HUMAN rights group Amnesty International has accused the government of Burma (Myanmar) of creating apartheid and an “open-air prison” in between Rohingya Muslims and the rest of the population in its restive, northern Rakhine State.
In a report entitled Caged without a roof released Tuesday, Amnesty documented its investigation into the “root causes” of the Rohingya crisis, which has seen more than 620,000 people flee from Rakhine into Bangladesh since Aug 25.
“The Myanmar authorities are keeping Rohingya women, men and children segregated and cowed in a dehumanising system of apartheid. Their rights are violated daily and the repression has only intensified in recent years,” said Amnesty’s Senior Director for Research Anna Neistat.
The report claims that this is part of a “systemic attack against a civilian population” which constitutes “crimes against humanity as defined in international law”.
The United Nations has called violence in the Rakhine in recent months under so-called “clearing operations” by the Tatmadaw army of Burma and the subsequent exodus as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. The military has been widely accused of mass killings, arson and rape.
Caged without a roof documented various alleged human rights violations against the Rohingya community in Rakhine State including the denial of the right to Burmese nationality, “extreme restrictions” on freedom of movement, “wide-ranging” violations of economic and social rights, as well as “systemic social and political exclusion”.
A law imposed across the state dictates that “Bengali races” – the Burmese government refuses to acknowledge them by the name Rohingya – must carry special permits for travel between towns. Government officials regularly exhibit “openly racist behaviour”, it said.
“Almost every institution of the state, at the township, district, state and even Myanmar-wide levels, is involved in the discrimination and segregation of the Rohingya community and Muslims generally in Rakhine State,” read the report.
Moreover, Amnesty said conditions have become drastically worse since 2012 when Muslim and Buddhist communities clashed across the Rakhine.
“This system appears designed to make Rohingyas’ lives as hopeless and humiliating as possible. The security forces’ brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing in the past three months is just another extreme manifestation of this appalling attitude,” said Neistat.
Burma and Bangladesh are reportedly working towards returning refugees to the Rakhine.
“We hope that this would result in an MOU signed quickly, which would enable us to start the safe and voluntarily return of all of those who have gone across the border,” said Burma’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday.
Amnesty’s report said, however, that discriminatory legislation must be overturned and human rights abuses stopped prior to any repatriation of refugees.
“The root causes of the current crisis must be addressed to end the cycle of abuse and make it possible for Rohingya refugees to return to a situation where their rights and dignity are respected,” added Neistat.
“We don’t have access to healthcare, to education, there are restrictions on travelling,” one 34-year-old Rohingya villager told Amnesty.
“We are struggling for survival, our children are struggling for their future… It’s like being caged without a roof”