IV. Post-October Abuses
Rohingya Flight from Arakan State
We cannot be afraid of the danger [of fleeing by sea]. We can get over the danger if it means we can get to another country. The danger cannot be worse than what we are living with here.
—Displaced Rohingya man from Pauktaw, Arakan State, November 2012
For decades, the Burmese government has made conditions so difficult for the Rohingya through severe restrictions in violation of their basic rights and abuses that many have taken great risks in attempts to flee the country.
In June and October 2012, there was again a massive Rohingya flight from Burma, which in some cases resulted in deaths at sea. In 2012, an estimated 13,000 people, including Rohingya and some Bangladeshi nationals, took to the high seas via the Bay of Bengal on smuggler’s boats. In the last three months of 2012 alone, which marks the first half of the so-called “sailing season” (usually October through March) for the Rohingya when the seas calm, an estimated 5,000 Rohingya fled by boat from the Bangladesh-Burma border area on 49 boats, dwarfing the exodus of previous years. In February 2013, Thai officials announced that at least 6,000 Rohingya, including men, women, and children, had arrived on Thai shores.
UNHCR has referred to the large number of departures during this sailing season following the violence and abuses in Arakan State as “unprecedented.” Regular departures took place directly from Sittwe and other parts of Arakan State, in addition to the usual departures from Bangladesh, and for the first time in recent years, women and small children were among those fleeing.
A Rohingya fisherman from Pauktaw, who had survived for weeks in an unofficial, makeshift IDP camp outside Sittwe that had received no humanitarian aid, said:
It will be better if we can go to another country. We want to leave this place. Life in our village is like life here [in the IDP camp] – the Arakanese move around freely but we can’t go anywhere. How can we stay here? It will be better to leave for another country. We all want to go. We want to do hard work and we want to learn. We want health care and education and rights. We cannot have that here.
Rohingya in Arakan State told Human Rights Watch they flee because of violence and abuses from Arakanese and state security forces, and because government officials and Arakanese communities have restricted and obstructed the delivery of humanitarian aid to affected Muslim populations since the violence broke out in June.
Affected Arakanese populations have not suffered restrictions on humanitarian aid. In Myebon, for example, a relatively small number of displaced Arakanese were provided adequate shelter in tents – and elsewhere in local schools and monasteries – sanitation, food, and medical supplies. At the same time, 4,000 displaced Rohingya just kilometers away were living in squalor, without adequate shelter, sanitation, or other basic necessities weeks after their displacement. They were also guarded by soldiers and prevented from leaving.
In Mrauk-U Township, Human Rights Watch interviewed both displaced Arakanese Buddhists, who had adequate shelter, food, water, sanitation, and freedom of movement, and nearby displaced Rohingya, who had very little food, inadequate shelter, and inadequate medical care, among other urgent unmet needs. Local Arakanese communities provided an outpouring of support for the Arakanese, which significantly supplemented assistance provided by private national fundraising drives and international humanitarian agencies.
As detailed in chapter VI, central government authorities continue to deny humanitarian groups unfettered access to some affected areas, and local Arakanese continue to obstruct the delivery of aid to Rohingya through violent threats aimed at aid workers. Such threats have contributed to pressure on Rohingya to flee the country. Government authorities in Arakan State claim they have investigated some of the incidents in which threats were made – but this has evidently not prevented or discouraged continued threats against humanitarian organizations.  In some areas the authorities and the Arakanese community appear to be in unified opposition to any delivery of aid to Muslim communities. While the army has the capacity to intervene to secure aid deliveries, it has not done so. 
OCHA acknowledged the resumption of all regular humanitarian aid projects of partners across Arakan State “is yet to be achieved.” On December 5, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordination, Valerie Amos, visited Arakan State and described the humanitarian situation as “dire.” She said: “I saw thousands of people in overcrowded, sub-standard shelter with poor sanitation. ... They don’t have jobs, children are not in school and they can’t leave the camp because their movement is restricted.”
