Myanmar and Bangladesh Must Protect Stateless Rohingya

The Equal Rights Trust is deeply concerned by the on-going sectarian and ethnically motivated violence that has resulted in an unknown number of deaths, serious injuries and extensive damage to property in the North Rakhine State in Western Myanmar. The violence between the Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya, a stateless minority described by the UN as one of the world’s most persecuted, has continued for over one week. 

On 3 June 2012, 10 Muslim pilgrims travelling by bus in Rakhine State were brutally killed in an attack by a group of around 300 Rakhine Buddhists. The attack was in response to the news that a Rakhine woman had been raped and murdered by three Rohingya men. Since then, violence between Rakhine and Rohingya has spread with homes, businesses and mosques being burnt and looted. The army opened fire on a group of Rohingya, allegedly killing two. A state of emergency has been declared in Rakhine State, leaving the sole responsibility of the restoration of peace to the army, which has a long history of discrimination and systematic human rights abuses against the Rohingya including extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrest and detention, restriction of movement and forced labour

Due to the very limited access into North Rakhine State for journalists and the international community, it is difficult to verify the extent of damage caused to lives and property. This has resulted in conflicting reports being presented in the media and the authenticity of such reports being questioned. As long as the area remains closed off, such questions will continue to be asked, and this uncertainty will be exploited to undermine voices calling for an immediate end to the violence. While the exact number of persons killed and injured and properties damaged may only be revealed if an impartial and transparent inquiry is conducted after the violence has ceased, the lack of such information in the present does not detract from the urgency of the crisis at hand, or the responsibility of all parties concerned to bring the situation under control. 

Both Rakhine and Rohingya communities have been seriously affected by the violence.  Despite the declaration of a state of emergency, Myanmar continues to have an obligation to protect the fundamental rights of all persons in North Rakhine State. Adequate steps must be taken, as matter of urgency, to protect all affected persons and bring the perpetrators to justice.  

ERT remains particularly concerned about the protection of Rohingya who were arbitrarily deprived of their Burmese nationality under the 1982 Citizenship law, the passing of which effectively legitimised and sustained state-sanctioned discrimination and violence  against them. The arbitrary deprivation of nationality does not diminish the responsibility of the state of Myanmar to protect Rohingya from human rights abuse. Under international law, all persons within the territory and subject to the jurisdiction of Myanmar must be protected by the state, regardless of their nationality or lack thereof. The obligations of Myanmar towards Rohingya women and children in particular, are entrenched in the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which have both been ratified by Myanmar.  

ERT urges the Government of Myanmar to:  
  • Urgently take all necessary steps to end the violence and protect all individuals within their territory and subject to their jurisdiction.
  • Fully cooperate with UN agencies and the international community, to enable monitoring and documentation of the situation and the provision of humanitarian support to affected communities.
  • Bring martial law in the region to an end as soon as possible.
  • Conduct an impartial and transparent enquiry into the causes of the violence, with the objective of identifying and bringing the perpetrators to justice, compensating the victims and restoring damaged property.
  • Take all necessary steps to ensure that history does not repeat itself, by ensuring equal access to justice, repealing discriminatory laws, restoring the rights of the Rohingya and establishing a clear path towards their citizenship and effective nationality.
Fleeing the violence, boatloads of Rohingya have attempted to cross the border into Bangladesh.  Concerned about the influx of refugees, the Government of Bangladesh has responded by sealing the border with additional military presence. According to media reports around 1,500 Rohingya refugees had been turned away by June 12 2012. There are currently over 30,000 registered Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and more than 200,000 unregistered persons of concern that are not provided with adequate protection or full access to humanitarian support. Forced repatriations and push-backs of Rohingya by Bangladeshi authorities have occurred since the 1990s.  
ERT urges the Government of Bangladesh to prevent further escalation of this humanitarian disaster by opening its borders to Rohingya refugees fleeing violence and persecution in Myanmar and refraining from the involuntary repatriation of all refugees and persons of concern. It is essential that full cooperation is given to the international community in providing humanitarian support and protection to displaced communities. 

Since the outbreak of violence in Rakhine State, the UNHCR has moved its officers  out of the areas worst affected by the conflict. The absence of international observers and media has prevented adequate monitoring and documentation of the on-going violence and humanitarian support for the victims. Within Myanmar, the Rohingya are stateless and having fled the country, they are stateless refugees. Consequently, the UNHCR has a protection mandate towards the Rohingya both within and outside Myanmar.  

ERT urges the UN, and in particular the UNHCR to continue to engage with the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh to ensure that their mandate to protect stateless persons and refugees is fulfilled. It is hoped that they will resume their presence on the ground in affected areas of North Rakhine State as soon as possible to monitor and document the situation and enable their officers to function to their fullest potential in their mandate to protect during this time of crisis. 

ERT also urges the international community to:  
  • Engage with the government of Myanmar to take immediate steps to end this unnecessary violence, and long-term steps towards the reduction of statelessness, building the rule of law and integrating equality and respect for human rights into their reform processes. 
  • Engage with the government of Myanmar to ensure that this conflict does not result in increased military control and extended periods of martial law during this period of reform.
  • Engage with the government of Bangladesh to open its borders to refugees fleeing the violence.
  • Consider concrete ways to support the government of Bangladesh in providing protection to Rohingya refugees both in the short and long-term. 
To read ERT's letter to U Thein Sein, President of the Republic of the  Union of Myanmar, expressing concern regarding the violence in North Rakhine State, please click here.

To read ERT's letter to H.E. U Nay Win, Ambassador of the Republic of the  Union of Myanmar to the UK, expressing concern regarding the violence in North Rakhine State, please click here.

To read ERT's letter to H.E. Dr. Dipu Moni, MP, Honourable Foreign Minister of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, expressing concern regarding the closing of Bangladeshi Border to Rohingya Refugees, please click here.

To read ERT's letter Mr. Mohamed Mijarul Quayes, Foreign Secretary of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, expressing concern regarding the closing of Bangladeshi Border to Rohingya Refugees, please click here.

To read ERT's letter to H.E. Dr. M. Sayeedur Rahman Khan, High Commissioner of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh in the UK, expressing concern regarding the closing of Bangladeshi Border to Rohingya Refugees, please click here