Strategic Denial of Rohingya Identity and Their Right to Internal Self-Determination

Published date01 July 2022
Date01 July 2022
Subject MatterResearch Articles
International Studies
59(3) 234 –251, 2022
© 2022 Jawaharlal Nehru University
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/00208817221112544
Research Article
Strategic Denial of
Rohingya Identity and
Their Right to Internal
Sakhawat Sajjat Sejan1
Denying the identity of a race is the step towards committing the crime of
genocide, which may also result in ethnic cleansing. This article has tried to
strategically depict the nexus between the identity denial and ethnic cleansing of
Rohingyas. From the very inception to now, the gradual development of ignoring
the identity of Rohingyas is evident to deny their rights. Also, Buddhist extremism
has outnumbered the demands of Rohingya as an ethnicity among 144 races of
Myanmar. Then, it has claimed the proposition that might become applicable
for their internal recognition, which is ‘right to internal self-determination’. This
article also discusses the development of the Gambia versus Myanmar case,
which may contribute to the resurrection of Rohingya identity within the lands
of Myanmar. Internal recognition of the Rohingyas under the legal instruments
of Myanmar will restore their fundamental rights along with their political and
social recognition.
Right to internal self-determination, dolus specialis, democide, chauvinism, identity
Prelude: Currently, the world has 22.5 million refugees, 65.6 million forcibly and
internally displaced persons, along with 10 million stateless people (UNHCR,
2019). From the First World War to the Second World War, the world witnessed
several refugee crises. In the past few decades, Vietnam, Rwanda, Sudan, Bosnia,
Cambodia, Iraq, Afghanistan and the Rakhine of Myanmar have witnessed the
cruellest atrocities within their states. The military junta cruelly raped, tortured
and killed many, whereas many became stateless or refugees. The number is
increasing with the advent of time. Fractionalization, dehumanization, polarization
1 Department of Law, Feni University, Feni, Bangladesh
Corresponding author:
Sakhawat Sajjat Sejan, Department of Law, Feni University, Feni 3900, Bangladesh.
Sejan 235
and extreme nationalism have continuously contributed to the number. According
to the Political Instability Task Force, from 1955 to 2016, nearly 43 genocides
were killing 50 million people and displacing 50 million others (McManus, 2018).
In almost all of the above-mentioned cases, state mechanisms denied their identity
and ethnicity. Sectarianism played a significant role in this hegemony. Parliament
passed arbitrary laws, and then it utilized the religious sentiment of other religions,
targeting a particular group. From arbitrariness to abusing religious sentiment, all
contributed to the bawl of strategic denial of identity or ethnicity. The case is
analogous to the issue of Rohingyas. In this article, the author will endeavour to
inculcate the circumstances which contributed towards Rohingya’s identity denial
and how their ‘Right to Internal Self-Determination’ is violated at different stages
of denial. And how this denial approach has turned into the menace of ethnic
cleansing or genocide. Also, the effect of this denial as dolus specialis (Fellmeth
& Horwitz, 2009) in committing the crime of genocide, whether promptly or
slowly, encompassing genocidal intent within the act.
A Brief Background of Rohingyas’ Identity Denial
From the very beginning, Rohingyas are considered ‘kulas’ or ‘kalar,’ meaning
dark-skinned aboriginals by the Buddhist nationalist groups (Ahmed, 2019).
Theravada Buddhism was the core belief of Burmese Buddhists that has turned
into chauvinism lately paved the way for this narrative. The subtle contribution
from this perspective towards the non-acceptance of Rohingya identity is
significantly undeniable. They have always preached Rohingyas as foreign
nationals, Bengali intruders or illegal immigrants (Center for Preventive Action,
2022). According to their preaching, Rohingyas came to Myanmar due to several
Arab and Persian invasions to the land during 788–810 AD, the 15th century and
the 17th century, respectively (Siddiqui et al., 2006). Since the inception of
invasions and rulers, Rohingyas have been residing in Eastern Rakhine (then
Arakan). The Burmese people debatably used to call them Arakanese Muslims,
Rooinga, Rosangya, Ro-Khing-Yha or Rakkhingya, etc., under immense
politicization across the country (Tirman, 2004). The families of invaders extended
as Arab people married some of the Myanmar nationals and settled. Muslims from
Afghanistan, Turkey, northern India and most significantly Mughals settled in the
lands of Arakan, by extending their families, marrying local women in between
the 9th and 15th centuries (Writenet, 1993).
Before annexing Myanmar in 1784, Arakan was an independent kingdom, that
is, Sothern Arakan and Northern Arakan. King Budapawa conquered the kingdom
in 1784 when many Rohingyas fled to Bengal. Some of them fled from the eastern
part of Rakhine to the northern part of Rakhine after becoming internally displaced
(Razzak & Haque, 1995). In pursuance of this attack by King Budapawa, some
Rohingya Muslims have lost their rooted identity in the southern part of the then
Arakan. Also, simultaneous second invasions by Mongolians uprooted the
Rohingya roots (Maung, 1989). King Budapawa ruled Myanmar for 40 years with

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