converted
to Islam in the early thirteenth century, Arakan remained Buddhist and became a
crossroads where the Buddhist and Islamic worlds converged.
From the eleventh to thirteenth century, Arakan appears to have been a tributary
of the Burman kingdom of Pagan, which brought increasing Theravada Buddhist
inuence, as reected in its art from this period (Gutman 2001: 15). In the thirteenth
century, Arakan expanded its inuence into Bengal, which is where its ruler, Man
Co Mwan (in some literature, Narameikhla), ed to in 1404 after his kingdom was
invaded by Mons and Burmans. Stories in Arakan chronicles tell that he returned in
1430 with military assistance from the Gaur Sultan in Bengal and founded the king-
dom of Mrak-U, which for a short time appears to have been nominally subject to
the Bengal Sultanate.11 Many writers attribute Man Co Mwan’s return to mark the
rst notable permanent Muslim presence in Arakan, represented by some of the
soldiers of diverse origins who are said to have settled in Arakan after aiding his
return (Yegar 2002: 23; Charney 1999: 76).12
10 In legendary accounts found in Arakan chronicles, the word kala is used in reference to rescued
shipwrecked sailors who then settled in Arakan. While some (see Zaw Min Htut 2003: 11) writers
have attempted to equate this with Arab settlers, the term kala appears problematic as it “denotes
Indians in general and Muslims in particular, but more broadly foreigners from the West” (Leider
2015: 17).
11 Van Galen (2008: 34) notes that the circumstances of Man Co Mwan’s return are particularly
vague and the Arakan chronicle stories are not corroborated by Bengali sources. Further, there is
little evidence of any tributary status, which is unlikely to have extended beyond Man Co Mwan’s
short reign after his return.
12 Some writers have attempted to estimate, or simply make up, the number of soldiers who settled
in Arakan. As far as I am aware, there is no reliable data concerning numbers. It seems reasonable
to suggest that a proportion of them would have been Man Co Mwan’s own men who had ed to
Bengal with him.
2 Myanmar’s Unwanted Ethnic Minority: AHistory andAnalysis oftheRohingya Crisis
While Theravada Buddhism was the dominant religion in the Mrauk-U kingdom,
Charney (1999) argues convincingly that the identity of an individual derived more
from patron-client ties, kinship and ancestor cults rather than religious persuasion.
This apparent indifference to religious identities can be seen in the adoption by
some of Arakan’s Buddhist rulers, after the reign of Man Co Mwan, of Muslim titles
that were added to Buddhist ones, and the printing of coins in both Arakanese and
Persian. Rather than representing any form of religious identity, these Muslim titles
were used as sources of legitimacy that served to “enhance their image vis-à-vis
indigenous elite families and foreign rulers” (Charney 1999: 8). There also appears
to have been some fusing of Buddhist and Islamic court culture and dress styles dur-
ing the Mrauk-U period and, as Lieberman (2003: 128) puts it, the Buddhist rulers
had “an imaginative cultural policy that saw Mrauk-U rulers patronize Buddhist
shrines while adopting trappings of Muslim sultanship”.
The Buddhist kingdom of Mrak-U and the Bengali Sultanate were also rivals and
came into increasing conict as they vied for control of the ourishing Bengali port-
town of Chittagong in the fteenth and sixteenth centuries. Arakan’s development
as an increasingly powerful and assertive maritime power was aided by alliances its
rulers made with Portuguese mercenaries during the sixteenth and seventeenth cen-
turies, which were important in ensuring Arakan’s inuence over southeastern
Bengal and control of Chittagong (Van Galen 2008: 38). Arakan’s success also
attracted increasing numbers of foreigners, some of whom were integrated into its
military and administrative structures. In addition to Portuguese involvement, there
was a small, diverse, and important Muslim population at the Arakan court made up
mainly of “castaways, mercenaries, intermediary service elites” and “itinerant trad-
ers” (Charney 1999: 147), the latter of which had long been involved in Arakan’s
trade and competed with the Dutch and Portuguese (d’Hubert and Leider 2011: 86).
Despite the presence of Muslims since the founding of the Mrauk-U kingdom, it
was not until the seventeenth century that large permanent Muslim communities
appear to have developed in Arakan. These communities were comprised of Bengalis
captured during slave raids by Portuguese mercenaries in collaboration with Arakan
rulers (Charney 1999: 145–6). A selection process identied a small number of
these slave captives who had education, status, and skills suitable for royal service
in the court, where they supplemented the small number of inuential Muslims
already resident. Most of the captives, however, were unskilled and while the major-
ity were sold to the Dutch East India Company or other traders, large numbers were
settled in Arakan as agricultural labourers (Charney 1999: 165). Charney (1999:
165) estimates that in the course of the seventeenth century as many as 60,000
Bengali slave captives may have been settled in Arakan, and it is they who represent
Arakan’s rst large and permanent Muslim community.
In addition to Bengali slave captives, small numbers of other Muslims settled in
Arakan during the seventeenth century. These include the remnants of Shah Shuja’s
entourage, the Mughal prince who in 1660 sought asylum in Arakan after losing a
succession conict to his brother. Several hundreds of his men were incorporated
into the Arakan royal guard as archers and became known as Kaman (Yegar 2002:
24). Unlike those who today identify as Rohingya, Kaman descendants were granted
S. C. Druce
Myanmar citizenship, although this has not spared them from recent violence.13
Following the Mughal conquest of Chittagong in 1666, a number of Muslim merce-
naries and soldiers of diverse origins who had been ghting the Mughals in Bengal
found service in Arakan. The eventual loss of Chittagong to the Mughals may have
been an important factor in Arakan’s decline at the end of the seventeenth century
and its lack of stability in the century that followed, with palace guards often install-
ing puppet kings.
2.3.2 Burman Conquest ofArakan
The Burman conquest of Arakan in 1784 led to large-scale depopulation as tens of
thousands of Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus were forcibly relocated to the
Irrawaddy Valley region to work as labourers and agriculturalists. Many others were
recruited to ght in Burma’s wars against Ayuthaya and Chiang Mai. In the years
that followed, there was further depopulation as thousands ed from Arakan to
Chittagong in response to the manner of Burman rule. One English East India
Company report written in 1800 estimates this number at about 35,000 (Charney
1999: 265). Leider (2014: 197), using other sources, estimates the number to have
been as high as 80,000, both Buddhists and Muslims, perhaps representing about a
third of the population. The Burmese also attempted to assimilate Arakan into
Myanmar and reconstruct its history in order to legitimise Burman rule and facili-
tate the unication of Rakhine and Burmans (Charney 1999: 265–6). While Burman
rule seems to have had limited success in terms of politics and administration, it
does appear to have affected some religious change through determined attempts to
impose a “Burman-dened Theravada Buddhism” (Charney 1999: 267). In order to
achieve this, specially trained monks were sent to Arakan to re-ordain local monks
and “standardise monastic behaviour” (Leider 2014: 192).
2.3.3 The British Colonial Period
In 1826, Arakan was captured in the rst Anglo-Burma War (1824–1836), which
was to bring a rapid repopulation.14 A large percentage of those who ed to
Chittagong appear to have returned and the British further encouraged migration to
the region from Bengal in order to exploit Arakan’s agricultural potential and to
13 The 1931 British census distinguishes the Kaman from Arakan Muslims and people from
Chittagong and Bengalis, recording some 2686 of their descendants living on Ranree Island, who
“follow Arakanese language and customs, though they practice the Islamic religion” (Bennison
14 Two subsequent British campaigns of 1852–1853 and 1885 led to the complete annexation of
2 Myanmar’s Unwanted Ethnic Minority: AHistory andAnalysis oftheRohingya Crisis
provide other labour.15 Charney (1999) has argued that it was during the period of
British rule that religious communalism began to manifest in Arakan as a conse-
quence of administrative changes that helped erode traditional patron-client ties and
structures. Communal religious identities then emerged to ll the vacuum left by the
traditional ties and structures, which became centred on religious leaders. At the
same time, rapid repopulation created competition for resources between those who
had remained during Burman rule, the returning population and new Bengali immi-
grants. This competition became increasingly religious in orientation and served to
strengthen religious “group solidarity” (Charney 1999: Chapter 10). The emergence
of modern Arakan Buddhist and Muslim identities were thus simultaneous
nineteenth- century developments.
During the course of British rule, the increasingly large-scale movements of
Bengalis into Arakan was a major contributing factor in the development of separate
identities and was to have an important impact on Buddhist-Muslim relations.
British policy further contributed to this and later tensions by favouring Bengali
immigrants, who they considered to be superior cultivators and more diligent than
the Arakan Buddhists. Bengali migrants were further induced to settle areas where
rice elds could be opened by offering them various incentives, such as reduced
taxes or short tax-free periods that were not extended to Buddhists, which led to
some areas being predominantly inhabited by Muslim migrants (Charney 1999:
This large-scale movement of Bengalis into Arakan, which accelerated after the
1880s when Myanmar became a district of British India, is well documented by
British reports and censuses. As the deputy assistant commissioner of Akyab in
Arakan, R.B.Smart, wrote in 1917:
Since 1879, immigration has taken place on a much larger scale, and the descendants of the
slaves are resident for the most part in the Kyauktaw and Myohaung (Mrauk-U) townships.
Maungdaw Township has been overrun by Chittagonian immigrants. Buthidaung is not far
behind and new arrivals will be found in almost every part of the district. (Smart 1917: 90)
Smart further notes that the culture of the Bengali Muslim migrants differed from
Arakan’s earlier Muslim inhabitants, who he considered culturally similar to the
Arakan Buddhists despite having a different religion. Reecting British perceptions
of the time, Smart viewed these earlier Muslim inhabitants as “almost as indolent
and extravagant as the Araknese [Buddhists]” while the recent Chittagong immi-
grants were more industrious and hard working.
