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TOOLS OF GENOCIDE : National Verification Cards and the Denial of Citizenship of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar
Reported By Fortify Rights — works to ensure human rights for all.
The United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention warns of certain indicators that “provide an environment conducive to the commission of atrocity crimes,” including “increased politicization of identity” and discriminatory “measures or legislation” targeting protected groups. In addition to certain prohibited acts, such as killing members of a group, genocidal States often use legal and administrative tools to facilitate the destruction of a targeted group “in whole or in part.” In Myanmar, successive governments have implemented measures and legislation to erase Rohingya Muslims’ identity and rights, creating an enabling environment for genocide. This report documents how the Government of Myanmar is using discriminatory administrative measures to deny Rohingya the right to nationality. The government has forced or coerced Rohingya to accept National Verification Cards (NVCs), which effectively identify Rohingya as “foreigners,” and Myanmar authorities tortured Rohingya and imposed restrictions on Rohingya freedom of movement in the context of implementing the NVC process.
This report finds that the NVC process violates customary international law as well as core human rights treaties to which Myanmar is a party, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, and may have contributed to the commission of genocide and crimes against humanity. The Rohingya are a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority group indigenous to Buddhist-majority Myanmar. Using a citizenship law entered into force in 1982, the government denies access to full citizenship for individuals who do not belong to “national” ethnic groups determined by the State. The State relies on an arbitrary and disputed list of 135 recognized national ethnic groups. As Rohingya are not among the “national ethnic groups” specified by the Myanmar government, the law effectively strips them of access to full citizenship rights. Over the years, successive governments in Myanmar also created a series of administrative “citizenship scrutiny” processes to progressively limit rights for Rohingya. The latest iteration of these processes is the NVC.
Implemented under the Aung San Suu Kyi government, the NVC process requires 10 Rohingya to register as “Bengali” or another foreign identity, relegating Rohingya to the status of “foreigner,” denying them access to full citizenship and contributing to their administrative erasure.
“On the NVC form it asked, ‘Where are you from?’ ‘Which border did you enter?’ ‘How did you come to Myanmar?’,” a 30-year-old Rohingya man from Maungdaw Township in Myanmar’s Rakhine State told Fortify Rights. “We are not migrants. The document that you have to fill out for the NVC makes us feel shame. It says we are outsiders.”
This report is based on 628 interviews from 2014 to 2019 conducted by Fortify Rights, including with 304 Rohingya women, in Rakhine State, Myanmar; Cox’s Bazar District, Bangladesh; and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Fortify Rights interviewed eyewitnesses and survivors of human rights violations in Myanmar as well as members of civil society organizations and humanitarian aid workers.
“The NVC is a tool of genocide,” a Rohingya refugee in Bangladesh told Fortify Rights in English, later adding, “We want our citizenship restored first, and there should be equality, safety, and security in our motherland.”
NATIONAL VERIFICATION CARDS, HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS, AND ATROCITY CRIMES
The Myanmar government has used the NVC process to violate the rights of Rohingya, and the process itself has resulted in human rights violations. “I was beaten everywhere— my head, back, chest, and all over my body,” a Rohingya farmer, 62, told Fortify Rights, describing beatings by Myanmar authorities. The same authorities threatened the man to accept an NVC, saying, “‘If you don’t accept the NVC, we will kill you.’” In another instance, on July 17, 2017, Myanmar Army soldiers and government officials entered Baw Tu Lar village—also known as Bandola village—in Rakhine State’s Maungdaw Township and forced groups of Rohingya to accept NVCs, in some cases at gunpoint.
“[The soldiers] closed the door and surrounded us, holding guns,” a Rohingya man, 61, told Fortify Rights. Myanmar authorities forced him and four of his seven family members to accept the NVC. “They separated men and women . . . The threats to receive an NVC are real. It’s a horrible situation for us.” Just weeks later, in August 2017, the Myanmar military began attacking civilians in northern Rakhine State, forcing at least some Rohingya residents of Baw Tu Lar village to flee to Bangladesh. Beginning in October 2016 and August 2017— in response to Rohingya militant attacks on police—Myanmar security forces and civilian perpetrators razed several hundred Rohingya villages and committed massacres and mass rape of Rohingya women, men, and children throughout northern Rakhine State, forcing nearly 800,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh. In July 2018, Fortify Rights exposed how Myanmar authorities made “extensive and systematic preparations” for the attacks against Rohingya and that the crimes constituted genocide and crimes against humanity.##