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Rights Group: Burma's Rohingya Policies May be 'Crimes Against Humanity'

A rights group says Burmese authorities are committing crimes against humanity by enforcing discriminatory policies against Rohingya Muslims, tens of thousands of whom have fled the Southeast Asian country.

Fortify Rights says a series of leaked government documents reveal severe human rights violations against Rohingya in northern Rakhine state, including restrictions on freedom of movement, marriage, and childbirth.

Matthew Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights, tells VOA the leaked documents and a review of public records show the government's "active role" in both planning and implementing these abuses.



"What we're saying essentially is that we've got enough evidence to make an allegation that state and central government authorities are implicated in the crime against humanity of persecution. The Rohingya have been singled out because they are Rohingya. We've documented how these abuses are both widespread and systematic, and we've also demonstrated a certain level of knowledge, which is required under the Rome Statute which lays out the element of crimes against humanity."



Accusations of mistreatment of Rohingya are nothing new. The United Nations says they are among the world's most persecuted minority groups. Most are denied citizenship in Burma, also known as Myanmar, where they are widely seen as unwanted immigrants from Bangladesh.



Fortify Rights says the policies "appear to be designed to make life so intolerable for Rohingya that they will leave the country." In a report released Tuesday, it described how aspects of everyday life are restricted.

The group said it obtained a regional order that lays the foundation for a policy that "in practice translates to a strict two-child policy" against Rohingya in Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships.

The policy reflects a concern among some majority Buddhists who say allegedly rapid birthrates among Muslims, who make up just four percent of the population, and "dangerous" Islamic religious ideals threaten their way of life.

Smith calls such fears "deeply unreasonable," and says they are spreading in part because of the statements of top government officials.



"In the documents we've uncovered, these views have been shared with senior government officials since the 1990s. They've been saying the same thing about an 'explosive' population growth of Muslims that they need to control. And they've been making these allegations without any empirical footing whatsoever."



Rather than taking over, many Muslims are leaving, especially following an outbreak of Buddhist-Muslim violence in Rakhine in 2012 that killed 250 people before spreading to other parts of the country.

Rohingya freedom to move within the country also is tightly restricted. Fortify Rights says Rohingya in Rakhine are barred from traveling between townships without authorization and are only allowed to travel outside the state in rare cases.

The group said those who break the rules are subject to several years in prison or fines.

The government has not commented on the report, but has in the past stressed that its policy toward the Rohingya, which it refers to as "Bengalis," is within the confines of its own laws.

But Smith says the policies are breaking international law, and wants the international community to support an independent investigation to look into the alleged violations.



"Pressure needs to come to bear on authorities to end these violations against the Rohingya population. And as long as the international community is placating to the authorities in Myanmar, these abuses are going to continue. There needs to be a comprehensive effort among international actors and among certainly foreign governments engaging with authorities to end these violations."



Smith says for now, that international effort is falling "terribly short."

Western governments, including the United States, have begun relaxing sanctions against and re-engaging with Burmese leaders since 2011, when the military handed power to a nominally civilian government.

The new military-dominated government has since overseen a series of political and economic reforms, but many say the country's ethnic minorities are yet to reap the benefits.

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