By 1931, British census data appears to make a distinction between the earlier
Arakan Muslims and later immigrants. Out of a total population of 1,008,535, the
census identies 52,615 as Arakan Muslims, 2686 as Kaman, while Chittagong and
Bengali immigrants numbered 252,152 and 65,211, respectively (Bennison 1931:
15 Various data and estimates regarding Arakan’s population and its ethnic and religious make-up at
the onset of British rule are problematic and often contradictory. The rst reliable data appears in
later British censuses (see below).
16 Under British rule, acreage in rice production increased from 359,000 acres in 1867 to 916,000
by 1920 (Cheng 1968: 27).
S. C. Druce
227). According to Yegar (2002: 28), the new migrants were less inclined to inte-
grate themselves into Arakan society, created their own religious networks and insti-
tutions, and over time inuenced the religious practice and culture of earlier Muslim
Burman rule had left its mark on Arakan in the religious sphere, and the following
British period essentially laid the foundations for future conict by fundamentally
disrupting traditional Arakan society that unconsciously created distinct and sepa-
rate religious communities and by encouraging large-scale immigration. The ten-
sions that developed during the British period came to a head during World War II.
2.3.4 Intercommunal Conict During WWII
Following the Japanese invasion of Myanmar, most of the Muslim community in
Arakan sided with the British, with whom they had built trust and loyalty, while
Buddhists sided with the Japanese. Initially, the British retained control of Arakan’s
predominantly Muslim northern areas, while the Japanese controlled the mainly
Buddhist inhabited areas in the south. In the southern areas of Arakan, most Muslims
were driven out and suffered atrocities at the hands of both Japanese and Arakan
Buddhists. Most ed to British areas or across the border to Chittagong. Buddhists
in the north experienced similar atrocities and ed southwards, leaving Arakan
increasingly divided along religious lines (Yegar 2002: 33). In 1943, Muslims expe-
rienced further atrocities when the British abandoned northern Arakan after a failed
counteroffensive that allowed the Japanese and their Buddhist allies to take northern
Arakan and undertake retribution against the Muslim communities (Christie 1996:
165). The intercommunal violence of WWII that followed a build-up of tensions
during the British period created a major ethnic incompatibility between the two
communities and rendered the prospect of them sharing the state in harmony in the
period that followed unlikely.
2.4 Buddhist-Muslims Relations, Identity, andtheState
inthePost-Independence Period
Both the prospect and eventual reality of Myanmar independence in the post-WWII
period generated further incompatibilities between Arakan’s Buddhist and Muslim
communities and between these communities and the state. There was to be no
separate zone for Arakan’s Muslim-majority areas, which its inhabitants had hoped
the British would grant, but a Burman-dominated Buddhist government would
instead rule these areas. This prospect gave rise to irredentist aspirations among
some in the Muslim community and the creation of the North Arakan Muslim
League (NAML), which called for Arakan’s Muslim-majority areas to be included
2 Myanmar’s Unwanted Ethnic Minority: AHistory andAnalysis oftheRohingya Crisis
in the new East Pakistan, a strategy driven largely by British colonial period immi-
grants rather than Arakan’s earlier Muslim inhabitants (Chrisite 1996: 167–168;
Yegar 2002: 35). This request was rejected by Pakistan’s founder, Muhammad Ali
Jinnah, and later by the Myanmar parliament, for whom it was incompatible with
their vision of Myanmar. This failure, and increasing communal tensions, led to the
Mujahidin rebellion against the central government, which aimed to establish an
independent Muslim state for Arakan’s Muslim-dominated northern areas or at least
establish a political status that would be separate from Buddhist-dominated areas of
Arakan.17 Further complicating the volatile situation in Arakan at this time was that
Rakhine Buddhist nationalists, largely concentrated in the south, also rebelled
against the central government and demanded a “separate autonomous unit” within
Myanmar (Christie 1996: 169). Despite mutual opposition to the central govern-
ment, there was little common ground between the two rebel groups. A semi-
autonomous Arakan state was wholly incompatible with the Mujahidin rebellion, as
this would leave Muslim areas under Rakhine Buddhist majority rule. For the
Rakhine, a separate Muslim state or Muslim zone was unacceptable, as this would
mean losing territory they had come to perceive as a Rakhine Buddhist historical
and cultural homeland to foreign intruders with a different religion.
Faced with numerous other minority rebellions upon independence, it was not
until 1951 that the government was able to give serious attention to Arakan. By
1954, the Mujahidin rebellion was largely defeated, although it dragged on until
1961, and most remaining rebels turned then to smuggling rice to Bengal and other
illegal activities, which included encouraging further people movements from
Chittagong to Arakan to cultivate land that had been abandoned during the rebellion
(Yegar 2002: 45).18 Most of the few remaining Mujahidin rebels, numbering about
290, nally surrendered in 1961. They were provided with monetary grants by the
authorities and resettled in Maungdaw in northern Arakan. A few remaining rebels
crossed the border to Chittagong and established camps from where they aimed to
continue their struggle (Yegar 2002: 44–46).
During the post-independence period, there were also political efforts that
focused on establishing a separate Muslim zone or attaining an autonomous area
similar to that given to some other minorities, such as the Shan, Kachin, and Chin.
To achieve this, Arakan’s Muslims needed to obtain recognition as a legitimate eth-
nic group indigenous to Myanmar. However, the 1948 Union Citizenship Act had
set out a deliberate division between indigenous and the non-indigenous based on
the year 1823, the year that preceded the rst Anglo-Burma war and subsequent
large-scale movements of South Asians into Myanmar. The Act set out that the
indigenous people of Myanmar are “the Arakanese, Burmese, Chin, Kachin, Karen,
Kayah, Mon or Shan race and such racial groups as has settled in any of the territo-
17 By no means did all of Arakan’s Muslims support this rebellion, even if they did want the estab-
lishment of a separate Muslim zone (Yegar 2002: 39).
18 Muslim leaders claim the authorities invented this in order to stop Muslims displaced by the
rebellion returning. Yegar (2002: 45) notes that Myanmar authorities tended not to discriminate
between displaced returnees and new immigrants, simply sending all Muslims back regardless.
S. C. Druce
ries included within the Union as their permanent home from a period anterior to
1823 A.D”.19 What represented the “such racial groups” category was not dened.
It included the Muslim Kaman but not those who in the 1950s and 1960s increas-
ingly came to refer to themselves as Rohingya. Leider (2015: 4) argues that it was
during these decades that the term Rohingya was constructed as part of “a political
crusade for the justication and creation of an autonomous Muslim area”.
Certainly, the term started to become widely used during this period, but it does
have a longer history that dates to at least the eighteenth century. In his work on
comparative vocabulary in Burma in 1799, Francis Buchanan (2003) states that the
rst of the dialects he looks at in his study “is that spoken by the Mohammedans,
who have long settled in Arakan, and who call themselves Rooinga, or natives of
Arakan”.20 This term may not appear in British records, censuses, or any other docu-
ments in the pre-independence period, as Tonkin (2015) has pointed out, but we
know that there was a large established Muslim community in Arakan before
Burman and British rule, and Buchanan’s information is evidence that the term was
in use by Arakan Muslims, or a variant of such (Rooinga), before British rule. At the
same time, it seems the term was co-opted in the post-independence period by
British period migrants who came to absorb most of the earlier Muslim
While today most Arakan Muslims identify themselves as Rohingya, with the
exception of the Kaman, the term represents a core incompatibility in the conict as
it carries much deeper connotations than ethnic self-identication for the Rakhine
and other Myanmar peoples and for the Rohingya themselves. Namely, the term is
inextricably linked to Rohingya indigeneity and legitimacy in Myanmar, backed up
and supported by a constructed history. For Arakan’s Muslims, national acceptance
of the term is fundamental to their claim for recognition as an indigenous Myanmar
ethnic group that could lead to citizenship and the potential establishment of a sepa-
rate Muslim region in Arakan. It is for this reason the term has and continues to be
vigorously opposed by the Rakhine and most of the Myanmar population.
Despite the 1948 Union Citizenship Act’s “indigenous” vs. “non-indigenous”
division, “any person descended from ancestors who for two generations at least
have all made any of the territories included within the Union their permanent home
and whose parents and himself were born in any of such territories shall be deemed
to be a citizen of the Union”. In theory, this allowed for equal rights and many
Rohingya were able to apply for identity cards and citizenship, even if some may
not have been aware of this at the time. In the rst Myanmar elections of 1951,
several Muslims from Arakan were elected as members of parliament and for a
time, the term Rohingya was used semi-ofcially in the parliamentary era (Smith
1994: 57).
19 Union Citizenship Act, 1948 at Art. 3(1),
20 Buchanan’s article was in 2003 reprinted by the SOAS Bulletin of Burma Research.
2 Myanmar’s Unwanted Ethnic Minority: AHistory andAnalysis oftheRohingya Crisis
2.4.1 The Mayu Frontier Administration
In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the different political aims of Arkan’s Buddhists
and Muslims continued to represent a major incompatibility in the conict. The
Arakan Party, representing Buddhists, continued to push for a separate state within
the Union of Myanmar, which was opposed by most Muslims who believed it would
leave them vulnerable to domination by the Rakhine Buddhist majority. Instead,
they campaigned for a separate autonomous Muslim area directly under the
Myanmar government. In response to Prime Minister U Nu’s stated intention to
make Arakan a separate state within the union, various Muslim groups presented
alternative options, which ranged from outright rejection to compromise (Yegar
2002: 50–51). Eventually, in May 1961, the government announced a separate
Mayu Frontier Administration (MFA) be established, formed from the Muslim
majority areas of Muangdow, Buthidaung, and western Rathedaung, and be outside
of the jurisdiction of the planned Arakan state. This was not, however, strictly
autonomous as the MFA would be administered by the military. Nevertheless, for
many in the Muslim community, the arrangement was preferable to incorporation
into the planned Arakan state and represented a partial “realization of their political
hopes” (Leider 2015: 8). The MFA and planned Arakan state were attempts by U Nu
and his government to manage the communal tensions and conict in Arakan and
the conicts the two ethnic groups had with the central government. How successful
this move might have been in avoiding future conict is purely academic. In March
1962, General Ne Win staged a coup and his military government adopted different
policies towards Myanmar ethnic problems. Immediately following the coup there
was a major crackdown on minority groups calling for greater autonomy, which
served to exasperate Myanmar’s ethnic conicts, including those of Arakan. The
new government also began a major campaign against foreigners, or perceived for-
eigners, and implemented a number of discriminatory measures, which included the
nationalization of all foreign and larger domestic businesses, resulting in over
100,000 people of Indian and Pakistan descent losing livelihoods and leaving the
country (Owen 2005: 498).
