The systemic and discriminatory practice of forced labour against the Rohingya has continued, or even intensified, across large areas of northern Arakan (Rakhine) State in Burma, since deadly communal violence broke out in June 2012, says a new report by the Arakan project.
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The discriminatory treatment forms a key part of the Burmese government’s systematic repression of the stateless group, and is a fundamental complaint that strain ethnic tensions in the state, said the report.
“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,” said Chris Lewa, the director of The Arakan Project.
“Law enforcement authorities appear oblivious of the Joint Strategy agreed by the ILO and the Myanmar government as the practice of forced labour is continued as usual, by two main perpetrators, the Army and the NaSaKa [border security forces],” Lewa said, in reference to the government’s agreement with the ILO to achieve elimination of forced labour by 2015.
The report said that there has been a substantive decline in forced labour in areas directly affected by the violence and mass arrests since June 2012 in central and south Maungdaw Township, but the trend is probably related to security issues rather than to any new policy against the use of forced labour.
Since Aug. 10, forced labour has restarted with the reconstruction of two model villages, Ba Gone Nah and Nyaung Chaung, partially burnt down during the unrest, the report said.
Labourers, including many children, received a little more than ½ kg of rice for their work at the end of the day, it said.
However, in areas not directly affected by the June 2012 violence, ie. North Maungdaw and Buthidaung Township, forced labour remains much the same as in previous years and has even intensified in some areas, the report said.
There was a substantial increase in demands for porters and guides in North Maungdaw and North Buthidaung to carry additional rations or to accompany soldiers on patrol in border areas. Villagers were forced to remain 4 to 5 days at a time in the hills along with army patrols. Large groups of forced labourers have also been summoned for road clearing and emergency camp repair damaged by monsoon rains and forced cultivation in army camps and paddy fields has been reported in many parts of Buthidaung, said the report.