AP Explains: Who are Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims?


Abdul Razak Ali Artan, the Somali-born student accused of carrying out a car-and-knife attack at Ohio State University this week, reportedly protested on his Facebook page about the killing of minority Muslims in Myanmar. Muslim Rohingya face discrimination and violence from the Buddhist majority in the country, also called Burma. Their plight generally goes unnoticed by the world at large, even though some rights activists say their persecution amounts to ethnic cleansing. Here are several things to know about the group:

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WHO ARE THE ROHINGYA?

They are a Muslim ethnic minority of about 1 million among Myanmar’s 52 million people, almost 90 percent of whom are Buddhist. The government does not recognize them as one of the country’s 135 ethnic groups, making it difficult to gain citizenship or secure their civil rights. Almost all Rohingya live in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state. Many families have lived there for generations, but most people in Myanmar still view them as foreign intruders from neighboring Bangladesh. Bangladesh, which hosts many Rohingya refugees, also refuses to recognize them as citizens. “The Rohingya are probably the most friendless people in the world. They just have no one advocating for them at all,” Kitty McKinsey, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said in 2009.

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WHAT PROBLEMS DO THEY FACE?

The Myanmar army has stepped up activity in Rakhine state since nine police officers were killed in attacks on posts along the border with Bangladesh several months ago. The identity of the perpetrators remains unknown. In mid-November, Rohingya villagers with homemade weapons resisted an intrusion by troops. An unknown number of villagers died, along with a handful of soldiers and officials. Rohingya solidarity groups say several hundred civilians have been killed since October. The New York-based group Human Rights Watch says satellite imagery shows 1,250 houses and other structures have been burned down.

In 2012, violence between Rohingya and the Buddhist community killed hundreds and caused about 140,000 people — predominantly Rohingya — to flee their homes to camps for the internally displaced. About 100,000 remain in the squalid camps, unhealthy and dependent on charity.

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HOW HAS THE WORLD REACTED?

There has been great disappointment that Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, whose political party took power in Myanmar this year after decades of military-guided rule, has failed to ease the plight of Rohingya despite her reputation as a fighter for human rights. Speaking out for Rohingya rights is an unpopular political position. However, Suu Kyi’s government in August appointed former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to head an advisory panel aimed at finding lasting solutions to the conflict in Rakhine state. He is scheduled to visit Rakhine on Friday. The U.N. special adviser on the prevention of genocide, Adama Dieng, on Tuesday expressed concern about reports of excessive use of force and other serious human rights violations against civilians, particularly Rohingya, including allegations of extrajudicial executions, torture, rape and the destruction of religious property.

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