Myanmar Treatment Of Rohingya Is 'apartheid': Amnesty International

Updated December 01, 2017 16:01:39

A Rohingya woman walks with a child through a mud puddle in a rice field in Bangladesh.>> Photo: Myanmar's Rohingya ethnic minority members walk through rice fields after crossing over the Bangladesh border. (AP: Bernat Armangue)

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>Map: Burma

Nearly four decades ago, Australia was one of the world's most outspoken critics of the apartheid regime in South Africa.

Not only did we lead international condemnation through a range of sanctions, we demonstrated our support at the most senior levels of government. Malcolm Fraser persistently pressured the South African government to release Nelson Mandela and even visited him in jail.

But there is an apartheid regime operating right now on our doorstep — in Myanmar against the Rohingya — which Australia has said and done very little about.

Last week, United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said, as Amnesty International has been saying, that Myanmar is guilty of "ethnic cleansing". This followed a similar pronouncement by British Prime Minister Theresa May in mid-November.

What's ahead for the Rohingya?

Recent violence in Myanmar has seen security forces torch and raze to the ground whole Rohingya villages and murder people as they fled. This forced more than 600,000 Rohingya to flee over the border to Bangladesh.

Inside Bangladesh's camps

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She's worked in emergency health everywhere from Syria to Chad, but nothing prepared Kym Blechynden for what she experienced in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh and Myanmar brokered a deal late last week to repatriate the Rohingya from the border camps, but thousands will be stopped at the border, their townships out of reach. It will be impossible to return to their homes simply because they will be unable to prove their identity.

The Rakhine State from which they fled actively makes it difficult for Rohingya people to obtain official residency or identity documents. On Tuesday, the Bangladesh Government began plans to relocate 100,000 of them to an uninhabitable island.

What is apartheid?

What sets apartheid apart from other forms of racial violence is the systematic nature of the oppression.

It is not a collection of random acts. All the levers of the State work in unity with the aim of dominating a racial group.

The UN definition of apartheid — a crime against humanity — covers a range of acts.:

  • Clear and open violence such as murder, rape and torture are covered;
  • But so too are the legislative and administrative acts that prevent a racial group from participating in the social, economic and cultural life of the nation.
A man carries two children on his shoulders through water, while behind him is a boat carrying others>> Photo: Myanmar's military have been torching Rohingya homes and villages. Smoke is seen in the background as refugees cross the border to Bangladesh through the Bay of Bengal. (Reuters: Danish Siddiqui)

Rohingya crisis is apartheid

The Rohingya people in Myanmar have been trapped for decades in a vicious system of state-sponsored discrimination that satisfies the legal definition of apartheid, as demonstrated in Amnesty International's new report, titled Caged Without a Roof.

Why are the Rohingya stateless?

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In Bangladesh they are a burden; in Myanmar they are despised. Where did the Rohingya come from and where do they belong?

The report, the result of a two-year investigation, documents discrimination that has intensified since 2012 when violence erupted between Muslims and Buddhists in Rakhine State.

The Myanmar Government's response since that time has been to segregate the Rohingya people, the majority of whom are Muslim. I met Rohingya women and children who fled from Myanmar to Thailand in 2013, including young mums who had seen their homes burnt down and their parents shot and killed in front of them.

Amnesty International calls out the system that led to this purge as apartheid. It describes Rakhine State as an open-air prison, where the whole system is designed to make the lives of the Rohingya people as humiliating and hopeless as possible.

This has had disastrous consequences: the wholesale denial of human rights such as freedom of movement, the right to a nationality and to adequate health care, education, work and food.

Racial discrimination at every level

Nearly every aspect of the Rohingyas' life is restricted in Rakhine State. The basis of these restrictions is race.

The country's citizenship laws strip Rohingya of all rights and status. They are deemed non-citizens and therefore stateless.

The fundamental right to freedom of movement is also denied to Rohingyas on racial grounds. They are confined to their townships, require special permits to travel, and are subject to night curfews.

Those who manage to obtain a permit face regular harassment, beatings, and arrest by checkpoint guards.

The military still controls Myanmar

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Aung San Suu Kyi has widespread popular support and some control over government, but the army still rules the joint, writes Liam Cochrane.

While conducting the research for our report, Amnesty International staff saw first-hand incidents of brutality, including a border guard kicking a Rohingya man at a checkpoint. They also witnessed the execution of a 25-year-old man, shot dead while traveling during curfew hours.

The effects of the travel restrictions are painful and far-reaching. Food producers have been cut off from trade routes and markets while farmers are prevented from working their fields. Malnutrition and poverty are widespread as families struggle to put food on the table.

Access to government services has also been restricted for Muslims. Muslims face severe restrictions when accessing health care, even in emergency situations. Many Muslim children are not allowed to attend government schools and families face great difficulties in registering their newborns with the result that many are not.

While the Myanmar Government maintains this regime of apartheid and denies the violence visited on the Rohingya by its security forces, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya will not and often cannot be repatriated from Bangladesh.

Australia's opportunity: face Myanmar

The world must insist that Myanmar restore full citizenship rights to the Rohingya and remove all laws, policies and practices that discriminate against them. It must also facilitate a process to bring individuals responsible for human rights abuses and crimes against humanity to justice.

Once again the Australian Government has an opportunity to demonstrate global leadership, just like it did during the reign of South African apartheid.

But, instead, we are currently out of step in our response. The United States and the European Union have taken steps to cut ties with the military leaders, and the United Kingdom has cut all ties to the Myanmar military.

Australia must also cut ties with the Myanmar military, including our current provision of training and other security assistance.

The corollary to this is that we should also be prepared to take an emergency intake of refugees and increase aid to help support the current crisis.

Australia must be on the right side of history in this human rights crisis. Australia has the power as a key regional ally to send a strong and unequivocal message to the government of Myanmar: that we do not tolerate systematic state-sponsored discrimination.

We do not, ever, tolerate apartheid.

Claire Mallinson is the national director of Amnesty International Australia.

Topics: human, unrest-conflict-and-war, refugees, charities-and-community-organisations, burma

First posted December 01, 2017 08:48:15

Source : http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-12-01/myanmar-treatment-of-rohingya-apartheid-amnesty-international/9206562

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