Calling on Canada to help end Myanmar Genocide of Rohingya at Toronto City Council on 23 Nov 2017

Saying "Sorry!" to a Rohingya brother who survived Myanmar Genocide, Kutupalong Camp, Bangladesh, 7 Nov 2017.

Speaking on the Slow Burning Genocide of Rohingyas in Burma, with Professor Amartya Sen, Harvard University, Nov 2014

N. Ireland peace activist Mairead Maguire presenting Zarni with the Cultivation of Harmony Award on behalf of the Parliament of the World's Religions, Salt Lake City, USA 18 Oct 2015

Meeting with The Minister of Foreign Affairs Rt. Honourable Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali, M.P., State Guest House, Dhaka, 4 Nov 2017

"National Traitor and Enemy of the State" for his opposition to Rohingya Genocide. Sun Rays, 16/9/17

Buddhist Nationalism in Burma

Jonathan Saruk/Getty images. Thousands of unregistered Rohingya Muslim refugees from Burma live next to the registered refugee camp at Kutupalong Refugee Camp, Bangladesh. 

Institutionalized racism against the Rohingya Muslims led Burma to genocide By Maung Zarni 

This was originally published in Tricycle, Spring 2013. 

For those outside Burma, the broadcast images of the Theravada monks of the “Saffron Revolution” of 2007 are still fresh. Backed by the devout Buddhist population, these monks were seen chanting metta and the Lovingkindness Sutta on the streets of Rangoon, Mandalay, and Pakhoke-ku, calling for an improvement in public well-being in the face of the growing economic hardships afflicting Burma’s Buddhists. The barefooted monks’ brave protests against the rule of the country’s junta represented a fine example of engaged Buddhism, a version of Buddhist activism that resonates with the age-old Orientalist, decontextualized view of what Buddhists are like: lovable, smiley, hospitable people who lead their lives mindfully and have much to offer the non-Buddhist world in the ways of fostering peace. 

But in the past year, the world has been confronted with images of the same robed monks publicly demonstrating against Islamic nations’ distribution of aid to starving Muslim Rohingya, displaced into refugee camps in their own country following Rakhine Buddhist attacks. The rise of genocidal Buddhist racism against the Rohingya, a minority community of nearly one million people in the western Burmese province of Rakhine (also known as Arakan), is an international humanitarian crisis. The military-ruled state has been relentless in its attempts to erase Rohingya ethnic identity, which was officially recognized as a distinct ethnic group in 1954 by the democratic government of Prime Minister U Nu. Indeed, in the past months of violent conflict, beginning in June 2012, the Rohingya have suffered over 90 percent of the total death toll and property destruction, including the devastation of entire villages and city neighborhoods. Following the initial eruption of violence in western Burma, several waves of killing, arson, and rampage have been directed at the Rohingya, backed by Burma’s security forces. 

Over the course of the past few years an extremely potent and dangerous strain of racism has emerged among Burma’s Theravada Buddhists, who have participated in the destruction and expulsion of the entire population of Rohingya Muslims. The atrocities occurring in the name of Buddhist nationalism in Burma are impossible to reconcile with the ideal of metta. Buddhist Rakhine throw young Rohingya children into the flames of their own homes before the eyes of family members. On June 3, 10 out-of-province Muslim pilgrims were pulled off a bus in the Rakhine town of Taunggoke, about 200 miles west of the former capital, Rangoon, and beaten to death by a mob of more than 100 Buddhist men. The crime occurred in broad daylight and in full view of both the public and local law enforcement officials. 

One of the most shocking aspects of anti-Rohingya racism is that the overwhelming majority of Burmese, especially in the heartland of upper Burma, have never met a single Rohingya in person, as most Rohingya live in the Rakhine State of western Burma adjacent to Bangladesh. 

Thet Htoo/Zuma Press/Newscom. Rakhine men and a Buddhist monk hold handmade spears and watch as a fire burns in Sittwe, capital city of Rakhine State. Two weeks of clashes between Rohingya Muslims and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists left an official death toll at 50, with 58 injured and more than 2,500 houses burned down. 

