April 22, 2013

Appendix I: History of Violence and Abuse against Rohingya

This appendix describes abusive campaigns by successive governments in Burma to marginalize and at times forcibly remove ethnic Rohingya Muslims in Arakan State.

For over two decades, United Nations institutions have extensively documented human rights violations against the Rohingya in Burma, including forced displacement and deportation.[400] UN agencies and special rapporteurs have consistently documented abuses such as killings, rape, property destruction, and forced labor of Rohingya, sometimes describing them as “systematic” and a part of state policy.[401]

Tension and animosity between the majority Buddhist population and Muslims in Arakan State can be traced at least to British colonial rule. During World War II, the predominantly ethnically Burman Burma Independence Army (BIA) fought in support of the Japanese against the British, while most of the minority ethnic nationalities, including the Rohingya Muslims, remained loyal to the British.[402] The Arakanese were one of the few ethnic minorities that joined with the BIA in fighting the Allied forces.[403] This led to violent clashes between Arakanese and Rohingya during the war, and to this day both sides speak of “massacres” and “raids” committed by each side against the other at that time.[404]

Burma obtained its independence from Britain in 1948. Shortly thereafter, a Muslim armed rebellion began in Arakan State, demanding creation of an independent Muslim state within Burma in the area that is now northern Arakan State. The Muslim rebels numbered several thousand in 1948 and then quickly dwindled to “just a handful by 1950.”[405] In 1962, a coup led by Gen. Ne Win marked the beginning of decades of oppressive military rule.

Throughout military rule in Burma there were numerous Buddhist-Muslim clashes in Arakan State in which the military government led campaigns of violence against the Rohingya population. The government also adopted laws and policies that resulted in widespread discrimination and other human rights violations against the Rohingya.

In 1977, the Burmese government initiated a national census program called Naga Min (Dragon King) to “scrutinize each individual living in the State, designating citizens and foreigners in accordance with the law and taking actions against foreigners who have filtered into the country illegally.”[406] In Arakan State, Naga Min metamorphosed into a targeted campaign to forcibly drive out Rohingya Muslims. The authorities conducted brutal mass arrests in house-to-house raids, violently rounding up thousands of Rohingya.[407] State security forces, sometimes acting in collusion with local Arakanese, committed killings and torture, and razed entire Rohingya villages.[408] Over 200,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh.[409] The government did not deny that violence occurred but held the Rohingya responsible, blaming it on “armed bands of Bengalis,” “rampaging Bengali mobs,” and “wild Muslim extremists.”[410]

The Bangladesh government denied humanitarian access and withheld food aid to the Rohingya refugees to force them back to Burma, and more than 12,000 starved to death.[411] In July 1979, Burmese President Ne Win agreed to a repatriation program with Bangladesh whereby the Rohingya were forcibly returned to areas primarily in northern Arakan State, away from major Arakanese population centers. The Northern Arakan State region has increasingly become an area of religious and ethnic concentration for the Rohingya.[412]

In 1982, the military government enacted a national citizenship law that effectively stripped the Rohingya of Burmese citizenship. The following year the government published the findings of a nationwide census that excluded the Rohingya, thereby cementing their statelessness.[413] The current UN special rapporteur on Burma, Tomas Quintanaobserved that the 1982 Citizenship Law “contravenes generally accepted international norms to ensure that there is no State sanctioned discrimination on the basis of religion and ethnicity.”[414]

In the early 1990s the military dramatically increased its presence in northern Arakan State, constructing roads and barracks with forced labor, confiscating land and property, and forcibly deporting some Rohingya to Bangladesh, while transferring others from various townships to northern Arakan State.[415] The security forces were also implicated in summary executions, rape, and torture. Mosques were destroyed by the state—and in some cases replaced with Buddhist temples—and Muslim religious activities were banned.[416] Continuing abuses caused Rohingya at times to flee to Bangladesh at the rate of several thousand per day.[417]