2.5 Ne Win’s Burmanization Policy
Ne Win discarded the plans for an Arakan state and in 1964 dissolved the MFA.
Over time, the Buddhist-Muslim problem in Arakan came to be perceived differ-
ently as the government increasingly recognised the Rakhine Buddhists as the right-
ful people of the region, largely on account of their religion, culture, and ethnicity,
and “joined with the local Rakhine population in claiming that the Rohingya are
recent illegal immigrants from Bangladesh” (Fink 2001: 127). From then on, man-
agement of the Arakan problem was through state-sponsored discrimination, mar-
ginalization, and exclusion of Arakan’s Rohingya population. There were also
various military actions and abuses directed against the Rohingya that led to a
S. C. Druce
number of documented large-scale exoduses as many ed across the border to
escape military persecution. The new military government essentially co-opted
Buddhism and combined it with a Burman-centric mindset as part of its ruling ide-
ology. As Wade (2015) argues, Ne Win:
bore a strong xenophobic streak that fed his vision of a racially and religiously homogenous
society ruled by Bamar. The notion that peace could only be achieved in Burma when all
the country’s disparate ethnic groups were assimilated into the majority constituted a sig-
nicant component of the rationale of military rule—in particular the regime’s violent hos-
tility towards non-Bamar groups.
There was little room in this new world for Arakan’s Rohingya population, who
were particularly singled out and viewed as incompatible with the government’s
vision of the country. In addition to having a different religion and physical appear-
ance to the majority, the Rohingya were a large and growing minority in Arakan,
where they made up about 40% of the population21 and regarded as a potential threat
to the state. Furthermore, they were seen as having no loyalty to the country because
of the alliance with the British during WWII, former irredentist attempts and
There was to be no attempt to assimilate Arakan’s Rohingya population, who
increasingly were portrayed as ungrateful and troublesome foreigners who did not
belong in Myanmar and were incompatible with the nation’s culture, history, and
traditions. Management of this perceived Rohingya problem was the progressive
introduction of various repressive measures, which included policies of exclusion,
discrimination, and periodic attempts to drive some of them from the country, the
latter of which can be interpreted as attempts to manage the perceived incompatibil-
ity by reducing the potential for opposition. In these repressive actions, the military
government also exploited Rakhine “fears of a Muslim takeover” (Fink 2001: 127),
in order to maintain control over the two communities (Leider 2017: 201). Like the
Rohingya, the Rakhine are a minority who have long been economically exploited
and culturally and politically discriminated against by the Burman-dominated gov-
ernment. As such, like the Rohingya, the Rakhine perceive their identity and culture
at threat from both the Burman majority and the ethnic group with whom they share
2.6 Repressive Measures andMilitary Pogroms Against
the Rohingya
In the years that followed the military coup, increasing discriminatory and exclu-
sionary measures were introduced in an attempt to manage the perceived Rohingya
problem. These measures became increasingly draconian after the 1982 Citizenship
21 There are numerous estimates of the Rohingya population in Arakan, ranging from 750,000 to
1.2million (Lewa 2009: 11; Dapice 2015).
2 Myanmar’s Unwanted Ethnic Minority: AHistory andAnalysis oftheRohingya Crisis
Law (see below) that effectively rendered most Rohingya stateless and in doing so
provided legal justication for their exclusion and the introduction of further restric-
tive measures against them as they were non-citizens. Preceding the 1982 Law was
the Emergency Immigration Act (EIA) of 1974, which followed a new constitution
of the same year in which Arakan became a state, although in name only.22 The EIA
was intended to address immigration from India, China, and Bangladesh, particu-
larly as there had been some illegal immigration into Arakan following Bangladesh’s
war of liberation against Pakistan and the ensuing famine that followed (Yegar
2002: 54). The EIA set out that all citizens had to carry National Registration
Certicates but most Rohingya were offered only Foreign Registration Cards
(Human Rights Watch 2000a). The following 1982 Citizenship Law set out that full
citizenship could be granted only to people born of two parents from one of
Myanmar’s 135 identied ethnic groups, which did not include Rohingya, and those
who could prove their ancestors were resident in the country before the rst Anglo-
Burmese war. For those who did not qualify, there were two further categories:
associate citizenship and naturalized citizenship. Associate citizenship applied to
those not eligible for full citizenship but had applied for citizenship under the 1948
Act and resided in the country before that date. Naturalized citizenship was avail-
able for those who had not applied under the 1948 law but could provide conclusive
evidence that they or their ancestors lived in the country before independence and
had uency in one of the national languages (Human Rights Watch 2000a). Most of
those who identied as Rohingya faced several issues in attaining any form of citi-
zenship as most lacked even the basic documentation required, even for the natural-
ized status, and those who possessed the documentation found the new law applied
in an arbitrary and discriminatory manner. Consequently, most Rohingya became
stateless, which served to strengthen the ofcial narrative of illegal Bengali
Restrictions on the Rohingya community introduced over the years included the
need for a permit to leave their village, which limited employment opportunities;
arbitrary taxation; excessive registration demands and fees; limited access to educa-
tion for their children; permission from the authorities to marry that generally
required a bribe; and from 2005, a two-child regulation for all married couples that
was an apparent attempt to manage Rohingya demographic growth (see below)
(Amnesty International 2004; Human Rights Watch 2013b). Members of the
Rohingya community also became excluded from employment in the civil service
and those who held civil service jobs faced continual harassment in a bid to force
them out (Human Rights Watch 2000b).
Major military operations against the Rohingya began in the 1970s. Ofcially,
these operations targeted illegal immigrants and insurgency activity but the general
Muslim population in Arakan appear to have been the main target. In 1975, some
15,000 Rohingya ed to Bangladesh to escape military persecution (Selth 2004:
22 While this can be seen as an attempt to appease Arakan nationalists, in terms of any autonomy it
was meaningless as the one-party system enshrined in the new constitution, and in existence since
1962, meant there would be no separate governments within the union.
S. C. Druce
111) and 2 years later the government launched Operation Naga Min (Dragon
King), which aimed to check identity papers and weed out foreigners living in
Myanmar. This operation came to Arakan in 1978, and while there had been some
illegal immigration from Bangladesh in the preceding years, the operation appears
more of a deliberate and brutal campaign to expel Muslims from Arakan as there
was little distinction made between residents and recent immigrants. By May 1978,
some 200,000 Rohingya had ed across the Bangladesh border to escape military
oppression (Human Rights Watch 2000a). Following international pressure and
negotiations with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR),
most were reluctantly repatriated by 1979 (Human Rights Watch 2000a).
Further military actions against the Rohingya took place in 1991 and 1992in the
Pyi Thaya (Clean and Beautiful Nation) operations, supposedly launched in
response to insurgent activities. Pyi Thaya appears in part linked to the aftermath of
the 1988 Myanmar democracy movement and the 1990 annulled election result,
which saw large-scale military offensives against minority insurgent groups
throughout Myanmar. The Rohingya Solidarity Organization, based in Bangladesh,
received increasing media attention in Bangladesh at this time but does not appear
to have posed a signicant threat in Myanmar, certainly nothing remotely compa-
rable to other insurgent groups, such as the Karen.23 However, the scale and inten-
sity of this military operation and the ensuing persecution was far greater than
experienced by other minorities (Human Rights Watch 1995: 107). Rather, Pyi
Thaya appears to have been a continuation of earlier actions to manage the Rohingya
problem and seems to have been directly related to the almost simultaneous Na Ta
La resettlement scheme that was implemented in a number of minority areas in
Myanmar. In Arakan, the aim of Na Ta La was to dilute Arakan’s Muslim majority
areas by driving out some inhabitants and replacing them with Buddhists. During
the Pyi Thaya operation and Na Ta La scheme, there was arbitrary violence, killings,
rape, the destruction of Muslim villages and mosques, and lands conscated that
were given to Rakhine or Burman Buddhists who the military brought in from other
areas. Many Rohingya were also forced to undertake unpaid labour that often
included building housing for the Buddhist migrants (Loescher and Milner 2008:
312; Wade 2015). By 1992, the Pyi Thaya operation had succeeded in driving some
260,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh. As with the earlier military-driven exodus,
international pressure and the involvement of the UNHCR played a role in facilitat-
ing the repatriation of most, which did not begin until 1996, although some 20,000
remained in refugee camps in Bangladesh. In the repatriation of the refugees,
Myanmar authorities showed no desire to take any back, and their eventual accep-
tance appears to have been “a pragmatic move” that was unwillingly undertaken in
order “to secure membership of the Association of South East Asian Nations
(ASEAN)” (Human Rights Watch 1996). During the repatriation process in 1996, a
23 The Bangladesh media attention focused on what initially appeared to be an expansion in RSO
activities along the border linked to training camps. It later became evident that such training
camps were not only used by a small number of Rohingyas but by various other Islamist groups
and that the RSO were not then engaged in ghting inside Myanmar (Lintner 2003: 11).
