Rohingya: Citizens of Nowhere

Aviral Chandraa

Nationality has been a cornerstone of every major human rights treaty and statelessness has been a conundrum of it. Article 15 of the 1948 United Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to a nationality”. The Rohingya refugees have been one of the most persecuted groups in the world, and they predominantly belong to the Rakhine state of Myanmar. Myanmar considered them ‘Illegal Bengali Immigrants’ and denied them citizenship, though historical evidence clearly states that they are inhabitants of Myanmar. As per the 1982 Burmese Citizenship Law, Rohingya people were excluded from the list of 135 national ethnic communities. Consequently, it effectively rendered 800,000 Rohingya stateless, denying them their rights to study, access to health services, marry, work, and practice their religion. Post-1992, the situation of Rohingya people worsened when an ‘Interagency Border Protection Force’ was formed to oppress them. After being denied citizenship and persuaded into the country, some 250,000 Rohingya left the country and fled to Cox Bazar, Bangladesh. According to World Vision, since 2017 after genocidal acts and constant brutal campaign violence against them, over 700,000 Rohingya have fled from Myanmar. Another brutal campaign, “Operation Clean and Beautiful Nation”, propelled 200,000 Rohingya to flee from Myanmar. 

Failure of Humanitarian Actors 

The Rohingya community has been deprived of basic human rights and civil rights, including the right to life which has been guaranteed under Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). They do not have voting rights and are thus manifestly discarded by the political sphere and as they are a destitute stateless people, they experience racial xenophobia by the citizens of that country. How can such a community survive with no protection, no rights, and, most importantly, no dignity? Myanmar, their home country, had taken out genocidal attacks against them, and while, Bangladesh gave them hope and opened their gates to reside there, but they are still treated as a stateless community. They also turned to the international community and NGOs as a last ray of hope to reserve their rights, but, unfortunately, they have failed so far to protect them.

According to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR), approximately 80% of Rohingya refugees are children and women. It also estimates that ‘there is a child born stateless every 10 minutes.’ International Conventions which protect children and women’s basic rights have been constantly disregarded. For instance, the suffering of Rohingya children from acute childhood diseases and psychological trauma violates Article 24 of the Convention on the Rights of Child (CRC), in which states are directed to provide adequate health-care. The CRC under Article 22 also directs the state to provide appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance to the refugee child, and under Articles 34, 35, and 36 of the CRC directs the state to protect children from ‘all forms of exploitation and abuse’, all of which are being denied to Rohingya children. Therefore, Bangladesh and Myanmar have failed to comply with the international treaties which they have ratified. Further, the United Nations themselves has not fulfilled their own set of goals which could salvage the Rohingya people from their condition. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), for example, which set various targets to End Poverty (Target 1), End Hunger (Target 2), Ensure healthy lives and promotes well being (Target 3), Quality Education (Target 4), and Clean water and Sanitisation (Target 6), etc. are all the issues which have been confronted by the Rohingya people.

A Way Ahead

The most fundamental principle of human rights law is ‘the right to nationality’ and statelessness is the most dreadful violation of this law. According to Article 1 of the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness (CRS), every person is entitled to have nationality where they are born. So, the foremost task to protect Rohingya people is to grant nationality to them. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees should take the onus and grant nationality, under Article 1 of CRS, to the Rohingya people. Once they have nationality, they have legal protection. Furthermore, particularly for the Rohingya children, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) like the European Union with UNICEF, must accept the child refugees and provide them with basic rights. For instance, they must be granted the right to education and proper health facilities, to integrate the child migrants to the ASEAN group. This is certainly a temporary relief; however, it would have a huge impact on the Rohingya community. Lastly, implementation of existing international conventions and SDGs would take them out of the bleak situation and provide safe havens for Rohingya people.

By Aviral Chandraa

The author is currently pursuing B.A. LL.B.(Hons.) from Dr. Ram Manohar Lohiya National Law University, Lucknow. Areas of interest include International Humanitarian Law, Constitutional Law and Criminal Law.

The featured image (top) is from Flickr and is entitled ‘Bangladesh: responding to the Rohingya refugee crisis’. It is by EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid and is licensed under Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).


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