Myanmar accused of trying to wipe out Rohingya identity

Fortify Rights report claims authorities forced Muslims to accept ID cards that strip them of full citizenship
Myanmar accused of trying to wipe out Rohingya identity

A Rohingya man passes a child through a barbed wire fence near Maungdaw on Myanmar's border with Bangladesh in August 2017. (Photo by Rehman Asad/AFP)

The Myanmar government’s national verification card (NVC) process is a systematic campaign to erase the identify of Rohingya Muslims, according to a new report by Fortify Rights.

The Bangkok-based rights group released the 102-page report, “Tools of Genocide: National Verification Cards and the Denial of Citizenship of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar,” on Sept. 3.

It reveals how Myanmar authorities forced and coerced Rohingya to accept NVCs, which effectively identify them as “foreigners” and strip them of access to full citizenship rights.

The report is based on more than 600 interviews in Myanmar, Bangladesh and Malaysia. Fortify Rights spoke with eyewitnesses and survivors of human rights violations as well as members of civil society organizations and humanitarian aid workers.

It said Myanmar authorities tortured Rohingya to accept NVCs and restricted the movement and livelihoods of Rohingya who refused the cards.

The rights organization said the violations and the denial of citizenship are “within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court to consider in its investigation into atrocity crimes against Rohingya in Myanmar.”

Matthew Smith, chief executive of Fortify Rights, said the Myanmar government is trying to destroy the Rohingya through an administrative process that effectively strips them of basic rights.

“This process and its impacts lie at the root of the Rohingya crisis, and until it’s addressed, the crisis will continue,” he said.

A Rohingya refugee in Bangladesh told Fortify Rights that “the NVC is a tool of genocide. We want our citizenship restored first, and there should be equality, safety and security in our motherland.”

The report said the NVC is the most recent process that fails to confer rights to Rohingya and is implemented through further rights violations.

It added that efforts to coerce Rohingya into accepting NVCs increased just before the military crackdowns on Rohingya in 2016 and 2017.

“Evidence suggests a positive correlation between Myanmar authorities’ efforts to force Rohingya to accept NVCs and their efforts to destroy the Rohingya as a group,” the report said.

It said that these findings demonstrate that “the NVC process has not been a response to the crisis in Rakhine State,” as the government suggests, but “rather a fundamental part of the crisis.”

Fortify Rights called on the government to abolish the NVC process and amend the 1982 Citizenship Law so that it provides for a single citizenship status, rather than three, and that the law stops basing access to citizenship on ethnic categories.

Myanmar’s government has yet to respond to the report.

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Kyaw Hla Aung, a Rohingya activist from Thetkaepyin IDP camp near Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine, rejected the government’s NVC process as it was not mentioned even in the controversial 1982 law. “We are not foreigners, so why we do need to accept the NVCs?” he asked.

The 1982 law states that only ethnic groups whose families entered the country before 1823 are entitled to Myanmar citizenship. The Rohingya have thus been denied citizenship and have been marginalized in access to education and other government services.

Myanmar’s government regards the Rohingya as “Bengalis.” By not recognizing the term “Rohingya,” the government has implied that they are illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh despite vast numbers having lived in Myanmar for decades.

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