Physical appearance—aside from language, religion, culture, and class—is an integral marker in a community of nationalists. The importance of complexion is often overlooked when examining racism across Asia. Rohingya are categorically darker-skinned people—sometimes called by the slur “Bengali kalar.” Indeed, the lighter-skinned Buddhists of Burma are not alone in their fear of dark-skinned people and belief that the paler the skin, the more desirable, respectable, and protected one is. 

The virulent hatred and oppression directed at Muslims extends to any Buddhists who are considered to have helped them. In October 2012, local Rakhine Buddhist men were named, degraded, punished, and paraded around public places wearing handwritten signs that said, “I am a traitor.” Their crimes? Selling groceries to a Rohingya. 

The rose-tinted Orientalist take on Buddhism is so hegemonic that Westerners are often shocked when they hear of the atrocities carried out by militarized Buddhist masses and the political states that have adopted or manipulated Buddhism as part of the state ideological apparatus. Buddhism’s popular image as a peaceful, humanistic religious doctrine immune to dogma contradicts a long history of violent Buddhist empires—from Emperor Ashoka’s on the old Indian subcontinent to the Buddhist monarchies of precolonial Sri Lanka and Siam, and the Khmer and Burmese kingdoms—some of whom sanctioned war with recourse to the dharma. The oppression carried out under Burmese President Thein Sein and his Sri Lankan counterpart, President Rajapaksa, is just the latest from a long line of violent Buddhist regimes. 

Prejudice arises wherever communities of different faiths, classes, and ethnicities coexist and interact. But genocide is not an inevitable outcome of group prejudice; there have to be institutional mechanisms and an organized harnessing of forces, generally enacted by the state. Burma’s lay public and political society, while supposedly informed by the worldwide ideals of human rights and democracy that spread across formerly closed leftist polities, have evidently failed to undergo what Aung San Suu Kyi famously called “the revolution of the spirit.” Instead, they have chosen to pursue a destructive nationalism that is rooted in the fear of losing property, land, and racial and religious purity. 

The Burmese state has mobilized its society’s Islamaphobia through various institutional mechanisms, including the state media outlets and social media sites, the presidential office’s Facebook page among them. Burmese-language social media sites, which thrive out of the purview of international media watchdogs, are littered with hate speech. Postings of graphic images of Muslim victims, including Rohingyas, on Facebook—easily the most popular social media website in the newly opened Burma—have been greeted with approving responses from the country’s Buddhist netizens, both within the country and throughout the diaspora. The few Burmese and foreign human rights activists and journalists who dare to speak out against this rising tide of racist, fascist tendencies in Buddhist society have been increasingly subjected to slander, cyber-threats, and hate speech. Journalists have repeatedly expressed dismay over the volume of angry hate email they receive from Burmese citizens whenever stories are published condemning the recent violence. 

In a documentary first aired by Al Jazeera on December 9, 2012, Professor William Schabas, one of the world’s foremost experts on genocide and until recently the president of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, characterized the sectarian violence against the Rohingya as genocide. “We’re moving into a zone where the word can be used,” Schabas said “When you see measures preventing births, trying to deny the identity of the people, hoping to see that. . . they no longer exist, denying their history, denying the legitimacy of the right to live where they live, these are all warning signs that mean that it’s not frivolous to envisage the use of the term genocide.”

Soe Than Win/AFP/Getty/Newscom. Rakhine Buddhist monks pray in Langon, Burma, in June 2012. Several thousand monks took to the streets of Mandalay to protest against a world Islamic body’s efforts to help Muslim Rohingya in strife-hit Rakhine State. 

The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which entered into force on January 12, 1951, states: “In the present Convention, 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. 

The ruling Burmese, both the Buddhist society and the Buddhist state, have committed the first four of these acts, though the state denies wrongdoing by their security forces during the nearly six months of violence in 2012 that left 167 Rohingya Muslims dead and 110,000 refugees. 

As for paragraph (e), malnourished, poorly educated Rohingya children have not been “forcibly transferred” to another group, but there have been instances of Rohingya children being brutally murdered—stabbed, drowned, burned alive—by the Buddhist Rakhine. 

