the Rohingya People
Northern Arakan, consisting of contemporary Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships in western Burma, has been a region of intermittent unrest and refugee flows since the late eighteenth century. During this time, thousands of Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh, which lies directly across the Burmese border from Arakan. In smaller numbers, Rohingya have also moved to other places, including the Middle East, Pakistan, and Malaysia, although this movement has not been as thoroughly explored.7 Outflows to Malaysia, like those to Bangladesh, have been prompted by ethnic and religious conflict, which were in turn triggered by broader political struggles. A historical overview of the region not only serves to reveal the long history of refugee flows, but also traces the attachment of the Rohingya to northern Arakan and, thus, their firmly established link to what is modern Burma.
To understand the dynamics of the Rohingya issue, it is important to understand the claims made by both the Burmese government and by the ethnic group now known as "Rohingya," since the term itself has become politically charged.8 The current military government denies that Rohingya are an ethnic group and claims that the Muslims in northern Arakan are Bengalis whose arrival is fairly recent.9 It takes the view that the migration that took place during the period of British colonial rule was illegal, and it is on this basis that it refuses citizenship to the majority of the Rohingya.
In reality, the Rohingya have had a well established presence in what is now Burma since at least the twelfth century. Rohingya political leaders claim that Rohingya are an ethnically distinct group, descendants of the first Muslims who began migrating to northern Arakan in the eighth century, though they also say that they are a mix of Bengalis, Persians, Moghuls, Turks, and Pathans who came to the area later.10 The Rohingya were once counted as a part of the Mrauk-U (Mrohaung) kingdom in Arakan, which stood independent of both the Burman kingdoms in the Irrawaddy delta and central Burma as well as Bengal and the Moguls to the west. Thefirst Muslim traders came to the area in the seventh century, and more Muslim sailors made their way to the Arakan region during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. A second wave of migration took place in the fifteenth century, and Rohingya give as further evidence of their long settlement in Arakan the fact that the kings of Arakan from 1400 to 1600 took Muslim (as well as Buddhist) names.11 In 1784, the Burman King Bodawpaya conquered and incorporated the Arakan region into his kingdom of Ava in central Burma. As a consequence of the invasion, refugees poured into what is now Bangladesh, which was then controlled by the British.
The British colonized Burma in a series of three wars beginning in 1824. This period witnessed significant migration of laborers to Burma from neighboring South Asia. The British administered Burma as a province of India, thus migration to Burma was considered an internal movement.
In 1942, the Japanese invaded Burma and during the British retreat communal violence erupted. Attacks were made against those groups that had benefited from British colonial rule. Burman nationalists attacked Karen and Indian communities, while in Arakan Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya villagers attacked one another causing a displacement of Buddhist villagers to the south and Muslims to the north.12 Some 22,000 Rohingya are believed to have crossed the border into Bengal.13 The region remained under Japanese control until a British offensive drove them out in 1945. Prior to the invasion, the British, seeking to bolster support for their forces, had promised the Muslims of northern Arakan a Muslim National Area, and some of the displaced returned with the British. However, the British government never delivered on its promise to create a Muslim National Area.14
By 1947 the Rohingya had formed an army and had approached President Jinnah of the newly-created Pakistan to ask him to incorporate northern Arakan into East Pakistan (Bangladesh). This move, more than any other, shaped the present-day Burmese government attitude toward the Rohingya: they were perceived to have threatened Burma's territorial integrity on the eve of its independence and, consequently, are not to be trusted.15
From Burma's independence in January 1948, tensions grew between the Burmese government and the Rohingya minority. Immediately following independence, a group of Arakanese Muslims went on the political offensive, pushing for the integration of Maungdaw and Buthidaung into what was then East Pakistan, but this was rejected by the Constituent Assembly in Rangoon.16 The government contributed to the escalation of tensions by treating the Rohingya as illegal immigrants.