Each Muslim IDP camp is different, reflecting problems of coordination and access. Human Rights Watch found a variety of deplorable humanitarian conditions in each of the official and unofficial IDP camps visited. In some camps there is inadequate shelter or none at all, a lack of water and sanitation, medical care, and other necessities. Moreover, the UN found that 98 percent of the displaced Muslim population was prevented from accessing markets. These conditions, combined with trauma from the recent violence and abuse, make the option of fleeing the country worth the risk for many Rohingya.
Thousands of asylum seekers have attempted to flee from Burma to Bangladesh since violence erupted in June 8, crossing the Naf River or finding alternative routes. But the Bangladeshi government closed its borders, forcing asylum seekers back to sea on barely seaworthy boats in violation of its obligations under customary international law. Rohingya have died after being pushed back to sea by Bangladesh Border Guards.
In January 2013, UNHCR reported that 485 Rohingya from Arakan State and Bangladeshi nationals drowned in four boat accidents in the Bay of Bengal—but likely many more have drowned. The media reported that Thai navy officials allegedly removed the engine of a boat filled with over 100 Rohingya men, women, and children, and then pushed the boat back to sea – 97 on board starved to death after 25 days stranded at sea.
Regardless of obvious risks of a sea voyage on rickety, overcrowded boats, many Rohingya still sought to travel to Malaysia or Thailand by sea. In November, Human Rights Watch spoke to a group of approximately 70 displaced Rohingya who were part of a larger group from Pauktaw living in an isolated and treeless coastal area outside Sittwe – referred to as Ohn Taw Gyi, or the “coconut garden” – struggling in the hot daytime sun without adequate food, potable water, latrines, and other necessities. Nearly every person indicated they intended to flee Arakan State by boat to Malaysia or Thailand. Many remarked that their only obstacle to fleeing Arakan State was financial.
Illicit boat departures have become a lucrative underground business in Arakan State, involving local brokers and sizable payments to Nasaka and the Burmese navy. According to reports from Rohingya, some departing boats have paid the Nasaka 100,000 kyat (US$120) and the navy 50,000 kyat (US$60). Individual Rohingya have been forced to pay over $2,000 to smugglers, who have threatened to kill Rohingya asylum seekers they have transported unless payment is received from family members.
In past years, boats carrying Rohingya typically left from northern Arakan State and Bangladesh, and included only men and teenaged boys. However, boats are now departing from Sittwe Township as well as northern Arakan State and Bangladesh, and for perhaps the first time, are carrying women and young children as well.
For two decades, UN bodies have documented the Rohingya flight from Arakan State as a result of systematic rights abuses. In September 2010, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma reported that the discrimination against the Rohingya by the state “leads to forced deportation.”In March 2012, the special rapporteur highlighted the cause-and-effect between discrimination and boat departures: “The impact of these policies of discrimination ... has resulted in the exodus of many from the community [who] attempted the dangerous journeys by boat, risking their lives at sea. Some were pushed back to the sea. Others remain in detention facilities in the countries where they landed.”
Tightened Restrictions on Rohingya
We cannot get a degree, and not a single student can travel to Rangoon for studies. We cannot travel anywhere.
—Rohingya man from Sittwe, Arakan State, November 2012
Since the violence in June, the Burmese government has tightened its discriminatory restrictions on the Rohingya, although many of the policies have been in place for decades. These include restrictions on freedom of movement, marriage, education, employment and economic livelihood, land and property ownership, freedom of religion, and other basic facets of everyday life. Many of these restrictions stem from the Rohingya’s lack of Burmese citizenship, and are discriminatory measures based on the racial and religious identity of the group.
In the past, state officials have tightened such restrictions following periods of sectarian violence and abuses, and residents and aid workers told us that the aftermath of the October violence was no exception. A Rohingya former staff member of an international NGO said: “We cannot travel anywhere. Now, after this [violence], the army and the government will definitely not allow it. Normally we can only travel with a letter from the state immigration department and now no one gets that.”
For the most part the government acknowledges rather than disputes the restrictions it imposes on the Rohingya, which have long been reported by the UN and human rights organizations.
