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Rights group blasts Myanmar over Rohingya policies

Tuesday - 2/25/2014, 12:20pm  ET

ROBIN McDOWELL
Associated Press

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) -- An independent human rights group presented evidence Tuesday directly implicating the Myanmar government in abusive and discriminatory policies targeting members of the Rohingya Muslim minority, including restrictions on family size and freedom of movement.

Matthew Smith, executive director of the Southeast Asian-based Fortify Rights, said the findings were based on a dozen leaked documents and reviews of public records.

While persecution of the minority group has been well documented, in some cases dating back decades, it is the first time that official edicts have been made public, he said, describing the chilling effect of seeing them in writing.

"It represents a level of planning and knowledge among Myanmar authorities that raises the abuses to the threshold of crimes against humanity," Smith said. "These abuses have been carried out for years with complete impunity, driving the population into the ground."

Presidential spokesman Ye Htut did not respond to requests from The Associated Press for comment. He was quoted by the Myanmar Times as saying government officials "do not remark on baseless accusations from Bengali (Rohingya) lobby groups."

Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist nation of 60 million, only recently emerged from a half century of brutal military rule. The United States and other nations worry that an outbreak of sectarian violence since June 2012 threatens the country's fragile transition to democracy. As many as 280 people have been killed, most of them Rohingya attacked by Buddhist mobs, and another 140,000 forced to flee their homes.

Nowhere have Rohingya -- described by the U.N. as one of the most persecuted religious minorities in the world -- been more pursued than in Rakhine state, which sits along the coast of the Bay of Bengal and is cut off from the rest of the country by a mountain range. It is home to almost all of Myanmar's 1.3 million Rohingya. Though many are descended from families that have been there for generations, the government says they are Bangladeshi and has denied almost all citizenship, rendering them stateless.

Confidential documents included in Fortify Rights' 79-page report reveal that official orders issued by Rakhine state authorities from 1993 to 2008 consistently place restrictions on Rohingya in travel, practicing religion, building places of worship, repairing homes, getting married and having families.

Some of the "regional orders" -- dated 1993, 2005 and 2008 -- were sent to various departments falling under state and central government jurisdictions. They also have been discussed on the record since 2011, the group said, adding that to the best of its knowledge almost all the policies are still in place and are being enforced.

The report said the orders laid the groundwork for a two-child policy 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."

They are the only people in the country who have been subject to such population controls.

Security forces are also given power to enforce the orders, including spot checks on homes and other invasions of privacy aimed at maintaining updated family lists.

One document gives detailed instructions for officials to confirm that women are the real mothers of infants, forcing them to breastfeed in their presence if it is suspected that the women are trying to claim others' children as their own.

"It's very sinister," said Benjamin Zawacki, an international lawyer, adding that the report is significant because, while discriminatory policies against Rohingya have been well documented, having copies of the official orders marks the "end of plausible deniability, because it's all right there."


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