Another Day of Life for Rakhine State’s Muslims

The Myanmar[1] Government has announced yet another domestic investigation into the Rakhine State crisis, a move to deflect international attention away from the atrocities that the Myanmar Army has committed against the Rohingya population. Meanwhile, the realities on the ground of apartheid-like conditions for Myanmar’s persecuted minorities, who will not benefit from another sham committee, remain dire. This was demonstrated by the imprisonment, with hard labor, of a teacher from an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in Rakhine State, simply for attempting to travel to Yangon.

The announcement of an “International Commission of Enquiry” to investigate “the violation of human rights and related issues following the terrorist attacks by ARSA (Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army),” is yet another committee, investigation team, or commission that the Myanmar Government has claimed will look into the situation of the Rohingya in Rakhine State.

There have been several such bodies set up domestically when international pressure has mounted, and this latest iteration is a tactic that will be used again to deflect growing calls in the international community for accountability after the Myanmar Army’s campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya forced over 700,000 people to flee into Bangladesh. If international actors view the creation of this new inquiry as a reason not to pursue accountability, they will be making another mistake that will allow the Myanmar Army to continue its genocidal acts with impunity. Time and time again, the Myanmar Government’s domestic mechanisms have failed the Rohingya, not even using the term that they use to self-identify – ‘Rohingya’ – while crimes committed by the Myanmar Armed Forces, including the Army, Police, and Border Guard Police, as well as the Government are whitewashed.

If international actors view the creation of this new inquiry as a reason not to pursue accountability, they will be making another mistake that will allow the Myanmar Army to continue its genocidal acts with impunity.

While this latest attempt by the Government is being questioned, the painful realities of people who have suffered from the state sponsored violence are ongoing. This is demonstrated by the latest  case of a young Muslim woman, Ma Hla Phyu, a volunteer school teacher who has been living in an IDP camp on the edge of Kyaukphyu town since violence forced her family to flee in 2012. While traveling to Yangon last month, she was stopped, arrested, and charged under the 1949 Residents of Burma Registration Act. The police report alleges that she was in possession of someone else’s National Registration Card. A trial was rushed to completion in which she was prevented from having legal representation, and sentenced to one year in prison with hard labor. In a similar case in 2016, a Chinese national was given a small fine (100,000MMK/around $75) for possessing a fake identity card and a fake Myanmar passport. Ma Hla Phyu’s case sets an example for other Muslims in Rakhine State who wish to travel out of Rakhine State.

Restriction of movement is just one component of official Government policy to persecute and contain all Muslims in Rakhine State, not just Rohingya. Ma Hla Phyu has been living in a camp where mainly Kaman Muslim IDPs have been housed since 2012, yet the permission they need to leave is never granted. Restrictions on childbirth, marriage, movement, healthcare, livelihoods, access to government jobs, being able to vote, being able to become a citizen, or to even register their self-identified ethnicity have been the daily life of Rohingya and other Muslims in Rakhine State for decades. The bouts of violence since 2012, including the massive military operation in 2017, have meant that many have fled to Bangladesh or elsewhere. Those that remain are living in apartheid-like conditions, where attempting to leave from their areas of confinement can result in one year imprisonment with hard labor.

Restrictions on childbirth, marriage, movement, healthcare, livelihoods, access to government jobs, being able to vote, being able to become a citizen, or to even register their self-identified ethnicity have been the daily life of Rohingya and other Muslims in Rakhine State for decades.

Yet another inquiry by the Government will not help people like Ma Hla Phyu. Instead of establishing another domestic commission, which from the start raises major question marks around partiality and independence, the Government must launch a robust action plan to end Myanmar’s decades-long policies of persecution against minorities in Rakhine State, as well as in other ethnic regions throughout Myanmar. The Government must work to protect the basic human rights of people of all communities, including freedom of movement, religion, and the right to life, livelihoods and to self-identify, while allowing the UN Fact-Finding Mission to investigate those serious crimes in Rakhine State that led to the fleeing of over 800,000 Rohingya people to Bangladesh. Meanwhile, given the failure of previous attempts to investigate the ‘real’ situation in Rakhine State, the international community must refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court for a genuine process of finding justice and seeking accountability for the years of violence and persecution against ethnic and religious minorities by the Myanmar Army.

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[1] One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.

Resources from the past week

actions

Statements and Press Releases

Eu Must Reveal Which Members Are Training the Burmese Military

By Burma Campaign UK

Burma Dismiss the Charges Against Kachin Peace Protesters

By Burma Human Rights Network

Rohingya Crisis: €40 Million in Humanitarian Aid for Bangladesh and Myanmar

By European Commission

Humanitarian Situation Update in Kachin State – 14th to 28th May 2018

By Joint Strategy Team

UNHCR and UNDP Agree on Text of MOU with Myanmar to Support the Creation of Conditions for the Return of Rohingya Refugees

By Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Statement Opposing the Planned Restarting of the Tigyit Coal Fired Power Plant

By Tigyit Communities and Pa-O Youth Organization

တီက်စ္ေဒသ ေက်ာက္မီးေသြး သတၳဳတြင္းတူးေဖာ္မႈႏွင့္ လွ်ပ္စစ္ဓာတ္အားေပးစက္ရုံ မွ ေဒသေန လူထုမ်ား အေပၚ ဆိုးက်ဳိးသက္ေရာက္မႈဆိုင္ရာ ထုတ္ျပန္ေၾကျငာခ်က္

By Tigyit Communities and Pa-O Youth Organization

reports

Reports

Northern Burma Conflict Update: 18-25 May 2018

By Free Burma Rangers

Analysis of Myanmar/Burma Peace Process (No 1) May 2018

By KNU Concerned Group

ျမန္မာႏိုင္ငံအမ်ိဳးသားလူ႔အခြင့္အေရးေကာ္မရွင္ ၂၀၁၇ ခုႏွစ္အစီရင္ခံစာ

By Myanmar National Human Rights Commission

Burma: Annual Report to Congress on International Religious Freedom (2017)

By U.S. Department of State


Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.

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