The immigration authorities imposed limitations of movement upon Muslims from the regions of Maungdaw, Buthidaung, and Rathedaung to Akyab [Sittwe]. The Muslims were not resettled in the villages from which they had been driven out in 1942 (with the exception of villages they left in the Maungdaw and Buthidaung regions). Some 13,000 Rohingya still living in refugee camps in India and Pakistan whence they had fled during the war, were unable to return; as for those who did manage to return, they were considered illegal Pakistani immigrants. The properties and land of all these refugees have been confiscated.17Because they did not have rights of citizenship, Rohingya were prohibited from military service, and Buddhist Rakhine villagers replaced Rohingya civil servants.18
The democratic government of Prime Minister U Nu in the 1950s recognized the Rohingya's claim to be an indigenous ethnic group for what most observers consider to have been political motives. Yet, their indigenous status has been denied by subsequent governments ever since the military took control of the country in 1962.19 Following the 1962 coup, the military government took various measures intended to encourage the Rohingya to leave Burma, withdrawing recognition of their citizenship and restricting their freedom. It became increasingly difficult for Rohingya to join the civil service, and many Rohingya already in the civil service were harassed by frequent transfers away from their families and other measures until they resigned.20 Since the late 1970s Rohingya have not been accepted in the army. In 1974 the government promulgated the Emergency Immigration Act, designed to curtail immigration from India, China, and Bangladesh. All citizens were required to carry identity cards (National Registration Certificates), but the Rohingya were eligible only for Foreign Registration Cards (FRCs), and very few Rohingya were able to obtain them. But even if they did not possess FRCs, the local authorities did not at this time severely disrupt the Rohingya's lives.21
In 1977, however, the government initiated a program called Nagamin (King of Dragons)-a census operation to check identification cards and to take "actions against foreigners who have filtered into the country illegally."22 While the program was nationwide in scope, in Arakan it degenerated into abusive attacks on Rohingya by both the army and local Rakhines. The situation was complicated, as in 1991, by the operations of a Rohingya guerrilla group that became militarily active as the Nagamin operation got underway in the area. By May 1978, over 200,000 Rohingya had fled to Bangladesh. A few went to Malaysia, some of whom continue to reside there.23
Throughout the period of military rule, there was no effort to assimilate the Rohingya, and access to the Burmese education system was very limited, especially after 1973. While the whole of Arakan state, and indeed all ethnic minority areas, suffered from this neglect by the central government, the Rohingya suffered particularly. The situation was exacerbated by a lack of development projects and of planning for reintegration of refugees who returned in 1978 and 1979, many of whom remained landless and without documentation.
When the current military government took power in 1988, very little changed in the authorities' attitude toward the Rohingya. Surprisingly, they were allowed to vote in the May 1990 national elections and were represented by two parties who captured eighty percent of the votes cast in the constituencies. The military government refused to accept the results of the election-a large victory for Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, an opponent of military rule-and in July 1990 announced the formation of a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution as a basis for new elections.24 This refusal by the military government to hand over political power provoked demonstrations by monks and students toward the end of 1990, and evenpolitical prisoners in Rangoon's central Insein jail went on a hunger strike in protest.25 Critics have suggested that the military, needing a scapegoat, a distraction, and a common enemy that might help to united a disillusioned and angry populace, chose the Rohingya.26
At the start of 1991, Rohingya who had fled to Bangladesh were the first to report a dramatic increase in the number of soldiers being posted to northern Arakan state and a consequent upsurge in human rights abuses against civilians. Before the rains started in May 1991, some 10,000 Rohingya refugees had arrived in Bangladesh. By March 1992, over 270,00 refugees had arrived. The refugees told of summary executions, rape, and other forms of torture which they had witnessed or personally endured at the hands of the military.27 In most cases, the abuses took place in the context of forced labor: the Rohingya were being forced to work as porters, build new army barracks, new roads and bridges, dig fish and prawn ponds, and cut bamboo for the military. This was the period in which the majority of Rohingya who now reside in Malaysia decided to leave Burma.
Since September 1992, there have been efforts to repatriate the Rohingya refugees residing in Bangladesh, and in August 1994 UNHCR adopted a program of mass repatriation in which thousands of Rohingya returned to Burma each week. However, since 1997, events in the refugees camps in Bangladesh and conditions imposed by the Burmese authorities have slowed such returns to a trickle. Even many Rohingya who wish to return to Arakan from Bangladesh have not been able to do so.
