Statelessness is the most extreme example of when a state denies a community fundamental rights to have a nationality. The photographs show us the by-product of what happens when a people are stripped of these rights.
The Rohingya, a Muslim minority group, have been subjected to persecution by the Myanmar state for decades. The persecution faced by the Rohingya has taken the form of a deprivation of the most basic human rights, resulting in statelessness and outright genocide. The International State Crime Initiative (ISCI) hosted a week of events (27th -31st October) with the aim of raising awareness of the plight of the Rohingya.
The photography exhibition, featuring a collection of Greg Constantine’s photographs of the Rohingya people, provided a visual realisation of the themes of citizenship, belonging and statelessness. Al Jazeera’s investigative documentary “Genocide Agenda” premiered in the ISCI’s Rohingya week, and complemented the exhibition by exposing the measures of the Myanmar state that led to the displacement of the Rohingya. The purpose of this article is to explore the photographs that tell stories of displacement and statelessness, with the context of the genocidal strategy of the Myanmar state revealed in the documentary.
Rakhine Buddhists at an Anti-Rohingya demonstration in Sittwe on the 22nd November 2014. The military leaders of the Burmese regime used their power to create tension between Buddhists and Muslims. The Rakhine Buddhists consider themselves a distinct ethnic group, with many rejecting claims that Rohingya are indigenous to Myanmar. Radical Buddhists, such as Ashin Wirathu, who featured on the cover of the Time magazine as “The Face of Buddhist Terror”, fuel such violence and protests with their hate speech.
A protest in Sittwe attracting several thousand people, protesting against the Secretary General of the UN using the word ‘Rohingya’. The images capturing the protests are important for understanding the larger narrative. This photo shows us how the Myanmar Government’s policies are manifesting into physical aggression. Holding discriminatory views is not limited to the protestors, there was plenty of support from bystanders witnessed by Constantine, which is what he found to be most disturbing. Genocide Agenda revealed that an official training programme for officers in Myanmar used the phrase “Kowtow Kalars”, translating to ‘Dirty Muslims’ in the presentation slides. The rise of Anti-Rohingya sentiments are not surprising when it is the state that continues to institutionalise islamophobia.
A woman saying goodbye to her 15-year-old son who passed away in 2012 after being sick for weeks. The mother is quoted as saying her son was born in Burma without an identity, and died in Bangladesh without an identity. Despite living in Bangladesh, Rohingya continue to suffer from a lack of access to healthcare. Having no recognised form of identity, as in this case, can deprive even children of basic human rights.
How photography is being used to reveal the plight of the Rohingya:
Statelessness is the most extreme example of when a state denies a community fundamental rights to have a nationality. The photographs show us the by-product of what happens when a people are stripped of these rights. Most of us take citizenship and belonging for granted, and find it difficult to comprehend that there are millions of people out there who do not belong, who are stateless in every possible way. By capturing photos of the displaced Rohingya, Constantine ensures that the human voice of the Rohingya is not lost.
All Images contained in this post are images of the photographs taken by Greg Constantine.
Watch Al Jazeera’s investigative documentary- “Genocide Agenda”
Report by the ISCI providing evidence of a state-led campaign of genocide against the Rohingya http://statecrime.org/data/2015/10/ISCI-Rohingya-Report-PUBLISHED-VERSION.pdf
A collection of Greg Constantine’s photography of the Rohingya people http://www.exiledtonowhere.com/#s=0&mi=1&pt=0&pi=1&p=-1&a=0&at=0
“Persecution of the Rohingya Muslims”, a report by Fortify Rights http://www.fortifyrights.org/downloads/Yale_Persecution_of_the_Rohingya_October_2015.pdf