Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims are trapped in “state-sponsored, institutionalized discrimination” that amounts to an apartheid regime, according to a report issued Tuesday by London-based Amnesty International on the root causes of the crisis in volatile Rakhine state.
The organization’s two-year investigation titled “Caged Without a Roof” examines the segregation of the Rohingya in Rakhine state and the state’s discriminatory practices against them, including the denial of access to basic services such as education and health care.
The report also touches on the recent exodus of more than 615,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh during a brutal military crackdown in northern Rakhine, where they were subject to indiscriminate killings, torture, arson, and rape.
“The Myanmar authorities are keeping Rohingya women, men and children segregated and cowed in a dehumanizing system of apartheid,” said Anna Neistat, senior director for research at Amnesty international, in a printed statement. “Their rights are violated daily and the repression has only intensified in recent years.”
“This system appears designated to make the Rohingyas’ lives as hopeless and humiliating as possible,” she said. “The security forces’ brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing in the past three months is just another extreme manifestation of this appalling attitude.”
There was no immediate reaction to the report by the Myanmar government.
The report goes on to cite decades of systematic discrimination by the government that has increased dramatically since 2012 when communal violence between Muslims and Buddhists in Rakhine left more than 200 people dead and displaced tens of thousands of Rohingya who were palced in camps.
It notes how the government has confined the Rohingya to villages and camps by severely restricting their movements and keeping them under tight lockdown. It also notes that the Rohingya are denyied access to medical services and subjected to routine harassment, physical assaults and arrests.
“Although these rights violations may not be as visible as those that have hit the headlines in recent months, they are just as horrific,” Neistat said. “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.”
Lack of legal rights
The Rohingyas’ lack of legal rights and the enforcement of laws, such as the 1982 Citizenship Law, underpins the discrimination, Amnesty International said.
Under the Citizenship Law, the Rohingya — referred to as “Bengalis” in Myanmar because they are viewed as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh though many have lived in the country for generations — are denied Myanmar citizenship along ethnic lines.
The report points out that Myanmar authorities have engaged in a deliberate campaign to take away the limited forms of identification that the Rohingya already possess.
Amnesty International argues that its own legal analysis of evidence shows that the treatment of the Rohingya amounts to apartheid—a crime against humanity under the Convention Against Apartheid and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
“Restoring the rights and legal status of Rohingya and amending the country’s discriminatory citizenship laws is urgently needed — both for those who remain in the country and those who wish to return,” Neistat said. “Rohingya who have fled persecution in Myanmar cannot be asked to return to a system of apartheid.”
Myanmar and Bangladeshi authorities have agreed in principle to the repatriation of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who fled there during the recent crackdown, though they still must hammer out a binding agreement.
Myanmar’s plan to repatriate the Rohingya was called into question last week when the office of military commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing said that the refugees would be allowed to return only if the country’s “real citizens”—ethnic Rakhine people, most of whom are Buddhist—accepted them.
Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi said on Tuesday that she hoped to sign a memorandum of understanding with Bangladesh to start the voluntary return of all refugees when she meets with Foreign Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali on Wednesday and Thursday.
Though Buddhist nationalists, including monks, have instigated both verbal and physical attacks on Muslims in recent months, none so far has been detained or charged.
On Tuesday, however, a Yangon court sentenced a prominent ultranationalist Buddhist abbot to one month in prison for inciting unrest during a protest outside the American embassy last year, according to one of the cleric's relatives.
Parmaukkha, a prominent monk from the nationalist Buddhist group Ma Ba Tha, was charged with violating the Peaceful Assembly Act for participating in a demonstration excoriating the United States for using the term "Rohingya" in a statement it had issued on Apr. 20.
“I was sentenced not because I committed a crime,” Parmaukkha said. “It is because authorities are above the law.”
Than Tun Aung, deputy administrator of Kamaryut township where Parmaukkha was charged, was questioned at Tuesday’s hearing—the second one for Parmaukkha following his arrest on Nov. 12 at North Dagon Police Station in Yangon where he was applying for permission to protest against a land-grabbing case, said family member Aung Mying.
Parmaukkha was also charged under Section 505(b) of the country’s Penal Code which pertains to sedition, but his lawyer asked the judge to drop this charge, he said.
“The prosecutor said this charge can’t be withdrawn because the signature on the file against U [honorific] Parmaukkha is that of Kamaryut township deputy administrator Than Tun Aung,” said Aung Mying.
The abbot is scheduled to be charged on a related violation on Nov. 28. If convicted, he faces another jail term of six months to two years, he said.
Reported by Thant Zin Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. written in English by Roseanne Gerin.