July 17th, 2013


Will the international community take a real stand on Burma’s unacceptable violations of human rights?

800,000 Muslim Rohingya live in Burma. However, since the Burmese government passed the 1982 Citizenship Law they have not been considered a legally recognised ethnic group. They have been denied Burmese citizenship, despite many Rohingya families living in Burma for generations, and they have faced increasing hostility from not only the Burmese government but from the rest of the Burmese community too.

Just over a year ago, violence broke out between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims following the killing and reported rape of a Buddhist woman. The resulting riots ended in hundreds of deaths and the extensive destruction of property. An estimated 140,000 people have been displaced and are living in huge camps lacking basic food, shelter, water, sanitation and medical care. Since then the abuse, violence and persecution of the Rohingya people; men, women and children as well as other Muslim communities in Burma, has continued.

International media

Despite severe restrictions on accessing these communities the situation has received some coverage in the international media. According to Jonathan Head of BBC news, the situation of the Rohingya has ‘uncomfortable echoes of apartheid in South Africa, or segregation in the southern USA.’

Furthermore, a recent report by Human Rights Watch has described the abuse suffered by the Rohingya people at the hands of the Burmese authorities as ‘ethnic cleansing’.

The suffering of the Rohingya community cannot be ignored due to a lack of ‘evidence’.

‘One Year after the Violence Began: Civil Society Organisations Deeply Concerned by the Human Rights and Humanitarian Situation of Stateless Rohingya’

On the 24th June 2013, 76 civil society organisations united to speak about the on-going issue of human right violations in Rakhine state. The statement will be issued around the world, in particular to Burmese embassies and will be sent directly to the Prime Minister of Burma, Thein Sein.

HART’s Involvement

The statement put together by The Equal Rights Trust and endorsed by 76 other civil society organisations including HART outlines the key concerns regarding the mistreatment of the Rohingya people over the past year:

  • ‘Incitement to violence and government hate speech’  Many government officials and local leaders have encouraged the discrimination against the Rohingya. This has led to an attitude of condoning violence. More importantly it has left the Rohingya with no one to turn to for protection.
  • ‘Displacement and humanitarian needs’ – The displaced population within Rakhine state is estimated at 140,000 a large proportion of whom are Rohingya. Moreover aid organisations face huge problems in trying to reach those in need.
  • ‘Segregation and property rights’ – The government have deliberately segregated the Rohingya from the rest of the community.
  • ‘Discriminatory restrictions on family life’ – The government unfairly impose tight restrictions on marriage, the punishment of unauthorised marriages and a two-child policy.
  • ‘Freedom of movement’ – The Rohingya have faced restricted movement over past decades which has been made much worse due to the increase in violence.
  • ‘Crimes against humanity’ – Crimes against humanity have been increasingly documented during 2012.

Whilst all parties are guilty of violence there has been an increased victimisation of the Rohingya people. Not only do they face hostility from many of the other communities within Burma, they also face unfair discrimination by the Burmese government. They are deprived of their basic rights to education, freedom of movement, marriage and employment. Under international law these rights should be guaranteed to all citizens and non-citizens. In essence the Rohingya have no one to turn to, thus it is the moral responsibility of the international community to stand up to such persecution.

Empty promises?

Despite recent reforms in Burma, many NGO’s and ethnic national communities remain sceptical. Ongoing reforms towards greater political liberalism would have very little positive impact on the situation of the Rohingya, whom the Burmese Prime Minister himself deems non-citizens. Burma needs political and legislative reforms but more importantly a change in attitude is crucial if the ethnic minority groups are ever to experience real peace.

To read the full statement, please visit:



Isabelle Darque

By Isabelle Darque

Isabelle is currently interning during her summer break, having finished her second year of studying History at Cardiff University. Her particular interests are women's empowerment and the provision of healthcare.

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