Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Plight of Rohingya forgotten: HRW report

by Solomon

New Delhi (Mizzima) - Regional countries and neighbors should press Burma’s ruling junta to cease in the systematic abuse of the Rohingya and provide necessary assistance to those who have fled to their shores, Human Rights Watch (HRW) argues in a new report.

HRW, in a 12-page report entitled “Perilous Plight: Burma’s Rohingya Take to the Seas,” details how the Burmese government’s systemic rights abuses have caused the Rohingya, a Muslim minority living predominantly in Northern Arakan State, to flee their homes for other countries, often entailing a great risk to their lives.

The report says persecution and human rights violations against the Rohingya in Burma, particularly in Arakan State, have persisted for over 20 years, with insufficient international attention.

Persecution and abuse includes extrajudicial killings, forced labor, religious discrimination and restrictions on movement, all exacerbated by a draconian citizenship law that leaves the Rohingya stateless.

"The treatment of the Rohingya in Burma is deplorable - the Burmese government doesn't just deny Rohingya their basic rights, it denies they are even Burmese citizens," said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia Director at Human Rights Watch, in a press statement.

"Instead of sidestepping the issue, ASEAN should be pressing Burma's military rulers to end their brutal practices," Pearson said.

According to a Rohingya community leader, now living in London, the Rohingya are prohibited from owning property and are not allowed to pursue higher education.

“Even marriage requires permission from the authorities for us,” the leader told Mizzima in an earlier interview.

The HRW report says such deplorable conditions at home have forced thousands of Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh and other Southeast Asian countries, where hostile conditions often await them.

David Scott Mathieson, Burma consultant for HRW in Bangkok, said members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have not taken effective action on the issue, stating, “The response has been uneven and counter-productive.”

“They [ASEAN] need to openly criticize the SPDC’s treatment of the Rohingya and call on them to stop their actions. They can create a mechanism within the grouping,” argued Mathieson, referring to the Burmese junta by its official name – State Peace and Development Council (SPDC).

In late 2008 and early 2009, hundreds of Rohingya boatpeople were rescued from the shores of Thailand, India and Indonesia, after they were found drifting in the Andaman Sea for weeks.

The issue became a hot topic after some survivors confessed that they were first captured by Thai authorities and sent back into the sea with little or no food in engineless boats, an allegation Thailand has denied.

The topic was discussed by officials of the countries involved. On the occasion, Burmese Foreign minister Nyan Win informed his ASEAN counterparts that while the Rohingya are not among the 130 ethnic nationalities registered in the country, the government would accept their return if they could prove their birth in Burma.

“The landing of Rohingya boatpeople in Southeast Asian countries is the direct result of persecution in Burma,” said Mathieson.

Though the topic was prominent for a while and regional countries agreed to address the topic at the Bali Conference, nothing has materialized since the conference culminated a month ago.

“There was a lot of attention in January and February this year…but there was no solution and that is unacceptable,” Mathieson stipulated.

The report calls on regional countries to provide assistance to the Rohingya boatpeople who fled their homeland due to severe rights violations and for the military regime in Burma to cease all persecution.

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