On July 31, Burma’s home affairs minister, Lt. Gen. Ko Ko, told parliament that as a result of the influx of “illegal immigration” of Rohingya and their “long-term settlement” in the region, the government would strengthen many of the existing restrictions. He said:
Border Regions Immigration Inspection Command Headquarters is tightening the regulations in order to handle travelling, birth, death, immigration, migration, marriage, construction of new religious buildings, repairing and land ownership and right to construct building of Bengalis [Rohingya] under the law.
Nasaka, which enforces many of the restrictions in northern Arakan State, is notorious for corrupt practices, including demanding exorbitant bribes from Rohingya in exchange for permission to carry out basic aspects of life. Rohingya found to have violated restrictions are typically detained, beaten and mistreated, and extorted prior to being released. In 2012, Nasaka arbitrarily detained between 2,000 and 2,500 Rohingya for such “offenses” as repairing homes without permission and having “unregistered animals” – animals that are not registered with Nasaka. Those in custody typically secure their release through payments to Nasaka commanders, usually through brokers or middlemen.
A Rohingya man, 32, said:
Nasaka is the real only authority in Arakan State, made of local groups – military, police, immigration, and customs. The four law enforcement groups come together. This is only in Arakan State, and it is the worst one, the most terrible one. Nasaka says that even when you breathe you need permission from us. If they want they can take our cattle anytime they want. They arrest people, they take money – they do whatever they want.
A Rohingya elder told Human Rights Watch:
It is their [Nasaka’s] official objective to check the border, to control the infiltration of foreigners, to harass the native Muslim population. Everything is “taxes.” If you want to move from one place to another, you have to pay. If you have a baby cow, you have to report it and pay. If you repair your house without permission, you’ll be sent to jail, and then you’ll be forced to pay. We cannot marry without permission. We have to pay.
A UN official in northern Arakan State told Human Rights Watch:
The local [Rohingya] homes [in Maungdaw] are made of leaves, very basic houses, and they have to repair them for the rainy season. If you want to repair your house, you have to pay money to agents. Nasaka will never take it directly. They have an agent system. A civilian is typically responsible for collecting money and mediating the issues. If a Rohingya wants to go from one village to by another, they need permission, and Nasaka signs the permission. It is a difficult procedure that involves payments and money. In some cases the village administration directly would collect the money, in other cases it would be the brokers. ... The fear of Nasaka among the Muslim population is very high. There are also other restrictions on property. If a Rohingya has one more goat or cow than the records show, they would be in trouble. The more livestock they have, the more they would have to pay.
This extortion is particularly damaging given that the Rohingya, even before the recent violence, were possibly the poorest population in Burma’s second poorest state. 
Relatively wealthy Rohingya – a small minority – have been targeted specifically since October and have in the past been fined up to 10 million kyat [$12,000], and in some cases as high as 20 million kyat [$24,000].
The discriminatory restrictions on marriage have tightened since October, making it more difficult for Rohingya to obtain official permission to marry.  Men and women are often arrested and sentenced to prison for unlawful marriages. “Lawful” marriages require sizable payments to Nasaka. A staff member of an international NGO operating in northern Arakan State said:
Marriages are very difficult [to obtain]. Couples need to pay a lot. If they get married unofficially then their kids are not considered legal. Some women who wear burkas have been forced to take them off. They have no access to land. If they want to do any rehabilitation on their houses, they have to pay. And it costs them 500,000 kyat [$600 USD] to construct a house. They are actually taken to jail and forced to negotiate if they violate any of the rules.
Human Rights Watch received numerous reports of “night checks” – unannounced raids by Nasaka into Muslim homes to check home occupancy. Security personnel typically enter Muslim homes unannounced and count family members against their records. If the figures conflict, the officials detain some or all of the residents, and in many cases, extort, and beat or otherwise mistreat them before letting them go. Human Rights Watch received information about such raids by authorities in Maungdaw Township following the waves of violence in June and October, and in early December in Myoma Kayidan and Shweza villages, resulting in several arrests. At least one report of a nighttime check that allegedly resulted in mass rape of Rohingya women has also come to light since October. Human Rights Watch also received information on many other alleged abuses that have not been independently verified.