2 Myanmar’s Unwanted Ethnic Minority: AHistory andAnalysis oftheRohingya Crisis
further 15,000 Rohingya attempted to cross the border to escape military persecu-
tion but the Bangladesh authorities refused to provide the UNHRC access and
attempted to force them back over the border (Human Rights Watch 1996). In the
following years, further but smaller exoduses of Rohingya continued, such as in
2006, when some 6000 from both Arakan and those still in refugee camps in
Bangladesh attempted to reach Malaysia by boat (Loescher and Milner 2008, 315).
2.7 Economic Neglect andDemography
Consistent government neglect of Rakhine and its economic development over the
years has served to fuel tensions between Rakhine Buddhists and the Rohingya
community and contributed to the conict between them. Rakhine has been one of
Myanmar’s poorest regions since independence, which has fuelled competition
between the two communities for limited economic opportunities and resources, as
well as territory. Government neglect is in part responsible for an apparent demo-
graphic shift over the years in Rakhine in favour of the Rohingya population. A lack
of economic opportunities has led to an increasing numbers of younger Rakhine
leaving the region to seek opportunities in other parts of the country (International
Crisis Group 2014; Dapice 2015). Another factor in this demographic shift has been
the higher birth rate among the Muslim community (Dapice 2015: 5). Most Rakhine
also believe that Rohingya demographic growth is a consequence of continuous
large-scale illegal immigration from Bangladesh in the years after independence.
However, as Dapice (2015: 7) shows, there is little evidence of any illegal immigra-
tion from Bangladesh to Arakan after the 1970s, and the growth of the Rohingya
population since that time is certainly lower than the Rakhine perception. Still, the
Rakhine perceive this demographic growth a major problem and threat, arguing that
because of it their culture, religion, and traditions are vulnerable and must be kept
in check to avoid being overrun by Muslims. While this perceived growth of the
Rohingya community forms an important incompatibility in the conict, the limited
population data on Arakan’s Muslim population makes it difcult to assess the sig-
nicance of this demographic change over the years.
2.8 Islam, the“War onTerror”, andTenuous Rohingya
Links toInternational Islamic Terrorist Groups
During the early 2000s, there was increased anti-Muslim feeling throughout
Myanmar, which appears to have been linked rstly to the Taliban’s destruction of
the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan in March 2001 and, secondly, to the destruc-
tion of the World Trade Center in September of the same year. Anti-Muslim pam-
phlets appeared with the title “Myo Pyauk Hmar Soe Kyauk Hla Tai” (The Fear of
S. C. Druce
Losing One’s Race), warning of Muslim plans for domination of the country through
a deliberate policy of intermarriage with Buddhists who were made to convert to
Islam (Human Rights Watch 2002: 4–5). The pamphlets were distributed by
Buddhist monks and linked to government-sponsored organizations and the mili-
tary. There were also increased attacks against Muslims throughout Burma and a
number of anti-Muslim riots. In Rakhine, riots broke out following an altercation
between a Muslim stall holder and a Buddhist monk that left about 30 predomi-
nantly Muslim homes destroyed (Human Rights Watch 2002: 10–11).
After initial hesitation, the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC)
decided to give their support to the US global campaign against terrorism.24 Selth
(2004: 117–118) has set out the main reasons for this support. First, the SPDC were
genuinely concerned that global terrorism by Islamic extremists was a new, real,
and dangerous threat, especially as the country had a “large and alienated” Muslim
minority in Arakan who had previously rebelled against the government and had
possible links to international terrorist organizations. In addition, the SPDC perhaps
considered their support would negate the possibility of direct US intervention in
Myanmar if any terrorist organizations were suspected of operating in the country.
This concern appears linked to the United Wa State Army’s narcotics trade, believed
to be connected to international terrorism through “unofcial nancial ows” (Selth
2004: 117). The SPDC also hoped that cooperation with the United States on the
“War on Terror” would lead to reduced criticism of the Myanmar government and
the lifting of some of the US sanctions against the country.
The events of 2001 served to intensify anti-Muslim feeling and fear in Rakhine
and Myanmar in general and allow the SPDC to play on this threat. As Schissler
etal. (2015) have recently shown, fears of a Muslim takeover and the threat Islam
poses to Buddhism, whether real or not, are perceptions held by many in Myanmar.
Reinforcing these perceptions are rare and exaggerated rumour-led examples of
Muslim violence against Buddhists and by the actions of al-Qaeda and more recently
ISIS, used by past military governments and Buddhist nationalists as evidence of
Islam’s international threat. This perceived international threat is linked to the
domestic threat with Rakhine portrayed as the gateway to Myanmar’s Islamization,
a threat that began in the British colonial period with the inux of Bengali immi-
grants. The perception that the Rohingya represent a threat to Rakhine and the coun-
try as a whole because they are Muslim appears to have emerged as an increasingly
important factor in the conict during this period but does not appear to have been
a major concern in earlier periods.
Whatever the perceptions of the Myanmar government and population, until the
2016 and 2017 attacks by ARSA, there is little evidence to suggest any of the
Rohingya in Myanmar have represented a signicant political threat since the early
1960s. Various small and factionalized armed Rohingya insurgent groups have been
based on the Bangladesh side of the border since the 1960s but the only signicant
operation of note in Myanmar was a 1994 attack by the Rohingya Solidarity
24 See Selth (2004) for details of various international anti-terrorist commitments made by the
2 Myanmar’s Unwanted Ethnic Minority: AHistory andAnalysis oftheRohingya Crisis
Organisation (RSO), which had little local support and was easily defeated by the
military (International Crisis Group 2016: 4). There is, however, evidence that some
Bangladesh-based Rohingya groups did develop links with international terrorist
organizations, which became increasingly broadcast in the early 2000s and fed the
perception of the Islamic threat. For example, in September 2001, Osama bin Laden
stated in an interview with a Karachi-based newspaper that there were “areas in all
parts of the world where strong jihadi forces are present, from Bosnia to Sudan, and
from Burma to Kashmir” (Lintner 2003: 13). The Burma reference was probably
linked to the RSO who operated several small training camps on the Bangladesh
side of the border (Lintner 2003: 13), which sometime before the 2000s appear to
have been taken over by Harkat-ul-Jihad-i-Islami (HuJI), one of Bangladesh’s most
militant organizations that was set up in 1992 with funds provided by Osama bin
Laden (Rahman 2010: 235). However, Myanmar was not the focus of these camps
as the militant groups running them were concerned with other conict areas in
Asia, such as Kashmir, Afghanistan, and Chechnya. The Rohingya living in squalid
refugee camps along the border were exploited and recruited by these groups for
small sums of money and sent as “cannon fodder” to Afghanistan and other places
(Lintner 2003: 13). Another link was the discovery of a video tape titled “Burma”
among the material seized by the United States-led coalition in Afghanistan, which
showed footage of insurgents training, which later became clear was lmed in
Bangladesh, not in Myanmar as originally thought (Lintner 2003: 11–12; Selth
2004: 115).
Despite evidence of RSO links to international terrorist organizations before
2001, the only insurgency activity of note that took place in Myanmar was the failed
1994 RSO attack, which those Rohingya living in Myanmar did not support. Nor is
there any evidence of connections between members of the Rohingya community in
Rakhine and the RSO camps and external militant groups. While these links do not
appear to have posed a threat to Myanmar, they did play a role in entrenching a
growing fear of Islam and the need for repressive measures against the Rohingya
community to address this threat. This was further fuelled by international media
coverage of these links, which were reported in Myanmar, and initially exaggerated
claims by some international academics and media that overplayed the role of
“Muslims from Burma” in organizations such as al-Qaeda.25 These international
links and the United States-led War on Terror provided the SPDC with further moti-
vation for a crackdown on the country’s Muslim population while simultaneously
playing on the perceived threat of Islamic extremism to Buddhism and the nation
with little distinction made between the Rohingya community and international ter-
rorist organizations. From 2001 until the present, this perceived Islamic threat has
become increasingly prominent in the conict.
25 Selth (2004: 115) presents several examples of exaggerated and sometimes erroneous reporting,
notably Zachary Abuza’s 2002 paper, “Tentacles of Terror: Al Qaeda’s Southeast Asian Network”,
in which he stated, “the largest Al Qaeda cell in Southeast Asia is said to be in Myanmar”.
S. C. Druce
2.9 The Current Crisis
2.9.1 The 2012 Violence: Transition andPolitical
The well-recounted riots in Rakhine of June 2012, with which the latest crisis began,
were allegedly sparked by the rape and murder of a Rakhine Buddhist woman by
Rohingya men. In response, Rakhine Buddhists indiscriminately attacked and killed
Muslims and the situation quickly escalated into mass violence with deaths among
members of both communities. Reports suggest that Rakhine security forces did
little to stop the violence, with some even participating on the Rakhine side. In
October of the same year, further violence broke out, which, according to Human
Rights Watch reports (2013a, b), was “organized and planned” by political and reli-
gious leaders in Rakhine and members of the public that aimed to drive Rohingya
from the state or at least force them to relocate from areas they shared with the
Buddhist majority. Before and during the violence, leaets were also distributed
warning of the threat of global Islam and its plans to establish itself in non-Muslim
countries, such as Myanmar, with one tactic being to gain ethnic minority status for
the Rohingya (McDonald 2012). The reports further indicate that security forces
colluded in what appears to have been a forced displacement. By the end of October,
some 150,000 people, predominantly Rohingya, were residing in internally dis-
placed people (IDP) camps in Rakhine. According to a UN report, by 2014 some
94,000 Rohingya had left Myanmar following the violence, most across the border
to Bangladesh and about 5000 by boat to Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia where
they were denied ofcial entry.
