The National Verification Card (NVC) scheme is part of a systematic campaign by Myanmar authorities to erase Rohingya Muslims’ identity, said a report of Fortify Rights yesterday.
“The Myanmar government is trying to destroy the Rohingya people through an administrative process that effectively strips them of basic rights,” said Matthew Smith, chief executive officer of the rights body in a statement.
This process and its impacts lie at the root of the Rohingya crisis and until it is addressed, the crisis will continue, he said. Smith urged Myanmar to end the scheme that denies Rohingya equal access to citizenship.
Fortify Rights said the NVC process and the denial of citizenship were within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court’s probe into crimes against the minority group.
Since August 25, 2017, over 743,000 Rohingya fled military atrocities in the Rakhine state of Myanmar.
During the two repatriation attempts – one on November 15 last year and on August 22 – the Rohingya refused to return. They said the NVC was unacceptable and that accepting it would mean they would be considered foreigners in their own country.
The 102-page Fortify Rights report, “Tools of Genocide”: NVCs and the Denial of Citizenship of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, is based on more than 600 interviews, including with 304 Rohingya women, in Myanmar, Bangladesh, and Malaysia.
The rights body interviewed eyewitnesses and survivors of human rights violations as well as members of civil society organisations and aid workers.
It said Myanmar authorities tortured the Rohingya so that they accept the NVCs and restricted the movement and livelihoods of those who refused NVCs.
Due to the highly restrictive environment created by the government, the international humanitarian agencies ended up furthering the government’s NVC policies and erasing the Rohingya identity.
“The NVC is a tool of genocide,” a Rohingya refugee in Bangladesh told Fortify Rights. “We want our citizenship restored first, and there should be equality, safety, and security in our motherland.”
Using a citizenship law enforced in 1982, the government denied access to full citizenship for individuals who do not belong to certain “national” ethnic groups determined by the government.
The government relies on an arbitrary and disputed list of 135 recognised ethnic groups that excludes the Rohingya, effectively stripping them of access to full citizenship.
Successive Myanmar governments also created a series of administrative “citizenship scrutiny” processes involving a variety of “identification cards” that progressively limited the rights of the Rohingya. The NVC is the most recent process that fails to confer rights to the Rohingya and is implemented through further human rights violations, the report said.
“I was beaten everywhere, my head, back, chest, and all over my body,” a Rohingya farmer told Fortify Rights. The Myanmar authorities had told him, “If you don’t accept the NVC, we will kill you.”
Myanmar state security forces also forced the Rohingya to accept NVCs at gunpoint, the report said.
Fortify Rights recommends that the Myanmar authorities, with international support, restore equal access to full citizenship rights for the Rohingya through a speedy administrative process developed with the Rohingya in Myanmar, Bangladesh, and the diaspora.
New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch has expressed scepticism over plans announced by the Myanmar’s military to prosecute soldiers for crimes against the Rohingya.
Human Rights Watch said the announcement did not indicate a change of attitude by the military, which denies carrying out abuses in a self-proclaimed counter-insurgency campaign two years ago. It has said its military operations in Rakhine were justified in response to attacks by Rohingya insurgents.
“The Tatmadaw’s [Myanmar armed forces] decision to court-martial a few soldiers is hardly enough when we’re talking atrocities that included murder, torture, rape and arson that destroyed people and their communities. This court-martial looks like just another game to divert international attention by sacrificing a few low-level scapegoats,” Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch, said.
He urged that it should be the military’s top commanders who face punishment.
SUU KYI SLAMMED
Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi has washed her hands of the Rohingya crisis, UN rights investigator Yanghee Lee said in Seoul yesterday.
Yanghee Lee said Suu Kyi was “terribly misguided and misinformed” about the abuses against the stateless Muslim minority in her country, reports AFP.
The US in July banned Myanmar’s army chief Min Aung Hlaing and other officers for their role in the campaign of “ethnic cleansing”. Suu Kyi was spared from the sanctions but no longer deserved to be called a democracy activist, Lee told AFP.
“It’s time for her to speak out and use the word, call them the way they identify themselves as the Rohingya.”
Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen yesterday said the government would not force the Rohingya to Bhashanchar.
“The crisis won’t end if the Rohingya are sent to Bhashanchar. It would be a temporary solution. The prime minister had wished to transfer some of the Rohingya to Bhashanchar considering the risk of land erosion in Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar. They could have some livelihood options if they had gone there,” he told a small group of journalists at the foreign ministry.
He made the comment hours after German media Deutsche Welle reported that the government might force the Rohingya to Bhashanchar.
Momen told DW, “Again and again local people are getting killed. We cannot allow that. We need to maintain law and order. To do that, maybe we will force them to Bhashanchar.”
DW also reported that Bangladesh government was putting pressure on the UN and other aid agencies shouldering the humanitarian effort to agree to relocating the refugees to Bhashanchar.
The news agency claimed to have seen minutes of a recent meeting between representatives of the foreign ministry and UN officials.
A government representative “strongly advised the UN agencies to include Bhashanchar” in the Joint Response Plan (JRP) for 2020, which sets out priorities for aid agencies’ work. Otherwise, “the government of Bangladesh would not be able to approve the JRP-2020 if Bhashanchar was not featured in the JRP,” DW said.
The UNHCR’s spokesman in Dhaka declined to comment, but off-the-record UN officials agree that there was strong pressure on them to endorse Bhashanchar. One concern was that refugees might be contained on the island for years and their freedom of movement severely restricted.
They said splitting operations between Cox’s Bazar and Bhashanchar was logistically difficult.