The Core Debate on Rohingya Issue in International Relations


The paper first gives a brief background on the Rohingya issue in Myanmar. The paper highlights how the Rohingya crisis is important in contemporary international relations and it explains what the dominant narratives in the understanding of the event are. So here the Myanmar and Bangladesh became the two important countries to understand the event. Later on paper, it became clear that power always matters in international politics. It became important to understand the narrative from the ground and the narrative of the people where state-centric does not respond always. The paper mainly focuses of post-2012 after the tension became harsh between the two communities.



The historical origin of Rohingya Muslims is controversial. One of the general perceptions of the Myanmar people is that Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh which is a threat to their economy and security (Kipgen, 2013:300). On the other hand, some claim that Rohingya was living in Myanmar for centuries and they are descendants of Muslim Arabs, Moors, Persians, Turks, Mughals, and Bengalis who come as traders, warriors (Kipgen, 2013:300).

Chakra borty, (nd;2) argues Arakan was an independent kingdom till 1784. When it was conquered by Buddhist Burmans, most of its population fled to Chittagong. With the establishment of British rule, many Muslims who had taken shelters nearby Chittagong come back and they encourage by the British to cultivate their lands. The beginning of the Rohingya conflict goes back to the colonial past and World War Two. The newly independent state of Myanmar had given the right of citizenship. Shortly after independence Rohingya claimed for the independent state (Chakraborty, nd:2) . So there is where the tension started between the two groups. The Rohingya Muslims are 4% to 8% they are not only minorities in the religious realm, but stateless too (Yun Hsu,  nd:1).

The Arakan region of Burma is divided into Rohingya Muslim North and the Rakhine Buddhism south. According to Security Council 2016 reports, according to the 1982 law, most of the Rohingya citizens were denied citizenship rights and subjected to forced labor under military supervision and there was a restriction on their movement and freedoms. The recent tension started on 28 May 2012 when a group of Muslim men raped and killed a Rakhine woman on her way home. The accusers are recognized and arrested and sent to jail later. On 3 June 2012 10 Muslims were killed in an attack on a Bus (Security Council, 2016:8). It is followed by many riots and mass killings of Rohingya in Myanmar.

Read Facts you should know about Rohingya Tragedy

Significance of the case in the contemporary international relation

Human rights observers describe there is a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing in Myanmar’s western province of Arakan, along with the border of Bangladesh. They are considering to be one of the world’s most vulnerable minorities in the world (AL-ADAWY, 2013:43).

The process of democratization in Myanmar rise ethnic hatreds and it is marked as one of the poorest countries in the human rights index. Myanmar officially recognized 135 ethnic groups in the Constitution and the Rohingya are excluded from holding an ethnic status (AL-ADAWY, 2013:45). According to Human Rights Watch’s report, at least 125,000 Rohingya Muslims are living in overcrowded camps who suffered from a lack of basic needs of survival.  Thousands have fled the country by sea to Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia and some of them are missing and The 1982 Citizenship Law rendering Rohingya as stateless people ( Yun Hsu, nd:2).

According to article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinions, national or social origin, property, birth or another status” ( UDHR, 1948:6). The Constitution of Myanmar prohibits abuse base on religion, race and act intended to promote hatred, enmity for the political purpose (Human Right Council, 2016:6). So The Rohingya persecution is against all norms and conventions of international human rights so the UN should take it seriously. The Buddhism theory includes four common precepts, and the first is “not to kill living creatures”, which is a significant call for peace and equal respect of any life (Yun Hsu, nd: 6). How much peaceful Buddhism principle and neutral Constitution can be justified with mass killing and the persecution of the Rohingya. There is a full contraction between the two. So what is happening with Rohingya is against the religion and constitutional laws of Myanmar.