2.9.2 Political Opportunities andMyanmar’s Democratic
The violence of 2012 took place within the context of Myanmar’s democratic transi-
tion that included the partially rigged 2010 election that the National League for
Democracy (NLD) boycotted. The election was a sweeping victory for the mili-
tary’s Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) who established a “new”
quasi-civilian government with former general, Thein Sein, as president. In Rakhine,
the 2010 elections generated increased inter-communal tensions as the USDP
attempted to gain the support of the Rohingya community by pledging to grant them
citizenship in an attempt to limit the electoral success of the Rakhine National
Development Party (RNDP) (International Crisis Group 2014: 6; Leider 2017: 202–
203). While this tactic did perhaps reduce the RNDP’s percentage of the Rakhine
state vote, it was nevertheless the only regional party to win over 50% of seats in any
regional parliament and came a distant second to the USDP in the national
2 Myanmar’s Unwanted Ethnic Minority: AHistory andAnalysis oftheRohingya Crisis
parliament (van Klinken and Su Mon Thazin Aung 2017: 7). RNDP leaders were
determined not to allow the Rohingya to vote in the important and more decisive
elections scheduled for 2015.
By the time of the 2012 violence in Rakhine, it was evident that the USDP had
moved away from its 2010 strategy in relation to the RNDP. Thein Sein’s initial
response to the rst wave of violence was to state that the government will take
responsibility for its ethnic nationalities but it would not be “possible to recognize
the illegal border-crossing Rohingyas who are not our ethnicity” (ReliefWeb 2012).
As a solution, he suggested the Rohingya in Rakhine be handed over to the UNHCR
and resettled in any third country “that are willing to take them”, a proposal the
UNHCR rejected. Nor did the USDP’s initial response and management of the con-
ict reect past government policy in relation to outbreaks of communal violence
not orchestrated by the government itself, previously not tolerated as it was consid-
ered a threat to government control and security.26 The 2012 violence was locally,
not nationally, orchestrated,with the Rakhine National Development Party (RNDP)
playing a major role. While a state of emergency in Rakhine was declared after the
June violence, this did not prevent the clearly orchestrated violence of October that
followed Thein Sein’s provocative remarks, which brought little condemnation
from the government. Furthermore, while the government’s own investigation noted
Rakhine’s lack of economic development as a cause and the RNDP’s role, blame for
the violence fell predominantly on the Rohingya community. Particularly high-
lighted was Rohingya population growth and “extremism”, which came from “pre-
vailing teachings in religious schools that encourage narrow-minded views and
incite hatred against the Rakhine” (Republic of the Union of Myanmar 2013: 44,
66). Essentially, the USDP allowed the RNDP “room to engage in political vio-
lence” against the Rohingya, and the reason they did so was linked to the forthcom-
ing 2015 election as the RNDP were increasingly seen as potential allies against
Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD (van Klinken and Aung 2017: 8–9). Aware of their stra-
tegic position, the RNDP had orchestrated the 2012 violence for “a national audi-
ence and demanded” to be taken seriously by “the central state authorities” (van
Klinken and Aung 2017: 9). In addition, the RNDP demanded more autonomy for
Rakhine and a greater share of the state’s natural resource.
Government inaction following the violence allowed the RNDP to become more
assertive and together with nationalist monks stage anti-Rohingya rallies, success-
fully forcing the government to cancel an agreement for an Organization of Islamic
Cooperation humanitarian team to aid Rohingya refugees in Rakhine (International
Crisis Group 2013: 8). Increasingly, the Rohingya issue became a national issue and
the 2012 violence served to strengthen anti-Muslim feeling in the country as xeno-
phobic Buddhist nationalist groups, such as the MaBaTha (the Association to
Protect Race and Religion), who were not involved in the Rakhine state violence,
latched on to and exploited the situation in Rakhine, which facilitated their rising
26 For example, MaBaTha leader, U Wirathu, was jailed in 2003 for inciting anti-Muslim violence
in his hometown that led to ten Muslims being killed (Marshall 2013).
S. C. Druce
popularity. In contrast to international media reports, the notion that the Rohingya
were the problem and not the victims of violence was widely shared in Myanmar,
where they were seen as the perpetrators of the violence and the Rakhine Buddhist
response a “justied backlash against Bengali land-grabbers” (Clifford 2013).
MaBaTha called for boycotts of Muslim businesses throughout the country, the
introduction of discriminatory interfaith marriage laws, and incited violence against
Muslims in other parts of the country through hate speech, such as in Meikhtila in
the Mandalay region where violence between Buddhists and Muslims left 43 dead
and 13,000 people, mostly Muslims, displaced (Szep 2013). Meanwhile, those
Rohingya placed in IDP camps had little access to medical facilities and in some
cases staff and medical supplies from nearby hospitals that serviced the camps were
In the years after 2012, the Rohingya were increasingly excluded from Myanmar’s
democratic transition. As the country prepared for the 2014 UN-backed census, the
UN Population Fund (UNFPA) indicated those not identied as one of the 135 of-
cial ethnicities would be able to describe themselves as “other” and verbally report
their ethnicity for record and later sub-coding, which opened the door for Rohingya
inclusion (Lawi Weng 2014). Believing this could lead to Rohingya legitimation,
the RNDP and Rakhine Buddhist groups protested and threatened to boycott the
census. Subsequently, the government announced no household be allowed to iden-
tify as Rohingya in the census but the term Bengali could be used (SBS News 2014).
Rakhine political groups were also determined to stop Rohingya participation in the
2015 election and organized demonstrations that gained support from Buddhist
groups in other parts of the country. Now more concerned with the threat posed by
Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD than Rakhine nationalism, eventually the USDP can-
celled the temporary registration certicates that had allowed Rohingya participa-
tion in 2010, leaving the community wholly disenfranchised.
While not active participants in the election, the Rohingya and other Muslims in
Myanmar featured prominently in the campaign. Thein Sein’s ruling Union
Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) appear to have worked with groups such
as MaBaTha to play on fears of a Muslim takeover in order to make political gain
against NLD, which was consistently accused of being soft on Muslims and soft on
the threat Muslims posed to the country. In particular, NLD was criticized and
attacked for their opposition to the new Protection of Race and Religion Laws,
which outlawed polygamy, required people to gain government approval before
converting to another religion, and restricted interfaith marriage (Ei Ei Toe Lwin
2015). Because of the increasing criticism over Myanmar’s Muslim issue, the NLD
decided against naming any Muslim candidates in the election to appease hard-line
Buddhists. Increasing anti-Rohingya and anti-Muslim feeling in the country also
meant Aung San Suu Kyi had to tread carefully when addressing the inter- communal
violence during her campaign in Rakhine.
The NLD won a resounding victory in the 2015 national election, gaining the
majority of parliament seats in most states except in Rakhine, where the Arakan
National Party (ANP), formed from a merger between the RNDP and the Arakan
2 Myanmar’s Unwanted Ethnic Minority: AHistory andAnalysis oftheRohingya Crisis
League for Democracy, won 10 of the 12 seats contested (Mathieson 2016).27 The
election, however, did not bring an end to military rule in Myanmar and the reality
was that the NLD had won the right to enter into an uneasy power-sharing arrange-
ment with the army. Under the terms of the 2008 Constitution drawn up by
Myanmar’s military leaders, it was set out that 25% of parliamentary seats are
reserved exclusively for the military and not contested. This ensured there could be
no constitutional change without military approval as any constitutional amendment
required the approval of over 75% of parliament. The 2008 Constitution also pro-
vided the military with full control of the following key ministries and their budgets
without recourse to the government: Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Home Affairs,
and Ministry of Border Affairs. Essentially, the military remained outside the con-
trol of the government regardless of the election result, which was to have serious
implications for the Rohingya community.
The NLD election victory brought no improvement to the situation of the
Rohingya community, as some in the international community had hoped. Those
Rohingya placed in IDP camps remained in them and continued to have little access
to jobs, education for their children or medical care, except that provided by foreign
aid agencies.
2.9.3 Media Internationalization oftheConict
Before 2012, the conict in Rakhine had been largely reported and documented by
various human rights groups, particularly since the 1990s, but had received little
attention from the international community and media. This changed in 2012 when
the violence in Rakhine attracted increasing international attention, partly because
of Myanmar’s transition and growing openness, which brought greater media spot-
light. Another factor in the increasing international media reporting was that the
Rohingya refugee crisis became a regional issue beyond the Myanmar-Bangladesh
border as increasing numbers of Rohingya attempted to reach neighbouring Muslim-
majority countries by boat, leading to increasing reports of their horric treatment
by people smugglers including mass Rohingya graves uncovered in Thailand
(Human Rights Watch 2015).
As Leider (2017: 209) has shown, the Rakhine Buddhist community were woe-
fully unprepared for this media internationalization, while Rohingya groups outside
Myanmar, formed from earlier international diaspora, had organized to utilize the
increased media attention and play inuential roles in forming international percep-
tions of the conict.28 The most prominent of these groups, the Arakan Rohingya
Union (ARU), the Burma Task Force (BTF), and the European Rohingya Council
27 The ANP also won 12 out of 17 seats in the national lower house but fell just short of an outright
majority at state level (Mathieson 2016).
28 See Leider (2017) for an in-depth analysis.
S. C. Druce
(ERC),29 proved highly successful in gaining sympathy from Muslim nations, who
previously showed little interest in the Rohingya issue, lobbying Western govern-
ments for support and producing press releases with broad appeal to a global audi-
ence that focused on “humanitarian and legal issues”. These groups also consciously
shifted their position away from more traditional Rohingya groups, such as the
Arakan Rohingya National Organisation (ARNO), who call for self-determination
and played on the Rohingya historical narrative to claim rights and legitimacy in
Rakhine.30 The new groups focused less on the historical and cultural claims and
projected and portrayed the conict as one solely between an oppressive govern-
ment that victimized a legitimate Muslim minority. This portrayal of the conict
removed the Rakhine from the equation and divorced the conict from its origins,
decades of historical tensions and its triangular nature. In contrast to the ANRO, the
new groups demanded that the Rohingya enjoy “peaceful co-existence” in an “indi-
visible” Rakhine State “within the territorial integrity of the Union of Myanmar”,
which was more internationally acceptable and achievable than the ANRO’S con-
tinued call for self-determination.31 These new external Rohingya groups also
focused their attention exclusively on the international community in order to raise
awareness of the Rohingya issue and to bring increased external pressure to bear on
the Myanmar government in order to force a change of policy and grant citizenship
to the Rohingya.
