Inside Story

Limiting Myanmar's Rohingya?

We ask if recent government measures are a violation of human rights, or a justifiable means to maintain security.

Last Modified: 27 May 2013 13:09
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The Rohingya Muslims of Myamnar have been described as some of the world's least wanted, and most persecuted, people. Now, a government-appointed commission has declared that their rapidly growing population represents a serious threat that makes ethnic Buddhists feel insecure.

Hundreds of people have been killed, and many Muslim villages burned down, in communal violence in Myanmar's Rakhine state over the past year.

Rights groups have accused the government of an organised campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya, and now, local officials have limited family size in the townships of Buthidaung and Maundaw to two children and banned polygamy. 

The restrictions will apply only to Rohingya Muslims, and not to any other ethnic group. They have been classified as stateless since 1982, and last July, the government did not include them on an official list of 135 recognised ethnic groups.

This is actually to drive out the Rohingya people from Arakan, this is an ethnic cleansing policy against the Rohingya people … a kind of diversion that distracts the attention of Rohingya genocide from [the] international community.

Tun Khin, Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK

That means they cannot claim Myanmar citizenship, they cannot travel without permission, they cannot own land, and now, some of them cannot have more than two children.

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been criticised for failing to speak out strongly in defence of the Muslim community.

But she was drawn in after seven Muslim men were convicted on Tuesday of killing a Buddhist monk during unrest in March.

They were handed sentences of between two years to life in prison, and violence spread to 15 other towns and villages. No Buddhists have been charged.

"There is no transparency in Myanmar's justice system and the administrative branch has too much influence. The judicial system has to be independent to be credible," Suu Kyi declared.

"We must forge a new and more inclusive national identity. Myanmar people of all ethnic backgrounds and all faiths - Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and other - must feel part of this new national identity. We must end all forms of discrimination and we must ensure that not only that intercommunal violence is brought to a halt, but that all perpetrators are brought to justice."Myanmar has been raising its profile on the international stage. Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe, arrived on Friday for the first visit by a Japanese leader for 36 years.
And last week, Myanmar's president became the first leader to visit the White House in nearly half a century - making this commitment:

And it drew this response from the US president:

"I also shared with President Sein our deep concern about communal violence that has been directed at Muslim communities inside of Myanmar, the displacement of people, the violence directed towards them needs to stop and we are prepared to work in any ways that we can with both the government of Myanmar and the international community to assure that people are getting the help that they need, but more importantly, that their rights and their dignity is recognised over the long term."

So, are these actions by Myanmar's government a violation of human rights, or a justifiable measure to maintain security?

To discuss this, Inside Story, with presenter, Jane Dutton, is joined by guests: Tun Khin, a human rights activist and president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK; and Phil Robertson, deputy director for Asia at Human Rights Watch.

"This a policy that is clearly discriminatory, it's a policy that has existed for a number of years ... There have been township regulations, limiting births particularly of newlywed couples, and also marriage restrictions .... These processes have been highly embarrassing and discriminatory against the Rohingya."

Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch


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