The abuses against the Rohingya were very different in character from those occurring during this period against other ethnic minority populations. Elsewhere the Burmese army was engaged in often long-running armed conflicts with ethnic armed groups, and the unlawful attacks on those civilian populations grew out of those conflicts. In the case of the Rohingya, non-state armed groups called the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO) and the Arakan Rohingya Islamic Front (ARIF) were established in northern Arakan State in 1982 and 1987, respectively, but these groups and others never posed a serious threat to the Burmese military state, their principal target, nor to Burmese society.[418] The Rohingya armed element was “small and not a significant fighting force comparable to the Karen guerrillas or other insurgent armies in the east.”[419] Instead, the Burmese security forces committed widespread abuses targeting the Rohingya population in an apparent effort to force their relocation. As Human Rights Watch noted in a 1992 report, the government did “not even attempt to justify the campaign against the Rohingya in terms of counterinsurgency.”[420]

Between mid-1991 and early 1992, more than a quarter million Rohingya crossed the Naf River into Teknaf and Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh. Bangladesh was again hostile to the asylum seekers and forced them into squalid refugee settlements.[421]

In 1992, the Burmese government established Nay-Sat Kut-kwey Ye (Nasaka), a border guard force comprising the army, police, immigration, and customs officials. Nasaka enforces many of the restrictions against the Rohingya in Arakan State, particularly in the predominantly Muslim townships of northern Arakan State. Nasaka has law enforcement, military, and administrative authority, unlike other security forces in the country.

From late 1992 through 1993, Bangladesh forcibly repatriated approximately 50,000 Rohingya to Burma by mistreating those in the camps through beatings, the denial of food rations, and other abuses.[422] The vast majority who returned to Burma were believed to have done so involuntarily, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN refugee agency was unable to trace them upon their return.[423] Burmese troops receiving them used excessive force, including killings.[424]

In 1994, UNHCR established a small field presence in Arakan State and started promoting mass repatriation on the grounds that the situation was conducive to return. These repatriations occurred alongside the wide-scale forced transfer of Rohingya from the state capital, Sittwe, and other areas to Maungdaw and Buthidaung in northern Arakan State.[425]

Lt. Gen. Mya Thinn, then minister for home affairs, informed the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma that Arakan State’s Muslims were ineligible for citizenship under the 1982 law and that they were not even registered as so-called foreign residents. As a result their status did not permit them to travel within the country.[426]

In addition to the violent abuses, Rohingya in Arakan State have been subjected to “racially based restrictions.” Reports by UN rapporteurs dating back to 1996 have described the restrictions as “severe” and “unreasonable.”  The 1996 special rapporteur report concluded, “The Government’s policy violates freedom of movement and residence and, in some cases, constitutes discriminatory practices based on ethnic considerations.”[427]

The special rapporteur Rajsoomer Lallah in January 2000 reported that there were six major circumstances that led to massive outflows of Rohingya from Burma— conditions that would amount to unlawful deportation:

(1) The lack of citizenship and, by extension, nationality rights; (2) Imposed restrictions on movement by the [Burmese] authorities; (3) Forced labor and portering for the army; (4) Compulsory food donations, extortion and arbitrary taxation; (5) Land confiscation or relocation; and (6) Deliberate food (rice) shortages in combination with high prices. These factors, coupled with systematic human rights violations and imposed underdevelopment, led to the mass exodus of Rohingyas.[428]

In 2001, mobs attacked Muslim communities in various parts of the country, with the most violent clashes happening in Sittwe. Arakanese targeted mosques and other structures, and there were “an unknown number of deaths and injuries and widespread looting and destruction of property.”[429] In July 2002, at least 28 mosques and madrassas were destroyed. State security forces failed to intervene, and in some cases participated in the violence.[430] In January 2002, Sergio Pinheiro, then UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, reported that, “in some cases, tensions may have been encouraged by local authorities who intervened only at a late stage to stop the violence.”[431]

Beyond these waves of violence, state security forces have routinely conscripted Rohingya for forced labor, and have committed killings, rape, torture, land confiscation, forced relocations, and arbitrary taxation.  The systematic denial of citizenship rights has facilitated unlawful restrictions on movement, education, marriage, employment, and other aspects of daily life.[432]