There have been no similar repatriations of Rohingya from Malaysia. Indeed, the Burmese government explicitly refuses to recognize Rohingya in Malaysia as its own citizens, and it will not accept them back. Both Rohingya formerly detained in Malaysian immigration camps and UNHCR officials in Kuala Lumpur told Human Rights Watch that Burmese embassy officials occasionally visit the immigration detention camps when reviewing cases for repatriation and separate the Rohingya from other Burmese.28 One man told us that while he was detained in Malaysia's Malacca camp in 1996, Burmese embassy officials came to the camp, separated the Rohingya from other Burmese, and took the latter away, leaving the Rohingya behind.29 Another said that Burmese embassy officials take only those who speak Burmese, and those who speak only the Rohingya language are not accepted. Although we were unable to verify the basis on which Burmese officials identify the Rohingya, UNHCR confirmed that Burmese embassy officials go into the camps and select those whom they will repatriate, but that they do not select the Rohingya.
Conditions for Rohingya inside Burma today remain dismal. As Human Rights Watch has documented, the Burmese government continues to deny citizenship and its accompanying rights to most Rohingya, demand forced labor from Rohingya villagers, and arbitrarily confiscate their property.30 Because these abuses, which were the structural causes of the 1991-92 mass exodus, remain unresolved, new refugee flows persist and the reintegration of those who have returned to Burma is limited.
As we argue in the following chapters, the denial of citizenship rights to the Rohingya and the resulting discrimination provides powerful evidence that they are refugees and are, thus, entitled to protection in Malaysia and elsewhere. Yet, to date, their case has not been given the weight it merits. Moreover, although primary responsibility lies with Burma, the Rohingya's lack of citizenship activates additional obligations on the part of both Malaysia and UNHCR in the face of Burma's intransigence.
Denial of Citizenship and Accompanying
The most critical issue is the Rohingya's legal status in Burma. Most Rohingya who have been permitted to reside in Burma are considered by the Burmese authorities to be "resident foreigners," not citizens. This lack of full citizenship rights means that the Rohingya are subject to other abuses, including restrictions on their freedom of movement, discriminatory limitations on access to education, and arbitrary confiscation of property. Denial of citizenship, and of the rights that go with it, pose serious obstacles to achieving a durable solution to the refugee flows.
Burma's 1982 Citizenship Law was promulgated shortly after Rohingya refugees returned from the 1978 exodus and was designed specifically to deny citizenship to the Rohingya.31 The law designates three categories of citizens: (1) full citizens, (2) associate citizens, and (3) naturalized citizens. A person is issued a color-coded Citizenship Scrutiny Card consistent with his or her citizenship status-pink, blue, and green respectively. Full citizens are persons who belong to one of the "national races" (Kachin, Kayah (Karenni), Karen, Chin, Burman, Mon, Rakhine, Shan, Kaman, and Zerbadee) or those whose ancestors settled in the country before 1823, the beginning of British occupation of what is now Arakan State. If individuals cannot provide evidence that their ancestors settled in Burma before 1823, they may still be eligible for naturalization. Those persons who qualified for citizenship under the 1948 law, but who would no longer qualify under the 1982 law, are considered associate citizens if they applied for citizenship before the 1982 law went into effect. Following the implementation of the 1982 law, foreigners may become naturalized citizens if they can provide "conclusive evidence" that they or their parents entered and resided in Burma prior to independence in 1948. Persons who have at least one parent who holds one of the three types of Burmese citizenship are also eligible to become naturalized citizens. Beyond these two qualifications, Section 44 of the 1982 act stipulates that a person seeking to become a naturalized citizen must be at least eighteen years old, able to speak one of the national languages well (the Rohingya language, a dialect related to Chittagonian, is not recognized as a national language), of good character, and of sound mind.32 According to the terms of the law, only full and naturalized citizens are "entitled to enjoy the rights of a citizen under the law, with the exception from time to time of the rights stipulated by the State," and associate and naturalized citizens do not have the right to stand as candidates in general elections.33 All forms of citizenship, "except a citizen by birth," may be revoked by the state.
Provisions in the 1982 law perpetuate the citizenship crisis by denying citizenship to children born to non-citizens. In order for a child to attain Burmese citizenship, at least one parent must already hold one of the three types of Burmese citizenship.