While these groups have brought greater global awareness of the Rohingya
plight, which should be welcomed, they also brought negative domestic effects in
Myanmar. The increased international media reporting, accompanied by opinions
and campaigns on social media sites, served to entrench anti-Rohingya feeling
throughout the country, aiding the development of “a national pro-Rakhine Buddhist
consensus” in Myanmar against “an international block of pro-Rohingya voices”
(Leider 2017: 208). The Rakhine and much of the Myanmar population perceived
the international media and much of the Western and Muslim world had taken sides
in a conict they did not fully understand in which the Rohingya are portrayed
wrongly as innocent victims of Buddhist aggression. The consistent use of the term
Rohingya in international media, instead of Bengali, further enraged domestic feel-
ings and wasseen as international support for the Rohingya historical narrative and
legitimacy in Rakhine. Partly because of international media reporting, foreign aid
agencies and workers in Rakhine were accused of favouring the Rohingya and from
2013 faced periodic protests and minor attacks on their ofces and residences.
29 The ARU was formed with strong support from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)
in 2011 in Jeddah as an umbrella organization for various international Rohingya following a
series of meeting that took place over the preceding years and is led by Wakar Uddin, an American-
based academic originally from Arakan (the The BTF is a campaign of
Justice for All, a Muslim NGO based in Illinois set up in 2010 (
The ERC, launched in Denmark in 2012, brought together various Rohingya activists in Europe
under a single organization to “strive for the Rohingya cause” (
30 See for a list of the ARNO’s aims
and objectives.
31 See the ARU’s mission statement:
2 Myanmar’s Unwanted Ethnic Minority: AHistory andAnalysis oftheRohingya Crisis
Reecting the gulf between domestic and international opinion on the Rohingya
issue, an Arakan National Party spokesperson stated in January 2015: “When the
international community give them [Rohingya] a lot of food and a lot of donations,
they will grow fat and become stronger, and they will become more violent”
(International Detention Coalition 2015).
2.9.4 The NLD Government’s Attempted Management
oftheConict andtheInternational Commission
In an attempt to manage the conict and respond to international pressure, in
September 2016 Aung San Suu Kyi’s government established a nine-member
International Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, led by former UN Secretary
General Ko Annan. The other eight members of the commission included two
foreign experts and six Myanmar nationals: two Yangon-based Muslims, two
Rakhine Buddhists, and two government ofcials. The commission’s mandate was
not to investigate human rights violations but “to examine the complex challenges
facing Rakhine State and to propose answers to those challenges” (Advisory
Commission on Rakhine State 2017: 6). While the international community was
generally positive regarding the commission, partly because of Ko Annan’s leader-
ship, it was less popular domestically. One area of contention was that the commis-
sion would use neutral terminology in relation to Rakhine’s Muslim population,
referring to them as “Muslims of Arakan” rather than Rohingya or Bengali. The
inclusion of three foreigners on the commission also proved unpopular and the
Arakan National Party called for them to be removed and in parliament worked with
military appointed lawmakers, the USDP and smaller parties to try and get the com-
mission dissolved, claiming it was illegitimate (Sithu Aung Myint 2016).
The commission’s recommendations were set out almost a year later on the 24
August 2017. In regards to the controversial and sensitive matter of citizenship, the
recommendation was that a clear and fair strategy should rstly be set out to verify
rights to citizenship in line with the 1982 Citizenship Law, and then the law itself be
reviewed and become more aligned to international standards. A further recommen-
dation was that the government consider allowing citizenship through naturaliza-
tion, emphasising the importance of this for those designated as stateless. The report
also set out the need to foster inter-communal dialogue in Rakhine and that the
government take the initiative by developing a conducive environment for this dia-
logue. In addition, all ethnic minority groups in Rakhine, including the stateless,
should have communal representation. As many Rohingya were still in IDP camps,
the commission urged the government to begin their closure in cooperation with the
international community. Another recommendation was that there should be greater
freedom of movement for all people in Rakhine, regardless of “religion, ethnicity,
or citizenship status”. Recognising Rakhine’s lack of economic development as an
S. C. Druce
issue in the conict, the commission called for greater government investment,
more local participation in development matters, and greater local benet from nat-
ural resource exploitation in the state.
Shortly after the commission had begun its work, ARSA carried out attacks
against Myanmar security forces in October and November 2016, which provoked
a brutal response from the Myanmar military that according to a UN report
(UNOHCHR 2017) “very likely” involved “crimes against humanity”. The military
operations from October 2016 to March 2017, in which many Rohingya homes
were burned, led to some 87,000 eeing to Bangladesh (Human Rights Watch
2017). The commission’s report considered that such a “highly militarised response”
was “unlikely to bring peace to the area” and that a security approach alone would
not tackle potential radicalization. Instead, the report suggested an integrated
approach that included politics, development, security, and human rights and that
people would be less “vulnerable to recruitment by extremists” if legitimate griev-
ances were not ignored. Lastly, the commission recommended stronger bilateral ties
with Bangladesh in order to secure the border and tackle mutual challenges, such as
drug smuggling, which the report highlighted was used to fund the activities of
ARSA and the Arakan Army (AA)32 (Advisory Commission on Rakhine State
The NLD government welcomed the commission’s report and indicated some
intention to implement the recommendations by announcing a 15-member imple-
mentation committee, led by U Win Myat Aye, Minister of Social Welfare, Relief
and Resettlement with Rakhine State Chief Minister, U Nyi Pu as co-chair.
Myanmar’s Army Chief, General Min Aung Hlaing, had a less favourable view of
the report, questioning its impartiality and accuracy ( 2017). Despite
the government’s stated intentions and support from the international community,
attempting to implement any of the recommendations, especially those relating to
citizenship, would face opposition from both the military and Rakhine political and
religious leaders. However, events outside government control brought any possible
process to a standstill before it had even begun.
2.9.5 The Military Seize theInitiative
Several hours after Ko Annan had publically delivered the commission’s report,
ARSA staged well-planned and coordinated attacks on 30 police posts and an army
base in the Maungdaw, Buthidaung, and Rathedaung townships in northern Rakhine,
killing some 12 security personnel. These attacks appear to have been deliberately
timed to coincide with the release of the commission’s report, and ARSA’s leaders
32 The Arakan Army is an ethnic Rakhine military organization established in 2009 and based in
Laiza in Kachin State. Its stated intention is “to return the motherland to the Arakan people” (Lawi
Weng 2017).
2 Myanmar’s Unwanted Ethnic Minority: AHistory andAnalysis oftheRohingya Crisis
were surely aware that they would bring another swift and brutal response from the
Myanmar military. The ARSA attacks not only made it politically difcult for the
NLD government to go ahead with any planned implementation of the commis-
sion’s recommendations but also served to shift the initiative away from an NLD-
led political solution to a military-led solution. As Derek Mitchell (a former US
ambassador to Myanmar during the Obama administration) noted, to some extent
the attacks “empowered the military to assert themselves as saviors of the country”
(Kyaw Zwa Moe 2017). In the so-called military “clearance operations” that fol-
lowed, the army made no clear distinction between insurgents and ordinary people,
systematically burning thousands of Rohingya homes and driving unprecedented
numbers across the border to Bangladesh. As Lintner remarked, on this occasion
“the brutality the army unleashed was to ensure they would not come back” (Scroll.
in 2017). The army have also ensured that many Rohingya will have nothing to
return to by bulldozing entire villages and in some areas replacing the villages with
military infrastructure and military housing (Amnesty International 2018). While
the Myanmar government announced on 31 May 2018 an initial agreement with the
UN as “a rst step toward the possible return of the Rohingya”, as the ofce of the
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees noted, “conditions are not condu-
cive for voluntary return yet” (Beech 2018). Indeed, as long as the Myanmar mili-
tary continues to be able to exercise power independent of the government, it is
difcult to foresee when conditions will be conducive.
2.10 Concluding Remarks
The roots of the conict between the Muslims and Buddhists of Rakhine appears to
lie in nineteenth- and twentieth-century British colonial policies as the erosion of
traditional patron-client relationships led to the emergence of identities based on
religion. Compounding this was large-scale immigration from Bangladesh that dra-
matically increased Rakhine’s large Muslim population, which had developed in the
seventeenth century, and British favouritism of the immigrants. Tensions came to
ahead in World War II as Muslim and Buddhist communities chose different sides
and intercommunal violence erupted, with tensions and conict continuing to the
present between both Muslims and Buddhists in Rakhine and with the central gov-
ernment. While there was some attempt to address incompatibilities between
Muslims and Buddhists communities, and their contentions with the central govern-
ment in the pre-1962 era, management of the conict and its incompatibilities fol-
lowing Ne Win’s military coup increasingly favoured the Rakhine. The government
imposed its position on the conict by introducing various coercive measures
against the Rohingya, such as the 1982 Citizenship Law and implementing various
restrictive measures backed up by new laws and the threat and use of violence.
Successive Myanmar governments also attempted to eliminate the perceived carri-
ers of incompatibilities in the conict through periodic attempts to drive large
S. C. Druce
numbers of Rohingya from the country and by attempts to dilute the Muslim popu-
lation by settling Buddhists in Muslim areas and on Muslim lands. Following previ-
ously military actions resulting in large numbers of Rohingya refugees in
Bangladesh, most were later able to return due to international pressure. However,
following the ferocious 2017 military action that drove unprecedented numbers of
Rohingya across the border, it remains uncertain whether or how many Rohingya
can or are willing to return given that there is currently no indication that conditions
will change, despite international pressure.