UN Special Rapporteur Quintana reported in 2010:

Discrimination [against the Rohingya] leads to forced deportation and restriction of movement owing to the enduring condition of statelessness, which is the result of the Rohingyas’ historic difficulty in obtaining citizenship, particularly following the enactment of the 1982 Citizenship Act. Acts of land confiscation, forced relocation and eviction through violent means also appear to be widespread and systematic. Finally, discrimination leads to persecution, which can be defined as intentional and severe deprivation of fundamental rights contrary to international law by reason of the identity of the group or collectivity.[433]

Concerns about systematic violations against the Rohingya in Arakan State persisted prior to the onset of violence in Arakan State in June 2012. According to a UN official, in 2012 the Nasaka arbitrarily detained between 2,000 and 2,500 Rohingya for “offenses” such as repairing homes without permission.[434] Those in custody were often beaten and mistreated, and could only secure their release through payments to Nasaka commanders, usually through brokers or middlemen.[435]

In March 2012, three months before the onset of violence, the UN special rapporteur reported to the UN Human Rights Council about the “denial of citizenship [of Rohingya], restrictions on their freedom of movement, marriage restrictions and other discriminatory policies.” He noted that “tens of thousands of children remain unregistered” as a matter of policy, and are thus stateless.[436]

The documentation of abuses by local and international nongovernmental organizations, as well as UN institutions, made clear the severity of the problems, but the abuses against the Rohingya continued.

[400] See Human Rights Council, “Progress Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar,” A/HRC/19/67, March 7, 2012; UN General Assembly, “Situation of human rights in Myanmar,” A/66/365, September 16, 2011; UN Human Rights Council, “Progress report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar,” A/HRC/16/59, March 7, 2011; UN General Assembly, “Situation of human rights in Myanmar,” A/65/368, September 15, 2010; UN General Assembly “Progress report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar,” A/HRC/13/48, March 10, 2010; UN General Assembly, “Situation of human rights in Myanmar,” A/64/318, August 24, 2009; UN General Assembly, “Human rights situations that require the council’s attention,” A/HRC/10/19, March 11, 2009; UN General Assembly, “Human rights situations that require the council’s attention,” A/HRC/7/18, March 7, 2008; UN Human Rights Council, “Implementation of General Assembly Resolution 60/251 of 15 March 2006 Entitled ‘Human Rights Council,’” A/HRC/4/14, February 12, 2007; UN Economic and Social Council, “Question of the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in any part of the world,” E/CN.4/2006/34, February 7, 2006; UN General Assembly, “Situation of human rights in Myanmar,” A/60/221, August 12, 2005; UN Economic and Social Council, “Question of the Violation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in Any Part of the World,” E/CN.4/2005/36, December 2, 2004; UN Economic and Social Council, “Question of the Violation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in Any Part of the World,” E/CN.4/2005/36, December 2, 2004; UN Economic and Social Council, “Question of the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in any part of the world,” E/CN.4/2003/41, December 27, 2002; UN Economic and Social Council, “Question of the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in any part of the world,” E/CN.4/2002/45, January 10, 2002; UN General Assembly, “Situation of human rights in Myanmar,” A/56/312, August 20, 2001; “Situation of human rights in Myanmar,” UN General Assembly, A/55/359, August 22, 2000; UN Economic and Social Council, “Question of the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in any part of the world,” E/CN.4/2000/38, January 24, 2000; UN General Assembly, “Situation of human rights in Myanmar,” A/54/440, October 4, 1999; UN General Assembly, “Human rights questions: Human rights situations and reports of the special rapporteurs and representatives,” A/52/484, October 16, 1997; UN Economic and Social Council, “Question of the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in any part of the world, with particular reference to colonial and other dependent countries and territories,” E/CN.4/1996/65, February 6, 1996; UN General Assembly, “Human rights questions, human rights situations and reports of special rapporteurs and representatives,” A/51/466, October 8, 1996; UN Economic and Social Council, “Report on the situation of Human Rights in Myanmar, prepared by Mr. Yozo Yokota, Special Rapporteur on the Commission on Human Rights, in accordance with Commission resolution 1995/72,” E/CN.4/1996/65, February 5, 1996.