During a public lecture in Brunei, Southeast Asia, on December 2, 2012, Professor Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), was asked by a student what the OIC—with its 57 member states representing, in theory, at least 1.5 billion Muslims—was doing to address the persecution of Muslim minorities around the world. In his response, Ihsanoglu described the Burmese democracy icon and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi as a human rights activist for Burma’s Buddhists. Suu Kyi, he said, is “only interested in the human rights of the Buddhists because they are human beings and the Muslims are not.” While the emotion behind the statement is understandable, there is a political calculus at play. Aung San Suu Kyi has little to gain from speaking out against the treatment of the Rohingya Muslims. She is no longer a political dissident, she’s a politician, and her eyes are fixed on a prize: winning the 2015 election with a majority Buddhist vote. 

Prior to his lecture in Brunei, Professor Ihsanoglu sent a letter to Suu Kyi on behalf of the OIC in which he pressed the National League for Democracy (NLD) leader to use her enormous awza, or earned societal influence, to help stem the tide of Buddhist racism against the Rohingya and the Muslim population at large. The letter was met with silence. In failing to decry the human rights abuses against the Rohingya, Burma’s iconic leader—who is seen in some Burmese Buddhist circles as bhodhi saddhava (“would-be Buddha”)—has failed to walk the walk of Buddhist humanism. 

On January 4, 2013, the 65th anniversary of Burma’s independence from British rule, Suu Kyi said in a speech at the NLD headquarters that Burma’s people need to rely on themselves if they want to realize their dream of a free and prosperous nation. “Don’t expect anyone to be your savior,” she warned. But as the Burmese magazine The Irrawaddy pointed out in a recent editorial, “Suu Kyi is right that Burma doesn’t need a savior; but it does need a leader.”

Jonathan Saruk/Getty images. An unregistered Rohingya child draws on the wall of a classroom provided by the charity Islamic Relief at Leda Refugee Camp, Bangladesh. 

The current leaders of Burma’s 25-year-old human rights movement now speak the language of national security, absolutist sovereignty, and conditional human rights, echoing the language and sentiment of their former captors, the ruling military. The NLD and the democracy opposition have failed to see their own personal and ideological contradictions. Their embrace of conditional human rights and their absolutist reading of sovereignty indicates that they have talked the talk of Buddhism, with its ideal of universal lovingkindness, but have failed to walk the walk. Many student leaders and human rights activists of the 1988 uprisings who spent half their lives behind bars in the notorious military-run Insein Prison as “prisoners of conscience” are unprepared to extend such human rights ideals to the Rohingya Muslims, a population that the United Nations identifies as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities. 

Buddhism, as a religious and philosophical system, has absolutely nothing to say about the political, economic, and cultural organizations that we call nation states. Buddhism is not about people imagining a national community predicated upon adversarial relations but rather about using one’s own intellectual faculties to see through the nonexistent core-essence of self. Yet in Burma, this humanistic philosophy has proven itself indisposed to guard against overarching societal prejudices and their ultranationalist proponents, those Burmese who vociferously profess their adherence to Buddhist faith, practice religious rituals and patronize Buddhist institutions, and then proceed to commit unspeakable atrocities against anyone they imagine to be an enemy of Buddhism, the Buddhist state, Buddhist wealth, Buddhist women, and Buddhist land. Instead of propagating the guiding societal principles of religious tolerance, nondiscrimination, and social inclusion among lay devotees, the influential Buddhist clergy themselves have, in their outspoken criticism and picketing against the Royingya, become an entire people’s most dangerous threat. 

Throughout the alien British rule from 1824 to 1948, the Buddhism of colonial Burma contributed to the formation of a common national identity, providing a basis for concerted anti-imperialist efforts among disparate social classes and ethnolinguistically diverse Buddhist communities with conflicting political interests. The current resurgence of racism is a direct result of a half century of despotic military rule. The careful construction of an iron cage—a monolithic constellation of values, an ad hoc ethos—locks in and naturalizes a singular view of what constitutes Burma’s national culture. The dominant population remains potently ethnonationalist, essentializing Buddhism as the core of an authentic Burmese national identity. 

