Myanmar Citizenship for Rohingyans after 40 years!

After years of Rohingyans suffering from oppression that forced them to flee from Rakhine, Myanmar, the NUCC offers an olive branch to repeal the controversial Citizenship Law 1982. The controversial law derecognised the Rohingyans from citizenship, and became a tool for the military junta to oppress them. What does this olive branch mean for the Rohingyans?

On 12 April 2024, Tan Sri Syed Hamid Albar, the former Defence Minister who leads the Malaysian Advisory Group on Myanmar, commended the Myanmarese National Unity Consultative Council (NUCC) for repealing the 1982 Citizenship Law, giving way for Rohingyans citizenships. As the current chair of the advisory group, his endorsement of the Myanmarese sounds positive, giving rise to hope and emphasising the importance of the NUCC’s action towards inclusivity and equality. 

The repeal of the law is significant as the Myanmarese government used the law to discriminate against the Rohingyans, barring them from Myanmarese citizenship. Overnight, the Rohingyans lost access to citizenship, enabling the junta government to persecute the Rohingyans, forcibly evicting them from the Rakhine region. When the Rohingyans refused to leave, the military beat them or, worse, killed them.

Thus, from the 80s onward, Rohingyans left Myanmar in droves, ending up in Bangladesh, Indonesia, and Malaysia. While they sought refuge in Malaysia, the presence of legal Myanmarese foreign workers in Malaysia turned into a deadly mix. The hatred and anger festered and exploded in 2014 a group that Malaysian police described as Myanmarese Muslims from Rakhine murdered around 20 Myanmarese workers in a series of gruesome murders. 

Police in Penang Investigates the Body of a Myanmar Man Found in an Oil Palm Estate in November 2014. He Was the 20th of 23 Myanmar Nationals to Have Been Murdered in the Malaysian State over in 2014. Abdul Rahim Hanafi (inset) Said Police Were Still Investigating. Photo: Asia News Network
Police in Penang are investigating the body of a Myanmar man found in an oil palm estate in November 2014 He was the 20th of 23 Myanmar nationals to have been murdered in the Malaysian state in 2014 Abdul Rahim Hanafi inset said during an interview in 2014 that police were still investigating No further cases were reported in 2015 after the arrest of several Rohingyans<br>Photo Asia News Network

Many Rohingyans fell prey not only to the repressive Myanmarese government but also to human traffickers, who sent them to the seas in rickety boats and, once nearing their intended destination, damaged the engine to force these countries to accept them as boat people.

Myanmar Military Junta

The Myanmarese military junta crackdown is not limited to the Rohingyans. Ethnic Karens, who are mostly Christians too, suffered under the military junta, and many sought refuge in Malaysia. However, their numbers have trickled after Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi won the landmark election 2021.  

However, the NUCC’s decision comes with a catch. They are not the ruling government. 

Today, Myanmar is under military junta rule. They launched yet another coup in February 2021 and placed the elected government, including Aung San Su Kyi, in house arrest. She is currently serving a 33-year jail sentence handed to her by the military junta-run court

The people protested, but the military cracked down on the protest with deadly consequences. By March 2021, at least 500 had lost their lives. 

This time, the people did not stay quiet. The pro-democracy supporters launched a revolution. They are further encouraged when soldiers and police, disgusted at the junta government’s crackdown, defected to the pro-democracy side. Al Jazeera cited that at least 10,000 defectors are now part of the revolutionary forces, comprising 3,000 former soldiers and 7,000 former police officers.

Meanwhile, the UK’s Guardian cited that at least 14,000 soldiers and police officers had defected to the pro-democracy forces. The defection also involved pro-government militia who had even switched sides after decrying the harsh and lethal crackdown the military junta had made against the pro-democracy forces.

Military Setbacks

Fast forward to 2024, the Myanmarese government army, the Tatmadaw, has now suffered continuous military setbacks as the much-reinvigorated rebel forces took control of several major towns, with the border town of Myawaddy being the most recent town under their control. 

The Tatmadaw found that they had difficulty recruiting soldiers to replace those killed, injured, captured, and deserted. 

To compensate for their losses, the Tatmadaw announced in February 2024 that they would initiate conscription beginning in April 2024, targeting 5,000 recruits. 

However, the conscription may have backfired. Young men and women are leaving Myanmar in droves to avoid conscription (female citizens are also part of the eligible pool of recruits). Perhaps the biggest irony of the conscription is that it pushed more civilians to join the revolutionary forces as they sought to escape from the military conscription. Many saw the move to join the revolutionary forces as a natural progression of their activism against the oppressive military junta.   

Despite having the repressive Citizenship Law that discriminated against the Rohingyans in place, that did not stop the Myanmarese junta government from recruiting the Rohingyans into the Tatmadaw. The recruitment of the Rohingyans was ironic, as just years ago, they were persecuting these Rohingyans. 

Human Rights

Human rights watch groups claimed that the Tatmadaw had already either forcibly recruited or kidnapped at least 1,000 Rohingyan men and boys from the Rakhine region since February 2024 as soldiers, much earlier than the claimed conscription date of April. Those who refused to fight were either beaten to death or had their families beaten up instead. Worst still, the men did not receive the citizenship promised.

They received only two weeks of military training before the Tatmadaw deployed them in combat. An unknown number have since died in battles. 

The promise of recognition of Rohingyans’ right to citizenship may become a factor in attracting the Rohingyans to join the Revolutionary forces, further depriving the Tatmadaw of a potentially fertile recruitment field. 

However, the NUCC decision can only occur if they defeat the military junta in the civil war. And there is this nagging concern: Is this Malaysian Advisory Group a sanctioned government concern? If yes, would this group’s commendation of the NUCC interfere with Myanmar’s internal affairs and breach the ASEAN spirit? Regardless, the stance is correct, but it should have been an ASEAN-level effort to preserve the movement as a viable international body. – NMH

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