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Activists Condemn Burmese Regime’s Treatment of Rohingya Peoples, Call for UN to Act (click to view PDF)

March 3rd, 2009
Contact: 202-246-7924

(Washington, DC) A U.S. based activist group called on the United Nations, Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and countries throughout the world to publicly condemn the Burmese military regime’s treatment of ethnic minorities in Burma, including the Rohingya peoples. News reports state that the issue is not on the agenda of the ASEAN, even though ASEAN should be “demanding an end to persecution of the Rohingya and all people of Burma.”

“The Burmese regime has forced the Rohingya people to flee the country,” said Jeremy Woodrum, co-founder of the U.S. Campaign for Burma. “This shameless persecution must stop, and the international community should be in the lead in demanding an end to persecution of the Rohingya and all people of Burma.”

Regional news media have labeled the Rohingya refugees “boat people” since they are fleeing in boats to neighboring countries. Thailand in particular has come under international criticism for refusing to accept the boat people, with many human rights groups accusing the Thai authorities of towing the boats without oars or engines out to sea and leaving up to 1,000 Rohingya with grossly inadequate food and water to die.

The Rohingya people have been regime targets of brutal persecution for many years. The Rohingya, who are Muslim, live mostly in Burma’s Arakan State close to the Bangladesh border. Regime persecution has depopulated much of Arakan state of the Rohingya, except for the Maungdaw and Buthidaung Townships that border Bangladesh. Approximately 300,000 Rohingya have fled from Burma.

In addition to general oppression and brutality faced by other targeted border minorities, the regime directs abuses specific to the Rohingya, including denial of citizenship, severely restricted travel, religious persecution, population control measures through limiting marriage permits and birth restrictions, and the construction of “model villages” in which predominantly Muslim villages are forcefully evicted and repopulated by Buddhists and others of Burman ethnicity.

Arakan State hosts the largest natural gas reserves discovered in SE Asia. The current ruling regime has been developing international energy and other economic projects in Arakan State. Many of Burma’s neighbor countries have supported natural resource extraction projects through Burma’s regime, while defending the regime from international pressure related to human rights abuses.

As natural resource extraction increases in Arakan State, so do the reports of human rights abuse by the regime. The long-standing persecution of the Rohingya population has accelerated in the last several years, leading to increased high-risk flight. This effort to escape is further triggered by violence, starvation and disease induced by the Burmese regime.

Since 1994, Bangladesh has not allowed the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to give refugee status to the Rohingya. Instead, the Bangladeshi government has mischaracterized the refugees as “economic migrants”.

In an encouraging sign, Indonesia has said it will allow the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees access to the Rohingya refugees that arrived on Indonesian shores. USCB called on the ten countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to urgently address the persecution of the Rohingya at their upcoming summit in Thailand.

“ASEAN should not ignore the Rohingya, who are essentially stateless,” added Woodrum. “But, this should not be left to ASEAN alone. The United Nations should take an active role in ending 
persecution against the Rohingya, since many countries in ASEAN defend the Burmese military
regime from international action related to persecution and human rights abuses.”