Burma must end its policy of segregation in Rakhine state

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The Myanmar government’s policy of segregating Muslim and Buddhist communities in Rakhine State is compounding a humanitarian crisis there, said the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus

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BANGKOK – The Myanmar government’s policy of segregating Muslim and Buddhist communities in Rakhine State is compounding a humanitarian crisis there, while Asean’s failure to positively influence the situation points to continued institutional failures in the regional grouping, the Asean Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) said on 29 January 2013.

Thousands of Rohingya men, women and children continue to flee persecution in Myanmar on boats, and hundreds have passed through Thai waters in recent weeks. Thousands more are expected to make similar perilous journeys over the coming months, before the rains are due in April.

While AIPMC continues to call on member states such as Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, to offer humanitarian assistance to these people where necessary, the inter-parliamentary caucus is increasingly concerned by the Myanmar government’s failure to react sufficiently to the humanitarian crisis unfolding within its borders – which is leading to this continued exodus.

These people are sailing in unsafe boats, risking their lives in search of safety, education, a better life and a future – things that they are not receiving at home. And even if they make it to another country, they are again faced with the prospect of detention, bonded labour or furtive lives as undocumented workers in an a foreign land,said Kraisak Choonhavan, vice president of AIPMC and chair of the Thailand Caucus.
While it is of course the responsibility of all Asean member states to offer humanitarian aid and assistance to genuine refugees, this does not fix the root of the problem, which is why these people are in such desperate situations that they would risk their lives and place themselves in the hands of human traffickers in the first place. Why are they fleeing Burma? We know why and we are not doing anything about it. That is the problem.

Asean member states must pressure the Myanmar government to do more to safely reintegrate communities and provide the Rohingya population with basic rights of movement and access to work and services, AIPMC said. At the same time, Asean itself must work with international agencies and national and regional law-enforcement and rights agencies to combat the illegal trade of human traffickers, who extort money from desperate people seeking a new life abroad. Recent evidence of the complicity in human trafficking of state officials in Thailand must be investigated and regional and intergovernmental efforts to rid the region of the scourge of human trafficking must be stepped up.

Time and again Asean and its institutions are failing to offer basic human rights protections. The plight of the Rohingya in western Rakhine State serves as a key example of the failures not only of the quasi-democratic Burmese government but also of Asean, as a regional grouping, said AIPMC President and Indonesian Member of Parliament Eva Kusuma Sundari. We really need to push forward as a community and work towards incorporating genuine and effective human rights complaints, monitoring, reporting and protection mechanisms. Myanmar’s failure is also Asean’s failure.

The issue should be tabled for discussion at the meeting of the Asean Intergovernmental Commission of Human Rights (AICHR), which was convening in Brunei Darussalam from 28 January to 2 February, AIPMC said.

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As well as being a responsibility under international human rights conventions of countries like Thailand to offer humanitarian assistance to those in need of it, it is also in their interest, and the entire region’s, to pressure Myanmar to alleviate the intolerable conditions that are prompting this mass exodus of Rohingya.

Since inter-communal violence broke out in Rakhine State, Myanmar, in June 2012, the quasi-civilian government there has failed to meet its humanitarian obligations as an Asean member state. Action must be taken by Asean and the international community to impress upon the Myanmar government its responsibilities to uphold basic human rights standards.

The Myanmar authorities’ policy of segregation, keeping Muslim Rohingya as virtual prisoners either in isolated ghettos or in squalid and undersupplied camps, unable to access work, education, medical facilities and unable to travel freely is intolerable and counterproductive, said Sundari.

The AIPMC recognises that security and the rule of law are key concerns for the government, and no one wants to see a repeat of the violent clashes witnessed in 2012. However, the caucus made up of elected representatives from across the region is concerned that the Myanmar government’s current policy places unacceptable constraints on people from moving and earning livelihoods.

Reintegration of these communities is vital and must be done soon – segregation only exacerbates the divide between communities and suggests a policy to persecute the Rohingya minority, forcing them to leave the country in search of a better existence elsewhere. Asean and its individual member states must stand up to this crisis today, Sundari said.

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