Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Article Index

By Aman Ullah

“Muslims of Arakan certainly belong to one of the indigenous races of Burma, which you represent. In fact, there are no pure indigenous races in Burma and that if you do not belong to indigenous races Burma; we also cannot be taken as indigenous races of Burma.” President Saw Shwe Thaik,

The International Day of the World's Indigenous People falls on 9 August as this was the date of the first meeting in 1982 of the United Nations Working Group of Indigenous Populations of the Sub-commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities of the Commission on Human Rights.

Every year, 9 August is commemorated as the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. The day is celebrated with special events around the world, including at United Nations Headquarters in New York.

This year's theme puts a spotlight on the issue of indigenous peoples' access to health care services, as improving indigenous peoples’ health remains a critical challenge for indigenous peoples, Member States and the United Nations.

In a message to mark the Day, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “On this International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, I call on the international community to ensure that they are not left behind.  To create a better, more equitable future, let us commit to do more to improve the health and well-being of indigenous peoples.”

Who are Indigenous?

The adjective indigenous is derived from the two Ancient Greek words indo= endo/ "ενδό(ς)", meaning inside/within, and genous= (γέννoυς), meaning birth/born and also race,  etymology meaning "native" or "born within".

James Anaya, former Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, has defined indigenous peoples as "living descendants of pre-invasion inhabitants of lands now dominated by others. They are culturally distinct groups that find themselves engulfed by other settler societies born of forces of empire and conquest".

They form at present non-dominant sectors of society and are determined to preserve, develop and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, as the basis of their continued existence as peoples, in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal system.

In 1972 the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations (WGIP) accepted as a preliminary definition a formulation put forward by Mr. José R. Martínez-Cobo, Special Rapporteur on Discrimination against Indigenous Populations. This definition has some limitations, because the definition applies mainly to pre-colonial populations, and would likely exclude other isolated or marginal societies.

“Indigenous communities, peoples, and nations are those that, having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the societies now prevailing in those territories, or parts of them. They form at present non-dominant sectors of society and are determined to preserve, develop, and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, as the basis of their continued existence as peoples, in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal systems.”

Thus, Indigenous peoples were the descendants of those peoples that inhabited a territory prior to colonization or formation of the present state.

Rohingyas are one of the Indigenous peoples of Burma

The Rohingyas are Muslims who are living in Arakan generation after generation for    centuries after centuries. They are nationals as well as an indigenous community of Burma. They are equal in every way with other communities of the country. Their arrival in Arakan has pre-dated the arrival of many other peoples and races now residing in Arakan and other parts of Burma.  They developed from different stocks of peoples and concentrated in a common geographical location forming their own society with a consolidated population in Arakan well before the Burman invasion in 1784.

Mr. M.A. Gaffer, from Buthidaung, was a member of 1947 Constitutional Assembly, an Upper House MP from 1951 to 1960 and also a Parliamentary Secretary in Health Ministry.

He wrote, in his Memorandum, which was presented to the Regional Autonomy Enquiry Commission dated the 24th May, 1949, that “We the Rohingyas of Arakan are a nation. We maintain and hold that Rohingyas and Arakanse are two major nations in Arakan. We are a nation of nearly nine lakhs more than enough population for a nation; and what is more we are a nation according to any definition of a nation with our own distinctive culture and civilization, language and literature, art and architecture, names and nomenclature, sense of value and proportion, legal laws and moral codes, customs and calendar, history and traditions aptitude and ambitions, in short, we have our distinctive outlook on life and of life. By all canons of international law the Rohingyas are a nation in Arakan."

The Rohingyas  are a group of people who believes that they are similar; because of this similarity, they believe that their fates are intertwined. That is they have a common identity and a belief in a shared future through collective action. They have acted together in the past, they are acting together in the present, and they will act together in the future.   As a collective agent, they are participants in a common venture. Through common action, they want to   create a common future, where their people can live out their distinctive life ways in freedom, safety and dignity. As a nation they are jointly committed to create a space for people like them.
Mr. Sultan Ahmed, from Maung Daw, was a member of 1947 Constitutional Assembly, a Member of Parliament from 1951 to 1960 and was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Minorities, Ministry of Relief and Resettlement, and the Ministry of Social and Religious Affairs, with the status of Deputy Minister. He was one of the longest serving parliamentary secretaries.

According to him, ‘when section 11 of the constitution of the Union of Burma was being framed, a doubt as to whether the Muslims of North Arakan fell under the section of sub-clauses (I) (II) and (III), arose. In effect an objection was put in to have the doubt cleared in respect of the term “indigenous” as used in the constitution. But it was withdrawn on the understanding and assurance of the President of the Constitutional Assembly, at present His Excellency the President of the Union of Burma, who, when approached for clarification with this question, said, “Muslims of Arakan certainly belong to one of the indigenous races of Burma, which you represent. In fact, there are no pure indigenous races in Burma and that if you do not belong to indigenous races Burma; we also cannot be taken as indigenous races of Burma.” Being satisfied with his kind explanation, the objection put in was withdrawn.’