For a minority of Burmese Buddhists, the combination of Buddhist nationalism and strong racial distinctions that served as an ideological springboard and a rallying cry against the British Raj is now scorned as a thing of the past. But for many Burmese Buddhists, the same ethnoreligious nationalism that once served the Burmese independence movement has provided an environment in which their racism can flourish. 

Buddhist-inspired social forces have proven to be a double-edged sword over the years. In the newly independent post–WWII Burma of the late 1940s, Marxist-inspired revolutionary nationalists led by the martyred Aung San (Aung San Suu Kyi’s father) set out to forge a new multiculturalist, secular, and civic nationalism. In 1948, after Aung San was assassinated by a rival Burmese politician (and less than 90 days after the country’s newly acquired independence), Burma plunged into a long series of armed revolts against the central state. Aung San’s successors gradually abandoned any attempts to secularize Burmese nationalism along the lines of civic nationalism, which would have moved the Burmese away from the premodern provincialist blood- and faith-based view of national identity. 

Against this backdrop, the popular racism of the Buddhist majority presents itself as a potent social force that can be appropriated by Burma’s national security state to unify and rally anti-Muslim Burmese citizens. Burma’s state authorities, consisting predominantly of generals and ex-generals, are also generous patrons of Buddhist institutional activities such as dana and pagoda and temple building. These military leaders will continue to feed the masses their opiate—the pretension of Buddhism, with its effect of normalizing human suffering—to the masses, as long as the Buddhists believe that their faith, and not their political economy, promises better rebirth. As one regime official told me, “The bottom line is, we don’t want any more ‘Mus’ in our country, but we can’t possibly kill them all.” As a solution, the reformist state leadership has outsourced the job of cleansing its Golden Land to the Rakhine Buddhists. 

Maung Zarni is a Burmese activist and scholar. He is a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics and the founder of the Free Burma Coalition. 

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The Slow Genocide of (Myanmar's) Rohingyas: Interview with Dr Zarni, Indonesia's National News Weekly, 20th Anniversary Special Issue, 24 Dec 2014

The Slow Genocide of The Rohingya

He spoke loudly, full of energy. That's Maung Zarni, 51 years old. He held a doctorate degree in political science from University of Wisconsin, U.S, and is one of the very few Buddhist intellectuals from Myanmar who dares to speak bluntly about the condition of Rohingya.

Zarni, who founded Free Burma Coalition (1994) , did not hestitate to point fingers to generals in Myanmar's regime, accusing them of crime against humanity toward the Rohingya. Such accusation is not without consequences. He already fled from Burma due to safety concerns. For the past seven years he lived in London, becoming a visiting fellow at London School of Economics. 

Last Novemver, together with Nobel laurate Amartya Sen, Zarni spoke in an international conference on Rohingya in Harvard University, disucssing the fate of 1,3 million Rohingya now still reside in Myanmar.

This December, hecame to Indonesia on the invitation of University of Muhammadiyah Yogyakarta (UMY). He gave a public lecture at UMY, visited the Borobudur temple, had a meeting with members of Indonesia Buddhist Association (Walubi), members of Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), and also with members of Committe I of Indonesian House of Representatives – the committee which handles defense and foreign policy.

Last Thursday, the man who married a British woman visited Gatra and had a discussion with members of the editorial board for more than three hours. Here are the excerpts:

How do you view the problem of Rohingya refugees?
The Rohingyas are experiencing a slow genocide. I need to explain to you about this term, because it's easily misunderstood. Genocide is not about the numbers of people being killed. Genocide happens when a group of people is killed because of their race, religion, ethnicity or other identity. 

For example I want to kill all of you Indonesians. I dont know whether you are a good or bad person. But although you're a good person, it's not relevant. I want to kill you because you're Indonesian. Now, can you become non-Indonesian? Of course you can't. The identty of Indonesia is already attached to you. So you are killed because a identity which you cannot change.

