The student-led movement to end mass atrocities.

Who are the Rohingya?

This week, President Obama set off for a much-anticipated trip to East Asia where he will engage regional leaders in four major meetings: the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in China (APEC), the G-20 Summit in Australia, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and East Asia (EAS) Summits in Burma.  The ASEAN and EAS meetings will cover economic policy in East and Southeast Asia.  In the midst of dealing with important economic and foreign policy questions, President Obama has the opportunity to make an important political statement in support of the rights of the Rohingya in Burma.

Who are the Rohingya and where are they from?

There are an estimated 1.5 million Rohingya, a predominantly Muslim community, in the world today, the majority of whom live in Burma with other sizeable communities in Bangladesh, India, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Thailand, and Malaysia. Formerly known as the Arakanese, the Rohingya have lived in Rakhine state in Burma for over 500 years. Once living under their own rule, the Rohingya were conquered by the Burmese in the 1780s, then ruled as a colony by the British, occupied by the Japanese in the 1940s, and finally ruled by Burma’s military junta.

However, the Rohingya’s very existence is currently subject to great controversy within Burma and Bangladesh and they are described by the United Nations as one of the world’s most persecuted peoples. The Myanmar government deems the Rohingya illegal migrants and refers to them only as “Bengalis,” hence tagging them as coming from Bangladesh and as foreigners. In 1982, during Burma’s military dictatorship, a citizenship law was passed to exclude the Rohingya as citizens on the justification that they are foreigners–despite the fact that many Rohingya have lived in Burma for generations. Bangladesh reluctantly allows Rohingya to live in camps near the Burma border, but deny them any government assistance. It has been reported that Bangladeshi authorities have turned back boats carrying Rohingya refugees from Burma’s Rakhine State.

What sorts of abuse are being committed against the Rohingya?

The Rohingya are not allowed to travel or marry without permission, are forbidden to own land or have more than two children by the Myanmar government. Additionally, they are frequently subjected to land confiscations, arbitrary taxes, forced evictions, and police brutality. It is also common for the Rohingya, as well as other minority ethnic groups in Burma, to be used as forced laborers as porters of the military or construction workers. They are denied access to public resources in both Burma and Bangladesh, including schooling and medical attention. Both the Myanmar and Bangladeshi governments have specifically prohibited humanitarian organizations from helping the Rohingya.

What originally caused today’s sporadic, yet ongoing conflicts in Rakhine State?

On May 28, 2012 a group of men robbed, raped, and murdered Ma Thida Htwe, a Rakhine woman. Eventually, three Rohingya men were arrested and sentenced to death, contributing to the already tense relationship between the Rohingya and Rakhine. The following month, violent protests erupted throughout northern Rakhine State in which Myanmar security forces declared a state of emergency and were authorized to use deadly force to quell the demonstrations. Both the Rohingya and Rakhine contributed to the violence that erupted. However, Rohingya shops and homes were frequently burned down, causing mass displacement of the already marginalized community. Violence spread to parts of central Burma in early 2013 with additional reports of violent Buddhist mobs roaming the streets.

Is this genocide?

Violence, primarily beginning in mid-2012, continues today between the Muslim Rohingya and Buddhist Rakhine in which 192 people have died, over 140,000 have been displaced, and thousands of homes have been destroyed. The international community has continuously expressed criticisms of Burmese President Thein Sein’s Administration’s treatment of the Rohingya. Human Rights Watch has voiced perhaps the harshest condemnation of the Burmese government in citing numerous crimes against humanity and acts of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya in a 2013 report. The conflict remains unresolved and possesses an alarming potential to become increasingly violent and devastating to the region due to its deeply rooted ethnic and racial tensions.

What can you do?

The Burmese government has pressured the international community to stop using the name “Rohingya” to describe the Rohingya people, denying them the history connected to their name while furthering new oppressive legislation. The genocide prevention community has launched a petition asking President Obama, one of the most visible people in the world, to use the name “Rohingya” during a public address while visiting Burma this month. Join thousand of others across the U.S. in calling on President Obama to address the Rohingya by name. After signing, share the petition on social media using the hashtag #JustSayTheirName.

Burma’s Census

By Alex Colley Hart, Southeast Asia Education Coordinator. Alex is a junior at Indiana University with a major in International Relations and a minor in Business.