The stipulations of the Burma Citizenship Law governing the right to one of the three types of Burmese citizenship effectively deny the Rohingya the possibility of acquiring a nationality. Although the Rohingya have history which links them to Burma since the eighth century, Burmese law does not recognize the ethnic minority as one of Burma's national races. Many Rohingya families migrated to and settled in Arakan during the British colonial period, which under the 1982 law, directly excludes them from citizenship. Even for those Rohingya whose families settled in the region before 1823, moreover, the onerous burden of proving it to the satisfaction of the Burmese authorities has made it nearly impossible for all but a handful to secure their Burmese citizenship. Rohingya who cannot provide "conclusive evidence" of their lineage or history of residence find themselves ineligible for any class of citizenship. And because of their formal legal status as resident foreigners, Rohingya are subject to restrictions on their freedom of movement, denied access to higher education, and restricted from holding public office.
Human Rights Watch has persistently called for the Burmese government to amend or repeal the 1982 Citizenship Law in line with recommendations made by the U.N. Special Rapporteur dealing with Burma, and to grant Rohingya full citizenship and accompanying rights.34 The special rapporteur has called on the Burmese government to "abolish its over-burdensome requirements for citizens in a manner which has discriminatory effects on racial or ethnic minorities."35 UNHCR has also urged the government to review the law, perhaps within the context of the National Convention deliberations, and has offered to consider providing financial, technical, and legal support to assist the government in distributing Citizenship Scrutiny Cards.36 The current military government, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) has made no progress, however, in addressing the legal obstacles to a sustainable return.
Because they are denied citizenship, Rohingya in Burma are considered resident foreigners, a legal status which subjects them to serious discrimination. The Burmese government restricts Rohingya's travel within Arakan, to other parts of the country, and abroad. The restriction on movement, combined with arbitraryconfiscation of property, seriously hinders the Rohingya's ability to seek work and to trade.37 The government reserves secondary education for citizens only, so the Rohingya do not have access to state-funded schools beyond the primary level. The Rohingya's lack of citizenship also bars them from the civil service, so they cannot work as teachers or health workers, nor are they permitted to participate formally in government.
Forced Labor and Arbitrary Confiscation
of Property in Burma
Local government authorities continue to require Rohingya to perform forced labor. Human Rights Watch was told that those who refuse or complain are physically threatened, sometimes with death, and that children as young as seven years old have been seen on forced labor teams. Use of child labor directly contravenes the Burmese government's obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.38 The compulsory, unpaid labor includes work in state-run, profit-making industries and in the construction of "model villages" for non-Muslim migrants in Arakan. The Rohingya are often made to pay for the construction of model villages through the confiscation of their land, the provision of labor, and building materials. By contrast, Rakhine villagers in northern Arakan do not have to participate in these projects.39
In 1994, after lobbying from the UNHCR, Arakan state officials informally agreed to limit forced labor demands in northern Arakan to four days a month. This agreement, however, is not being honored in many communities. Rohingya report that Burmese military units have continued to conscript villagers for work without pay for more than of seven days a month on model villages, infrastructure projects, portering, and military camp maintenance. Both the U.N. Special Rapporteur and the International Labor Organization (ILO) reported in 1999 that the government has continued the practice of forced labor in many parts of Burma, especially in ethnic minority states.40 Although the Burmese government issued an order in May 1999 recommending that local authorities stop using forced labor, no significant reduction in its application has been reported.41
As in many parts of Burma with a high military presence, soldiers frequently require Rohingya villagers to provide them with rice and livestock. With the central government unable to provide fully for its 450,000 strong army, battalions have often turned to extortion and theft, as well as extracting forced labor. Extortion has manifested itself in the confiscation of food and demands for fees or bribes at checkpoints. Soldiers reportedly commit such abuses with impunity. According to Rohingya interviewed by Human Rights Watch, the combination of forced labor, seizure of land, arbitrary confiscation of property, and rice taxes have made Rohingya increasingly economically marginalized in Burma, further contributing to refugee outflows.
Because the conditions that have prompted refugee flows over the past decade have not been addressed, the Rohingya in Malaysia have reason to fear persecution should they return to Arakan. This overview makes clear that Rohingya in Burma are systematically denied the protections of citizenship and, as a result, are denied freedom of movement, education, and civil service positions. They are also subject to forced labor and thearbitrary confiscation of their property. This persistent violation of Rohingya's rights has contributed to outflows from the region, including to Malaysia.42
Life in Malaysia
I am afraid of arrest wherever I go.