Is that your definition of genocide?
It's the definition of 1948 UN convention about Genocide. In that convention there are several characteristics of genocide. First, you kill a group of people because of their identity. Secondly, you hurt or torture that group of people, so it's not always about killing. And thirdly, which is relevant with the Rohingya, you deliberately create a condition with the purpose of systematically destroy that group of people. 

Isn't there a real conflict between muslim Rohingya and the Buddhist population in Myanmar?
That's the mistake of many journalists. They framed the Rohingya conflict as religious conflict, or conflict between communities. They failed to see the important factor, that is the organizationing of the conflict. The violence toward Rohingyas are organized, launched by the regime.

Can you give an example?
I lived for 25 years in Myanmar, graduated from University of Mandalay. I came from an educated family. My mother was a teacher, and my father was a college graduate. But for my 25 years living in Myanmar, I have never heard the word 'Rohingya'. That word doesn't exist in history books, on radio or tv programmes. There's not even a single poetry contains the word Rohingya. The word we have is Bengali, Bangladesh immigrants living near Myanmar's border. About 10 years ago I even still don't know the word 'Rohingya'. When I met a Rohingya activist in overseas conference I usually said to myself, 'Oh, he is a Bengali.'

So how did you come to know the word Rohingya?
I only know it after leaving Myanmar, after I was no longer exposed to regime's propaganda. After I left, I realized that the regime deliberately ommited the word 'Rohingya' from any text available. Such a systematic destruction is an appaling characteristic that a genocide has happened.

Can you explain what's the systematic destruction like?
Let's go back to history. Before Myanmar became a military junta, Myanmar was led by U Nu, the first prime minister in 1948. At that time the word Rohingya was already used to describe the people living on Myanmar's border. Indonesia migh still remember U Nu, because he and President Soekarno --Indonesia's first president-- was active in Asia-Africa Conference in 1955. 

But in 1956 the junta took power. They considered Rohingya a threat to security and national identity. The destruction began in 1974. The junta issued Immigation Act which deliberately excluded Rohingya. A census was conducted, but the Rohingya were excluded. The Rohinhgya were instantly, on the spot, considered illegal immigrants. Then the Citizenship Act 1982. The bill does not recognize Rohingya as one of 134 ethincs in Myanmar. I know several people who formulated the citizenship act 1982, whom most of them were already dead. They told me that they deliberately exclude Rohingya from the list of recognized ethnics.

What about know? Does systematic destruction still occur?
Until now if there were Rohingyas able to enter university, they are not allow to take medical and engingeering department. It resulted in a very imbalance doctors-patient ratio in Rohingya. In Myanmar, the average ratio is 1 doctor for 700-1000 patients. For Rohingya, the ratio is 1 doctor for 13.000 patients. The child mortality in Rohinhgya is very high, higher than the national average. This is an attempt to control the population. Rohingya are also only allowed to have two children. But such restriction does not apply to other ethnics. They also cannot move from their location, must get permission from officials to get married. These regulations are very much alike the regulations issued by Nazi toward Jews in 1930ies. This is a genocide.

Why do you think the regime chose a slow-genocide, instead of quick-genocide?
This tactic has proved effective.. If it's working, why you want to change it? The propganda has caused the general public opinion to shift against Rohingya. By labelling them as illegal immigrants, the regime said to ASEAN that this is Myanmar's domestic affairs. They said, 'You yourself have a problem with illegal immigants, don't you?' But genoce is not a domestic affair. What truly happens, the regime has learned that they can subcontract genocide to a certain group in society. The regime dont need to take care it themselves.

How do you view the role of ASEAN, especially Indonesia, in this matter?
Indonesia has quite an influnce in ASEAN. But I can tell you one thing. I spoke to a fomer Indonesian foreign minister and he told me that Indonesia in fact lobbied OIC (Organization of Islamic Cooperation) so that OIC does not pressure Myanmar too hard on Rohingya issues.

Do you think the regime managed to play the economic cards, especially on Myanmar's natural resources?
This is a smart regime. How many years Soeharto managed to stay in power? Only 32 years. These generals were in power since 1956 and they are now still in power. The slow-genocide tactic proved effective. The regime even seemed to already swicth to 'auto pilot' with this tactic. Now Myanmar opens up to foreign investment and even United States ended sanctions agains Myanmar without any conditions, which I think was a mistake. 

