The Conveniently Forgotten Human Rights of the Rohingya

Article excerpt

As stateless Rohingya in Burma face containment in IDP camps and within their homes and communities in what is effectively segregation, their human rights are on the whole being ignored by countries keen either to support reform in Burma or to return refugees who have fled to their shores.

It is no coincidence that the current crisis in Rakhine State in Burma has taken place against the back-drop of Burma's widely hailed, yet still fragile, democratic reform process, the beginnings of which were marked by the elections of 2010. The toxic mix of general racism and an illiberal ex-military government seeking domestic support and democratic legitimacy has proved lethal to the rights of the stateless Rohingya in Burma.

The 1982 Citizenship Law of Myanmar, which ignored the Rohingya's claim to citizenship and thus rendered them stateless, has formed the legal basis for arbitrary and discriminatory treatment against the Rohingya community and made them subject to a series of draconian policies and controls.1 In June 2012, large-scale violence against the Rohingya - a stateless Muslim ethnic minority of around one million people - resulted in estimated thousands of deaths, the forced displacement of over 100,000 people, and the burning and destruction of homes and property throughout Rakhine State.2 At the time of writing there continue to be outbreaks of violence, arbitrary arrests of Rohingya men whose whereabouts remain unknown, and torture and death in custody.

Since June, Rohingya have been largely segregated from the other populations in order to create 'Muslimfree' areas. Some have been 'burnt out' through the destruction of their homes and properties. Others have been relocated by government troops to IDP camps. Only Muslim populations have been moved by the security forces; their displacement is thus discriminatory rather than protective. Those who were not displaced have been cut off from their livelihoods and face difficulty in accessing food and basic services. Further violence in October, which targeted Rohingya and other Muslim minorities throughout Rakhine State, resulted in the whole and partial destruction of Muslim areas and displacement of a further 36,000 people.3 Cut off from their livelihoods and sources of income, unable to access markets, hospitals and schools, and without access to relief aid, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya are facing disaster.4 The government maintains tight control over international agencies working in North Rakhine State, leaving little space for these agencies to engage in public advocacy on behalf of the affected population, let alone raise human rights concerns.

Recent events in Rakhine State should not be viewed in isolation; the Burma security forces have a long history of discrimination and systematic human rights abuses against them. President Thein Sein's remarks in July 2012 that the "only solution"5 to the troubles in Rakhine State was either to send stateless Rohingya to third countries or to contain them in UNHCR-administered camps caused outrage within the international human rights community. …