The Myanmar Ethnic Rohingyas Human Rights Organisation Malaysia (Merhrom) is deeply concerned over the increase of the human rights abuses against Rohingyas in the Arakan state of Burma in recent months. The situation of Rohingyas in Arakan has become worse after the international media began highlighting the Rohingya boat people’s plight since December 2008.
The military regime continued to subject Rohingya and Muslims in Arakan to harassment, arbitrary arrest, extortion, and religious persecution. In the current development, a Rohingya girl, identified as Hamida, 16, was killed and hacked into three pieces by monks in Sittwe (Akyab), the capital of Arakan State on 28 March 2009. According to a local businessman, she was abducted from the street by the monks of Phayarr Gyi Ywar Gyima Taung monastery while she was returning home after completing work at the Rakhine teacher’s house. The businessman did not reveal what he had seen in front of the monastery for fear of reprisal from the monks and the Rakhine community. The Rohingya villagers did not dare to file a case in the police station against the monks for fear of retaliation from the Rakhine community. However, no one has been arrested by police. The victim who stays with her sister was very poor and did not have any relatives who could take up the case. Villagers were very surprised to see the body as the Buddhist monks never killed any human beings.
In the same month, it was reported that at least 10 houses belonging to Rohingyas were set fire and burnt into ashes by Rakhine mobs around Sindi Prang village of Buthidaung Township at night. No action was taken against any culprits by the military regime. Further to this, the military regime has deployed hundreds of thousands of military forces into Arakan – which led to excessive human rights abuses against Rohingyas.
In other incidents, Na Sa Ka in Buthidaung Township, Arakan State, detained four mosque committee members in Phone Nyo Hlake village for extending the verandah of a mosque by nine inches. They were released a week later after (allegedly) paying a 3 million kyat bribe.
On 20 March 2009, Na Sa Ka in Maungdaw Township, Arakan, arrested a 45-year-old local Rohingya for possessing a mobile phone charger. He was later released after allegedly paying a 500,000 kyat bribe.
Merhrom is deeply concerned over the way Asean countries have been handling the Rohingyas issue. There were suggestions from some Asean countries including Malaysia and Thailand to send Rohingyas back to Burma. This would only make our situation worse as we know exactly how we will be treated by the military regime once we are forcefully deported. This is a matter of life and death. Asean countries cannot take peoples’ lives for granted what more when Asean has its own charter now that gives priority to its peoples.
We applaud the statement by the Singapore government that they will assist Rohingya refugees by providing humanitarian assistance so that they can depart for a third country. The Singapore Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, has made it clear that the problem should be addressed at source and that Asean members should not export their problems to one another.
We appeal to the Malaysian government under the new Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, and other Asean leaders to carefully handle the Rohingya issue and make sure that the Rohingyas in exile will not be sent back forcefully to the place where they would face persecution and prosecution. Although most Asean countries did not sign the Refugee Convention 1951 and its 1967 Protocol, Asean countries are bound to the non-refoulement principle.
According to the former Malaysian Foreign Minister, Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim, the Asean Secretariat is studying whether to return Rohingya refugees back to Burma or to encourage third countries to accept them. This is worrying as the first option- returning Rohingyas to Burma – seems to be the main agenda of the Asean leaders. This cannot happen as there will be repercussions on Rohingyas. The military regime had announced clearly that Rohingyas are not citizens of Burma. They further stated that the Rohingyas are darked skin and as ugly as ogres. This is a disgrace as we are the creation of Almighty GOD. The military regime stated that they will only accept Rohingyas if they admit that they are Bengali and their status are still non-citizen. This cannot happen as the Rohingyas are not Bengali. Rohingyas have their own language and culture which is different from Bengali.
Further to this, the Rohingyas have existed in Arakan since the seventh century before Burma’s rulers took over. We cannot change the fact.
According to Rais Yatim, a total of 144 Rohingyas in Malaysia were sent to other countries between 2003-2008. This show the lack of commitment and political will of the UNHCR and third countries/resettlement countries though the UNHCR and the world leaders are fully aware of the plight of the Rohingyas in Burma and why we became refugees. The main reason being Rohingyas are Muslim.
Although the military regime agreed to cooperate with the Asean Secretariat for data and information collection as the first step to resolving the Rohingya refugee problem, we are afraid of what kind of information will be provided by them. We recommend that Asean leaders visit Arakan to get the accurate information on the situation of the Rohingyas from the Rohingyas themselves. We also recommend that the Asean Secretariat consult regional and international human rights organisations that have done much research on Rohingyas to get accurate and non-bias information.
The visit by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, to Arakan on 7 March 2009 revealed the real situation of Rohinyas though he did not say much to the media about his visit. Based on his observations and the discussions held, the High Commissioner came to the conclusion that UNHCR’s current level of activities in northern Rakhine state does not correspond to the actual needs, and a decision was taken to upgrade the programme with immediate effect.
We welcome the move by Asean leaders to discuss the Rohingyas issue at the Bali Process on 14-15 April. However, we would like to emphasise that the Rohingyas issue is not just human trafficking; there is more to it. The discussions must be broader, especially focusing on the recognition of Rohingyas as citizens, and address the ways to stop gross human rights abuses against Rohingyas. Asean leaders must recognise that Rohingyas need international protection as refugees.
We also call on the UNHCR and resettlement countries not to discriminate against Rohingyas in the resettlement programme as we are also recognised refugees who need the same protection. At the same time we call on Asean and world leaders for more comprehensive and effective intervention in Burma.
Zafar Ahmad Abdul Ghani
Myanmar Ethnic Rohingyas Human Rights Organization Malaysia (Merhrom)
Address: Penthouse, Wisma MLS, No. 31 Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, 50100 Kuala Lumpur.