How do we position Aung San in this issue?
Aung San is already inside the pockets of the generals. The regime spreads rumor that Aung San's driver is a muslim, that the identity of a Buddhist can only be secured if the generals are in power. As an moral icon, Aung San has already fallen.

Do you know any recent updates about the situation of Rohingya?
About four weeks agos several NGOs which track the movement of Rohingyas on the ground reported that about 10.000 Rohingyas already left by boats. What's frightening is there is no news after that. What happened to them? Where did they land? For the past four weeks, not a single country reporting any sight of Rohinga boat refugees? So where are they now? I can only imagine that in such a vast sea, with poor boats, 10.000 people are merely a dot. They might have drowned and we dont even know. 

- Basfin Siregar-

In Behasa Indonesian Language

Genosida Perlahan Rohingya 

Nasib warga Rohingya masih terkatung-katung, meski sudah mendapat perhatian masyarakat internasional. Koalisi Burma Merdeka menilai ada penghancuran secara sistematis. 

Bicaranya lantang, penuh energi, dan tidak sungkan mengecam. Begitulah sosok Maung Zarni, 51 tahun. Doktor ilmu politik lulusan Universitas Wisconsin, Amerika Serikat, ini termasuk sedikit di antara intelektual Budha asal Myanmar yang berani bicara blak-blakan tentang kondisi warga Rohingya. 

Pendiri organisasi Free Burma Coalition (1994) ini tanpa takut menuding petinggi rezim Myanmar telah melakukan kejahatan terhadap kemanusiaan terhadap warga Rohingya. Ucapan macam itu bukannya tanpa konsekuensi. Zarni seorang exile. Ia kabur dari negaranya setelah merasa jiwanya terancam. Ia sudah tujuh tahun tinggal di Inggris, menjadi visiting fellow di London School of Economics. 

Awal November lalu, bersama pemenang Hadiah Nobel Amartya Sen, Zarni menjadi pembicara konferensi internasional tentang Rohingya di Universitas Harvard, Amerika Serikat, yang membahas nasib 1,3 juta warga Rohingya yang masih tinggal di Myanmar. Desember ini, atas undangan Universitas Muhammadiyah Yogyakarta (UMY), Zarni berkunjung ke Indonesia. Selain memberikan kuliah umum di UMY, mengunjungi Candi Borobodur, bertemu pengurus Perwakilan Umat Budha Indonesia (Walubi), pengurus Majelis Ulama Indonesia (MUI), juga beranjangsana ke Komisi I DPR RI. 

Kamis malam pekan lalu, pria yang menikah dengan wanita Inggris ini menyempatkan datang ke kantor GATRA, berdiskusi dengan awak redaksi selama hampir tiga jam. Berikut rangkuman diskusi itu: 

Bagaimana Anda melihat permasalahan pengungsi Rohingya? 
Warga Rohingya mengalami genosida perlahan (slow genocide). Saya perlu menjelaskan istilah ini, karena sering kali disalahpahami. Genosida bukan soal berapa korban yang dibantai. Tak peduli cuma 100 orang atau 1 juta orang, tetap sebuah genosida. Genosida terjadi ketika sekelompok masyarakat dibunuh karena identitas ras, agama, suku, atau identitas lain. 
Misalnya saya ingin membunuhi Anda semua, orang Indonesia. Saya tidak kenal Anda. Saya tidak tahu Anda orang baik atau orang jahat. Tapi kalau toh Anda orang baik, itu tidak relevan. Saya ingin membunuh Anda karena Anda orang Indonesia. Sekarang, bisakah Anda menjadi orang non-Indonesia? Tentu tidak. Identitas Indonesia sudah melekat di diri Anda. Jadi, Anda dibunuh karena sebuah identitas yang tidak bisa Anda ubah. 