The UN official in northern Arakan State said that fines can be between 200,000 and 1 million kyat, depending on the accusation.
Some Arakanese nationalists expressed their opposition to the increased restrictions on movement of the Rohingya since October – but ironically not because freedom of movement is a human right, but because it prevents Rohingya from leaving Arakan State. An Arakanese activist told Human Rights Watch: “They [officials] block the Bengali people from going to Rangoon. This is terrible for us. Even the Burmese [Burman] people are really worried about the Bengali people coming to Rangoon.”
The Burmese government has also systematically violated the Rohingya right to education – this, too, has intensified when since the violence began. Displaced Rohingya and those confined to their villages in and outside Sittwe said that since June, education for their children has been unavailable. After the October violence, the government prevented Rohingya and other Muslims from accessing education in Sittwe Township. According to a Rohingya man living near Sittwe:
We haven’t had access to any education since the violence. At the same time, the Arakanese living downtown …their children can attend school. The levels of access for our children are very different now. They [the Arakanese] can attend primary class but for us, it’s not available here.
A university-age Rohingya student from Sittwe said: “In Maungdaw and Buthidaung the [Muslim] students can’t attend university, and even the students living near the university here [in Sittwe] can’t attend the university. The government said they could not provide security for us.”
A local Rohingya leader from Aung Mingalar, the last remaining Muslim neighborhood in Sittwe, told Human Rights Watch:
There is one school in Aung Mingalar, but no one has attended it since June. The teachers were mostly Arakanese and they don’t dare come here anymore. And there are no schools in the [IDP] camps. We want to build schools and madrassas. Donations could come from the OIC [Organization for Islamic Cooperation] but the government won’t let the OIC come here, and we don’t think the government will build schools here.
 Vivian Tan, “Desperation Drives More Rohingya Onto Smugglers’ Boats,” United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, January 22, 2013, http://www.unhcr.org.uk/news-and-views/news-list/news-detail/article/desperation-drives-more-rohingya-onto-smugglers-boats.html (accessed January 31, 2013).
 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, “Information Note: Mixed Maritime Movements in the Asia-Pacific Region,” December 18, 2012, p. 3.
 Amy Sawitta Lafevre, “After Myanmar Violence, almost 6,000 Rohingyas Arrive in Thailand,” Reuters, February 7, 2013, http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/02/07/us-thailand-rohingya-idUSBRE91609W20130207 (accessed February 11, 2013).
 UNHCR, “Information Note: Mixed Maritime Movements in the Asia-Pacific Region,” p. 3.
 Ibid. pp. 2-3.
 Human Rights Watch interview with M.O., displacement site, Arakan State, November 2012.
 See Human Rights Watch interviews with displaced Rohingya and Kaman Muslims, interviews with S.J., S.K., S.L., S.N., S.O., S.P., S.Q., J.S., J.J., J.K., J.M., J.R., K.S., K.J., K.M., Arakan State, October and November 2012; See also “Burma camp for Rohingyas ‘dire’ – Valerie Amos,” BBC News, December 5, 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-20615778#story_continues_1 (accessed December 6, 2012).
 Human Rights Watch interviews with displaced Rohingya and Kaman Muslims, Arakan State, October and November 2012; see also “Burma camp for Rohingyas ‘dire’ – Valerie Amos,” BBC News, December 5, 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-20615778#story_continues_1 (accessed December 6, 2012).
 See Human Rights Watch interviews with J.Q., J.R., K.S., L.O., L.P., L.Q., L.R., M.S., M.J., M.K., M.L., Mrauk-U Township, Arakan State, November 2012.
 Human Rights Watch meetings with representatives of international agencies operating in the country, Rangoon, July and November 2012.
 See, for example, Jonah Fisher, “Burma’s Displaced Rohingya Suffer as Aid Blocked,” December 13, 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-20694414?print=true (accessed January 31, 2013).