On Thursday, April 10, Burma finished its first national census in over 30 years. However, the 12-day long, UN sponsored census has not gone without controversy. Some groups, like the Kachin Independence Organization, have refused to participate due to ongoing armed conflict with the Myanmar government. The Palaung State Liberation Front, a group representing the Palaung people, requested to be identified as separate from Shan, the majority ethnic group in their home Shan State, but were denied but government officials. More alarmingly, the Myanmar government has instructed data gatherers to preclude information for anyone identifying as Rohingya, further illustrating the country’s growing anti-Muslim mentality.

This is not the first time Rohingya people have been overlooked or denied rights by the Myanmar government. The Rohingya are a stateless ethnic group primarily residing in Arakan State in western Burma and far eastern parts of Bangladesh. The Myanmar government believes the Rohingya are not an official ethnic group; rather, they are Bengali migrants that have illegally crossed into Burma. They are predominantly Muslim and have been subject to growing discrimination by both official state actions and Buddhist radicals. The treatment of Rohingya has become so bad that last year Human Rights Watch labeled the acts as “ethnic cleansing.”

A census is an important tool for a country both in terms of the raw data it collects and the subsequent picture it creates of a country’s population. For a highly diverse country like Burma, which has not conducted a census in decades, an accurate portrayal of its ever-changing population is an important part of the country’s process of bringing about peace domestically and successfully repositioning itself among the international community. By prohibiting specific people from contributing to the census, the Myanmar government has undermined both of these goals and is unfortunately showing the world that its government has yet to overcome its racist and dictatorial past.

In response to growing international criticism, the Myanmar Ministry of Immigration and Population has expressed its intentions to continue to collect data from parts of the country that were not reached during the 12-day census. Official, electronic results of the census are due to be released in early 2015.

The Du Chee Yar Tan Massacre and Press Freedom

 This piece was written by our Alex Colley Hart, STAND’s Burma Education Specialist.  Alex is a junior at Indiana University with a major in Internatinal Relations and a minor in Business.  You can reach him at  The views here do not necessarily represent the views of STAND. 

Burma, also known as Myanmar, has seemingly transformed from an isolated military dictatorship to a country engaged with its region and the international community. However, not all has gone as peacefully as some had hoped for the fledgling “democracy”.

Violence against Muslims in the predominantly Buddhist country has continuously flared up since mid-2012 with watchdog organizations like Human Rights Watch labeling the fighting as “a campaign of ethnic cleansing.” Originally targeting the Muslim ethnic group known as the Rohingya in western Burma, these acts of violence are commonly perpetrated by the radical Buddhist Rakhine and have since evolved into broader anti-Muslim sentiment, even spreading beyond Burma’s west into central parts of the country just last year.

The situation remains as tense as ever with the recent massacre of at least forty Rohingya at the end of January. This most recent violence began on January 9th when eight Rohingya men were attacked and killed by a group of local Rakhine. A police sergeant was then kidnapped and killed in retaliation four days later by a group of Rohingya. That evening local Rakhine police and civilians, according a United Nations report, killed forty Rohingya men, women, and children and injured many more.

Reporters for The Associated Press were the first to write about the massacre. However, The New Light of Myanmar, the state sanctioned newspaper, claimed the A.P. “falsely” reported on the violence and even “seemed to instigate” the fighting. The Myanmar Ministry of Information has also said the A.P. has been issued a warning about its reporting.

Despite its progress and a constitution guaranteeing freedom of expression and of the press, this massacre highlights the fact that Burma remains one of the least free countries in the world, particularly when it comes to reporting. Four journalists are currently on trial and are facing a possible fourteen years in prison. In December of last year, a journalist was imprisoned for three months due to her reporting. Even more alarmingly, an arrest warrant has been issued to Rohingya MP Shwe Maung for speaking up about police complicity in the recent violence against the Rohingya. Although official censorship has declined, an air of uncertainty leave many too fearful to write or speak ill of the government.

Access to accurate information is vital to a democratic and peaceful society. It can effectively combat the many racist and anti-religious sentiments held against the Rohingya and Muslims in general. However, without allowing politicians to speak out against crimes and journalists to do their jobs free from fear of government interference, Burma will not be able to resolve its conflicts peacefully and call itself a true democracy.