Arakan with an area of about 20,000 square miles was long famous and widely known to Arabs, Dutch, Portuguese and British traders as a centre of international trade and commerce and is situated in the tri-border region between modern day –Burma, Bangladesh and India. Although it is made a part of Burma now, it had never been so in the past. Culturally, socially, economically and politically the people of Arakan were independent for centuries. Chiefly for its geographical location, it had not only remained independent for the most part of history, but also endeavoured to expand its territory in the surrounding tracts whenever opportunity came. Completely cut off from Burma by high mountain range of Arakan Yoma, the people of Arakan neither drank from the same water with Burmans nor dependant on them for trade or commerce. Not a single river flows from Burma to Arakan and Arakan to Burma.
Whatever relation Arakan maintained politically, geographically and historically with Bengal, history has proved beyond any doubt that Bengal never had any aggressive design on Arakan. According to DGE Hall, a modern historian, ‘there was time to time Burmese and Mon interference before the establishment of Mrohang by Narameik Hla in 1433.’And it was by the invasion and occupation of Burmese king, Bodawpaya, in 1784, Arakan’s history as an independent kingdom came to an end. After 40 years of Burmese rule the British colonialist annexed Arakan to the British India in the first Anglo- Burma war of 1824 and it remained under British administration till Burmese independence on January 4, 1948.
January 4 was marked in the history of Arakan as the calamitous day that has lost of the legitimate right to independence of the people of Arakan by transferring of their sovereignty to the so-called Independent sovereign republic which was to be known as the ‘Union of Burma’. It was a joint-stock company of the old-colonialism with neo-colonialism, a joint venture between the British and the coalition Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League (AFPFL) which was to form Burma’s first independent government, to fabricate the artificial and false nationhood of ‘Burma’. And in the process the people of Arakan lost their right to independence, on account of these monstrous imperialists’ creation. This imperialist imposed administrative ’unity’ or ‘nationality’ has no legal validity under the Decolonisation Law, and they cannot, legally deny the right to self-determination, and the right to separate legal existence of the people of Arakan.
Resolution 2625-XXV of the General Assembly of the United Nations that now constitutes a part of International Law regarding decolonisation stated that all colonial territories have juridical status that is separate and distinct from the colonialist country, and from other colonial territories, and this separate juridical status remains as long as the people of each of this colonial territory have not yet exercised their right of self-determination. The Britishers violated this principle of separate juridical status of colonial territories, when they transferred their illegal ‘sovereignty’ over Arakan to the Burma Union.
Another fundamental principle is that a colonialist power has no sovereign right over a colonial territory, that it cannot transfer sovereignty to other power regarding territory that has also been trampled on. Sovereignty over a colonial territory resides with the people of that colony and not with the colonialist power. This has been stipulated in the UN Resolution 1514-XV. British’s transfer of ‘sovereignty’ over Arakan to Burma was therefore downright illegal. Britain has no sovereign power over Arakan. Nemo dat quod non habet. ‘No one gives what he does not have.’
The concept of ‘Union of Burma’ which was invented by the colonialists, and was based on the sanctity of the illegal boundaries of the colonial empire that was established by conquests. It is a state that is based on colonialist conquered territories without reference to the conquered peoples, their cultures, languages, histories, identities, and inalienable rights. Union of Burma is thus admittedly a state based solely on British colonialism — without decolonisation. M. Dillard, judge of the International Court of Justice, had stated that it was the people who should determine the destiny of a territory and not the territory should determine the destiny of the people. In the case of Arakan, the British conquered territory determined the destiny of the people of Arakan.
There can be no compromise between the concept of ‘Union of Burma and the principle of de-colonisation, because the one goes directly against the other. Decolonisation requires liquidation of all colonial empire with specific steps and definitive procedures, but ‘Union of Burma exists on the principle of the total preservation of the territorial integrity of the previous colonial empire; an empire is not liquidated if its territorial integrity is preserved. Thus ‘Union of Burma’ is still an un-liquidated and undecolonised colonial empire with Burman replacing Britishers as the colonial masters.
In addition to these, there is no legality and juridical values of the Treaty on the transfer of ‘sovereignty’ between British and Burma signed on October 7, 1947, especially concerning the transfer of ‘sovereignty’ over Arakan to Burman. Firstly, the glaring incompatibility of the Treaty with the decolonisation principles of the UN that had been imposed universally. Secondly, the clear violation by this Treaty of the right of self-determination of the people of Arakan. Thirdly, the Treaty was signed neither by representation of the people of Arakan nor got mandate from the people of Arakan to do so. Fourthly, the power and authority of the people of Arakan was arbitrarily ignored in the Treaty. Finally, the transfer took place without consulting the people of Arakan by plebiscite or referendum, and doing it outside all established procedures of the United Nations Decolonisation Law and precedents set up by the International Court of Justice.
It is irony of fate that the portion of time preceding Burmese independence was a very dark period for the people of Arakan. The people of Arakan hardly believe that the Burman governs them, but they strongly feel that they are colonised. After being integrated into Burma the people of Arakan have been a part of unitary state of the Union of Burma during which time they have been subjected to brutal and inhuman Treatment; human rights abuses, killings, rapes, ignorance, poverty and social injustice and have been subjected to virtual ethnic and cultural genocide.
By N. Islam
April 2000