Consequently, little can be said about good governance in relation to the conict
in Rakhine as the authorities have consistently dominated its management with no
signicant reference to the conict’s two ethnic stakeholders or attempted to nd a
resolution beyond coercion and forced migration of the Rohingya. Arguably, Aung
San Suu Kyi’s NLD government, under international pressure, was attempting good
governance and moving towards resolving the conict with the establishment of the
Advisory Commission under Ko Annan, which included a review of the 1982
Citizenship Law. While the government accepted the commission’s recommenda-
tions, external and internal forces, ARSA and the Myanmar military, undermined
their position and the incipient process. While Myanmar has made signicant prog-
ress with reforms in recent years, until there are changes to the military drawn-up
constitution good governance will remain dependent upon military approval.
Advisory Commission on Rakhine State. (2017). Towards a peaceful, fair and prosperous future
for the people of Rakhine. Final Report of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State. http:// Accessed 12 Dec
Amnesty International. (2004, May 18). Myanmar: The Rohingya minority: Fundamental rights
denied. Accessed 25 Jan 2017.
Amnesty International. (2018, March 12). Myanmar: Military land grab as security forces
build bases on torched Rohingya villages.
Accessed 25 Mar 2018. (2017, August 25). After Ko Annan presents Rohingya Report, military rejects
it as awed and full of shortcomings.-Annan-
html. Accessed 3 Jan 2018.
Aye Chan. (2005). The development of a Muslim enclave in Arakan (Rakhine) State of Burma
(Myanmar). SOAS Bulletin of Burma Research, 3(2), 296–240.
Beech, H. (2018, May 31). Myanmar and U.N. agree to aim for repatriation of Rohingya. The
New York Times.
gees-return.html. Accessed 15 June 2018.
Bennison, J.J. (1931). Census of India, report Volume XI Part I. Rangoon: Ofce of Superintendent,
Government Printing and Stationery.
Buchanan, F. (2003 [1799]). A comparative vocabulary of some of the languages spoken in the
Burma empire. SOAS Bulletin of Burma Research, 1(1), 40–57.
2 Myanmar’s Unwanted Ethnic Minority: AHistory andAnalysis oftheRohingya Crisis
Charney, M.W. (1999). Where Jambudipa and Islamdom converged: Religious change and the
emergence of Buddhist communalism in early modern Arakan (fteenth to nineteenth centu-
ries). PhD thesis. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan.
Cheng, S. (1968). The rice industry of Burma: 1852–1940. Kuala Lumpur/Singapore: University
of Malaya Press.
Christie, C. (1996). A modern history of Southeast Asia: Decolonization, nationalism and separat-
ism. London: I.B.Tauris.
Clifford, E. (2013, December 21). When Buddhists go to war. Brown Political Review. http://www. Accessed 8 Nov 2017.
Dapice, D. (2015). A fatal distraction from federalism: religious conict in Rakhine. Harvard
Kennedy School: Ash Center.les/a_fatal_distraction_from_federal-
ism_religious_conict_in_rakhine_10-20-2014_rev_6-26-15.pdf. Accessed 7 Nov 2017.
d’Hubert, T., & Leider, J.P. (2011). Traders and poets at the Mrauk-U court: Commerce and cul-
tural links in seventeenth-century Arakan. In R. Mukherjee (Ed.), Pelagic passageways: The
Northern Bay of Bengal before colonialism (pp.77–111). Delhi: Primus Books.
Ei Ei Toe Lwin. (2015, October 2). Guardians of ‘race and religion’ target NLD. Myanmar Times.
nld-2.html. Accessed 15 Dec 2017.
Fink, C. (2001). Living silence: Burma under military rule. London: Zed.
Gutman, P. (1976). Ancient Arakan: With special reference to its cultural history between the 5th
and 11th centuries. PhD thesis. The Australian National University.
Gutman, P. (2001). Burma’s lost kingdoms: Splendours of Arakan. Bangkok: Orchid Press.
Gutman, P., & Hudson, B. (2004). The archaeology of Burma (Myanmar) from Neolithic to Pagan.
In I.Glover & P. Bellwood (Eds.), Southeast Asia: From prehistory to history (pp.149–176).
London: RoutledgeCurzon.
Human Rights Watch. (1995). The human rights watch global report on women’s human rights.
NewYork: Human Rights Watch.
Human Rights Watch. (1996). The Rohingya Muslims: Ending a cycle of exodus? https://www. Accessed 11 Dec 2017.
Human Rights Watch. (2000a). Burma/Bangladesh: Burmese refugees in Bangladesh: Still no
durable solution. Accessed 11 Dec 2017.
Human Rights Watch. (2000b). Malaysia/Burma living in limbo: Burmese Rohingyas in Malaysia. Accessed 11 Dec 2017.
Human Rights Watch. (2002). Crackdown on Burmese Muslims.
backgrounder/asia/burmese_muslims.pdf. Accessed 11 Dec 2017.
Human Rights Watch. (2013a). All you can do is pray: Crimes against humanity and ethnic cleans-
ing of Rohingya Muslims in Burma’s Arakan State.
you-can-do-pray/crimes-against-humanity-and-ethnic-cleansing-rohingya-muslims. Accessed
11 Dec 2017.
Human Rights Watch. (2013b). Burma: Revoke ‘two-child policy’ for Rohingya: Coerced birth con-
trol reects broader persecution of Muslim minority.
burma-revoke-two-child-policy-rohingya. Accessed 11 Dec 2017.
Human Rights Watch. (2015). Thailand: Mass graves of Rohingya found in trafcking camp.
camp. Accessed 11 Dec 2017.
Human Rights Watch. (2017). Burma: Satellite data indicate burnings in Rakhine State. https://
Accessed 11 Dec 2017.
International Crisis Group. (2013). The dark side of transition: Violence against Muslims in
Myanmar. Asia Report No. 251, 1 October 2013. Jakarta/Brussels.
International Crisis Group. (2014). Myanmar: The politics of Rakhine State. Asia Report No. 261,
22 October 2014. Jakarta/Brussels.
International Crisis Group. (2016). Myanmar: A new Muslim insurgency in Rakhine State. Asia
Report No. 283, 15 December 2016. Jakarta/Brussels.
S. C. Druce
International Detention Coalition. (2015). South East Asian migrant crisis: IDC in conversation
with the international state crime initiative.
migrant-crisis-idc-in-conversation-with-the-international-state-crime-initiative. Accessed 15
Dec 2017.
Khin Maung Saw. (2011). Islamization of Burma through Chittagonian Bengalis as “Rohingya ref-
of_Burma_through_Chittagonian_Bengalis-en.pdf. Accessed 9 Nov 2017.
Kyaw Zwa Moe. (2017, September 9). The reality in Rakhine and Myanmar’s complex political
conundrum. The Irrawaddy.
myanmars-complex-political-conundrum.html. Accessed 21 Nov 2017.
Lawi Weng. (2014, March 5). Arakanese MPs oppose census classication for Rohingya. The
tion-rohingya.html. Accessed 21 Nov 2017.
Lawi Weng. (2017, December 11). AA chief urges Arakanese not to fall into army trap in Rakhine.
The Irrawaddy.
fall-army-trap-rakhine.html. Accessed 9 Jan 2017.
Leider, J.P. (2014). Politics of integration and cultures of resistance: A study of Burma’s conquest
and administration of Arakan (1785–1825). In G.Wade (Ed.), Asian expansions: The historical
experiences of polity expansion in Asia (pp.184–213). London: Routledge.
Leider, J. P. (2015). Competing identities and the hybridized history of the Rohingyas. In
R.Egreteau & F.Robinne (Eds.), Metamorphosis: Studies in social and political change in
Myanmar (pp.151–178). Singapore: NUS Press.
Leider, J.P. (2017). Transmutations of the Rohingya movement in the post-2012 Rakhine State
crisis. In O.K. Gin & V.Grabowsky (Eds.), Religious identities and integration in Southeast
Asia (pp.191–239). Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books.
Lewa, C. (2009). North Arakan: An open prison for the Rohingya in Burma. Forced Migration
Review, 32, 11–14.
Lieberman, V. B. (2003). Strange parallels: Southeast Asia in global context, C. 800–1830.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Lintner, B. (2003). Bangladesh: Extremist Islamist Consolidation. Faultlines: Writings on Conict
& Resolution, 14(July, 2003).
Loescher, G., & Milner, J.(2008). Burmese refugees in South and Southeast Asia: A comparative
regional analysis. In G.Loescher, J.Milner, G.Newman, & G.G. Troeller (Eds.), Protracted
refugee situations: Political, human rights and security implications (pp. 303–332). Tokyo:
United Nations University Press.
Marshall, A.R. C. (2013). Special report: Myanmar gives ofcial blessing to anti-Muslim monks.
gives-ofcial-blessing-to-anti-muslim-monks-idUSBRE95Q04720130627. Accessed 9 Nov
Mathieson, D.S. (2016, January 6). The electoral aftermath in Rakhine State. Myanmar Times.
Accessed 15 Dec 2017.
McDonald, M. (2012, October 31). As violence continues, Rohingya nd few defenders in
Myanmar. The New York Times.
lence-continues-rohingya-nd-few-defenders-in-myanmar/. Accessed 20 Nov 2017.
Owen, N.G. (2005). The emergence of modern Southeast Asia: A new history. Honolulu: University
of Hawaiʻi Press.
Rahman, U. (2010). The Rohingya refugee: A security dilemma for Bangladesh. Journal of
Immigrant & Refugee Studies, 8(2), 233–239.
ReliefWeb. (2012). UN rejects Thein Sein’s potential Rohingya plan.
myanmar/un-rejects-thein-sein%E2%80%99s-potential-rohingya-plan. Accessed 11 Dec
Republic of the Union of Myanmar. (2013, July 8). Final report of inquiry commission on sec-
tarian violence in Rakhine State. Naypyidaw: Rakhine Inquiry Commission, Republic of the
2 Myanmar’s Unwanted Ethnic Minority: AHistory andAnalysis oftheRohingya Crisis
Union of Myanmar.
red.pdf. Accessed 9 Nov 2017.
