The persecution of Rohingya continue as a group of Rohingya holding a National Verification Card (NVC) have been detained, prosecuted and sent to jail for attempting to escape the brutality of the ongoing apartheid-like conditions in Rakhine State. Meanwhile, Myanmar military’s Senior General Min Aung Hlaing was welcomed by the Prime Minister of Japan during his recent trip to the country at the invitation of Japan’s Ministry of Defense, where he expressed his appreciation for Japan’s ongoing assistance and understanding as regards the situation in Rakhine State and Japan’s support towards the Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICOE).
On 26 September, 30 Rohingya, including a four-year-old child, were detained in the Ayeyarwady region’s Ngapudaw Township while travelling to Yangon to seek a job. Only a week after detention, 21 Rohingya were sentenced to two years in prison under Myanmar’s 1949 Residents of Burma Registration Act after a single court hearing without having any legal representation. The other eight underage Rohingya were sent to juvenile detention center, where they are separated from their families who are also unable to visit. According to the Radio Free Asia, under the 1949 Residents of Burma Registration Act, Myanmar residents are required to have an official ID and faces a maximum two-year prison term if unable to provide proof of ID. Reportedly, some of the Rohingya who were arrested owned the controversial NVC, which effectively identifies them as “foreigners” stripping them of access to full citizenship rights. Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch stated, “Their imprisonment stands as a clear marker to the United Nations and foreign governments encouraging the return of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh that Myanmar has no interest in granting its Rohingya population fundamental freedoms.”
The recent arrest of 30 Rohingya is not the first or only case of ongoing genocidal campaign against the Rohingya. There have been a number of reported cases of Rohingya traveling from Rakhine State to various parts of the country. These cases have been shared on Facebook, where they were labeled as “illegal Bengalis”. Comments under these post included hateful messages, some threatening to kill them all. In addition, as posted on the official Facebook page of Bago Regional Parliament, one regional parliamentarian asked the government what measures have been taking to prevent “illegal Bengalis entering” their areas. Unlike 2 years ago, it is now the civilian government that is carrying out the ongoing genocidal campaign against the Rohingya.
Despite these acts of persecution and restrictions, Dr Win Myat Aye, Union Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, mentioned in his statement during the UN assembly hall in Geneva, Switzerland, that the “NVC is a path to citizenship. The NVC process to citizenship, which took 2 years, has now been shortened to 6 months.” According to the Radio Free Asia, Myanmar authorities in reception camps have been issuing the Rohingya returnees NVC, but those who have applied for citizenship with a newly issued NVC reported that no progress has been made on their applications, even after a year.
While Rohingya living inside Myanmar are facing ongoing persecution, being arrested and jailed, the Myanmar government continues its attempts to convince the international community that they are willing to take back the Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh. In a statement delivered to the 74th Regular Session of the United Nations General Assembly, Kyaw Tint Swe, Myanmar’s minister for the office of the State Counsellor stated that the Myanmar government’s priority is “to expedite repatriation and to create a more conducive environment for verified returnees,” and that they are now working towards this goal with Bangladesh and some UN agencies. Similar statements were made by Min Aung Hlaing in a meeting with the Japanese Foreign Minister where he stated that “Both the military and government of Myanmar are ready to accept returnees upon verification of their record of residence in Myanmar. We will also make efforts for improvement of the living conditions to which they will return.” However, the recent case against Rohingya illustrate the insincerity of the Myanmar military and government as they continue to violate Rohingya’s fundamental freedoms, including their right to freedom of movement, while on the other hand continuing to provide lip services to the international community.
Despite the reality on the ground, some governments such as Japan continue to throw their support behind an institution that continues to commit grave international crimes – its brutal operations sustained by off-budget funds generated from its owned companies and businesses without civilian oversight. Despite being urged to investigate Japanese companies such as Kirin Holdings Company, which has been accused of giving donation to the Myanmar military at the height of the Rohingya crisis in 2017, Japanese government and companies have largely helped to whitewash the grave crimes committed against the Rohingya by continuing their business as usual and actively campaigning to undermine the international community’s efforts to hold the perpetrators to account. Calls to boycott Kirin Holdings Company is mounting as they donated 300,000 USD to the Myanmar military – one donation worth 6,000 USD, meant to go towards the victims of the humanitarian crisis in Rakhine State, was instead received by Min Aung Hlaing. An internal investigation could not determine whether the money was spent for its intended purposes.
The Myanmar government must immediately stop its ongoing genocidal campaign against the Rohingya. It must drop all the charges against the Rohingya who were jailed for travelling to find a way of survival away from the brutal conditions they face in Rakhine State, release all those who have been detained and lift all restrictions on freedom of movement for Rohingya, in addition to halting the NVC process. The outdated 1982 Citizenship Law and other restrictive laws and policies that continue to persecute and oppress the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities must be amended in line with international standards. In addition, full citizenship of Rohingya must be restored before the government and UN agencies make another attempt to return the refugees from Bangladesh to Myanmar. In the meantime, international governments and business communities must change their approach to Myanmar and implement the recommendations by the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar’s report on military’s economic interests and ensure that their money is not contributing to further human rights violations and entrenching the military impunity in Myanmar.
 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
Statements and Press Releases
By Fortify Rights
By Human Rights Watch
By Karen Human Rights Group
By Local Residents of Nam Ma Village
By Rohingya Youth for Legal Action
By Kevin Woods, Forest Trends
By Kayah Earthrights Action Network
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.”