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Kristina Kironska’s Lecture “Political Transition in Myanmar and the Conflict in Rakhine State Interlinked?”

2020-01-08

Reported and written by Desmond Sham (Postdoctoral fellow, Interational Center for Cultural Studies, NCTU)

Topic:         Political Transition in Myanmar and the Conflict in Rakhine State Interlinked?
Speaker:    Dr. Kristina Kironska
Date:        18 December 2019
Venue:        National Chiao Tung University

The Rohinya people are a predominantly Muslim stateless people residing in Rakhine State at the western coast of Myanmar (Burma). The Rohinya humanitarian crisis threatens not only Myanmar and Bangladesh but also the region as a whole. The inaction of the de facto leader of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, also drew the former political prisoner and democratic leader loads of criticism. In her lecture, Dr. Kristina Kironska, Research Fellow at the Central European Institute of Asian Studies and a campaigner for Amnesty International, explains the reasons behind the fled of Rohinya people and the conflict in Rakhine State in relation to the recent transition process in Myanmar. 

Dr. Kironska explains that there are multiple explanations of the origin of the Rohinya people. The Myanmar authorities, both the military and the current civilian government, deny citizenship and the indigenous status of the Rohinya people, and the name of “Rohinya”, but insist referring them as “Bengalis” in a pejorative manner. Meanwhile, other scholars suggest that the Rohinya people are closely related to the Rakine people. Dr. Kironska believes whether the Rohinya people are indigenous should not be the justification of denial of their citizenship. She argues that the Nationality Law in 1982 deliberately excludes the claimants of the national or citizen status of the Rohinya people. There is no “Rohinya” as the ethnic option in census. Thus, Rohinya people are forced to self-identify as the “others”. According to Dr. Kironska, there have been a long history of ethnic segregation in the Rakhine state (named after the Rakhine people) where most Rohinya people reside. Rohinya people were barred from traveling between towns without a permit, and thus suffered from poor access of healthcare.

Instead of “democratization”, Dr. Kironska uses “political transition” to describe the process of liberalization and introduction of a top-down election in Myanmar since 2011. In spite of election, 25% of the seats in the Parliament are reserved for the military. The military also heads defence, border control, and home affairs. In short, even though the National League for Democracy (NLD) won a sweeping election in 2015, the military still had very strong influence. In contrast to many democracies, the commander-in-chief, who is also responsible for most of the human rights violation in Myanmar, is not the head of state (President) nor the government but a military officer. This also gave Aung San Suu Kyi a benefit of doubt for some people a few years ago.

Coincide with the political transition, large-scale violence clashes between the Rakhine people and the Rohinya people after an alleged rape and murder of a Buddhist woman by three Muslim men, who were not Rohinya, in 2012. Dr. Kironska argues, segregation is counter-productive in long-term, and violence spread in other parts of Myanmar. She also explains, the Rakhine people and the mainstream Burmese (Bamar) ethnic group / the authority have long hostile towards each other. Rakhine people have been demanding for higher autonomy. Yet when it comes to the relationship with the Rohinya people, many Rakhine people and the authority team up. 

When the Rohinya militant group ARSA went to Rohinya villages to demand new recruits and attacked Burmese police officers, the military responded with “clearance operation”, which does not distinguish Rohinya civilians and the ARSA. Unlawful killings, rape, and tortures took place. Dr. Kironska argues, there is no doubt that genocide takes place in Myanmar. She criticizes that the Aung San Suu Kyi administration’s failure to prioritize human rights enable continued vilification and dehumanization. She also compares the rhetoric used by influential Buddhist monks and army officials in Myanmar with those used by Central European right-wing politicians. Dr. Kironska argues, it is not diversity destabilizes society. Rather, the political actors playing on ethnic card worsen the situation.
 

  

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