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Background

A Persecuted Minority

The Plight of the Rohingya Previous Escalating Violence Next

The Rohingya are a Muslim minority in Burma, and most live in Rakhine (also called Arakan) State, which borders Bangladesh and has a Buddhist majority that is ethnically Rakhine. Although Rohingya have resided in the area for several centuries, Burma’s 1982 citizenship law does not include them among the country’s officially recognized ethnic groups, effectively denying them the right to citizenship. The Burmese government classifies the Rohingya in the country as "Bengalis" and insists that they are immigrants from Bangladesh, even though many Rohingya families have lived in Burma for generations.

Since Burma’s independence in 1948, the Rohingya have been subjected to periodic campaigns of violence and continue to face various forms of official and unofficial persecution, including:

  • Limits on the right to marry and bear children
    Rohingya in some areas must obtain official permission to marry and in some areas have been prohibited from having more than two children. As a result, some 60,000 Rohingya children born in violation of these restrictions cannot be registered and are thus ineligible for all government services, including education.
  • Limits on movement
    Rohingya must obtain official permission to travel even to a neighboring village. Applications for travel permits require long waits, payment of fees and bribes, and intrusive scrutiny. The travel restrictions effectively deny the Rohingya access to post-primary education, markets, employment opportunities, and health care.
  • Forced labor
    Rohingya in Northern Rakhine State have regularly been required to work without pay for government and military authorities. Children frequently perform this labor, which is required exclusively of the Rohingya in Rakhine State.
  • Denial of due process
    Rohingya are routinely subjected to confiscation of property, arbitrary arrest and detention, physical and sexual violence, and even torture at the hands of authorities.
  • Segregation
    Rohingya are barred from the teaching, medical, and engineering professions. Many health care facilities will not treat them and few businesses will hire them other than for manual labor.

Rakhine State is one of Burma’s poorest states, and the Rakhine ethnic group has also long suffered from economic discrimination and cultural repression by the Burmese majority and central government. As Buddhists and an officially recognized minority, however, the Rakhine enjoy rights and opportunities denied to the Rohingya. Poverty exacerbates Rakhine animosities toward the Rohingya, whom the Rakhine view as alien competitors for scarce resources.

Today, many Rohingya in Burma are forcibly isolated, cut off from necessary humanitarian assistance, and unable to access basic services such as health care and education. According to the United Nations, crimes against humanity and genocide may have been—and continue to be—perpetrated against the Rohingya. Their treatment, combined with statements by government, political, and religious leaders indicate that the Rohingya are being subjected to ethnic cleansing, and the Simon-Skjodt Center has repeatedly expressed its concern about mounting evidence of genocide.