Tensions in Myanmar’s Rakhine State and other regions have manifested in violent outbreaks in the past two years since June 2012, calling international attention to the high level of ethnic tension between the Muslim Rohingya and the Buddhist majority.
A recent Report of the Thailand-based human rights organization Fortify Rights, directed by Matthew Smith, Policies of Persecution: Ending Abusive State Policies Against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar claiming to disclose the legal documents used to discriminate against Rohingya and other ethnic minorities. The release of this report comes at a delicate time, as Myanmar braces for its first national census in thirty years.
The report is based on twelve internal government documents detailing “restrictions on movement, marriage, childbirth and other aspects of everyday life,” eight of which delineate official policies targeting Rohingya, the group says. These include three Rakhine State regional orders and five addenda to those orders. Fortify Rights claims that although these were produced between 1993 and 2008, years of military dictatorship in Myanmar, their policies remain in effect today. The four other documents relating to Muslim citizens outside Rakhine State are not presented in the report but the organization claims that they are dated 2013 and “instructive as background findings.”
In a press release Smith claims that,
“The government is systematically persecuting Rohingya on the basis of ethnicity, religion, and at times gender.”
Fortify Rights maintains that the Rohingya population of 1.33 million is largely stateless and deprived of basic human rights, and that the Burmese government denies the existence of a Rohingya ethnicity. The organization also adds that the government tends to frame issues relating to the population as matters of national security, overpopulation and illegal immigration.
While the government has made efforts to stop further outbreaks of violence in the country through ceasefire agreements with armed minority groups, and the international community has acknowledged violence and displacement, the report explains that there has been a failure to address the “devastating systematic abuses perpetrated against the Rohingya on a daily basis.” In other words, Fortify Rights asserts that because it is a normalized phenomenon authorized by legal documents, everyday social exclusion often fails to draw international attention.
The documents put forth by Fortify Rights can provide a basis for negotiation on which Myanmar can focus on an equitable society. Institutions and legal framework as safeguards for the protection of individuals’ rights and the governmental obligation to maintain these institutions are pillars of the commitments of the Shared Societies Project. Discrimination and exclusion that derives in some way from legal documents and institutions can be fought through legal and institutional means.