Itu definisi genosida menurut Anda sendiri? 
Ini menurut kovensi PBB tentang genosida pada 1948. Dalam konvensi itu ada beberapa ciri genosida. Pertama, Anda membunuh sekelompok orang berdasarkan identitas mereka. Kedua, Anda sengaja melukai baik secara fisik maupun mental kelompok itu, jadi tidak musti sampai membunuh. Ciri ketiga, yang paling relevan dengan Rohingya, Anda dengan senjaga menciptakan kondisi yang secara sistematis bertujuan menghancurkan kelompok itu. 

Bukannya memang ada konflik antara muslim Rohingya dengan warga Budha di Myanmar? 
Ini kesalahan banyak jurnalis. Mereka membingkai konflik Rohingya sebagai konflik antar-agama atau konflik horisontal. Mereka lupa melihat faktor penting, yakni pengorganisasian. Kekerasan terhadap Rohingya adalah kekerasan terorganisasi, yang dilancarkan rezim 

Bisakah Anda memberikan contoh kongkret? 
Saya 25 tahun hidup di Myanmar, lulus dari Universitas Mandalay (638 kilometer sebelah utara bekas ibu kota Yangon -Red.). Saya dari keluarga berpendidikan. Ibu saya guru, ayah saya seorang sarjana. 
Tapi, selama 25 tahun tinggal di sana, tidak pernah sekali pun saya mendengar kata Rohingya. Kata itu tidak ada di buku sejarah, di radio, atau di siaran televisi. Bahkan tidak ada satu pun puisi menyebut kata Rohingya. Yang ada adalah Bengali, imigran Bangladesh yang tinggal di perbatasan Myanmar. 
Sekitar 10 tahun lalu saya bahkan masih tidak kenal istilah itu. Ketika saya bertemu aktivis Rohingya di konferensi di luar negeri misalnya, saya berkata. ''Oh, dia orang Bengali.'' 

Bagaimana Anda bisa mengenal istilah Rohingya? 
Saya baru tahu justru setelah keluar dari Myanmar, setelah tidak lagi terekspose propaganda rezim. Setelah di luar, saya baru tahu bahwa rezim memang secara sistematis menghilangkan kata Rohingya dari teks apa pun. Penghancuran sistematis ini juga ciri paling relevan bahwa telah terjadi genosida. 

Seperti apa penghancuran sistematis itu? 
Kita kembali ke sejarah. Sebelum Myanmar dikuasai rezim junta militer, Burma dipimpin oleh U Nu, perdana menteri pertama, pada 1948 (setelah merdeka dari penjajahan Inggris --Red.). Ketika itu, istilah Rohingya sudah dipakai untuk menyebut warga di perbatasan. 
Indonesia mungkin masih ingat U Nu, karena dia dengan Presiden Soekarno aktif di Konferensi Asia Afrika 1955. Tapi pada 1956 terjadi kudeta dan rezim militer berkuasa. Mereka menganggap Rohingya ancaman terhadap keamanan dan identitas nasional. Upaya penghancuran dimulai pada 1974. Rezim militer menerbitkan Undang Undang Imigrasi yang meniadakan suku Rohingya. 
Berdasakan UU Imigrasi dimulai sensus penduduk, tapi warga Rohingnya tidak diikutsertakan. Warga Rohingya, seketika, langsung on the spot, dinyatakan oleh rezim sebagai imigran gelap asal Bangladesh. Lalu, UU kependudukan tahun 1982 tidak mengakui Rohingnya sebagai salah satu suku resmi di Myanmar, dari 134 suku yang ada. 
Saya kenal beberapa petinggi yang ikut merumuskan UU itu, yang kini banyak di antaranya sudah meninggal. Mereka bercerita bahwa mereka memang sengaja mengeluarkan Rohingya dari daftar suku yang diakui. 

