Data collected by the Burma Human Rights Network (BHRN) says that persecution of the Rohingya population in Myanmar has worsened in the last three years which has led to “the institutional persecution of Muslims under the civilian government.
The report comes nearly five years after violence first broke out between extremist Buddhists and the Rohingyas in Myanmar – the Southeast Asian country that was officially known as Burma until 1989. The intense fighting between the two communities displaced tens of thousands of Rohingyas, the 2 million-strong Indo-Aryan people who are mostly Sunni or Sufi Muslims and who live mainly in the western part of the country and neighbouring Bangladesh.
The human rights group’s latest report also says that conditions for all Muslims in Myanmar – including those who are not Rohingya – have dramatically worsened as more than 120,000 members of the Rohingya minority in Rakhine State remain in internally displaced people camps, while those outside are subjected to increasingly severe restrictions to travel or gain access to basic healthcare.
“The post-violence political landscape in Myanmar has given rise to more subtle forms of persecution that have not made international headlines but have received backing from the (Burmese) government, elements of the (Buddhist) monkhood, and ultra-nationalist civilian groups.
“While outright violence has decreased in frequency, persecution has continued in an institutionalised manner.”
Across the country, “Muslim-free” zones have been formed, BHRN found, while mosques and other Muslim places of worship have been shuttered or rendered unusable. Burmese Muslims, in general, continue to be denied ID cards and the Rohingya, in particular, have been subjected to campaigns of violence carried out by the military.
BHRN’s extensive report was culled together from more than 350 interviews conducted by the organisation over an eight-month period. Testimony was collected from individuals in more than 46 towns and villages across Myanmar, including from Karen State in the east to Rakhine State in the west, as well as throughout the central core of the country.
A spokesman for BHRN said the findings “provide compelling evidence of the ongoing systematic persecution of Muslims well into the era of pseudo-civilian rule,” in the country. Myanmar was under military rule from 1962–2011. Following a coup d’etat in 1989, the State Law and Order Restoration Council assumed control over the country and ruled as an oppressive brutal dictatorship until 1997.
An important takeaway from the report is that it highlights that the persecution is not restricted to the treatment of the Rohingya, but to Burmese Muslims of all ethnicities.
Regardless of their ethnic background, Myanmar’s Muslims have been refused National Registration Cards (NRCs).
BHRN believes that the denial of an NRC carries both material and ideological implications.
“Someone who fails to show an NRC when requested by the police or another authority is likely to face harassment, and a penalty of a fine, or imprisonment, or both.”
Myanmar’s authorities have persistently blocked the rebuilding of mosques and madrasas that have been either damaged, destroyed or sealed in recent years.
The BHRN spokesman added, “Denying a religious group any access to a place of worship contravenes a fundamental right to freedom of expression and religion.”
The report makes several recommendations, including pointing out that the Burmese government should accept and fully cooperate with the UN-mandated Fact-Finding Mission; race and religion should be removed from all ID cards; travel restrictions for Rohingya people must be removed immediately and a repeal is needed of the so-called ‘Protection of Race and Religion’ laws.
The BHRN spokesman said that the government’s efforts to bring about an end to the conflict have so far failed to net any substantial results.
“This report makes clear that more subtle methods of persecution occurring today, which can be as damaging, if not fatal, are the most outright examples of violence seen in recent years.”
The Burma Human Rights Network was founded in 2012 and works for minority rights and religious freedom in Myanmar. It is funded by the National Endowment for Democracy, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC), the American Jewish World Service (AJWS), and private donors.