The rights group says that 135,000 Rohingya and Kaman Muslims have been detained arbitrarily and indefinitely in the Rakhine State camps for ten years.
Authorities in Myanmar have capitalised on the ethnic cleansing campaign that started in 2012 to remove Rohingya and Kaman Muslims from daily life in the past decade, Human Rights Watch has said.
A report released by the rights group on Wednesday said over 135,000 Muslims were arbitrarily arrested in Rakhine State in the past decade, with authorities committing crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.
“The Myanmar junta’s unyielding oppression of the Rohingya people is the foreseeable result of the military facing no consequences for its decade of ethnic cleansing and system of apartheid,” said Shayna Bauchner, Asia researcher at HRW.
In 2012, the state launched a violent crackdown campaign that forced Rohingya Muslims to camps that practically served as open-air detention centres with inhuman living conditions.
Kamal Ahmad, then a 15-year-old, was one of the Rohingya whose life has changed after the violent segregation policy of the state.
Growing up in Myanmar, Kamal Ahmad was always aware that his community, Rohingya Muslims, was treated differently. But in June 2012, life dramatically changed for him and other Muslims.
He was insulted with slurs at school by ethnic Rakhine classmates for years, but then extremist Buddhist monks started a campaign calling Rohingya “terrorists”. They need to be wiped out, or they will take over, said the magazines and pamphlets distributed by the racist, hate-filled monks.
As police increasingly started patrolling his neighbourhood in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine, Kamal heard about riots that left nearby districts on fire. On June 11, the violence reached his home in the predominantly Buddhist country.
“They set fire to our houses and then attacked people when they fled the burning buildings,” Kamal told Human Rights Watch.
Narzi, the largest Muslim neighbourhood with around 10,000 habitants, was burned to the ground and any structure that survived the arson was bulldozed. Hundreds of Rohingya were killed in June and during the renewed violence in October. More than 140,000 were displaced, according to the HRW figures.
Those displaced, however, couldn't find a safe shelter. The army said it would only take care of its own ethnic nationalities, not Rohingyas. They should either need to be placed in United Nations-run camps or sent abroad, then army general Thein Sein said. Hundreds of thousands of people fled to camps in Bangladesh.
A UN official who worked in Rakhine State described it as an organised policy. “What they did in 2012 was to overwhelm the Rohingya population,” he said. “Corner them, fence them, confine the ‘enemy.’”
A decade later, however, there was no accountability for the crimes against the minority Rohingya. The sealed-off camps in unthinkable conditions worsen each day and lead to a growing number of preventable deaths by the human rights group. Malnutrition, water-borne diseases and outbreaks are also common in these scattered camps.
Segregation policy also prevents the Muslims’ access to health services that non-governmental organisations run. Only one health clinic accepts Rohingya, but its fees and internal referral process make getting healthcare extremely hard. Blood donations are reserved for ethnic Rakhine only and Muslims are treated in a segregated ward only.
The HRW says no one has been held accountable for the atrocities committed since 2012 and states have failed to take action against the apartheid state that arose ever since.
The rights group began lifting sanctions and positioning themselves for the country’s political and economic opening-up despite the persecution.
“Concerned governments should now be doing what they should have done in 2012 – pursuing all avenues to hold Myanmar officials accountable for their grave crimes and delivering justice to the victims of their abuses,” it says.