Rights Group: Leaked Documents Outline Govt Abuse of Rohingyas

By Samantha Michaels 25 February 2014

RANGOON—A human rights group says it has obtained leaked government documents that outline discriminatory policies and abusive methods to control the Rohingya population in Burma.

Southeast Asia-based Fortify Rights on Tuesday published translations of eight alleged government documents—including three regional orders dated between 1993 and 2008, and five addenda dating from 2007 or earlier—as part of a 79-page reportthat accuses state and central officials of perpetuating crimes against humanity in Arakan State.

The documents outline restrictions on marriage and family size for Muslims in Maungdaw Township, a predominately Rohingya area in northern Arakan State. They also outline restrictions on movement that have prevented access to vital services including health care.

The existence of these restrictions has been reported in the past by UN agencies, activist groups and news media, which have noted the effects, including the mass migration of Rohingyas to neighboring countries in the region. However, Fortify Rights says the government orders themselves have never before been seen by the public.

Ye Htut, the presidential spokesman, could not be reached to comment on the authenticity of the documents or to verify that the policies described remain in effect today. However, in an interview with The Myanmar Times newspaper on Tuesday he referred to Fortify Rights as a “Bengali lobby group” and declined to comment on “baseless accusations.”

The Burma government officially refers to Rohingyas as “Bengali,” reflecting local beliefs that the ethnic Muslim minority is largely made up of illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh. A majority of Rohingyas are denied citizenship in Burma, although many trace their family roots in the country back for generations.

The Fortify Rights report includes a translation of a purported regional government order from 2005 which it says appears to have laid the foundation for a two-child policy in Maungdaw that was first made public last year.

The 2005 order—by the Township Peace and Development Council in Maungdaw—said a growing population was leading to concerns of food insecurity. “The population is dense and the birth rate is extremely high, beyond international standards of population increase …Therefore, someday there is likely to be starvation,” the order said.

It outlined a policy that Muslim couples would not be allowed to marry without proving their legal residency and receiving permission from the Township Peace and Development Council. “Starting the date of this regional order, those who have permission to marry must limit the number of children, in order to control the birth rate so there is enough food and shelter,” it said.

The order was distributed to administrative councils in all village tracts in the township, according to Fortify Rights, and copies were sent to township and district officials, immigration authorities, a chief military strategist in the state, the township judge and a legal officer.

Over a decade earlier, in 1993, a temporary order from the Border Region Immigration Control Headquarters in Maungdaw also required Muslims to register their marriages with immigration officials and other local authorities, the rights group said. This temporary order, also translated and published in the Fortify Rights report, placed marriage restrictions more broadly. “People from other religions will be allowed to marry only after being registered at the office of the chief of the region and the office of the chief of the station, and only after that will a household registration be issued,” the order said, according to the translation.

The Fortify Rights report also included five addenda to regional orders, with guidelines for enforcing population control measures. One undated addendum instructed officials to ensure “the number of people in families is correct” by visiting households and comparing the residents to family photos. To ensure maternity, it added that women could be ordered to breastfeed their infants in front of the authorities.

“If there is suspicion someone is being substituted, children in the house will be compared in age and appearance,” the addendum said. “If the child is an infant, the mother will be made to breastfeed the child. Young children will be questioned separately.”

In addition, Fortify Rights said it analyzed four government documents dated to 2013, but did not publish translations in the report for security reasons.

The rights group said policies limiting family sizes had encouraged Rohingya women to undergo unsafe illegal abortions. More broadly, it said restrictions on marriage, family size and movement had led to the mass exodus of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya men, women and children from Burma, seeking refuge elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

The report said policies targeting Rohingya on the basis of ethnicity and religion had led to “widespread displacement, endemic maternal mortality, and statelessness, among other serious consequences.”

“Protracted human rights violations against Rohingya result from official state policies and could amount to crimes against humanity of prosecution,” it said, adding that the policies appeared to remain in effect today.

However, citing NGOs and aid agencies in Arakan State, it said marriage restrictions appeared to have been eased slightly recent months, with applicants asked to meet fewer administrative requirements. “This is a positive development, but even if the restrictions are eased, they remain in place,” the rights group said.

Fortify Rights is an NGO based in Southeast Asia and registered in the United States and Switzerland. The group provides technical support to human rights defenders, and its international advisory board include the UN special rapporteur on human rights to Burma, Tomás Ojea Quintana, as well as Phil Robertson, the Asia director for Human Rights Watch.