Burma regime guilty of "crimes against humanity" against Rohingya Muslims, Fortify Rights group says

A Muslim woman who lost her home during recent voilence carries her baby as she waits to meet officials in Thabyu Chai village near Thandwe, in Myanmar's western Rakhine state, Oct. 3, 2013. Getty

YANGON, Burma -- An independent human rights group said Tuesday it has obtained official documents that directly implicate the Burma government in abusive and discriminatory policies targeting the country's long-persecuted minority Rohingya Muslim community.

Matthew Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights, said analysis of a dozen leaked official and public records detail restrictions on the right to travel freely, practice religion, repair homes, marry and to have families - the only place in the predominantly Buddhist nation of 60 million, also known as Burma, that has limited parents to two children.

While these policies have long been known, in some cases dating back decades, this is the first time the orders have been made public, he said, describing the chilling effect of seeing them in writing.

"It represents a level of planning and knowledge among Burma authorities that raises the abuses to the threshold of crimes against humanity," said Smith. "These abuses have been carried out for years with complete impunity, driving the population into the ground."

There was no immediate reaction from the government.

Burma, which only recently emerged from a half-century of brutal military rule, has been hit by sectarian violence since it began its bumpy transition to democracy in 2011. As many as 280 people have been killed, most of them Rohingya attacked by Buddhist mobs, and another 140,000 forced to flee their homes.

Nowhere have Rohingya - described by the U.N. as one of the most persecuted religious minorities in the world - been more zealously pursued than in the northwestern state of Rakhine, which sits along the coast of the Bay of Bengal and is cut off from the rest of the country by a mountain range.

It's home to 80 percent of Burma's 1.3 million Rohingya. Some descend from families who have been there for generations. Others arrived more recently from neighboring Bangladesh. All have been denied citizenship, rendering them stateless.

Confidential documents published in the 79-page report reveal that official orders issued by Rakhine state authorities from 1993 to 2008 outline consistent state policies restricting Rohingya.

Some of the "regional orders" - dated 1993, 2005 and 2008 - are copied to various departments falling under state and central government jurisdictions. However, they also have been discussed on the record since 2011, the group said, adding that to the best of its knowledge almost all the policies are still in place and enforced.

The report says the orders laid the groundwork for a two-child policy enforced in Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships, requiring Rohingya "who have permission to marry" to "limit the number of children, in order to control the birth rate so that there is enough food and shelter."

One document gives detailed instructions for officials to confirm women are the real mothers of infants, forcing them to publicly breastfeed if it's suspected that they are trying to claim others' children as their own.

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