Examine the narrative which is dominance for the general understanding of the case study

In an interview with Barnaby Phillips of Al Jazeera on 27th July 2012, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina repeatedly emphasizes that it is not their duty to deal with the Rohingyas problem and she can not intervene because it would be interference in the internal affairs of another country. She also said Myanmar should take the Rohingya back and not point the accusing finger at Bangladesh (Chakraborty, nd: 6). Bangladeshi scholars like Rahman (2010), Azad and Jasmin (2013), and Parnini (2013) focus on “how the Rohingyas are a threat to security and national interest of Bangladesh and also how the influx of Rohingya is damaging strategic bi-lateral relations with Myanmar. In fact, Rahman recommends ensuring better educational and socioeconomic opportunities for the Rohingya not because they are political asylum seekers or facing a humanitarian crisis, but precisely because their impoverishment is seen as the destabilizing factor in the border region”(Chakraborty, nd:9)

The dominance narrative according to Bangladeshi considers Rohingya as a security threat and economic threats to Bangladesh. In addition, Rohingya is a threat to their strategic bilateral relation with Myanmar so they deny the migration of Rohingya to Bangladesh. On another side for Burmese, Rohingya Muslims are a threat to Myanmar’s official religion Buddhism by the notion that they make Myanmar an Islamic country. Secondly, a threat to an economic resource of the country their fear that one day Muslim occupied all the resources and economy of the country. They link Rohingya to violence and terrorism and think of them as a threat to the international community. Myanmar considers them as illegal Bengali immigrants while they live there for centuries. The tension which is there between two groups is called communal violence while it is much more serious than that it is crime against humanity. The international community is not seriously concern of what is happening in Myanmar.


The Implicit and explicit of power relation

The dominant understanding of power states with advanced military technology is powerful. The state is an important actor in world politics. International Relation is more western-centric so the experience of the West more important compared to non-west. This is how situations can be defined. Rohingya are stateless people so their experience is less important in world politics. The international community could have stopped Myanmar from violating human rights by putting pressure on Myanmar. A UN spokeswoman in 2009 described the Rohingya as “probably the most friendless people in the world”. The UN human rights office recently said for a second time this year that abuses violation of the human right to Rohingya consider as crimes against humanity. It is also said that it regretted that the Myanmar government had failed to act on a number of recommendations it had provided, including lifting restrictions of movement on the Rohingya (Ponniah, 2017). What they have done in practice so in practice the power politics play its role. In spite of committing a crime against humanity, Myanmar is not being brought to the International Court of Justice. Myanmar should be asked in the International Criminal Court of Justice for the mass killing of the Rohingya people.

The next things which international communities could have done were an economic sanction to put sanction on Myanmar to stop Rohingya persecution. The U.S recently lift the sanction on Myanmar it shows that there is always power politics behind it. Aljazeera reports that “The United States is now prepared to lift sanctions that we have imposed on Burma for quite some time and the removal of long-standing economic sanctions will help unleash Myanmar’s enormous potential” Obama said, speaking in the Oval Office with Aung San Suu Kyi at his side (Aljazeera (2016). There is always power politics in the international politics, where the international community’s don’t really care about the human right violation in Myanmar because it does not belong to the national interest of any great powers instead Myanmar could have been a trade partner for them. So they prefer their national interest over the humanitarian issue.