[401] For findings about UN knowledge of international crimes in eastern Burma, see International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School, Crimes in Burma, May 2009, http://www.law.harvard.edu/news/2009/05/28_burma.html (accessed December 6, 2012).

[402] There are eight distinct ethnic groups of Burma, including the majority Burman, and numerous sub-groups comprising the government’s list of 135 officially recognized ethnic nationalities. The Rohingya are not recognized as an ethnic group of Burma. The eight primary groups are Arakanese, Burman, Chin, Kachin, Karen, Karreni, Mon, and Shan.

[403] See Martin Smith, Burma: Insurgency and the Politics of Ethnicity (London: Zed Books, 1993), p. 64.

[404] Human Rights Watch interviews with Arakanese and Rohingya, Sittwe, Arakan State, October-November 2012.

[405] Bertil Lintner, Burma in Revolt:Opium and Insurgency Since 1948 (Silkworm Books, 2000), p.110.

[406] Statement by the Ministry for Home and Religious Affairs, November 16, 1977, quoted in Human Rights Watch, Burma: Rohingya Muslims: Ending a Cycle of Exodus?, p. 12.

[407] Human Rights Watch, Burma: Rohingya Muslims: Ending a Cycle of Exodus?, p. 12; see also Bertil Lintner, Burma in Revolt, pp. 316-17.

[408] Human Rights Watch, Perilous Plight: Burma’s Rohingya Take to the Seas, May 2009, p. 6, http://www.hrw.org/reports/2009/05/26/perilous-plight-0 (accessed July 12, 2012); Human Rights Watch, Malaysia/Burma: Living in Limbo: Burmese Rohingyas in Malaysia, August 2000, http://www.hrw.org/legacy/reports/2000/malaysia/index.htm#TopOfPage (accessed July 12, 2012); Human Rights Watch, Burma: Rohingya Muslims: Ending a Cycle of Exodus?

[409] Human Rights Watch, Malaysia/Burma: Living in Limbo: Burmese Rohingyas in Malaysia; Human Rights Watch, Burma: Rohingya Muslims: Ending a Cycle of Exodus?

[410] Quoted in Martin Smith, Burma: Insurgency and the Politics of Ethnicity, p. 241; see also Irish Center for Human Rights, “Crimes Against Humanity in Western Burma,” pp. 91-92.

[411]Alan Lindquist (head of UNHCR sub-office in Cox’s Bazaar in 1978), “Report on the 1978-1979 Bangladesh Refugee Relief Operation,” June 1979. Lindquist states on p. 9: “None of the U.N. agency heads raised any objection to using food as a political weapon.” See also Human Rights Watch, Burma: Rohingya Muslims: Ending a Cycle of Exodus?, p.3.

[412] Carl Grundy-Warrand and Elaine Wong,“Sanctuary Under a Plastic Sheet: The Unresolved Problem of Rohingya Refugees,” IBRU Boundary and Security Bulletin, vol.5, no.3, Autumn 1997, pp.79-91; Human Rights Watch, Perilous Plight: Burma’s Rohingya Take to the Seas, p. 6.

[413] For more information on the 1982 Citizenship Law, see chapter VII of this report; see also Human Rights Watch, “The Government Could Have Stopped This, pp. 45-48.

[414] UN special rapporteur on Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana, “Progress report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar,” UN General Assembly, A/HRC/13/48, March 10, 2010.

[415] Human Rights Watch, Burma: Rape, Forced Labor, and Religious Persecution in Northern Arakan, May 7, 1992, p. 1, http://www.hrw.org/reports/pdfs/b/burma/burma925.pdf (accessed April 10, 2013). Ibid. p.

