Assessing the “ethno-political” conflict: Rohingya’s statelessness and their vulnerability in Myanmar



Civil wars dipped in “ethnic” colors pose a serious threat to international peace and security. The rise in such “ethno-political conflicts” has to make headlines and “topics” of numerous discussions on global arena ever since the world was divided into “blocs” and it dramatically escalated in the early 80s and late 90s. By the end of the 20th century, many nations including Bosnia, Rwanda, Congo, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Indonesia, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Haiti, and Colombia were “rigged” with “civil wars” dipped in the colours of “ethnicity” while global leaders and masses witnessed the “horrors” of war. International communities, local, regional and national governments were facing rampant “civil wars” which pose a serious threat to the international peace and security. However, today, such crisis presents in a much “complex” form, challenging the safety and security of the global order. The UN, to effectively understand the crisis, published numerous policy reports and invited global experts to participate in an “intense” discussions which resulted in numerous “draft resolutions” highlighting the much-needed response to de-escalate the crisis. Prof. James Hughes of the London School of Economics (LSE), an expert on genocides and ethnic conflicts, aggressively argued that the “the sudden rise of ethno-conflict and civil wars” that was spreading like “wildfire” engulfing major percentage of the world after the end of Cold War, is showing “significant” signs of reduction.

Policymakers must note that the ethnic conflicts which “immensely” spread in regional areas during the late 90s through “aggressive negotiation from the international communities,” de-escalated without affecting “significant” regions; but, today, the conflict continues to “engulfs” major regions of Africa and South-East Asia. Today, the ethnic conflicts which the international communities witness, are “remnants” of an escalated conflict which majorly occurred in the previous century, leaving no trace of new “actors” or “instigators” at play.

It is important to note that, the ethnic conflicts in South Asia are sheer “remnants” of the crisis which share significant links to the “colonial era.” Today, the national or regional dis-integration coupled with “violent state and non-state actors” have become the new “instigators” of the ethno-political wars in many regions.

In Myanmar, the Rohingya’s are an “ethnic” group which is not only the most “oppressed” minority but also “stateless” refugee group today. The passing of the 1982 Citizenship Law deprived Muslim Rohingya’s of their citizenship, leaving them no choice but to flee from their “hinterlands” to protect themselves from systematic government use of large-scale “military operations” which then specifically targeted Muslim Rohingyas to drive them out of the country. Since the government “systematic” exclusion activities, over 1 million Rohingya refugees have left their homes, forced to live under bare minimum in refugee camps on the borders. Out of humorous minorities in Myanmar, they are the only ones who are denied “marriages,” “confined to a limited area” and strictly prohibited to build religious structures or “build structures for worship.” This crisis further coupled with “systematic” discrimination and exclusion tactics from the government further increase the “complexities” of the crisis. Hence, through this “extensive” and “thoroughly” written, the aim is to address the issue adequately which the policymakers can too “effectively” and “efficiently” address and deliberate the issue at multiple levels to find a resolution to the crisis.

Familiarising with the terminology

One understands by the term “ethnic conflicts” as the scenario of “tension” induced by “violence” or collision between two or more ethnic groups. This term first “coined” during the post Second World War years which was “frequently” and “aggressively” used in the subsequent years of Cold War particularly in scenarios which resulted in large-scale “genocides.” Theoretically, it can be further divided into three types:


The “ethnic conflict” in Myanmar falls under the category of Primordialist theory.

Experts in ethnic conflicts and genocides along with experts with particular knowledge and exposure to Primordialist scenarios of ethno-conflict, significantly argue that communities with multiple ethnicities exist because of “indifference” in traditions, majorly religions and behaviors highlighting the major impact of “primordial” features such as “biological and geographic” features. A significant amount of ethnic-politico-conflict experts argue that the “cause” of the ethnic-conflict does not principally depend on “ethnicity” but largely depends upon political and socio-economic factors, regarding the traditional blame to “ethnicity” as a sheer myth. Factually, the crisis of Muslim Rohingyas in Myanmar is largely political. The political leadership is aggressively “instigating” Buddhists Rohingyas against their “counter-parts” Muslims which resulted in scenarios of “systematic government induced violence”- which has resulted in large scale casualties and deaths forcing Muslim Rohingyas to flee.

Understanding the causes

The principle reasons for an ethnic conflict in South–East Asia largely revolves around “pre-historic” tensions and continuing aggressions between two communities, which is an event of an “aggression” re-appear to become a grave threat to international communities. Ethnic conflict wears the “insignia” of violence induced crisis from the past which reappears in times of “fragile domestic politics” and hence carries such importance for global and national communities. It is quite easy for policymakers to identify the “instigator” and “intensity” of the conflict by simply analyzing the previous “entanglements” of different ethnic communities. The causes of ethnic conflicts are largely the “principal factors of instigation” the factors which became the sole “reasons of instigation” for the conflict, followed by understanding the “reactionary measures” taken by the political leadership.

