London, 21 May 2015
The Equal Rights Trust has today called for the establishment of an international Commission of Inquiry on the involvement of the government of Myanmar in the persecution of the Rohingya, stressing that the government’s persistent failure to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of the Rohingya population is the root cause of the refugee crisis of the last two weeks. In the wake of the announcement, on 20 May, by Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand that they will offer temporary shelter to up to 7000 stateless Rohingya refugees and migrants from Bangladesh stranded in the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, the Trust is concerned that the stateless Rohingya issue remains as far as ever from an acceptable solution.
The Equal Rights Trust supports the UNHCR and other organisations calling on Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand to protect those stranded at sea and to grant asylum, and has together with 32 other organisations campaigned to urge the UN Secretary General to intervene to ensure humanitarian access to Rakhine state, where the Rohingya reside. However, the focus on responding to the immediate crisis means that the international community has once again failed to confront Myanmar on its role in creating the conditions in which thousands of Rohingya attempt to flee the country every year.
The Equal Rights Trust has been engaged in research and advocacy on the Rohingya in Myanmar and the wider region since 2010. Our research indicates that the Rohingya have been subjected to one of the most serious and sustained campaigns of ethno-religious discrimination and persecution anywhere in the world. In 1982, Myanmar introduced a Citizenship Law which excluded the Rohingya from a list of 135 national ethnicities, thus effectively depriving this group of their citizenship and rendering them stateless. This lack of citizenship status provided the basis for a framework of discriminatory laws and practices, including restrictions on travel, interference with marital and reproductive rights, arbitrary taxation, forced labour and discrimination in access to healthcare and education. Unlike for other groups exposed to discrimination in Myanmar under the military rule, the situation for the Rohingya has deteriorated as the country has undergone reform. In 2012, the Equal Rights Trust exposed the scale of state involvement in ethnic violence against the Rohingya, arguing that the widespread, systematic nature of the violence raised concern that Myanmar had committed crimes against humanity.
Equal Rights Trust Executive Director, Dimitrina Petrova said:
“This latest crisis has yet again thrown the spotlight on the plight of the Rohingya and sparked an international response. Every time the boats sail and people die, there is better publicity, now reaching all corners of the world. It is paramount that states in the region are urged to rescue those stranded at sea, and to grant asylum to refugees.
The Rohingya problem today has become a regional one, not limited to Myanmar. However, measures in the region do nothing to address the root cause of the problem which will keep forcing desperate Rohingya onto unseaworthy boats during sailing seasons, year after year; that cause is the state-sponsored discrimination against the Rohingya in Myanmar. Despite its reforms in other areas, the government of Myanmar has done nothing to remedy the statelessness of the Rohingya, and has continued its policy of exclusion and persecution.
For too long, the international community has been welcoming democratic reforms in Myanmar while acquiescing in the persecution of the Rohingya. This latest crisis is yet more evidence that this position is untenable.”
To the UN, its Member States and the International Community
• The UN Human Rights Council should establish a mandate for a Commission of Inquiry to investigate allegations of systematic widespread and grave violations of human rights of the Rohingya in Myanmar. The Commission, consisting of independent experts, should be given full access to Rakhine state, and aim to establish institutional and personal accountability, in particular where violations may amount to crimes against humanity.
• All relevant UN agencies should engage with and assist the government of Myanmar in taking steps to end the discrimination and persecution of the Rohingya, including through repeal of discriminatory laws, restoration of their rights and reform of the country’s citizenship laws.
• UN agencies and UN member states should assist the governments of Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand by sharing the burden of refugee protection, including by offering voluntary permanent resettlement to Rohingya refugees outside the formal and informal camps in Bangladesh.
To the Government of Myanmar
• Take immediate action to end the persecution of, and eliminate discrimination against, the Rohingya by both state and non-state actors, including through reforms to laws, policies and practices, issuing guidance to duty-bearers and taking steps to prevent hate speech.
• Take immediate action to improve the conditions in internally displaced camps in which large parts of the Rohingya population reside.
• Take all necessary steps to repeal discriminatory laws and restore the rights of the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities in Myanmar.
• Reform citizenship laws to ensure all races and ethnicities, including the Rohingya, are given equal and fair access to nationality without discrimination.
• Reduce statelessness in Myanmar by establishing clear paths towards the acquisition of citizenship and effective nationality for all stateless persons with legitimate claims to Myanmar nationality, including the Rohingya.
• Integrate the principles of human rights, equality and non-discrimination into the legal reform process in Myanmar, including through the adoption and implementation of comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation, in line with international standards.