[416] See Medecins San Frontieres, 10 Years for the Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh: Past, Present, and Future, March 2002, pp. 10-11, http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/publications/reports/2002/rohingya_report.pdf (accessed April 10, 2013); Human Rights Watch, Burma: Rape, Forced Labor, and Religious Persecution in Northern Arakan, May 7, 1992, p. 16-21.

[417] Human Rights Watch, Burma: Rape, Forced Labor, and Religious Persecution in Northern Arakan, May 7, 1992, p. 1, http://www.hrw.org/reports/pdfs/b/burma/burma925.pdf (accessed April 10, 2013).

[418] Martin Smith, Burma: Insurgency and the Politics of Ethnicity, pp. 194-195, 241; Human Rights Watch, Burma: Rohingya Muslims: Ending a Cycle of Exodus?, p. 14.

[419] Ibid. p. 2.

[420] Ibid. p.2.

[421] Ibid; Human Rights Watch, The Rohingya Muslims: Ending a Cycle of Exodus?; U.S. Committee for Refugees, “The Return of the Rohingya Refugees to Burma: Voluntary Repatriation or Refoulement?” Washington, DC, 1995.

[422] Human Rights Watch, The Rohingya Muslims: Ending a Cycle of Exodus?

[423] Ibid.

[424] Human Rights Watch, The Rohingya Muslims: Ending a Cycle of Exodus?; U.S. Committee for Refugees, “The Return of the Rohingya Refugees to Burma: Voluntary Repatriation or Refoulement?” Washington, DC, 1995.

[425] UN Economic and Social Council, “Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar,” prepared by Mr. Yozo Yokota, E/CN.4/1995/65, January 12, 1995p. 27-28.   

[426] UN Economic and Social Council, “Report on the situation of Human Rights in Myanmar, prepared by Mr. Yozo Yokota, Special Rapporteur on the Commission on Human Rights, in accordance with Commission resolution 1995/72,” E/CN.4/1996/65, February 5, 1996.

[427]“Human rights questions, human rights situations and reports of special rapporteurs and representatives,” UN General Assembly, A/51/466, October 8, 1996, p. 36.

[428]“Question of the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in any part of the world,” UN Economic and Social Council, Situation of human rights in Myanmar, E/CN.4/2000/38, January 24, 2000, p. 14.

[429] UN Economic and Social Council, “Question of the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in any part of the world,” E/CN.4/2002/45, January 10, 2002, http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G02/100/65/PDF/G0210065.pdf?OpenElement (accessed November 28, 2012).

[430] Human Rights Watch, Crackdown on Burmese Muslims, pp. 10-11.

[431] UN Economic and Social Council, “Question of the violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in any part of the world,” E/CN.4/2002/45, January 10, 2002, http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G02/100/65/PDF/G0210065.pdf?OpenElement (accessed November 28, 2012).

[432] See, e.g., The Arakan Project, Forced Labour Still Prevails: An Overview of Forced Labour Practices in North Arakan, Burma, May 30, 2012, http://www.burmapartnership.org/2012/05/forced-labour-still-prevails-an-overview-of-forced-labour-practices/ (accessed April 10, 2013); Irish Center for Human Rights, Crimes Against Humanity in Western Burma: The Situation of the Rohingyas, 2010; See Amnesty International, Union of Myanmar (Burma): Human Rights Violations against Muslims in Northern Rakhine (Arakan) State, May 1992; Asia Watch, Burma: Rape, Forced Labor and Religious Persecution in Northern Arakan, a Human Rights Watch Short Report, vol.4, no. 13, May 1992.

[433]“Situation of human rights in Myanmar,” UN General Assembly, A/65/368, September 15, 2010, pp. 16-17.

[434] Human Rights Watch interview A.E., Rangoon, Burma, June 2012; see also Human Rights Watch, “The Government Could Have Stopped This,” p. 16.     

[435] Human Rights Watch interview A.E., Rangoon, Burma, June 2012.

[436] UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, Tomas Ojea Quintana, “Progress Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar,” UN Human Rights Council, A/HRC/19/67, March 7, 2012.