ANC Policy Statement on the Peoples of Arakan shows lack of Foresightedness
by Dr. Habib Siddiqui
It appears that when the entire world is crying out foul against the repressive SPDC regime and demanding restoration of democracy, equality, liberty and human rights for all inside Burma, many of her exiled political parties are making a mockery of all those principles. One such entity is the Arakan National Council (ANC) that includes exiled groups like the Arakan League for Democracy, Arakan Liberation Party (ALP), Democratic Party of Arakan, National United Party of Arakan (NUPA), All Arakan Students Youth Congress, Arakan Women Welfare Association, Rakhaing Women Union (RWU) and some ultra-nationalist Rakhaing academics, advisers and intellectuals. While the ANC was established in New Delhi, India in 2004, most of its member parties operate from inside Bangladesh.
The ANC’s declared aim is to act as a political leading body for the people of Arakan state of Burma for self-determination, justice, peace, prosperity, equality, integrity, tranquility and dignity in emerging its people with civilized modernity and democracy. But it does not require too much probing to see the ugly, harsh truth behind the façade of such high sounding rhetoric.
Some of the ANC member parties are terrorist organizations (e.g., ALP) and are heavily involved in drug trafficking. There is no Rohingya representation within the ANC. They are simply ignored, as if they don’t exist. Not surprisingly, the so-called Arakan State Constitution, drafted by the ANC (since 2004), is silent about the Rohingya people. This, in spite of the fact that Rohingyas make up almost half the population of Arakan [47%; see Dr. Shwe Lu Maung’s The Price of Silence, DewDrop, USA (2005), p. 252, for population statistics] and had successfully contested the 1990 election, sweeping all the 4 constituencies in the Muslim majority Mayu province by one of its parties (NDPHR), and were in a position to make political alliance with Daw Suu Kyi’s party - the NLD – to form a coalition government in the Arakan state if the military junta had honored the election results. [The victory of NDPHR angered the military regime and its ultra-nationalist supporters within the majority Rakhaing community leading to forced expulsion of some 300,000 Rohingyas to Bangladesh in 1991.] The reason for such a nonchalant, if not hostile, attitude towards the Rohingya can be explained by the fact that most of the member parties (except NUPA) within the ANC are led and advised by anti-Rohingya Rakhaing extremists that can best be described as xenophobic, anti-Muslim, anti-Indian, ultra-nationalist bigots. Its key advisor is a retired academic - Dr. Aye Kyaw - who co-authored the infamous 1982 Burma Citizenship Law that is at the heart of Rohingya Diaspora, leading to major mass exodus and ethnic cleansing in the last three decades. More than a million Rohingyas now live as unwanted refugees in many parts of our world.
I wanted to believe that the ANC has been able to rise above the fray and correct its past mistakes and untenable positions, making the entity more inclusive and plural. But I was wrong. Last month I came across the “Policy Statement of ANC (Arakan National Council) on the Peoples of Arakan”, dated Sept. 7, 2007. The statement was issued from the ANC Executive Committee. It stated in a non-flattering way that the Rohingyas are not recognized as indigenous people of Arakan. The statement says: “ANC regards the people who lived in Arakan before the British annexation of Burma in 1824 as indigenous, and those who immigrated after the British occupation of Burma as non-indigenous. … As the Bengali Muslims and Hindus immigrated and settled in Arakan after the British occupation they are regarded as non-indigenous. … The name (Rohingya) is used by descendants of Bengali Muslims who settled in Arakan after the British occupation of Burma.”
The above policy statement is factually wrong and shows once again that the ANC is living in its xenophobic, racist, intolerant, feudal past. The smell of big-brotherly chauvinism or ultra-nationalism is everywhere within the body of the text. The statement goes on to say “It is not time to be quarrelling and attacking each other… It is time for all people of Arakan to stand firmly and unitedly on the principles of human rights, democracy, national equality and peaceful coexistence.” What hypocrisy when the same ANC twists historical facts and denies basic rights of the Rohingya people calling them outsiders or recent settlers!
As the Tokyo Conference on Problems of Democratic Development in Burma and the Rohingya People has demonstrated, contrary to ANC’s obnoxious and distorted claims, the Rohingya people are, beyond any shadow of doubt, indigenous people of Arakan. They did not settle during the British Occupation of Arakan (post-1824). They are the descendants of the indigenous Kalar, Kala, Kula people of Arakan (similar to darker complexioned Indian/Bengalis found in neighboring India/Bangladesh, in much contrast to fair skinned, Mongoloid featured - Rakhaing people that had settled from far-away Tibet) that had intermarried with, absorbed into, and converted mostly to the Islamic faith with Muslims that moved to the territory in various periods of Arakan’s history, predating the British Occupation period. Like their co-religionists—the Buddhists of Arakan—many of these Muslims, who identifies themselves as the Rohingyas, were forcibly evicted and/or chose to leave Arakan during Burman king Bodawpaya’s atrocious rule (1784-1819) and settled in and around southern Chittagong. After the Burman regime (1784-1824) was defeated, the British Occupation force allowed resettlement of the former exiles and their descendants back to the territory. Any attempt to obscure and distort the exodus history of hundreds of thousands of Arakanese, Muslims and Buddhists alike, to the British Bengal during Bodawpaya’s rule is disingenuous and deplorable, to say the least.
