Cox's Bazar, Sep 4: A report published by Fortify Rights revealed that National Verification Card (NVC) scheme is targetting Myanmar refugees Rohingya as a part of a systematic campaign by its authorities to erase their identity.
The human rights organisation says the NVC process and denial of citizenship fall within the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court in its probe into crimes against the minority group, which was initiated last year. "The Myanmar government is trying to destroy the Rohingya people through an administrative process that effectively strips them of basic rights," Matthew Smith, Chief Executive Officer of Fortify Rights, said in a statement.
"This process and its impacts lie at the root of the Rohingya crisis, and until it's addressed, the crisis will continue." The report: Tools of Genocide: National Verification Cards and the Denial of Citizenship of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar examines the series of alternative identification documents given to the Rohingya in Myanmar over the past few decades, alleging 'citizenship scrutiny' processes have progressively limited their rights including freedom of movement, access to education and livelihoods and freedom of expression.
Under Myanmar's 1982 Citizenship Law, only people belonging to one of 135 national ethnic groups identified by the state are accorded citizenship.
The groups are those the authorities consider to have settled in Myanmar before 1824, when the country was first occupied by the British, according to the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, a London-based Rohingya advocacy organisation. "Despite generations of residence in Myanmar, the Rohingya are not considered to be amongst these official indigenous races and are thus effectively excluded from full citizenship."
Myanmar's government says NVCs are "the first step before the scrutinisation of citizenship," in accordance with the 1982 legislation.
The Fortify Rights report also alleges Myanmar authorities have used torture and abuse in attempting to force Rohingya into accepting the verification card.
"I was beaten everywhere - my head, back, chest, and all over my body," a 62-year-old Rohingya farmer told Fortify Rights, describing the beatings he had received. He said he was also threatened. "If you don't accept the NVC, we will kill you," he said he was told.
According to the report efforts to coerce Rohingya into accepting NVCs increased just before the crackdown on Rohingya civilians in 2016 and 2017.
"Evidence suggests a positive correlation between Myanmar authorities' efforts to force Rohingya to accept NVCs and their efforts to destroy the Rohingya as a group," it said. "These findings demonstrate that the NVC process has not been a response to the crisis in Rakhine State, as the government suggests, but rather a fundamental part of the crisis."
The United Nations Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar also found an increase in pressure on the Rohingya to accept the NVC in the months leading up to August 2017. It noted that Border Guard Police and Myanmar Army soldiers held a "series of more targeted and aggressive meetings" with Rohingya elders in mid-August 2017, demanding residents accept NVCs. According to the Fact-Finding Mission's report, these meetings happened where "some of the most brutal 'clearance operations' subsequently took place."
The verification process has become a major concern for the more than 740,000 Rohingya who were forced into Bangladesh as a result of the military crackdown. "The first question on this form is, 'When did you come from Bangladesh', followed by 'Why did you come' and 'Who was the chairman in your village in Bangladesh?'" a Rohingya refugee who has been in Kutupalong refugee camp since 2017 said.
"How can we answer these questions? It means they are automatically putting us in a cage. This is why people are not willing to go back."
"The NVC is a temporary document. We will have to apply later for permanent citizenship but will not be identified as Rohingya,It is just a mockery," said another refugee Shamsu Alam.
Rohingyas have been objecting to NVC projects dating back to the previous military government. At that time, it was mandatory for the Rohingya to identify as 'Bangali' on the card, to imply that they were illegal Bangladeshi immigrants. More than 600,000 of the stateless group have fled to Bangladesh since late August, when the Myanmar military claimed it launched a 'clearance operation' in response to insurgent attacks on security forces. (UNI)