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Myanmar: Abolish Abusive Restrictions & Practices Against Rohingya Muslims


Press Release
February 25, 2014
Leaked government documents
reveal severe violations of human rights of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar,
including restrictions on the freedom of movement, marriage, childbirth, and
other aspects of daily life in northern Rakhine State, Fortify Rights said in a
new report released today. The report implicates state and central government
officials as perpetrators of the crime against humanity of persecution. Crimes
against humanity are among the most serious crimes under international law.
“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. “This architecture of abuse contributes to political instability and
violence and must be lifted immediately.”
The 79-page report, Policies of Persecution: Ending Abusive State Policies Against
Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar
, is based primarily on the analysis of
12 leaked official documents and a review of public records, as well as
interviews with Rohingya and others in Myanmar and Thailand. The documents
published in the report reveal restrictions that deny Rohingya basic human
rights, including the rights to nondiscrimination, freedom of movement,
marriage, family, health, and privacy. All of the restrictions and enforcement
methods described in the report appear to be in effect at the time of writing.
“Regional Order 1/2005,” obtained by Fortify Rights, lays the
foundation for a two-child policy enforced in Maungdaw and Buthidaung
townships, requiring Rohingya “who have permission to marry” to “limit the
number of children, in order to control the birth rate so that there is enough
food and shelter.” This order—which in practice translates to a strict
two-child policy— also prohibits Rohingya from having children out of wedlock.
Confidential enforcement guidelines, also obtained by Fortify
Rights, authorize security forces to use abusive methods to implement these
“population control” measures. One document instructs officials to confirm
women are the birth mothers of infants and to accurately record the number of
children in each family when entering private homes unannounced. The guideline
urges the authorities to force Rohingya women to breastfeed infants in their
presence “if there is suspicion of someone being substituted” in the family
registry.
Some state and central government officials showed public
support for the Rohingya two-child policy in northern Rakhine State last year,
while others offered the international community categorical denials that
childbirth restrictions ever existed. Information obtained by Fortify Rights
not only confirms the policies existed but also indicates they are still in
effect.
Birth restrictions violate the human rights of Rohingya couples
to marry, found a family, and determine for themselves the number and spacing
of their children. Fears of penalties for unsanctioned pregnancies have caused
Rohingya to flee the country or undergo illegal and unsafe abortions, often
leading to untreated health consequences and even death, Fortify Rights said.
“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.”
Confidential documents published in Policies of
Persecution
 reveal
that official orders issued by Rakhine State authorities from 1993 to 2008
outline a consistent state policy of restrictions on Rohingya marriage.
Rohingya couples cannot live together unless they are married, and they must
meet ten administrative requirements before the authorities will consider
issuing permission to marry. The authorities typically require applicants to
pay high fees as well.
Other policies curtail Rohingya freedom of movement. Rohingya in
Rakhine State are barred from travelling within or between townships without
authorization, and they are only permitted to travel outside the state in rare
circumstances with additional, difficult-to-obtain authorizations. Restrictions
on movement severely inhibit livelihoods and access to healthcare, even in
medical emergencies, impinging upon their right to health.
Government policies described in this report explicitly provide
criminal punishments for Rohingya who violate the restrictions, with penalties
including up to several years in prison, fines, or both.
The abuses resulting from the policies of persecution explained
in this report are central to the forced migration of Rohingya in Southeast
Asia, Fortify Rights said. The policies appear to be designed to make life so
intolerable for Rohingya that they will leave the country, and indeed many
have. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh, Thailand,
Malaysia, and elsewhere over the last two decades, in many cases risking death
at sea and abuses by human traffickers, including killings and ill treatment.
Policies of Persecution explains how the abuses taking place in
Rakhine State rise to the level of persecution as a crime against humanity,
implicating the involvement of state and central government authorities. Three
“regional orders” from Rakhine State—dated 1993, 2005, and 2008—are signed by
state-level government officials and copied to various departments falling
under state and central government jurisdictions. Rakhine State government
officials and ministers of the central government have also discussed on record
the restrictions against Rohingya since at least 2011.
In 2011, the Minister of Defense at the time, Lieutenant-General
Hla Min, approvingly referenced and explained in Myanmar’s parliament the restrictive
policies against Rohingya. On July 31, 2012, Myanmar’s Minister of Home Affairs
Lieutenant-General Ko Ko told parliament that the authorities were “tightening
the regulations [against Rohingya] in order to handle travelling, birth, death,
immigration, migration, marriage, construction of new religious buildings,
repairing and land ownership and [the] right to construct building[s]….”
“The reality is that the official state policies and practices
against Rohingya are plainly abusive,” said Matthew Smith. “The international
community should unequivocally condemn these policies and practices and work
with the government of Myanmar to ensure they’re abolished.”
Fortify Rights is calling for an independent investigation by
international and Myanmar actors into human rights abuses in Rakhine State,
including into abusive restrictions against Rohingya.
For more information, please contact:
Matthew Smith, matthew.smith@fortifyrights.org,
+66.85.028.0044 (Thailand)
Follow us on Twitter: @matthewfsmith @fortifyrights @taylormlandis

BACKGROUND

There are at least 1.33 million Rohingya in Myanmar; all but
40,000 are stateless due to the country’s 1982 Citizenship Law, which denies
Rohingya equal access to citizenship rights. The government refers to Rohingya
as “Bengali” and regards them as “illegal immigrants” from Bangladesh, despite
the fact that they have lived in Myanmar for generations. The restrictions
imposed on Rohingya are ostensibly framed by the government of Myanmar as a
response to an “illegal immigration” problem and threats to “national
security.” Tensions between Rakhine Buddhists—also a repressed ethnic minority
of Myanmar—and Rohingya Muslims have existed for decades. In 2012, significant
waves of violence and well-coordinated arson attacks erupted,
disproportionately affecting the Rohingya population and other Muslim
communities, and in some cases involving killings by state-security forces.
More than 140,000 Rohingya have been displaced to under-resourced internal
displacement camps. International health and aid workers face threats and
obstructions to their work from members of the local Rakhine population.

ABOUT FORTIFY RIGHTS

Fortify Rights is an independent organization that strives to
strengthen the human rights movement through the defense and protection of
human rights. We provide technical support to human rights defenders and
conduct independent monitoring and strategic advocacy. By independently
documenting and exposing human rights violations while teaming with activists
to advocate for change at local, national, and international levels, we aim to
fortify the human rights movement. We are a non-profit human rights
organization based in Southeast Asia and registered in Switzerland and the
United States. Follow us on Twitter @FortifyRights.