-Rohingya man living in Kuala Lumpur43
I have no travel documents and I cannot work. The police are always stopping me and asking where I am going and for my passport. I say that I am from Myanmar and have no documents and sometimes they are sympathetic. Now I have [an unofficial letter that says I am Rohingya] which I show to the police, but they do not always accept it and demand money. . . . Really, the letter is not so helpful, but people want at least one document to show.
-man from Arakan44
Undocumented and living in detention, scattered around Malaysia's cities, or hiding in jungle settlements, Rohingya in Malaysia cannot be counted. Estimates range from 5,100 to about 8,000 people.45 The majority live in neighborhoods around Kuala Lumpur, but there are also smaller settlements in Penang, Kelantan, and other parts of peninsular Malaysia.
Many Rohingya are single men or men who left their families behind in Burma. However, families have come as well, and in the last ten years some of those who were children have grown up and had their own children.
Almost none of the Rohingya interviewed by Human Rights Watch had current Burmese identity documents, although some had documents from the previous government of Burma. "During the democracy time I had a family card and under the socialists I had a registry card with my picture," one man said.46 Another showed us his identity card from 1959, listing his nationality as "Rohingya national."47 Neither of these men had more recent documents, without which they cannot get permission from the Malaysian government to live in the country legally.
When the Rohingya first began arriving in large numbers in 1991 and 1992, the Malaysian government was less hostile to them. It even granted some Rohingya six-month permits in 1992 that allowed them to work.48 Domestic pressure in the early 1990s, however, not only put an end to the provision of work permits, but also prompted increased efforts to track down and deport illegal immigrants and to punish their employers. The crackdown intensified following the Asian financial crisis in 1997. Malaysia's Immigration Department now runs a twenty-four hour hotline for the public to report undocumented workers, and the Malaysian press frequently reports workplace raids generated by private tips.49 Passport checks by police are common on Kuala Lumpur's streets, as are raids on homes and workplaces by teams of police, army, and immigration officials.50 Those caught without a passport and a valid visa may be arrested, detained, and deported.
Rohingya are increasingly being denied access to health care, and schools are turning away their children, as set forth in more detail in a later chapter of this report. Housing and steady employment have also become difficult to obtain for undocumented Rohingya.51 "The bosses are afraid to take undocumented people," explained a welder who works only sporadically.52 Now Rohingya generally must rely on what they call "daily work"-poorly-paid, short-term manual labor such as painting, carpentry, and landscaping.
Sadiq M. is a forty-one year-old man from Kyauktaw township in Arakan who reached Kuala Lumpur in February 1990. He found work with an employer who did not ask about his immigration status, and he rented a house with five other men. Later, however, the owner refused to rent to them because they did not have passports. He lost his job and was detained and deported to Thailand three times, each time returning to Kuala Lumpur. "I am lucky to stay in the house because one friend has a [fake] Bangladeshi passport and I stay under his shadow," he told us. "Either I earn money for food or I go hungry."53
Mohammed S., who left his wife and three daughters in Arakan when he fled to Malaysia in 1993, told us:
To earn money, I found some Rohingya workers hired by the Malaysian municipality to clear the road. They paid me to help them. After six months I was accepted by the boss of the subcontractor who cleared the roads. While I was working the police caught me. The first time I paid money-they took RM180 (U.S. $47)54 and gave me back RM20-and I was released. The second time they did not take money but took me to the police station. In the station I explained that I had no passport because I was Rohingya. I explained a lot of the situation to the police officer. The officer said we know nothing, just whether you have a passport or not. Without a passport, you go to the [immigration detention] camp.55
7 After the Tatmadaw's heavy handed census operation in 1978, "[t]housands more Muslims have since continued to go into exile in countries as far apart as Pakistan, Egypt, and across the Arab world where they have been dubbed Asia's `new Palestinians.' All these events virtually repeated themselves in 1991-91." Smith, Burma: Insurgency and the Politics of Ethnicity, p. 241.
