BANGKOK: The de facto detention of 130,000 ethnic Rohingya in squalid camps in Myanmar amounts to a form of apartheid, a human rights group alleged Thursday (Oct 8) in urging the world to pressure Aung San Suu Kyi’s government to free them.
The camps are a legacy of long discrimination against the Muslim Rohingya minority in Buddhist-dominated Myanmar and were the immediate consequence of communal violence that began in 2012 between the Rohingya and the Buddhist Rakhine ethnic group.
The fighting left people in both groups homeless, but almost all of the Rakhine have since returned to their homes or been resettled, while the Rohingya have not.
Human Rights Watch in its new report said inhuman conditions in 24 tightly restricted camps and closed-off communities in the western state of Rakhine threaten the right to life and other basic rights of the Rohingya.
“Severe limitations on livelihoods, movement, education, health care, and adequate food and shelter have been compounded by widening constraints on humanitarian aid, which Rohingya depend on for survival,” the report said.
“Camp detainees face higher rates of malnutrition, waterborne illnesses, and child and maternal mortality than their ethnic Rakhine neighbors.”
“The government’s claims that it’s not committing the gravest international crimes will ring hollow until it cuts the barbed wire and allows Rohingya to return to their homes, with full legal protections,” said Shayna Bauchner, Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report.
Myanmar’s government had no immediate response to the report.
Rohingya are not recognized as an official minority in Myanmar, where they face widespread discrimination and most are denied citizenship and other basic rights. Many members of other ethnic groups consider the Rohingya to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
People living in the camps cannot move freely because of formal policies, ad hoc practices, checkpoints, barbed-wire fencing and a widespread system of extortion that makes travel prohibitive, Human Rights Watch said.
The report also noted a lack of education and employment opportunities was inflicting systemic damage.
“This deprivation of education is a violation of the fundamental rights of the 65,000 children living in the camps. It serves as a tool of long-term marginalisation and segregation of the Rohingya, cutting off younger generations from a future of self-reliance and dignity, as well as the ability to reintegrate into the broader community,” it said.
Myanmar's government in April 2017 announced plans to begin closing the camps, but Human Right Watch said those plans entailed building permanent structures in their place, ”further entrenching segregation and denying the Rohingya the right to return to their land, reconstruct their homes, regain work, and reintegrate into Myanmar society, in violation of their fundamental rights".
Later that year, Myanmar security forces waged a brutal counterinsurgency campaign that targeted Rohingya. The army-directed violence including the burning of villages, rape and murder and drove an estimated 740,000 Rohingya to seek refuge in neighboring Bangladesh.
International courts are seeking to determine whether genocide was committed.