Excerpted From: Omar Rana, Similar Trails: A Comparison of the Legalized Discrimination of Indigenous Communities Paralleling the Rohingya of Myanmar and the Native Americans of the United States, 20 Rutgers Race & the Law Review 175 (2019) (Student Note) (211 Footnotes) (Full Document)
The Rohingya are a religious and ethnic minority group who are indigenous to the Western Rakhine state of Myanmar. For most of Myanmar's post-colonial history, the Rohingya have faced severe persecution. This persecution has been legitimized in law through constitutional law and government policies. Today, the situation of the Rohingya has become so precarious that it has been described as ethnic cleansing by many human rights groups and has sparked outrage by many nations and even terrorist organizations like the Taliban. The laws and policies that have strangled the Rohingya's rights in Myanmar show a pattern that is consistent with many other indigenous groups, a pattern that can be seen in the United States with the treatment of Native American tribes.
This Note will examine the legalized discrimination of Rohingya people in Myanmar and compare it to the legalized discrimination Native Americans in this country and other indigenous groups worldwide have faced and show if a similar pattern exists.
Part I will define and provide context for the two indigenous groups that will be compared.
Part II and Part III will examine how the Myanmar and American legal system and governmental bodies have utilized similar mechanisms under nationality law and property law to legalize discrimination of these indigenous people. Part II will analyze similar discriminations through nationality laws in Myanmar and the United States and Part III will analyze discriminatory property laws in each country.
Finally, Part IV will conclude with a summation of the pattern that exists between the discrimination of Rohingya, Native Americans.
Both the United States Government and Myanmar Government have used very similar tactics under nationality law and property law to legitimize their discrimination of the indigenous groups that reside within their borders (Native Americans and Rohingya respectively). Through nationality law both governments have vehemently denied access to citizenship to these two groups despite their long and deep historical roots in the land. Both nations use othering tactics to justify their lack of providing citizenship by describing their respective indigenous group as foreign or uncivilized. Both nations have provided avenues to citizenship for the respective indigenous group through means to assimilate them into the majority cultural and silence their indigenous culture.
Through property laws both nations denounced property titles of the respective indigenous groups and tied property rights directly to the citizenship status of the individual, which left out the indigenous group. Lack of property rights for the indigenous groups allowed the government to legally steal and desecrate both land and personal property from the indigenous group. Myanmar and the United States have validated their actions by saying they are doing what they do to protect the indigenous people.
As time passes by, indigenous rights are still very much a question that we as a society must grapple with. The discrimination of the Rohingya and the Native Americans have a lot of similarities. Two main similarities are their discriminations have been legitimized through law and their discrimination is ongoing. It should be noted that Myanmar is still a young post-colonial nation. A nation who one of its indigenous groups, the Rohingya, are facing a demise using the same tactics that were used here in the United States. Tactics that, as seen recently as Dakota Access Pipeline, have been seen as recent as the present. As Myanmar is a newer nation, it is important to look at the legally similar discrimination of fellow indigenous groups, like the Native Americans, when discussing the long-term solutions to the Rohingya crisis. Avoiding doing so will not create sustainable solutions to the same continued discrimination.
In the 1800s the Cherokee Native Americans marched in the trail of tears, which has been seen as one of the most horrific moments in American history. Arguably, Native Americans in the United States are still marching. Today, the Rohingya are marching their own trail. It needs to be acknowledged that similar legal issues are at the root of the demise of international indigenous communities around the world. They are both marching similar trails.
Omar Alam Rana is a Juris Doctorate Candidate at Rutgers Law School in Newark, New Jersey. He is originally from Oklahoma and of South Asian and Native American descent.