Last week, the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar called on the Burmese government to officially engage ethnic minority groups in serious dialogue and grant them fundamental rights. He specifically referenced the rights of the Rohingya in this call to action.
The Rohingya are one of the most persecuted minorities in Burma. Forced labor, extortion, restrictions on movement, forced deportation, and rape (pdf) by Burmese authorities have all been documented by human rights groups.
Many Rohingya have fled the atrocities in Burma for neighboring Bangladesh. However, the situation there is nearly as bad. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, only 28,000 out of some 400,000 Rohingyas are officially recognized by the Bangladeshi authorities as refugees.
The undocumented Rohingya live in squalor, are regularly harassed by the local police, and are not able to access international humanitarian aid. PHR’s March 2010 emergency report, Stateless and Starving: Persecuted Rohingya Flee Burma and Starve in Bangladesh, found atrocious water and sanitation conditions, severe food insecurity, and multiple human rights violations, including arbitrary arrest and forced expulsion by Bangladeshi authorities.
Little progress has been made on a political solution to this problem. In a December 2011 meeting between Burmese President Thein Sein and Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Thein Sein said Burma would allow documented Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh safely back into Burma. But since the vast majority of Rohingya in Bangladesh are not documented, it is unlikely that they will be allowed to return. Agreements like this serve to improve Burma’s image in the international community, but in fact do nothing to alleviate the suffering of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya.
If the Burmese government is truly serious about building lasting peace, it should immediately change the way it treats Rohingya. PHR strongly urges the Burmese government to end forced expulsions of Rohingya individuals, and to recognize the rights of all Rohingya, documented and otherwise.
PHR calls on the Bangladeshi government to cease arbitrary arrests of Rohingya and to allow aid organizations to help all Rohingya refugees. The human rights violations that have happened for decades against Rohingya are far too serious to be ignored by Burma’s reforms.