Thu 13 Sep 2012
Filed under: Inside Burma,Military,News,Religion
BANGKOK – Forced labour has started again for stateless Rohingya people affected by communal violence in western Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State after a short pause, according to the Arakan Project, a local rights group.
Longstanding tensions between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingyas boiled over in early June, leading to arson and machete attacks in which authorities say 77 people were killed and more than 100 wounded – some of the worst violence in recent history.
Forced labour, imposed by government soldiers, ceased for two months in areas where the clashes erupted, including Central and South Maungdaw Township. But it restarted in August with the reconstruction of two model villages that were partially burnt down during the unrest, said a recent report by the Arakan Project, made public on Thursday.
Labourers, who include many children, receive little more than half a kilo of rice for their work at the end of the day.
“We are not working here willingly! But if we refuse this rice, soldiers will beat us,” a worker told the non-governmental organisation.
In areas unaffected by the violence, forced labour has continued as usual or is getting worse, the report said, with the army and the NaSaKa (the border security forces) the main perpetrators.
“Sentry duty, forced portering and guiding increased in North Maungdaw and North Buthidaung with the deployment of additional troops on high security alert patrolling the Bangladesh border,” the report said.
“Large groups of forced labourers, including children, have also been summoned for road clearing and emergency camp repair damaged by the monsoon rains,” it added.
Rights groups say the Rohingya, a Muslim minority in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, face some of the worst discrimination in the world. They were deprived of free movement, education and employment, and denied citizenship under the country’s former military rulers – a situation that persists today.
“Much of the discussion on the plight of the Rohingya has focused on the 1982 Citizenship Law, which renders the Rohingya stateless, but a pernicious element behind the inter-ethnic strife is the discriminatory imposition of forced labour, solely on the Rohingya,” Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan Project, said in a statement.
In March, the government of Myanmar and the International Labour Organisation agreed to eliminate forced labour in the country by 2015.