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Rohingya held in open-air prisons in Myanmar, says HRW

Indefinite detention of thousands of Rohingya in camps in Rakhine 'amounts to a crime against humanity'

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Rohingya held in open-air prisons in Myanmar, says HRW

An elderly Rohingya Muslim stands in front of his home in Buthidaung township in Myanmar's restive Rakhine state during a government-organized visit for journalists on Jan. 25, 2019. (Photo: AFP)

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Myanmar’s indefinite detention of thousands of Rohingya in squalid camps in Rakhine state amounts to a crime against humanity, according to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The agency said the government’s recent measures to ostensibly close the camps appear designed to make permanent the segregation and confinement of Rohingya and several thousand Kaman Muslims who have been interned in open-air detention camps since their displacement in the 2012 ethnic cleansing campaign.

In a 169-page report, HRW documents the inhuman conditions in the 24 camps and camp-like settings in Rakhine state.

Limited access to education, healthcare and adequate food and shelter have been compounded by widening constraints on humanitarian aid, which the Rohingya depend on for survival.

The rights group said abuses against the Rohingya amount to apartheid and persecution. Ethnic cleansing and internment since 2012 laid the groundwork for the military’s atrocities in 2016 and 2017 in northern Rakhine which also amount to crimes against humanity and possibly genocide.

The report featured over 60 interviews with Rohingya, Kaman Muslims and humanitarian workers since late 2018. It also analyzed over 100 internal and public government, UN and NGO documents and reports that show the calculated refusal by the national and Rakhine state governments to improve freedom of movement or living conditions in the camps, including denying adequate space or suitable land for camp construction and maintenance.

“The Myanmar government has interned 130,000 Rohingya in inhuman conditions for eight years, cut off from their homes, land and livelihoods, with little hope that things will improve,” said Shayna Bauchner, Asia researcher at HRW and author of the report, on Oct. 8.

“The government’s claims that it’s not committing the gravest international crimes will ring hollow until it cuts the barbed wire and allows Rohingya to return to their homes, with full legal protections.” 

The government announced in April 2017 that it would begin closing the camps, but HRW claimed the process was further entrenching “segregation and denying the Rohingya the right to return to their land, reconstruct their homes, regain work and reintegrate into Myanmar society.”

The rights group said the confinement of 130,000 Rohingya in Rakhine state undermines Myanmar's claims that it is ready to repatriate refugees as nearly one million people who fled the military’s atrocities after August 2017 live in overcrowded, flood-prone camps.

It has called on the UN, donors and humanitarian agencies to urge Myanmar to halt the current camp closure process until thorough consultation with affected communities have been incorporated into an updated strategy, to be carried out in line with international standards.

“Foreign governments and the UN need to re-evaluate their approach and press Myanmar to provide the Rohingya with safety and freedom while holding accountable the officials responsible for this apartheid regime,” Bauchner said.

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 many having lived in the country for decades.

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