 UNOCHA, “Humanitarian Bulletin: Myanmar,” November 26, 2012, http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/Myanmar%20Humanitarian%20Bulletin%20Issue%20November%202012.pdf (accessed April 10, 2013), p. 2.
 UN News Centre, “Top UN relief official calls on Myanmar’s leaders to support humanitarian efforts,” December 5, 2012, http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=43686&Cr=myanmar&Cr1=#.UMBNyrYY1K5 (accessed December 6, 2012).
 UNOCHA, Rakhine Response Plan, http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/Revised%20Rakhine%20Response%20Plan%20%28amended%29.pdf, p. 7.
 See Human Rights Watch, The Government Could Have Stopped This, pp. 49-50.
 A journalist told Human Rights Watch that he interviewed a Rohingya mother of six whose family had been repeatedly turned back by Bangladeshi authorities during the second week of June 2012, before the boat finally made it to Bangladesh. She told the journalist, “We floated in the sea for four days and nights. My five-year-old daughter died in the boat. She starved to death under the hot weather in the sea.” Human Rights Watch viewed a tape-recorded interview with the woman and other members of her family on June 28t in Bangladesh. Cited in Human Rights Watch, The Government Could Have Stopped This, p. 49.
 Vivian Tan, “Desperation Drives More Rohingya Onto Smugglers’ Boats,” UNHCR, January 22, 2013, http://www.unhcr.org.uk/news-and-views/news-list/news-detail/article/desperation-drives-more-rohingya-onto-smugglers-boats.html (accessed January 31, 2013).
 “97 Burmese asylum seekers die after 25 days stranded at sea,” Associated Press, February 22, 2013, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/feb/22/burmese-asylum-seekers-die-25-days-at-sea (accessed March 5, 2013).
 Human Rights Watch group interview with Rohingya IDPs, displacement site, Arakan State, November 2012.
 Human Rights Watch interview with M.P., displacement site, Arakan State, December 2012.
 See Vivian Tan, “Desperation Drives More Rohingya Onto Smugglers’ Boats,” UNHCR, January 22, 2013, http://www.unhcr.org.uk/news-and-views/news-list/news-detail/article/desperation-drives-more-rohingya-onto-smugglers-boats.html (accessed January 31, 2013).
 Human Rights Watch interviews with displaced Rohingya in areas surrounding Sittwe, October and November 2012; See, also, “50 still missing after boat tragedy off Bangladesh,” ABC News, November 9, 2012, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-11-08/an-bangla-rescue/4361720 (accessed December 7, 2012).
UN General Assembly, “Situation of human rights in Myanmar,” A/65/368, September 15, 2010,http://www.securitycouncilreport.org/atf/cf/%7B65BFCF9B-6D27-4E9C-8CD3-CF6E4FF96FF9%7D/Myan%20A65%20368.pdf (accessed April 10, 2013), p. 16-17.
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, http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/13session/A.HRC.13.48_en.pdf (accessed April 10, 2013) p. 13.
 Human Rights Watch interview with S.N., Sittwe, Arakan State, October 2012.
 In 2001, following violent clashes between Arakanese and Muslims in Sittwe, measures to “strengthen” restrictions were imposed, similar to what Burma’s Union Minister for Home Affairs Lt. Gen. Ko Ko announced to parliament on July 31, 2012. The UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in Burma from 2000-2008, Sergio Pinheiro, wrote in 2001:
Reportedly, as non-citizens they [Rohingya] are subjected to a rule according to which they are required to obtain authorization to travel outside their township. The implementation of this rule is said to have been tightened, especially after reported clashes between Rakhine [Arakanese] Buddhists and Muslims in Sittwe, the State capital, in February 2001. ... Allegedly, at present only a few rich people can afford a travel authorization. ... Such restrictions would affect the livelihood of common Muslims and Hindus, compelling some of them eventually to leave the country.
UN General Assembly, “Situation of human rights in Myanmar,” A/56/312, August 20, 2001, http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/type,COUNTRYREP,UNGA,MMR,3c7cb0d94,0.html (accessed April 10, 2013), pp. 13-14.
