Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Rohingya Discrimination Is Myanmar Policy, Report Says
By Shibani Mahtani
Feb. 25, 2014 12:35 a.m. ET
YANGON—A report released Tuesday alleges that the Myanmar government has in place official policies that deny Rohingya Muslims the same rights as others in the country, including population control measures and restrictions on their movements.
Released by Fortify Rights, a Southeast Asia-based human rights organization, the report also highlights other discriminatory policies applied to the Rohingya, including restrictions on marriage, childbirth and construction of places of worship. The group said the 79-page report, "Policies of Persecution," is based primarily on 12 leaked official documents and a review of public records.
The report, for example, highlights a government document that states that Rohingya Muslims with permission to marry must "limit the number of children, in order to control the birth rate so that there is enough food and shelter." Security forces, according to Fortify Rights, were also empowered by government officials to do spot checks on Rohingya homes and to confirm women are birth mothers of children, including by forcing them to breast feed in the presence of soldiers.
The Rohingya population—concentrated in Rakhine state, which borders Bangladesh—are widely hated in Myanmar, which is predominantly Buddhist, and seen as foreign and often illegal immigrants. Myanmar's 1982 citizenship law doesn't name the Rohingya a legitimate ethnic minority group, and denies them most citizenship rights. The Rohingya say they have been living in the country for generations.
Violent religious clashes in recent years have forced most Rohingya from their homes and into squalid camps where more than 140, 000 still live in dire conditions, dependent on humanitarian aid for their survival. At least 150 have also been killed in these clashes, including in other parts of the country where anti-Muslim violence has spread.
Representatives of Myanmar's central government didn't respond to multiple requests for comment.
Win Myaing, spokesman for the Rakhine state government, told The Wall Street Journal that restrictions "for population control, marriage and birth rate" were implemented under the Nasaka—a controversial border security force established in 1992, mostly to monitor immigration movements between Bangladesh and Myanmar.
Nasaka, he added, prohibited the Rohingya from traveling between villages, but that policy has since been eased to allow those with a Foreign Registration Card to move freely.
Nasaka was disbanded by Myanmar President Thein Sein last July. Human rights groups, however, say that the discriminatory practices continue.
Mr. Win Myaing, responding to their claims, said that the Muslim population is sometimes "weak in respecting and obeying the law" and therefore need more scrutiny.
"Most people point out human rights issues in Myanmar for those people, the Bengalis," he said, using the term most government officials use to describe the Rohingya, implying that they are from Bangladesh. "[But] we also have a question on whether they can obey and respect the existing law while living here."
He added that any restrictions on movements now are also designed to protect the Rohingya population after bloody clashes since 2012. The group, which lives in heavily-policed camps and shelters, are frequently open to abuse and intimidation by the Buddhist community, which has also started targeting human rights groups working with Rohingya.
"The two communities live separately, from the time of conflict till now," Mr. Win Myaing said.
The treatment of Myanmar's minority Muslims—officially 4% of the country's population, though said to be significantly higher—is a key concern to diplomats and human rights groups in the country. Violence and reports of human rights abuses continue to stain Myanmar's image as it moves from pariah state to an engaged member of the international community, and is of concern to the country's newfound bilateral partners and supporters, particularly the U.S.
Speaking last Wednesday at a press conference after a six-day visit across Myanmar last week, Tomas Ojea Quintana, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, said Muslim communities in Rakhine state are "segregated from Buddhist communities and completely restricted in their freedom of movement."
These restrictions, he added, impact "a range of other human rights, including access to livelihoods, health care and education, and entrenches the pattern of systematic discrimination against the Rohingya community."
—Myo Myo contributed to this article.
Write to Shibani Mahtani at email@example.com