The student-led movement to end mass atrocities.

Answers and Analysis: Burma, Human Rights, and Refugees

Trivia: What human rights violations do the Rohingya face at the hands of the Burmese regime?  What violations do the Karen face? 

Answer:  For the Rohingya, your answer could have included the denial of citizenship, arbitrary taxation, land confiscation, forced eviction, and forced labor.  For the Karen, your answer could have included forced labor, forced relocation, extrajudicial killings, and rape at the hands of Burmese soldiers 


Though Bangladesh and Thailand have claimed that the repatriation of the Rohingya and Karen is voluntary, human rights groups have shown fairly conclusively that this can’t be the case.  Refugees do face hardships in refugee camps.  As this article from The Irrawaddy illustrates, the Thai government is reluctant to give refugees legal status, and refugees without it are denied aid.  Refugees who have legal status still must face security issues and struggle for food. News reports from this week have revealed that Bangladesh has cracked down on Rohingya refugees, creating a humanitarian crisis.  Refugees have faced physical assault and rape at the hands of Bangladeshi police and security forces, and the risk of starvation is rising.  

However bad the situation is for refugees in Thailand and Bangladesh, the level of persecution and abuse they are sure to face at the hands of the Burmese military regime should they be repatriated makes returning to Burma a terrifying prospect.  To make matters worse, repatriated Karen refugees are being resettled on land that international and Burmese NGOs have reported as being heavily mined, a claim the Burmese government denies.   

Although international refugees do place a burden on their host countries, it is a clear breach of international law to repatriate refugees involuntarily.  Thailand and Bangladesh themselves have appalling human rights records, regarding their own citizens but especially with regards to Burmese refugees.  It would improve their international standing, and contribute to a long-term solution to the refugee problem, to take action by pressuring the Burmese military regime to end attacks on ethnic minorities.  Thailand, as a member of ASEAN, has particular power to pressure the regime, by demanding that it apply the human rights provisions of the ASEAN charter and use the ASEAN Inter-Governmental Commission on Human Rights to address Burma’s human rights violations against ethnic minorities.   

Regardless of Thailand and Bangladesh’s attempts to repatriate refugees, more will continue to flood across Burma’s border as the military regime continues to attack ethnic minorities.  A solution to human rights abuses cannot be found in more human rights abuses.  Bangladesh and Thailand, in such close proximity to such terrible abuses, must become part of the solution, not exacerbate the problem.


-Morgan McDaniel, STAND National Burma Education Coordinator

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