Roots of the Stateless: Gen. Ne Win's speech on 1982 Citizenship Law

The roots of stateless-Rohingyas (Temporary Registration Certificate Holders) in Burma can be examined against the continuous migration into Rakhine State by (Rohingya)Bengali/Chittagonians from 1824 to 1978. During that period, there had been major changes that were beyond control of the affected Rohingya migrant community. In this series of discussion, I shall follow as closely as possible to the parameters of 1982 Citizenship Law, which it may have been Burmese State's view and projection of this migrant community.


The main events having impact on Rohingyas found to be the Second World War, the independence of Burma and India and the separation of British India as two states. Then again, the emergence of Bangladesh as a new state in 1971 had also implications on this community. Within Burma, there also had been change of several governments within this period (1948-1978).

As I have mentioned, the major source for stateless-Rohingyas is those Bengali/Chittagonian who migrated to Rakhine State after 1948. There is a report on significant number of Bengali/Chittagonian migrated during and after Mujahid rebellion of 1950 - 1961 . This group of migrants was effectively left out from the processes that offered by the 1982 Citizenship Law.

The existence of the group was vehemently denied by some pro-Rohingya advocates. Succssive Burmese Governments or, even the sources in Bangladesh, have never explicitly mention about this particular group. We can, however, examine this case from interpreting cryptic political messages by the governments and reading out the telltale signs by the Rohingya community.


The first indication on this Rohingya (Bengali/Chittagonian) group that had been 'intentionally' left out of Burmese citizenship process can be found in General Ne Win's speech delivered on October 1982.

The personality General Ne Win is described as somewhat reclusive but very powerful man at that time. He had rarely made public speech throughout his reign as a supreme military leader. Explaining laws and policies by military regime was unheard of in those days. General Ne Win was also known to be xenophobic (anti-foreigners) and had racist attitude towards indian migrants.


However, when I've carefully looked at his speech without prejudice, there are quite a few surprising things. Firstly, on the delivery of this speech, General Ne Win had carefully chosen his words, drafting and redrafting the speech before delivery. In particular, he asked Burmese people to be magnanimous towards these migrants. He also expressed his concerns about the predicaments of these migrants (1824-1948) as, " ... if we are to deal with them accordingly, they would be in great trouble with nowhere to go because they have lost contact with their native places."

General Ne Win also acknowledged on the different types of citizenship, but the Law isn't designed the indifinite perpetuation of these second-class citizens, i.e. Associate & Naturalized. These types of 2nd class citizens are to disappear over the time. On this, General Ne Win said: "... I would also like to tell our true citizens, the Burmese, that they should not treat such persons (i.e migrants/ed.) arrogantly, saying they came from abroad or they are guests, but should realise that one day they will become one of us and all will be travelling in the same boat." Remember, this is THE General Ne Win, a military dictator and supreme leader of his time, who said even to the 1988 protestors of own Burmese flesh and blood like, "When the Army shoot, will shoot straight and they won't shoot into the air" and then ruthlessly put down its own people. Given such character of Gen. Ne Win, this speech is suprising at all and that, in this modern days contexts, may even said to be "Politically Correct".


However, the cryptic message on the measures taken against Rohingya (Bengali/Chittagonian) who entered Rakhine State after 1948 was seen as: "... There were some irregularities with regard to grant citizenship to persons before Independence; and have not persons arriving in Burma after Independence in 1948, also been given citizenship? .... We cannot look on with folded arms of cases of grants of citizenship to those who had arrived in Burma after Independence." This is unmistakeable sign that the Burmese government of that time was aware about the existence of this group and effectively excluded from the 1982 Citizenship processes.


What may have prompted such measures, we must also look at the telltale signs of Rohingya community itself. In fact, the two communities on both side of borders, i.e. Rohingyas in Rakhine State and Bengali/Chittagonians on Bangladesh, have been closely linked. Nowadays, the displaced Rohingyas are tolerated on Bangladeshi soil, even upto some 200,000+ are said to be 'symbotically' surviving within the Bengali/Chittagonian community. Such closeness of the two communities was also mentioned and even cautioned against by General Aung Gyi on his 1961 speech.

We can therefore, only guessed as to what may have happened during Bangladesh's Great Famine (1973-1977) immediately after the independence of Bangladesh (1971). During the Liberation war of Bangladesh, a trickle of war refugees had already been on Burmese side of the border. In 1971, there are more than 10,000 war refugees from Bangladesh officially registered with Burmese immigration (para. 110, U Shwe Zan, Influx Viruses ). To be understood was that these were the Bengali/Chittagonians who, otherwise, cannot be found any support from within the then existing Rohingya community. Since the Bengali/Chittagonian had taken side with Pakistan during the war of liberation in 1971, we can also expect the political pressure that may have exerted on the Bengali/Chittagonian community. These can all be considered as "push factor" for illegal migrations, which leading up to the period of 1978 expulsions.


Whenever we see discussions about the movements of population, in our case Rohingyas, normally focuses on the state security, religious expansion or illegal invasion. At the community level, however, population movements simply means people in search for survival. We must always look on both sides, State and People, with an open mind. When you open your mind and properly have a look, surprising to see even Burma's most ruthless dictator had once made a "politically correct" speech, so to say!

In Solidarity,
U Ne Oo.

COMMENT #2 by Habib B

Historically, Burmese politicians and central rulers who are always considering superriror and taking the control of the state, are obviously appeared to be dishonest to minorities despite minorities are living under their control and obeying their orders.. Becasue of they are powerful or very tacticful, they are championing in every chapter, act and implement as they want and disadvantagious by claiming security and safety.

The outcome will never be respectful, nor fair without initiation of the community's plights. Becasue in principles or in democratic role, it is the community who can only decide their status.

We Rohingya have no power nor rights at all in Burma affairs so we probably seeing similar or more domination by elite group.. They would introduce more raids onto the group who they don't want.

Forget about 1982 draconian act. If this constitution's measurement is to tackle citizernship issues then why not allowing to recourse to become new citizen under this new citizenship act?

Indeed under their policy, all muslims are being considered as migrants comprising Rohingyas from Mayu regions(NRS), Rohingyans and Kamans from Southern Arakan regions(SRS) and those from central Burma as well.. So it just targerting race and religion not the intruders..

It is nothing more than the govt's secrect task to establish the Latest Emperor with one race, one religion through Buddization and Burmanization pogroms. That is why now Thein Sein govt recognizes only 133 races which actually 135 under previous govt and 143 under U Nu and 176 during British Rule in 1923..

I find there is no national reformation nor concilliation for Rohingya except liberation.. It is time for all minorities must come together to overthrow such elitism in Burma..

with reagrds!

COMMENT #1 Habib B

Dear U Ne Oo,

I am quite interested in your research..

Bangladeshi Rakhines migration into Arakan also need to be counted into. For eg, Many Bangladeshi citizen Rakhines including top perpetrators like- MP Dr. Aye Maung and Sayadaw U Pinya Zya Ra (monk) who was imprisoned for similar riot creation in Sittwe during Feb 2001 after entered from Bangladesh.

Not a surprise fact that population grown in Mayu regions is because of Rohingya devotees those fled during communal riots, political occasions and sectarian attacks, were not resettle in the villages of where they were driven out but they were easily and forcefully relocated near by where majority Rohingya lived (Mayu regions) on the time of their repatriation..

FYI: "Briefing the Rohingya Crisis on World Refugee Day (20 June 2014)"