The Realities of the Rohingya Genocide Preserved on Arweave

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For the Rohingya in Myanmar, preserving their culture and history by permanently archiving accounts of decades of ill-treatments they have suffered due to being stateless and bits of evidence that prove their identities at a time when it’s a subject of dispute is as important as fleeing  from systematic oppression to safety.

Described by international organisations as victims of genocide and ethnic cleansing, the Rohingya is regarded by the United Nations as the most persecuted ethnic minority in world. Despite having lived in the independent Arakan State since the 1430s before it was conquered by the Burmese empire in 1784 and its population expanding in 1824 due to the influx of muslim migrant workers when the British conquered the empire, the Rohingya who are mostly muslims were not recognised as part of the ethnic groups in Myanmar when it got independence from Britain in 1948. In 1982, a law revoking the citizenship of the Rohingya was passed which resulted in denial of  basic rights, restriction from taking up certain professions and exclusion from the census.

Decades of violent crackdowns by Myanmar authorities with the most brutal occurring in 2017, led to Rohingya communities being torched, women and girls being raped, families separated and extrajudicial killings, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA). Global conflict tracker estimated that 128,500 Rohingya are internally displaced and 733,343 people have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh where they live in sordid conditions as refugees under constant threats of fire outbreak and flooding.

The Rohingya project was created to improve the fate of the Rohingya by providing technology-driven financial and social inclusion. In the last one year, one of the initiatives in the project, the R-archive, a digital repository built on Arweave’s decentralised and immutable storage system  to preserve documents of historical value to the Rohingya people including passports, school certificates, old photographs and civil service certificates went through a pilot stage and is set to scale up in coming months. The permanent storage technology was provided by Arweave through a grant. Roddenberry Foundation and Datarella also contributed to developing the archiving.

During a three months document collection and digitisation phase, 42 documents supplemented with 25 audio and video testimonies by the owners of the documents providing context such as the ease or struggles of attaining them were uploaded. Rohingya people in Myanmar were exempted from the collection to prevent them from being victimised. In the next 18 months, R-archive aims to upload 1000 documents.

 “The project is important because it digitises documents from the Rohingya people who now settle in Malaysia, Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia, after fleeing their homeland in Arakan,” Muhammed Noor, a Rohingya and co-founder of the Rohingya Project, whose parents left Burma in the 1960s, told Arweave News. “These documents are of extreme value because they prove our claim that Rohingya belongs to Arakan and have settled in it for not just a few decades but for centuries ago.”

Noor said the Rohingya people possess documents, some of them issued during the colonial era and by the Myanmar authority prior 1980, the R-archive was launched to preserve the documents in digital format on Arweave’s Blockweave, which functions like blockchain.

On the decentralised storage platforms where the contents will be accessible through regular browsers and preserved for 200 years at a fraction of the cost of storing on centralised and cloud based platforms, could be a resource to discern the Rohingya culture and used as evidence in legal claims.

“This project will be a major step for the Rohingya people to preserve their culture and heritage which is at risk of being lost or destroyed,” said Saqib Sheikh, project director, Rohingya Project. “They also represent a form of evidence of the Rohingya people’s active participation in Burma’s civic history and of the human rights violations perpetrated against the Rohingya people by denying them their rights of representation and link to their homeland along with violence and persecution.”

A significant part of the survival and quest for justice by the Rohingya is dependent on the R-archive and for the team, replicating the remarkable success in documenting and archiving the Rwandan genocide by other initiatives is a goal.  

“The ultimate gain of the Burmese regime is to tell the world that the Rohingya people do not exist. This is the battle we are fighting. It is important for the Rohingya people to archive our history and documents and rebuild everything the Burmese government has destroyed in the last 40 to 50 years so that our people can at least stand on their feet,” Noor said. 

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