More Than 50,000 Displaced; Number of Political Prisoners Again on the Rise
(Washington, D.C.) – Amnesty International today called attacks against minority Rohingyas and other Muslims in Myanmar a "step back" in the country's recent progress on human rights, citing increased violence and unlawful arrests following a state of emergency declared six weeks ago in the Rakhine state.
"Declaring a state of emergency is not a license to commit human rights violations," said Benjamin Zawacki, Amnesty International's Myanmar researcher. "It is the duty of security forces to defend the rights of everyone–without exception or discrimination–while abiding by human rights standards themselves."
The Myanmar government declared a state of emergency in Rakhine State on June 10, following an outbreak of communal violence in the previous week among the Buddhist Rakhine, Muslim Rakhine, and Muslim Rohingya communities. It remains in effect in several areas.
Since then, Myanmar's Border Security Force (nasaka), army and police have conducted massive sweeps in areas that are heavily populated by Rohingyas. Hundreds of mostly men and boys have been detained, nearly all held incommunicado, and some subjected to ill-treatment.
Most arrests appear to have been arbitrary and discriminatory, violating the rights to liberty and to freedom from discrimination on grounds of religion.
"Myanmar has done an about-turn on the situation of political imprisonment," said Zawacki. "After more than a year of prisoner amnesties and releases, the overall number of political prisoners in Myanmar is again on the rise."
Those arrested during the state of emergency must be charged with an internationally recognized offense. Related judicial proceedings must be both fair and impartial and not include the death sentence. If detainees are not justifiably charged, they must be released from custody.
Many Rohingyas and other Rakhine Muslims reported cases of physical abuse, rape, destruction of property and unlawful killings carried out by both Rakhine Buddhists and security forces. Authorities in Myanmar must take action to stop these acts and prevent future abuses from occurring.
Myanmar's National Human Rights Commission said on July 11 that at least 78 people have been killed since the violence began, and the government and the United Nations have estimated that between 50,000 and 90,000 have been displaced. The wide range results from the extremely limited access for independent monitors and humanitarian aid workers.
"The human rights and humanitarian needs of those affected by the violence depend on the presence of monitors and aid workers," said Zawacki. "The Myanmar authorities are compounding the error by exacerbating the suffering of those displaced by the violence and violations."
Amnesty International calls on Myanmar's Parliament to amend or repeal the 1982 Citizenship Law that rendered the Rohingya stateless.
"For too long, Myanmar's human rights record has been marred by the continued denial of citizenship for Rohingyas and a host of discriminatory practices against them," concluded Zawacki.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.