Based on over 30 interviews with Burmese Muslims and various religious leaders in Burma, Human Rights Watch released a briefing entitled Crackdown on Burmese Muslims, which also describes tightened restrictions following attacks against Muslims by Arakanese in Sittwe in 2001:
Restrictions seem to have been far more rigidly enforced last year because of heightened concerns about the Muslim community. There are many credible reports of Muslims being taken off buses and trains when they were not able to produce their travel papers, and in some cases even when they did. For instance, in February 2001, eight Muslim men traveling to Rangoon were arrested despite having identity papers because they were traveling outside Arakan State without permission from the local police. They were sentenced to seven years imprisonment. In October, a Muslim man was taken off a plane in Kawthaung airport in southern Burma, bound for Rangoon without apparent reason; his ticket was cancelled.
Human Rights Watch, Crackdown on Burmese Muslim, July 2002, http://www.hrw.org/legacy/backgrounder/asia/burmese_muslims.pdf (accessed April 10, 2013).
 Human Rights Watch interview with S.N., displacement site, Arakan State, October 2012.
 See reports by UN Special Rapporteurs on human rights in Burma listed in footnote #400; Human Rights Watch, Burmese Refugees in Bangladesh, May 2000, http://www.hrw.org/reports/2000/05/01/burmese-refugees-bangladesh-0 (accessed March 1, 2013), part III. See also “Reforms must be undertaken for financial and legal institutional development during the drafting process of monetary and capital market law: MPs,” New Light of Myanmar, August 1, 2012, http://www.burmalibrary.org/docs13/NLM2012-08-01.pdf (accessed April 10, 2010).
 “Reforms must be undertaken for financial and legal institutional development during the drafting process of monetary and capital market law: MPs,” New Light of Myanmar, August 1, 2012, http://www.burmalibrary.org/docs13/NLM2012-08-01.pdf (accessed April 10, 2010).
 Human Rights Watch interview with A.E., Rangoon, June 2012.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Z.A., Rangoon, June 2012.
 Human Rights Watch interview with A.Z., June 2012.
 Human Rights Watch interview with A.E., Rangoon, June 2012.
 About 44 percent of Arakan State inhabitants live below the poverty line, second only to Chin State, according to a 2011 study by the UN Development Program. See UNDP, “Integrated Household Living Conditions Survey in Myanmar (2009-2010): Poverty Dynamics Report, June 2011; see also UN General Assembly, “Report of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar,” A/66/365 (September 16, 2011), http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Countries/MM/A-66-365.pdf (accessed April 10, 2013), p. 17.
 Email communications with representative of The Arakan Project, a non-governmental organization focusing on the plight of the Rohingya in northern Arakan State, December 9, 2012.
 Human Rights Watch communications with two Rohingya in Arakan State, September 2012-January 2013.
 Irish Center for Human Rights, Crimes Against Humanity in Western Burma: The Situation of the Rohingyas, 2010, http://www.nuigalway.ie/human_rights/documents/ichr_rohingya_report_2010.pdf (accessed April 10, 2013), p. 129-131.
 Human Rights Watch interview with A.A., June 2012.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Rohingya man in Maungdaw Township, December 2012.
 See Francis Wade, “Rape by security forces ‘may cause more strife’ in troubled region,” Guardian, February 26, 2013, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/feb/26/burma-security-forces-rape-arakan (accessed February 28, 2013).
 Human Rights Watch interview with A.E., Rangoon, June 2012.
 Human Rights Watch interview with L.N., Mrauk-U Township, Arakan State, November 2012.
 Since October 2012, Muslims have not been allowed to attend the university in Sittwe. The IDP camps also lack any meaningful provision of education. Human Rights Watch interviews, displacement sites, Arakan State, November 2012.
 Human Rights Watch interview with S.Q., displacement site, Sittwe, Arakan State, October 2012.
 Human Rights Watch interview with J.J., displacement site, Arakan State, October 2012.
 Human Rights Watch interview with J.M., displacement site, Arakan State, November 2012.