Burma Violence

An armed police officer guards as Rohingya Muslims stand behind him at a refugee camp in Sittwe, capital of Rakhine State, western Burma. Pic: AP.

By Mark Inkey

A new report has revealed official Burmese government policies that ‘systematically persecute’ Rohingya Muslims by denying them basic human rights, including restrictions on movement, marriage, family, health, and privacy.

The report, ‘Policies of Persecution: Ending Abusive State Policies Against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’ by Fortify Rights, a human rights NGO, is based on 12 leaked policy documents, reviews of public records and interviews with Rohingyas in Burma and Thailand.

It claims that official policies are designed to make life so intolerable for the Rohingya that they will leave the country, as many have done in recent years.

Restrictions placed on the Rohingya include restrictions on marriage, childbirth, movement, home repairs and the construction of places of worship. Security forces are also authorized to use abusive measures to enforce these regulations.

“The impacts of these restrictions are severe and have been well-documented for decades, but the official orders have been kept out of the public domain until now,” said Matthew Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights, in a statement.

The report publishes eight previously unpublished government documents relating to Rakhine state dating from 1993 to 2008. It also bases findings on four government documents published in March 2013 that relate to Muslims outside Rakhine State. These documents are unpublished due to security concerns.

Despite official denials of such a policy, regional Order 1/2005 limits the number of children Rohingyas can have “in order to control the birth rate so that there is enough food and shelter.” It also forbids unmarried Rohingyas from having children.

This law has led to a strict two-child policy since 2005 for Rohingyas in the townships of Maungdaw and Buthidaung in northern Rakhine State and resulted in women having unsafe abortions with serious health consequences, including death.

Another document details restrictions on marriage faced by Rohingya who have to apply for permission to marry, unlike members of other ethnic groups. Rohingyas who want to marry have to pass 10 requirements, a process that is often humiliating and financially prohibitive.

“The government is systematically persecuting Rohingya on the basis of ethnicity, religion, and at times gender,” Matthew Smith said. “Rohingya women in particular find themselves in the crosshairs of these targeted policies, facing severe discrimination because they’re women as well as Rohingya Muslims.”

Other documents detail restrictions on freedom of movement for Rohingyas. They are not allowed to travel within or between townships without authorization and travelling out of state is essentially forbidden as it requires extra authorization which is almost impossible to obtain.

Rohingyas are even forbidden from going to other areas to get essential healthcare, the report reveals.

Other documents obtained by Fortify Rights explicitly provide for criminal punishments, including imprisonment and fines, for any Rohingya who violate the restrictions.

Fortify Rights believe that these restrictions constitute crimes against humanity under the Rome statute. They are calling for an international investigation into human rights abuses, including abusive restrictions, against the Rohingya.

Matthew Smith said: “The reality is that the official state policies and practices against Rohingya are plainly abusive.

“The international community should unequivocally condemn these policies and practices and work with the government of Myanmar [Burma] to ensure they’re abolished.”

** The release of the Fortify Rights report at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand in Bangkok on Tuesday was preceded by a showcase of the powerful photography of Greg Constantine which we featured here in 2012 in a post by Francis Wade: Through a lens: The Rohingya, and the scourge of statelessness