Friday, August 18, 2017

Damning report on government policies for Rohingya

A new report from Fortify Rights has accused the Myanmar government of crimes against humanity over policy-based persecution of Rohingya Muslims.

Police stop a three-wheeled motorbike taxi carrying Muslim Rohingya in Maungdaw township on February 1. (Si Thu Lwin/The Myanmar Times)Police stop a three-wheeled motorbike taxi carrying Muslim Rohingya in Maungdaw township on February 1. (Si Thu Lwin/The Myanmar Times)

Thailand-based non-government organisation Fortify Rights says in its report Policies of Persecution: Ending Abusive State Policies Against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar that it has found “explicit government policies imposing extensive restrictions on the basic freedoms of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine State”.

The report draws on 12 government documents. Eight of the 12 were published along with the report, while four of the most recent documents, dated to 2013, were withheld for security reasons, the group said.

Of the eight published, three are regional orders and five addenda to the regional orders, produced between 1993 and 2008.

The documents “detail restrictions on movement, marriage, childbirth, home repairs and construction of houses of worship, and other aspects of everyday life”, the group says.

When contacted about the report, U Ye Htut, deputy minister for information and spokesperson for the president, told The Myanmar Times that the government “do[es] not remark on baseless accusations from Bengali lobby groups”. The government does not recognise the term Rohingya, instead using the term Bengali.

One of the documents, “Regional Order 1/2005”, lays out a two-child policy that is enforced in Maungdaw and Buthidaung in northern Rakhine State. The policy became the centre of debate last year when it was roundly criticised by human rights organisations and even drew a rare condemnation from National League for Democracy chairperson Aung San Suu Kyi.

“While the order does not specify the number of children that legally married Rohingya couples are authorised to have, it became a strict two-child policy in practice, whereby newly married Rohingya couples – once they satisfy the odious and abusive process to get permission to marry – are forced to sign a statement saying they will not have more than two children,” the report said.

“Authorities have also required women to take pregnancy tests before issuing marriage permission.”

The decision to enact the policy was made “in order to control the birth rate so that there is enough food and shelter”, the document said.

A Rohingya man holds burned rice in Du Chee Yar Tan village's west hamlet, the site of a recent fire.(Si Thu Lwin/The Myanmar Times)A Rohingya man holds burned rice in Du Chee Yar Tan village's west hamlet, the site of a recent fire.(Si Thu Lwin/The Myanmar Times)

While data is limited, the birthrates of Rohingya Muslims as a cause for concern by Rakhine Buddhists, who fear being overwhelmed by Muslims. The fear is shared in part by the wider Buddhist population outside of Rakhine State, many of whom believe it is part of a larger Islamisation of Myanmar.

The policy, Fortify Rights said, was produced and circulated on May 1, 2005 by the Maungdaw Township Peace and Development Council of Maungdaw. It was circulated again three years later by the chief officer for immigration at the Border Region Immigration Control Headquarters (BRICH). BRICH was subsumed into the Myanmar Police Force in July 2013.

The repercussions for unauthorised childbirth has forced some Rohingya women to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh or Thailand, often taking to the sea on dangerous boats, Fortify Rights said.

“Fear also drives many Rohingya women to resort to illegal and unsafe abortions. These               clandestine efforts          to terminate pregnancies rather    than face government abuses for unsanctioned childbirth have resulted in death and harmful medical repercussions,” the report said.

The group also said that it had “reliable and credible” source with research showing that 14.3 percent of Rohingya women living in northern Rakhine State had undergone at least one abortion. Of these, 26pc had multiple abortions, which are generally carried out in unsafe conditions using crude methods.

In addition to the two-child policy, the group said that documents from January 1993, May 2005 and November 2008 and additional information from August 2009 show a “consistent state policy of restrictions on marriage imposed against Rohingya in Rakhine State”.

Procedures that Rohingya couples must go through before being married include presenting themselves to local law enforcement on multiple occasions, paying marriage fees as high as US$100 and having women take pregnancy tests before marriage licences are approved.

But the report noted that the policies appear to have been eased in recent months, in what the group called a “positive development”.

The report also detailed government policies aimed at restricting and monitoring the movement of Rohingya populations in Rakhine State, where many Muslims need permission to travel between townships, even in emergency situations.