Myanmar said the restoration of a policy preventing some Muslim Rohingya from having more than two children is family planning, dismissing criticism that it’s evidence of oppression against the religious minority.
Authorities decided to reinforce a 1992 law in two towns, Buthidaung and Maungdaw, because the number of Rohingya has grown, said Win Myaing, a spokesman for the Rakhine state government. Human Rights Watch called for Myanmar to revoke the policy yesterday. Many of Myanmar’s 64 million people view the country’s 800,000 Rohingya as illegal migrants from what is now Bangladesh, and refer to them as Bengali.
“The local authorities do it for socio-economic reasons of the Bengali people,” Win Myaing said in a phone interview yesterday. “The United Nations and other NGOs have been doing family planning projects in the area for a long time.”
President Thein Sein has tried to contain violence against Rohingya, who are denied citizenship in Myanmar, and other Muslims in the Buddhist-majority country after allowing greater political freedom since taking power two years ago. He met with U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington last week and Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Myanmar three days ago in an effort to attract investment.
Fresh anti-Muslim violence broke out last night in northern Shan state when a mob torched a mosque, religious school and 11 shops after police refused to hand over a Muslim man accused of burning a Buddhist girl, according to Ye Htut, Thein Sein’s spokesman. Nobody died in the incident, and police are taking measures to control the situation, he said today.
Separately, Ye Htut declined to comment on the two-child policy when reached by phone yesterday and referred any questions to the Rakhine state government.
Win Myaing said local Rohingya in two nearby towns, Minbya and Mrauk-U, have also requested family planning measures. He declined to comment on opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s remarks reported by The Irrawaddy news service that a two-child limit for Rohingya would be illegal and violate human rights.
At least 70 Rohingya were killed in a massacre in Mrauk-U township on Oct. 23, including 28 children who were hacked to death, Human Rights Watch said, part of violence in the region last year that killed about 180 people and displaced more than 100,000. In March, anti-Muslim violence in central Myanmar killed more than 40 people, displaced 20,000 others and left about 1,400 buildings destroyed, including mosques.
Last month, a government commission investigating the violence in Rakhine state cited population growth as a factor fueling tensions between ethnic groups. While it proposed family planning measures, it said none should be discriminatory.
“The government and other civil society organizations should refrain from implementing mandatory measures which could seem unfair and abusive,” the report said. “In addition, any mandatory measures could be used by some elements of the Bengali population to stir up instability.”
Kyaw Khin, secretary-general of the Myanmar Muslim National Affairs Organization and a member of the Rakhine Investigation Commission, said the law goes against its recommendations.
“The commission only proposed to educate the community for family planning, not to enforce it,” he said by phone. “This is not fair.”
New York-based Human Rights Watch said yesterday that the policy violates human rights protections and endangers the physical and mental health of women.
“Implementation of this callous and cruel two-child policy against the Rohingya is another example of the systematic and wide ranging persecution of this group, who have recently been the target of an ethnic cleansing campaign,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Governments who care about reform in Burma need to speak out about the persecution.”
While Obama praised Myanmar’s progress after meeting with Thein Sein on May 20, he expressed “deep concern” about violence against ethnic and religious minorities and said abuse of human rights “needs to stop.”
U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican and the congressional sponsor of economic sanctions against Myanmar, said on May 21 he won’t seek their extension in light of the former military regime’s shift toward democracy. Obama had relaxed the sanctions last year.
During Abe’s visit, the first for a Japanese leader in 36 years, he agreed to grant Myanmar 51 billion yen ($500 million) of development loans to build and refurbish infrastructure, including roads, electricity and water supply. Japan also cleared 189 billion yen in overdue charges from earlier debt and gave 40 billion yen in direct aid.
Myanmar’s economy may grow 6.75 percent this fiscal year, led by natural gas sales and investment as the country modernizes its financial system, the International Monetary Fund said in a statement May 22. The country, which is sandwiched between China and India, is among Asia’s poorest.