8 See Human Rights Watch/Asia, "Burma: The Rohingya Muslims: Ending a Cycle of Exodus?," A Human Rights Watch Report, Vol. 8, No. 9, September 1996. The ethnic group "Rohang" or "Rohan" is said to have been the name used for the northern Arakan region in the ninth and tenth centuries. Arakan was then inhabited by the Rakhine people, whom scholars believe to be a mixture of an indigenous Hindu people with the Mongols who invaded in the ninth century. The Rakhine people today are Buddhist and speak a dialect of Burmese; they constitute the ethnic majority in Arakan.
9 "In actual fact, although there are 135 national races in Myanmar today, the so-called Rohingya people are not one of them. Historically there has never been a `Rohingya' race in Myanmar . . . Since the first Anglo-Myanmar was in 1824, people of Muslim faith from the adjacent country illegally entered Myanmar Naing-Ngan, particularly Rakhine State. Being illegal immigrants they do not hold immigration papers like other nationals of the country." Press release from U Ohn Gyaw, Minister for Foreign Affairs, February 21, 1992.
10 Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO), "A Memorandum of the Burma Citizenship Law of 1982," November 1982, unpublished paper; RSO, "The Problems of Rohingya Muslims of Arakan in Burma," 1992, unpublished paper; Rohingya Patriotic Front (RPF), Rohingya Outcry and Demands, (Bangladesh: RPF, 1976); Arakan Rohingya National Organization (ARNO), "Peaceful Coexistence," The Newsletter, Vol. 1, Issue 2, April 1999, p. 1.
11 Ibid. However, other historical resources show that the kings of Arakan were Rakhine Buddhists who took Muslim names to ease their relationships with the Muslim neighbors. Nevertheless, Persian was the language of the Rakhine court until the late eighteenth century.
12 Joseph Silverstein, Burmese Politics: The Dilemma of National Unity, (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press), 1980, pp. 50-51; Moshe Yegar, The Muslims of Burma: The Study of a Minority Group, (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrossowitz), 1972, p. 95.
13 Yegar, p. 95.
14 Ibid., p. 96.
15 See Smith, Burma: Insurgency and the Politics of Ethnicity, p. 64.
16 Hugh Tinker, The Union of Burma: A Study of the First Year of Independence, (London, New York, and Toronto: Oxford University Press) 1957, p. 357.
18 Yegar, p. 98.
19 See Smith, Burma: Insurgency and the Politics of Ethnicity. Recognizing them as citizens gave them the ability to vote, and many voted for his party in gratitude at this recognition.
20 This information comes from confidential interviews conducted by Human Rights Watch/Asia in Bangladesh, Burma, and Thailand between 1991 and 1996.
21 Some also obtained FRCs through bribery or forgery.
22 Statement by the Ministry for Home and Religious Affairs, November 16, 1977. See Smith, Burma: Insurgency and the Politics of Ethnicity, pp. 37, 241.
23 According to S. Sothi Rachagan, "some 200 to 300 Muslims of Burmese origin crossed the Thai border into Malaysia toward the beginning of 1981." Although Rachagan contends that these "have all since returned to their homelands," Human Rights Watch interviewed Rohingya who arrived in Malaysia during that period and had not left since that time. S. Sothi Rachagan, "Refugees and Illegal Immigrants: The Malaysian Experience with Filipino and Vietnamese Refugees," in John Rogge (ed.), Refugees: A Third World Dilemma, (Rowman & Littlefield: New Jersey, 1987), p. 254.
24 SLORC Announcement No. 1/90, July 27, 1990.
25 In response to these demonstrations, two monks and a student were killed by the army in Mandalay, and in November 1990 some 150 monasteries in Mandalay and Rangoon were raided and hundreds of monks were arrested. In Insein jail the hunger strikers were tortured, and later the leaders were moved to prison labor camps far from their homes, making family visits almost impossible. See Win Naing Oo, Cries from Insein, (Bangkok: ABSDF, 1996).
26 See Bertil Lintner, "Diversionary Tactics: Anti-Muslim campaign seen as effort to rally Burmans," Far Eastern Economic Review (Hong Kong), August 29, 1991.
27 For details of their allegations, see Asia Watch, "Burma: Rape, Forced Labor and Religious Persecution in Northern Arakan," A Human Rights Watch Short Report, Vol. 4, No. 12, May 1992; Amnesty International, "Union of Myanmar (Burma): Human Rights Violations Against Muslims in the Rakhine (Arakan) State," (London: Amnesty International), ASA 16/06/92, May 1992.
