Burma: Leaked documents expose government complicity in persecution of Rohingya

Leaked government documents reveal severe violations of human rights of Rohingya Muslims in Burma, including restrictions on their freedom of movement, marriage and childbirth, Fortify Rights said in a new report released on Tuesday.

The report implicates state and central government officials in the systematic persecution of Rohingya — tantamount to crimes against humanity 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 Burma 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 Arakan 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. 

Photo: Rohingya child peeks into a tent at a displacement camp in Sittwe, Arakan state.

'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 Arakan 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 Arakan 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 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 Burma actors into human rights abuses in Arakan State, including into abusive restrictions against Rohingya.

Around one million Rohingya are estimated to live in western Burma, where they are viewed as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and denied citizenship. Since 2012, a series of clashes with the Buddhist-majority population has claimed over 200 lives and displaced some 140,000 people, mostly Muslims.

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