Furthermore, the “skeletal” of the ethnic conflict in Myanmar is “primordial.” Academicians in support to “Primordialist” argue that individuals “religion and ethnicity” share an intense relationship with socio-economic lifestyle, their past and topography which then results in the creation of a different psychology, different culture and their values which are then overlapped with indifferent ethnicity. Experts argue that essential factors such as security, basic yet necessary needs and the ability to survive in harsh circumstances come from such forces. Moreover, experts also argue that the “urge for violence” in response to “denial of sheer existence,” insecurity and results in low participation of such minorities. This further results in “organized crime” which then paves the way for their “right to exist” instigating “nationalism” particularly when they are dominated by “oppressive forces.” These minorities then seek international support and are frequently supported by countries aligning with their thoughts.

By gaining the support from international communities, they would fulfill the demand, largely the “right to exists.” Using the assistance received from international communities, they can then aggressively mobilize their groups and severely compromise the state’s resources. Scenarios such as this, on the larger scale, gives birth to anarchism that is most likely to take over the groups “leadership” while posing a grave threat to other minorities. Hence it is imperative for policymakers at the international level to pay necessary attention to domestic security.

The betrayal of trust or repeated “unsuccessful” attempts to trust other minor communities also triggers minor conflicts which may soon result into a full-blown conflict. The minority groups view each other with sheer “suspicion” and portray a behavior of conflict, this results in strong minority groups suppressing the minors. Particularly in weak political culture strong ethnic community with certain influence support the state authorities. At the global arena, international communities tend to create “committees and forums” for the weaker minority groups, giving them a platform to speak “fearlessly” speak against the systematic oppression, but at the ground level, the government tends to ignore their plight. Hence, in countries with migratory weak minorities, a new “type” of conflict appears. Although in such times, the government under pressure from global communities tends to activate institutional reforms which remain hardly in place.

This saga of “betrayal/distrusts” gives “one-time” opportunity for minority groups to pursue an “aggressive” stance against the oppression forces and declare rebellion against the state to create a region/country of their own. This scenario coupled with the poor socio-economic condition and “vulnerable” government results in a “political vacuum” which then attracts ethnic businessmen, mercenary groups to extend their services while playing an active part in this epic. If politico-economic resources are in favor of one ethnic minority whereas depriving other minority groups, especially the strong minority, ethnic conflict emerges rapidly. In case of such scenario when the government takes sides of most privileged minorities in conflict, the disadvantaged and weaker minority groups losses their hope in the social structure and during this scenario, the weaker minority looks for a third party which could offer services and protection to the group. This results in the rise of a “War of Independence” when the weaker minority fails to find a third party and declare all available assets in the war. In the absence of a mediator or a third party, the resolution to this ethnic conflict becomes “extremely difficult” since most of the times scenarios such as these are supported by non-state actors which further increases the complexity of this problem.
There are many academicians who view the ethnicity as a “principle” cause before even considering the nature of different behaviors of weaker minorities, the liquidity of their behavior, rapidly declining concerns of oppression forces towards ethnic values and presence of large-scale violent non-state actors into account. However, the ethno-conflict that aroused in Myanmar is very different than other ethnic based conflicts in South East Asia. Myanmar has always been a nation of “militaristic importance/preferences” and portray values of “traditions.” In the light of statement as mentioned earlier, there is a presence of different sections of society which continues to induce ethnic violence between Muslim and Buddhists Rohingyas.

Years under severe oppression by Military Junta

Burma has been under the rule of military Juntas for more than half centuries, coupled with strong nationalism and heavily influenced by Theravada Buddhism, many weaker minorities such as Rohingya, Kokang and Panthay became victims of systematic discrimination for years. Furthermore, many elements from pro-democracy groups particularly those belonging to the Burman ethnic majority never considered Muslim Rohingyas as “equals.”

In the similar context, Burmese governments were frequently hammered by international communities for systematically provoking and inducing violence against the ethnic minority groups particularly the Muslim Rohingyas and Panthay. As stated before, Muslim Rohingyas are considered to be the most “brutally and systematically suppressed” and “deprived” of all minorities. After losing their citizenship in 1982, they were banned from traveling. Their property was confiscated, looted, right to marriage was “forbidden” and reproductive rights were strictly restricted.
According to a report published by Amnesty International, the Muslim Rohingyas continue to suffer from excessive human rights violations under the military Junta since it first came to power in 1978 and since then many have fled to neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh, India, Indonesia out of fear of persecution, for Muslim Rohingyas, their movement is strictly “monitored and restricted” and a large percentage of them have been denied Burmese citizenship. Today, they continue to face torture, sexual exploitation, unnecessary taxation, confiscation of property, forced disappearances, and restrictions on marriage.