If the descendants of resettled Rakhaings from Bangladesh during the British Occupation period (pre-1948) could pass the Litmus test of Burmese citizenship, ANC’s selective criteria to exclude the Rohingyas demonstrate its biasness against the minority and depict their naked double-standard. More over, they are at variance with the statements of founding fathers of Burma (see Aung San government’s 1947 Panglong statement regarding citizenship criteria), let alone being at odds with the charters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The Rohingyas are not demanding a separate state of their own inside Burma. If, however, their legitimate rights to citizenship and nationality are ignored and trampled upon by the Burmese government and its backers within the ANC, comprising the majority Rakhaing ultra-nationalists, like any human beings in our planet, they have every right to self-determination, as has been enshrined in the scores of International laws.
Regrettably, it is ANC’s ultra-nationalism, chauvinism, racism and sectarianism that are the greatest roadblocks to a united, more inclusive, democratic Arakan and Burma. Through its endorsement of the 1982 Citizenship Law, it is the ANC that is dividing the Arakan into skeptical, if not hostile, camps. Its policy plays directly into the divide-and-rule policy of the SPDC. Obviously, the ANC has not learned to evolve into a pluralistic, democratic organization that respects minority rights, that values their opinions, and is mindful of their legitimate aspirations and concerns. The statement from the group is a hypocritical attempt to distort the fundamental issue that is at the root of dehumanization of millions of people within Arakan.
If the ANC cares about democracy and human rights in Burma, and Arakan, in particular, it must not only reconsider its chauvinistic criteria for citizenship and nationality that are hypocritical and discriminatory, and aimed at dispossessing and marginalizing almost half of the people of Arakan, i.e., the Rohingyas of Arakan state of Burma, owing to their distinct culture and religion, it must also denounce the 1982 Burma Citizenship Law. It has to come out of the closet taking bold measures that are progressive, humane, moral, ethical and conducive to a lasting peace in the region. It cannot behave like Fascistic organizations, ignoring the fact that Arakan is a multi-racial, multi-religious state where almost half the population is non-Buddhist.
The ANC cannot endorse and promote xenophobia, while it calls for equality, democracy, peaceful coexistence and human rights. Its Policy Statement is too hypocritical and too one-sided to garner necessary respect and trust from affected communities. The ANC must show foresightedness by integrating minority voices within its leadership, rank and file. Let its actions speak loud about its seriousness to the goal of genuine integration and pluralism rather than mere statements that are too hollow and only show the ugly, dirty xenophobic self. It must allow Rohingya representation at equal footing, not as a second or third-class entity, but as equals with similar rights. It must, therefore, open the door for Rohingya representation both within the ANC and the ENC (Ethnic Nationalities Council).
Time is running fast. There is too much suspicion and animosity between various races and ethnicities within Burma, including Arakan. Burma needs integration, trust-building, equity and justice for all, and not failed assimilation attempts that disrobe, dispossess, and dehumanize minorities at the altar of the majority. As to Arakan, the ANC has a significant role to play in trust-building measures. It must develop genuine leadership that is foresighted, pragmatic, sincere and respected by all segments within the state. It can ill-afford to be looked upon as a representation of the Buddhist Arakanese only. It must understand the importance of initiating honest and open dialogue to ironing out its differences and uneasiness with the Rohingya community. That process can get a jumpstart with a sincere condemnation of the 1982 Burma Citizenship Law. Why not start this much desired reconciliation process right now? Why try to forge unity when its very intent and sincerity are in question?
Ignoring the root causes of ethnic tensions and de-prioritizing vital trust-building measures would be suicidal and stupid for the ANC.
[About the author: Dr. Siddiqui is Director of Arakan-Burma Research Institute, USA.]
1. ALP abducts two Bangladeshis for ransom, Kaladan Press Network, Dec. 11, 2006; ALP hideouts destroyed in Bandarban, Kaladan, Sept. 6, 2007. Interestingly, RWU is led by Saw Mra Raza Linn alias Mra Aye Thein, who is married to a Bangladeshi living in Dhaka. She is also an executive member of the ALP
2. ALP dens busted in Bandarban, Poppy seeds, combat dressed seized, New Age, September 5, 2007.