SBS News. (2014, April 3). Myanmar says ‘Rohingya’ term banned.
news/myanmar-says-rohingya-term-banned. Accessed 21 Nov 2017.
Schissler, M., Walton, M.J., & Phyu Phyu Thi. (2015). The roots of religious conict in Myanmar:
Understanding narratives is an important step to ending violence. The Diplomat. https://thedip-ict-in-myanmar/. Accessed 21 Nov 2017. (2017, December 10). Rohingya refugee crisis: It’s not Muslims versus Buddhists, says
writer Bertil Lintner.
versus-buddhists-says-writer-bertil-lintner. Accessed 22 Dec 2017.
Selth, A. (2004). Burma’s Muslims and the war on terror. Studies in Conict & Terrorism, 27(2),
Sithu Aung Myint. (2016, October 9). Party politics and the Rakhine State commission. Frontier
Accessed 9 Nov 2017.
Smart, R. B. (1917). Burma Gazetteer, Akyab District (Vol. A). Rangoon: Superintendent,
Government Printing and Stationery, Union of Burma.
Smith, M. (1994). Ethnic groups in Burma: Development, democracy and human rights. London:
Anti-Slavery Society.
Szep, J.(2013). Special report: Buddhist monks incite Muslim killings in Myanmar. https://www.
muslim-killings-in-myanmar-idUSBRE9370AP20130408. Accessed 12 Dec 2017.
Thawnghmung, A.M. (2016). The politics of indigeneity in Myanmar: Competing narratives in
Rakhine state. Asian Ethnicity, 17(4), 527–547.
The Straits Times. (2018, January 17). Bangladesh says it’s hosting over a million Rohingya,
higher than previous estimates.
hosting-over-a-million-rohingya-higher-than-previous-estimates. Accessed 21 Mar 2018.
Tonkin, D. (2015). Rohingya: Breaking the deadlock: Might a UN “committee of wise men” point
the way towards an eventual resolution? The Diplomat.
rohingya-breaking-the-deadlock/. Accessed 6 Nov 2017.
UNOHCHR. (2017). Report of OHCHR mission to Bangladesh, Interviews with Rohingyas ee-
ing from Myanmar since 9 October 2016. United Nations Human Rights, Ofce of the High
Accessed 28 Dec 2018.
Van Galen, S. E. A. (2008). Arakan and Bengal: The rise and decline of the Mrauk U kingdom
(Burma) from the fteenth to the seventeenth century AD. PhD thesis, Leiden University.
Van Klinken, G., & Su Mon Thazin Aung. (2017). The contentious politics of anti-Muslim scape-
goating in Myanmar. Journal of Contemporary Asia, 48(3), 353–375.
Wade, F. (2015). West bank of the East: Burma’s social engineering project. Los Angeles Review of
project/#! Accessed 7 Nov 2017.
Yegar, M. (2002). Between integration and secession: The Muslim communities of the Southern
Philippines, Southern Thailand, and Western Burma/Myanmar. Lanham: Lexington Books.
Yunus, M. (1994). A history of Arakan (Past & Present).
downloads/19940101-Dr-Yunus-History-Of-Arakan.pdf. Accessed 3 Oct 2017.
Zaw Min Htut. (2003). Human rights abuses and discrimination on Rohingyas. Tokyo: Burmese
Rohingya Association in Japan (BRAJ).
S. C. Druce
... Accordingly, people often resort to conflicts as means of making their voices heard in the absence of a stringent rule of law (Choi, 2010) and good governance (Asongu & Nwachukwu, 2017d). which began in August 2017 has been considered by the United Nations as a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing" (BBC, 2020;Druce, 2020). According to the narrative, as of January 2020, a top court at the United Nations ordered that measures should be taken by the Buddhist-majority of the country in order to protect Rohingya community members from genocide. ...
Full-text available
We investigate persistence and determinants of deaths from conflicts in a sample of 163 countries for the period 2010–2015. The empirical evidence is based on the Generalized Method of Moments. First, the findings are contingent on income levels, religious domination, landlockedness, regional proximity, and legal origins. We find that the persistence of deaths in internal conflict is more apparent in coastal, French civil law, and Islam-oriented countries, compared to landlocked, English common law, Christian-oriented countries, respectively. Second, the following factors are generally responsible for driving deaths from internal conflicts: homicides, conflict intensity, and conflicts fought. Furthermore, incarcerations have negative effects on internal conflicts. Justifications for the established tendencies and policy implications are discussed.
... Accordingly, people often resort to conflicts as means of making their voices heard in the absence of a stringent rule of law (Choi, 2010) and good governance (Asongu & Nwachukwu, 2017d). which began in August 2017 has been considered by the United Nations as a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing" (BBC, 2020;Druce, 2020). According to the narrative, as of January 2020, a top court at the United Nations ordered that measures should be taken by the Buddhist-majority of the country in order to protect Rohingya community members from genocide. ...
Full-text available
We investigate persistence and determinants of deaths from conflicts in a sample of 163 countries for the period 2010 to 2015. The empirical evidence is based on Generalised Method of Moments. First, the findings are contingent on income levels, religious-domination, landlockedness, regional proximity and legal origins. The persistence of deaths in internal conflict is more apparent in coastal, French civil-law and Islam-oriented countries, compared to landlocked, English common law, Christian-oriented countries, respectively. Second, the following factors are generally responsible for driving deaths from internal conflicts: homicides, conflict intensity and conflicts fought. Furthermore, incarcerations have negative effects on internal conflicts. Justifications for the established tendencies and policy implications are discussed.
The recent discussions on the 2021 Myanmar's coup have overshadowed the 'old' issues, and the Rohingya crisis in particular. In this article, we draw the interest back to one of the most challenging crises of all. We discuss how the main actors shape the image of the Rohingya crisis narratively. How is the conflict narrated? Do competing narratives share anything in common? We argue that all actors produce different and to some extent mutually exclusive images of the conflict. We also find that there are no divergences within the actors' narratives of the conflict, which suggests that they are more engaged in advocating their political aims than finding a bridging point for further negotiations on the conflict. Our argument is substantiated by an analysis of the narratives articulated by five actors: the United Nations, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the Myanmar government, Bangladesh, and the Rohingya themselves.
Full-text available
Welcome to Issue 2 of the Academy of Brunei Studies Research Newsletter. In this issue we presents a number of recent books published by Academy staff and their colleagues, an overview of current staff research and a list of our 2020 and forthcoming 2021 publications.
Full-text available
This paper addresses a key issue that remains under-studied in discussions of Buddhist–Muslim hostility and violence in the northern Rakhine state in Myanmar. It reveals how the public narratives of both Rakhine Buddhist and Muslim political parties rely on the concept of ‘indigeneity’ to assert their claims as citizens and rightful sons of the soil, and to discredit the other’s position. This paper argues that this discourse, and the debate as it is presently formulated, has deepened the gap between two communities and obscured opportunities for identifying common ground that could be leveraged to foster more pragmatic approaches to deep-seated communal problems.
* Introduction * 1. Historical Legacies: Spirits, Martyrs and Imperialists * 2. 1962-1988: The Ne Win Years * 3. Breaking the Silence: 1988-90 * 4. Military Rule Continues * 5. Families: Fostering Conformity * 6. Communities: Going with the Flow * 7. The Military: A Life Sentence * 8. Prison: 'Life University' * 9. Education: Floating Books and Bathroom Tracts * 10. The Artistic Community: In the Dark, Every Cat is Black * 11. Religion and Magic: Disappearing Jewels and Poltergeists * 12. The Internationalization of Burma's Politics * 13. Conclusion: A Different Burma * Bibliography * Index
Recent anti-Muslim violence in Myanmar cannot be understood primarily as a spontaneous outburst of religious feeling among the general population. Rather it was a shocking repertoire deployed by a semi-organised social movement with clear political goals, which overlapped with those of Myanmar’s military elite. In this article we trace the history of contention that saw key collective actors emerge who staged violent events and then framed them for the public. Elite competitive strategies leading to the 2015 election shaped its rhythm. A new regional player, the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party, initiated the violence. When the ruling elite failed to condemn it, a monk-led, apparently popular, chauvinistic movement expanded rapidly throughout Myanmar. Asserting the Rakhine violence as an existential threat to the Burmese nation, a moral panic effectively created a crisis where none existed. The movement then routinised itself into a de facto pro-regime, anti-National League for Democracy, theocratic political party favouring President Thein Sein’s re-election. While maintaining broad ties (but not chains of command) to military elites, it enjoyed a degree of autonomy not seen before under military rule. It ultimately failed to influence voter behaviour significantly, but the new salience of anti-Muslim chauvinism portends future conflict in the fledgling democracy.
Modern authoritarian regimes have held power in countries of widely diverse religious and cultural backgrounds, suggesting that there is nothing particular about Burmese culture which made Burma more susceptible to military rule. The leaders of authoritarian regimes, however, naturally seek to emphasize those historical, cultural and religious traditions which help legitimize or bolster their power. This book illustrates how successive regimes in Burma manipulated Burmese history and exploited certain cultural norms and popular beliefs both to legitimize military rule and to marginalize detractors. It also shows how successive regimes used violence and a climate of insecurity to instill fear and political passivity in the people they ruled. In addition, the book considers what kinds of resistance emerged and in what spaces, through an examination of households and communities, prisons, schools, military barracks, and religious centers. Finally, it considers the roles of private businesses, independent organizations, and international actors in Burma's affairs.
n an ambitious effort to overcome the extreme fragmentation of early Southeast Asian historiography, this study connects Southeast Asia to world history. Victor Lieberman argues that over a thousand years, each of mainland Southeast Asia's great lowland corridors experienced a pattern of accelerating integration punctuated by recurrent collapse. These trajectories were synchronized not only between corridors, but most curiously, between the mainland as a whole, much of Europe, and other sectors of Eurasia. Lieberman describes in detail the nature of mainland consolidation and dissects the mix of endogenous and external factors responsible.