Rohingyas were forced to work on manual labor particularly on the construction of roads, railways, although it significantly decreased in the northern region of Rakhine state. More than 200,000 Muslim Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh during Operation Dragon King which was carried by the military in 1978. The official Modus Operandi was to target individuals living in the country with an illegal citizen status along with illegal foreigners. However, the targets of this military operations were Muslim men, women, and children. The operation resulted in large-scale killings, rape, and other “heinous crimes.”

Between 1991 and 1992, a fresh influx of over quarter million refugees reached Bangladesh. They narrated scenarios of forced labor, disappearances, large-scale executions and rape which “shocked” the global communities.

Since 2005, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has been the principal United Nations agency tasked to “repatriate” Muslim Rohingyas from Bangladesh, but accusations of human rights abuses in certain refugee camps have temporarily halted their efforts. Despite active participation by United Nations agency, a large percentage of refugees continue to remain in camps hosted by Bangladesh and other humanitarian agencies. Their inability to return to their state out of sheer fear from the “oppressing” government further complexes already complexed humanitarian issue.

In the previous years, thousands of Muslim Refugees have crossed dangerous oceans to reach Thailand whereas over 111,000 refugees have been staying in camps along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border. Many have been forced to sail out in the dangerous open waters. In one incident, the Thailand army rescued over 190 Muslim Rohingyas from the open seas. In another incident, the group of Rohingyas rescued by the Indonesian military narrated the “stories of crimes against humanity” conducted by the Thai military. A report published by UNHCR stated that in the year 2016 over five boats were rescued through military efforts whereas four boats sank in the seas. Furthermore, in the year 2015 numerous “graveyards” of Muslim Rohingyas were located in and around the borders of Thailand and Malaysia. Furthermore, in the current year, thousands of Rohingya refugees headed towards the shores of Malaysia. Many of Rohingya refugee getting caught in the “prostitution and slavery” does not make the headlines. Furthermore, large-scale violence, mass killing, systematic torture, and rape continues to encourage Rohingyas to take the “risky” routes through seas.

The riots of 2012

The riots of 2012 in Rakhine state are series of “systematically induced discrimination” instigated by the military Junta against the Muslim Rohingyas in the northern regions of Rakhine State in Myanmar.

The riots “erupted” after weeks of ethnic tensions between the Muslim Rohingyas and ethnic Rakhine and received sharp criticism from the international communities. However, the reason behind the conflict remains unclear even after rigorous efforts by international communities; but according to many humanitarian experts, Muslim Rohingyas were repeatedly “systematically” killed by the ethnic Rakhine after a Rakhine woman was raped and killed. According to the experts, this “might” be the cause.

The entire houses of Muslim Rohingyas were burnt, and a significant number of government buildings were attacked. In a press release, the Burmese Rohingya Organization UK (BROUK) stated that over 650 Rohingyas were killed with over 1,200 missing, while over 80,000 were displaced. According to the government records, the violence which erupted between the Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, resulted in the death of over 78 people, whereas over 87 injured.

The government then imposed curfews and deploy armed units on the ground. Subsequently, an emergency was declared in the Rakhine state, which allowed the military to assist local administration in maintaining law and order. The Myanmar agencies have frequently been accused of instigating violence especially targeting the Muslim Rohingyas. A significant number of Buddhist organizations tried to prevent humanitarian aid from reaching the Muslims. The then Myanmar responded by excluding Rohingyas from the list of minority groups subsequently preventing them from obtaining citizenship. More than 130 ethnic groups have been debarred from receiving Burmese citizenship. Today, they have no right to vote and do not hold Myanmar citizenship.


AS stated before, Muslim Rohingyas are the most persecuted people in the world today. After careful study, the Muslim Rohingyas continue to receive inadequate assistance and support from international aid organizations of the world. Their humanitarian rights no longer exist, neither their social rights nor any right to citizenship. Many agencies particular of the UN and other international communities continue to show concern towards their immediate humanitarian needs, which remains inadequate. The global community intends to argue on security other member countries failing to adequately address the security and the rights of Rohingyas to exist. Hence, it is imperative for policymakers to address the issue immediately by inviting key actors in the discussion, particularly the principle instigator Myanmar.
Through “aggressive” diplomacy, many international and regional organizations can effectively force Myanmar to initiate new legislative measures ensuring their “right to return.” Muslim Ronhingya’s continues to become a burden on neighboring countries such as India and Bangladesh since they both are densely populated countries. Although, any efforts could only prove vital if it comes from Myanmar within. It is imperative for global nations, regional organizations to ensure that Myanmar takes the responsibility and actively participate in de-escalating the situation and take a progressive step in securing the future of Rohingyas.