The alternative narrative for an understanding of the case study

The voice of the Rohingya people are important are to be heard. They are the most vulnerable population in the world where the world has no space for them. As D’Costa (2006) argues that the experience of the people and their demand for truth, justice is important. International Relations are less interested in the insight of people and International Relations has been an elite and exclusive discipline where poverty, hunger, and war happen to the disadvantaged people but it is analyzed by refined researcher in North and South (D’Costa, 2006:130,131). There is no state to talk on behalves of them and they are stateless people.  Most often in International system state represent the people voice but when the state is against the people and denies to give citizenship right to its people who represent them that is why the experience from the ground and from the people became important. Myanmar should treat Rohingya as human rather than treating them on the basis of their religion and race. We should not put one label on everyone in the sense that we can’t link all Muslims to violence and terrorism for the act of the few. The Rohingya have a long history of discrimination and they are the most marginalized ethnic group. D’ Costa argues further that marginalization is associated with economic, political powerlessness. Marginalization can be in two forms exclusion and discrimination and Marginalization can be due to race, class, and gender. Secondly, the location is important (D’Costa, 2006:130,131). The Rohingya are also discriminated against due to their race and religion and they are being into force labor due to their economic vulnerability. As Hill (1999) argues that it is needed to redirect the study of the international relation from government elite and state to people but there are a few signs of practical things which is done. It is important to listen to the voice in the ground (Hill, 1999:110,111). International relations don’t reflect the voice, experience, knowledge claim, and contribution of the majority society and state in the world. The west is always core and the rest are at the periphery. There is a need for Global international relations to take into account all the perspectives (Acharya, 2014:647). It is important to think beyond the west where the rest is suffering and their suffering should be core in the study of international relations and people really matter. The state always can not reflect the voice of the people. The experience of the Rohingya and the experience from the ground is giving the holistic picture rather than thinking it from Myanmar or Bangladesh perspective.


Possible causes and consequence of this marginalization

The main cause of this silence the lack of attention from the world to take the issue seriously just condemning is not enough. Myanmar should be punished for committing a crime against humanity. Myanmar denied calling it genocide so calling it communal violence frees them from the international response. The anti-Muslim propaganda became a part of regular nationalism discourse. There is a fear that Muslims turned the country into an Islamic country (China, 2016). Since 2010, The Myanmar transition from a military-led government to a more democratic system the situation deteriorated for the Rohingya. The Myanmar government has permitted the rise of the 969 movements, a group of Buddhist monks who employ “moral justification for a wave of anti-Muslim bloodshed” (Tennery, 2015). According to President Thein Sein’s standpoint, “the only official solution was to send illegal Rohingya to the third countries or to refugee camps overseen by UNHCR (Yun Hsu, nd).

The consequence is very much clear that, denial of the right to health, education, and restriction of freedom of movement, a threat to life, liberty, security, sexual and gender-based violence, limitation of the political right, Trafficking in person, and migrant smuggling, denial from the adequate standard of living,  incitement to hatred and religious intolerance are the number of the problem which Rohingya are facing in Myanmar  Human Right Council (2016). According to Human Rights Watch report on its October, there is extensive damage to home, property, killing, rape, mass arrest on Rohingya Muslim by Myanmar security forces. The report condemns restrictions imposed on humanitarian access to the Rohingya community who are displaced (Nehginpao,2013:305). Article two of Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide 1948 define Genocide as: “genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.” (United Nation Human Right, 1948) Cowleyt and Zarni, (2014) argue that the Rohingya case includes some of these acts of genocide violence, killing, forced migration, and illegalization in, “namely intent to destroy the Rohingya through a) killing Rohingya people; b) causing serious bodily and mental harm to the Rohingya; and c) deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about the physical destruction of the Rohingya.” (Cowleyt, and Zarni, 2014:687)



According to United Nations, the Rohingya is one most persecuted minorities in the world. They are the stateless people. They do not have access to the basic necessities of life. Hundreds lost their lives and many are still suffering and while fleeing the borders they are losing their lives and many others are missing. Not Bangladesh neither Myanmar accepts them as the citizen. They are the target of systematic hatred and violence in Myanmar. So it is a big humanitarian issue and the world should deal with it. The Rohingya persecution is against the national and religious law of Myanmar. In addition to that Rohingya mass killing is against the international convention of human rights and it is considered genocide. UN condemned the violation of the human right of Rohingya Muslims but in practice, nothing happens and the situation is deteriorating for Rohingya day by day. There are three reasons behind it: one in an International politics global north and their issues are important and the rest is not. Secondly, it is the suffering of the people, not the state so people are not the center of attention of the world. Thirdly the bilateral relation and the economic and trade interest is more important for the countries rather than any humanitarian crises.



Zarifia Sabet

Kabul, Afganistan.

She has completed Masters degree in International Relations from South Asian University, New Delhi, India.



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