28 See "Help Us Deport 8,000 Illegals, Myanmar Deputy Premier Told," The Sun (Malaysia), February 26, 1997. However, many Rohingya report other ethnic minorities and "Buddhists" being deported to the Thai-Malaysia border with them. We interviewed a Burmese woman from Rangoon who was offered the choice of purchasing a ticket to Burma or being deported to the Thai border. She chose deportation to Thailand. Human Rights Watch interview, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, December 1, 1999.
29 Human Rights Watch interview, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, November 13, 1999.
30 Human Rights Watch/Asia, "Burmese Refugees in Bangladesh: Still No Durable Solution," A Human Rights Watch Report, Vol. 12, No. 3, May 2000.
31 For a full discussion, see Human Rights Watch/Asia, "Burma: The Rohingya Muslims: Ending a Cycle of Exodus?"; Human Rights Watch and Refugees International, "Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh: The Search for a Lasting Solution," A Human Rights Watch Report, Vol. 9, No.7, August 1997.
32 Sections 42
to 44 of the 1982 Burma Citizenship Law on the qualifications required
for Burmese naturalized citizenship read:
42. Persons who have entered and resided in the State prior to 4th January, 1948, and their children born within the State may, if they have not yet applied under the Union Citizenship Act, 1948, apply for naturalized citizenship to the Central Body, furnishing conclusive evidence.
43. The following persons, born in or outside the State, from the date this Law comes into force, may also apply for naturalized citizenship: (a) persons born of parents one of whom is a citizen and the other a foreigner; (b) persons born of parents, one of whom is an associate citizen and the other a naturalized citizen; © persons born of parents, one of whom is an associate citizen and the other a foreigner; (d) persons born of parents, both of whom are naturalized citizens; (e) persons born of parents, one of whom isa naturalized citizen and the other a foreigner.
44. An applicant for naturalized citizenship shall have the following qualifications: (a) be a person who conforms to the provisions of section 42 or section 43; (b) have completed the age of eighteen years; © be able to speak well one of the national languages; (d) be of good character; (e) be of sound mind.
33 Pyithu Hluttaw Election Law, 1989, Sections 6(a), 10(f).
34 Human Rights Watch/Asia, "Burma: The Rohingya Muslims: Ending a Cycle of Exodus?" A Human Rights Watch Report; Human Rights Watch and Refugees International, "Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh: The Search for a Lasting Solution," A Human Rights Watch Report.
35 Yozo Yokota, "Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar," (Geneva: U.N. Commission on Human Rights), U.N. Doc. E/CN.4/1993/3, February 17, 1993. Yokota resigned as special rapporteur in 1993 to be replaced by Justice Rajsoomer Lallah. From the time he accepted the position, Lallah has not been permitted to enter Burma.
36 On the National Convention see Janelle M. Diller, "The National Convention: An Impediment to the Restoration of Democracy," in Peter Carey (ed.), Burma: The Challenge of Change in a Divided Society, (New York: St. Martin's Press) 1997, pp. 27-54; The National Convention was SLORC's response "to the 1990 landslide election victory of the National League for Democracy (NLD). The National Convention . . . was conceived by the SLORC as a mechanism to draft a new constitution for the country in accordance with military wishes." Diller, "The National Convention," p. 27.
37 For a more extensive discussion of restrictions on Rohingya's freedom of movement and ability to work and trade, see Human Rights Watch/Asia, "Burmese Refugees in Bangladesh: Still No Durable Solution"; and Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH), Burma: Repression, Discrimination and Ethnic Cleaning in Arakan, No. 290/2, (Paris: FIDH, April 2000), p. 19-21, 34-35.
38 The Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted and opened for signature, ratification, and accession by General Assembly Resolution 44/55 on November 20, 1989, and entered into force on September 2, 1990. The Burmese government became a party to the convention in 1991.
39 Construction of model villages was also reported to be on the rise in 1999. Model villages are exclusively for Buddhists, so the government prohibits the Muslim Rohingya from occupying them. For a more extensive discussion, see Human Rights Watch/Asia, "Burmese Refugees in Bangladesh."
40 Rajsoomer Lallah, Situation of human rights in Myanmar, October 4, 1999; "ILO concludes 87th Conference: Adopts new instruments against child labour and resolution on Myanmar," ILO Press Release, ILO/99/23, June 17, 1999.