Bagaimana kondisi sekarang? Masih terjadi penghancuran sistematis? 
Sampai sekarang, kalau ada warga Rohingya yang bisa kuliah di universitas, mereka tidak boleh mengambil jurusan teknik dan kedokteran. Akibatnya, rasio dokter-pasien sangat timpang. Di Myanmar, rata-rata rasionya satu dokter untuk 700-1.000 pasien. Di Rohinghya, rasionya satu dokter untuk 13.000 pasien. Tingkat kematian bayi Rohignya sangat tinggi, lebih tinggi dibandingkan dengan tingkat kematian bayi Myanmar. 
Ini upaya untuk mengontrol jumlah populasi. Mereka juga hanya boleh memiliki dua anak. Tapi pembatasan itu tidak berlaku bagi suku lain. Mereka tidak boleh berpindah lokasi. Harus mendapat izin aparat bila hendak menikah. Ini mirip berbagai aturan yang dikeluarkan Nazi pada 1930-an terhadap Yahudi. Ini genosida. 

Mengapa rezim memilih taktik genosida perlahan? Mengapa tidak genosida secara cepat sekalian, misalnya? 
Taktik ini terbukti efektif dan menguntungkan. Kalau menguntungkan, buat apa diubah? Akibat propaganda, opini publik di Myanmar sangat menentang Rohingya. Rezim bilang ada konfik horisontal dan pemerintah justru berusaha menjadi juru damai. Dengan cap Rohingya sebagai imigran gelap, rezim bilang ke ASEAN bahwa ini masalah dalam negeri. Mereka bilang, ''Kan di negara Anda, Anda juga mengalami masalah imigran gelap.'' 
Padahal genosida bukan masalah dalam negeri. Yang terjadi, rezim ini sudah belajar bahwa mereka bisa mensubkontrakkan genosida. Tidak perlu mereka sendiri yang turun tangan. Mereka bisa mensubkontrakkan genosida ke kelompok lain di masyarakat. 

Bagaimana Anda melihat peran Indonesia, atau ASEAN dalam mengatasi hal ini? 
Indonesia adalah negara berpengaruh di ASEAN. Tapi saya bisa bilang bahwa seorang mantan menteri luar negeri Indonesia pernah cerita ke saya bahwa Indonesia justru membujuk OIC (Organisation of Islamic Cooperation - Organisasi Kerja Sama Islam) agar OIC jangan terlalu keras pada Myanmar. 

Apa rezim berhasil menggunakan sumber daya alam Myanmar sebagai alat tawar? 
Ini rezim cerdas. Berapa lama Soeharto bertahan? Tiga puluh dua tahun. Para jenderal ini berkuasa sejak 1956 dan sekarang masih berkuasa. Taktik genosida perlahan terbukti efektif. Mereka bahkan sudah seperti auto-pilot dengan taktik ini. Sekarang Myanmar mulai membuka diri terhadap investasi asing. Amerika bahkan mencabut sanksi ekonomi terhadap Myanmar tanpa syarat, yang menurut saya sebuah kesalahan. 

Bagaimana menempatkan sosok Aung San Suu Kyi dalam konflik ini? 
Aung San bisa dibilang sudah berada di kocek para jenderal. Rezim meniupkan rumor bahwa sopir pribadi Aung San seorang muslim, bahwa identitas sebagai umat Budha hanya bisa diselamatkan ketika para jenderal yang berkuasa. Sosok Aung San sebagai ikon moral sudah jatuh. 

Ada kabar terkini yang Anda dengar tentang Rohingya? 
Sekitar empat minggu lalu beberapa LSM yang terus melacak kondisi lapangan di Rakhine melaporkan sekitar 10.000 warga Rohingnya mengungsi dengan kapal. Yang menggiriskan, setelah itu tidak ada kabar lagi. Apa yang terjadi pada mereka? Mereka terdampar di mana? Sepanjang empat minggu ini tidak ada satu negara pun yang melaporkan penemuan kapal warga Rohingya. 
Lantas mereka di mana sekarang? Saya cuma bisa bayangkan bahwa di laut yang luas, apalagi dengan kapal bobrok, 10.000 pengungsi itu cuma titik kecil saja. Mereka mungkin sudah tenggelam dan kita tidak tahu. 

Basfin Siregar

The Slow Genocide of (Myanmar's) Rohingyas: Interview with Dr Zarni, Indonesia's National News Weekly, 20th Anniversary Special Issue, 24 Dec 2014

GATRA National News Weekly - Cover Page