Should Indonesia accept the Rohingyas

Burma: End human rights violations against Rohingya

(New York, May 26, 2009) - The neighboring countries of Burma should call on the military regime to end the systematic human rights violations against Rohingya Muslims. They are also supposed to protect refugees who come to their country, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has so far failed to adequately address the plight of the Rohingyas.

The twelve-page report "Perilous Plight: Burma’s Rohingya Take to the Seas" examines why Rohingyas are fleeing Burma and Bangladesh and how they are treated in Southeast Asian countries while fleeing. Persecution and human rights violations against the Rohingyas within Burma, particularly in the state of Arakan, have been going on for over 20 years without receiving sufficient attention from the international community. These include extrajudicial executions, forced labor, religious persecution and restrictions on freedom of movement that are reinforced by an extremely strict nationality law that makes the Rohingyas stateless.

"The treatment of Rohingyas in Burma is deplorable - the Burmese government not only denies them basic rights, but denies them their Burmese citizenship," said Elaine Pearson, deputy director of Asia for Human Rights Watch. "Instead of getting around the problem, ASEAN should urge the Burmese military regime to end their brutal practices."

The brutal and discriminatory behavior of the Burmese military government, made worse by chronic poverty, has led many Rohingyas to flee to neighboring Bangladesh, where the standard of living in the refugee camps is very low and opportunities for permanent settlement are limited. Every year thousands of young and older men pay money to be smuggled from Bangladesh to Malaysia via Southeast Asian countries. Some are fleeing for their lives, others are economic refugees looking for ways to support their families. In the absence of official papers, wherever they go they live in fear of arrest and possible repatriation to Burma.

In January 2009, boats with nearly starved Rohingyas arrived in southern Thailand and Indonesia were picked up. In the photos, the Thai Navy is towing boats with Rohingyas back into the open sea to deter other refugees, which briefly attracted public attention. Thousands of similar escape attempts go unnoticed year after year. In late 2008 and early 2009, the number of Rohingyas fleeing Bangladesh and Burma was estimated at 6,000. A number twice as high as the year before.

As a result of the Thai “push back” policy, it is feared that many refugees have died. Some of the survivors who reached Indonesia or the Indian Andaman Islands described how the Burmese navy, which had previously intercepted their boat in the open sea, tortured and beaten the refugees.

The ASEAN heads of state and government have admitted that a regional solution must be found to deal with the annual Rohingya exodus. But ASEAN did not put the Rohingya issue on the official agenda of the February summit. Burmese government officials have also denied that the Rohingyas are Burmese, but at the same time said that they would accept any “Bengali” who could show a Burmese citizenship.

Even a meeting of a multilateral grouping led by Australia and Indonesia, the so-called "Bali Process for People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons, and Related Transnational Crime", could not reach a consensus on a regional mechanism for dealing with the Rohingyas.

"ASEAN's collective ignorance of the Rohingyas' precarious situation is damaging their reputation," said Pearson. "In addition, ASEAN's inaction sends the Burmese generals an unmistakable message that their horrific persecution can continue."

In the report, Human Rights Watch calls on the Burmese military junta to recognize the Rohingyas as citizens, to secure their freedom of movement and to guarantee human rights and humanitarian aid in Arakan state.

Bangladesh, India, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia should urge the Burmese military government to end the human rights violations. In addition, the forcible repatriation of the Rohingyas to Burma, a country where they are threatened with persecution, is to be ended. In addition, laws and procedures are to be changed so that an appropriate decision can be made on the refugee status of stateless persons who come to the neighboring countries of Burma.

“The persecution of the Rohingya is nothing new. So it is time for Burma's neighbors to work to ensure that basic Rohingya rights are no longer violated, ”Pearson said. "Instead of sending them back into the open sea and to Burma, the countries affected by the immigration of the Rohingya should decide whether they are to be recognized as refugees or asylum seekers and then protect them."