41 ILO, "Forced Labour Persists in Myanmar: ILO Applies Extraordinary Constitutional Measures," ILO/00/9, March 29, 2000.
42 To reach Malaysia, Rohingya now usually travel over land through Thailand, although a few fly from Bangladesh on false Bangladeshi passports. To get from Arakan to Thailand, Rohingya sometimes travel by boat but more often cross over land, assisted by a network of brokers or middlemen. As a Buddhist country, Thailand is less preferable than Malaysia, which is primarily Muslim. Also, many Rohingya we interviewed had been arrested and imprisoned in Thailand, and then deported to the Thai-Burma border. After passing through Thailand, they cross the Malaysian border by land or by ferry. From the border, it is then possible to travel by bus, taxi, or private car to Kuala Lumpur. See, e.g., "Illegals Using Langkawi to Come In," The Star (Malaysia), February 23, 2000; "Dept Steps Up Checks on Illegals," The Star (Malaysia), February 28, 2000.
43 Human Rights Watch interview, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, December 2, 1999.
44 Human Rights Watch interview, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, December 2, 1999.
45 According to UNHCR, there are around 5,100 "Burmese refugees" in Malaysia. However, this number appears to be based only on those who registered with the Kuala Lumpur office from 1992 to 1993. UNHCR REFWORLD, "Malaysia," UNHCR Public Information Section Country Information, September 1999, http://www.unhcr.ch/world/asia/malaysia.htm; UNHCR, "Refugee population by country of asylum and origin, 1997-1998," Refugees and Others of Concern to UNHCR: 1998 Statistical Overview, http://www.unhcr.ch/statist/98oview/intro.htm. Some Rohingya estimate that there are around 8,000 Rohingya living in Malaysia. See, e.g., Human Rights Watch interview, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, November 13, 1999; Office of the Diplomatic Representative of Arakan (Rakhaing) League for Democracy (ALD), A Special Publication in Honor of the Arakan Democratic Forces of Malaysia, 1998, p. 3. This number may be the more accurate one. In 1997 Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad was reported in the Malaysian press as stating that there were 8,000 illegal immigrants from Burma in Malaysia. According to the article, "Malaysia is facing a problem deporting [Burmese] to Myanmar as Yangon does not regard them as its citizens." "Help Us Deport 8,000 Illegals Myanmar Deputy Premier Told," The Sun (Malaysia), February 26, 1997.
46 Human Rights Watch interview, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, November 13, 1999.
47 Human Rights Watch interview, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, November 13, 1999. (4)
48 These permits were not extended and were not available after 1992. We interviewed several men who had been arrested and deported after their permits expired.
49 See "Errant Employers' Passports to be Withdrawn," The New Straits Times (Malaysia), January 31, 2000, p. 9.
50 We witnessed police patrols and passport checks in downtown Kuala Lumpur and in Burmese neighborhoods. See, e.g. "Number of detained illegal workers doubles," The Star (Malaysia), March 31, 2000; "19 Bangladeshi workers held," The Star (Malaysia), March 23, 2000 (describing eight-hour immigration operation); "Crackdown on illegal employment agencies planned," The Star (Malaysia), February 25, 2000.
51 For example, in January 2000, the Malaysian Immigration Department recruited 300 new officers to investigate overstaying students and workers. "Malaysia's Immigration Department Targets Overstayers in Blitz," Asia Pulse, January 4, 2000. See also "Asia," Migration News Vol. 7, No. 2, February 2000, http://migration.ucdavis.edu/archive/feb_2000-15.html. Human Rights Watch has documented Malaysia's crackdown on foreign workers in Human Rights Watch/Asia, "Bearing the Brunt of the Asia Economic Crisis: The Impact on Labor Rights and Migrant Workers in Asia," A Human Rights Watch Report, Vol. 10, No. 02(c), March 1998.
52 Human Rights Watch interview, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, November 20, 30, and December 2, 1999. See also Human Rights Watch interview, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, November 20, 1999.
53 Human Rights Watch interview, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, November 20, 1999.
54 Throughout this report an exchange rate of RM3.8 to U.S. $1 is used.
55 Human Rights Watch interview, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. November 13, 1999.