New animated short film reveals Myanmar junta’s erasure of Rohingya identity

(COX’S BAZAR, August 24, 2023)—The Myanmar military junta should end the ongoing Rohingya genocide, and the democratic revolution should fully embrace Rohingya as citizens of Myanmar, said Fortify Rights in a new animated film released today.

The Myanmar junta is scheduled today to submit its Counter-Memorial to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, also known as the World Court, defending itself against allegations of genocide brought by The Gambia. Tomorrow, August 25, is “Rohingya Genocide Remembrance Day,” marking six years since genocidal attacks by the Myanmar military against Rohingya people in Rakhine State.

“Six years on, the Myanmar junta continues to create conditions of life to destroy Rohingya and erase their identity,” said Zaw Win, Human Rights Specialist at Fortify Rights. “The military’s misuse of identity documents has been a factor in the genocide trial in The Hague, and today we’re releasing this animated film to remind the Court and others of the junta’s ongoing use of these cards to erase Rohingya identity and destroy them as a group. The world must hold all perpetrators accountable for the ongoing genocide against the Rohingya, including coup leader Min Aung Hlaing.”

In the new animated film, six ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar describe the junta’s efforts to coerce Rohingya to accept the National Verification Card (NVC), which identifies Rohingya as foreigners and erases their identity. Through firsthand interviews, Fortify Rights documented how junta officials continue implementing the discriminatory NVC process established by former Myanmar governments. The junta’s efforts violate binding “Provisional Measures” issued by the ICJ in January 2020, specifically requiring Myanmar to protect Rohingya from genocide in Rakhine State.

More than 700,000 Rohingya fled to Cox’s Bazar District, Bangladesh, in 2017, joining several hundred thousand other Rohingya in sprawling refugee camps. At the time of writing, an estimated 600,000 Rohingya remain in Rakhine State, Myanmar, and are experiencing ongoing genocidal acts by junta authorities.

Rohingya in Rakhine State told Fortify Rights how authorities left them no choice but to accept NVCs by restricting their freedom of movement, right to work, and education. Of the six Rohingya people who participated in the film, five were coerced into accepting the NVC— two before the February 2021 Myanmar coup, and three after.

One Rohingya man, 41, from Maungdaw Township in Rakhine State and featured in the film, told Fortify Rights that he accepted the NVC in June 2022 to travel and access work opportunities:

They [junta immigration officials] took my signature and wrote in my family card that our family received an NVC. . . I felt so bad when I took the NVC. . . Nobody received the NVC willingly. They must receive this card because they need it for their livelihoods and travel.

He continued: “They are forcefully giving the NVC card because everyone knows that Rohingya are genuinely from Myanmar, but they mentioned that Rohingya are not from Myanmar, and they are not citizens of this country. Now they are trying to prove this by giving NVCs.”  

The man had to pay 20,000 Kyat [approximately US$10] to the junta authorities for the NVC application process.

Another Rohingya man from Buthidaung Township told Fortify Rights how he also had to accept the NVC in 2022 and explained why he needed the card:

[T]hey [the junta authorities] created so many restrictions to force people to accept the NVC; while traveling, they check for NVCs in every check post and always ask for money. That is the reason I accepted the NVC. … I am not happy with the NVC. The authorities want to erase the Rohingya identity, so they are forcing us to accept NVC. …[T]his is a step-by-step process. These steps are to make us outsiders. First Rohingya, then [it becomes] Muslim, then [it becomes] Bengali. [This is] a trick to make the Rohingya identity disappear.

A Rohingya woman, 43, and mother of one child in northern Rakhine State told Fortify Rights that she took the NVC in April 2022 to travel to her home village. She said: “Myanmar authorities force our Rohingya people to accept the NVC to exclude us from our national rights as citizens. In other words, they want to make us foreigners.” Moreover, after receiving the card, the junta authorities did not allow her to travel to the village.

Another Rohingya resident of Maungdaw Township and featured in the short film told Fortify Rights:

[Accepting the NVC is] inevitable because our people can’t go fishing, can’t travel, and cannot do business. Authorities also started spot-checking if people had the NVC. . . . [The NVC] is for noncitizens, [it] makes you a “Bengali.” . . .it’s become unavoidable. We cannot do anything without the NVC, so we accept it unwillingly. . . . I was aware that by taking the NVC I would lose my identity [as a Rohingya].

The man had to pay 15,000 Kyat [approximately US$7] to junta authorities during the application process for the NVC – a high amount of money for the average Rohingya in Rakhine State.

In November 2019, The Gambia brought a case against Myanmar at the ICJ in The Hague alleging violations of the Genocide Convention through “acts adopted, taken and condoned by the Government of Myanmar against members of the Rohingya group.” As part of the legal proceedings, on January 23, 2020, the ICJ unanimously indicated legally binding provisional measures of protection for the Rohingya people, requiring Myanmar to prevent and preserve evidence of genocide and “cease forthwith any such ongoing internationally wrongful act and fully respect its obligations under the Genocide Convention.”

On February 1, 2021, the Myanmar military launched a deadly coup d’état, killing untold numbers of civilians and imprisoning tens of thousands in a bid to secure nationwide political power. The junta’s attacks against civilians continue and amount to crimes against humanity.

On March 21, 2022, the Government of the United States announced that the Myanmar military is responsible for committing genocide against the Rohingya. In 2018, Fortify Rights and a U.N.-appointed Fact-Finding Mission made similar determinations.

Myanmar ratified the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Genocide Convention) in 1956. Genocide is an act or acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group.

Under Article 2 of the Genocide Convention, deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about the physical destruction of a group is a prohibited act of genocide. “Conditions of life” refers to methods of destruction that do not immediately kill members of the group but ultimately seek the group’s obliteration.

The United Nations Office on Genocide Prevention found that “increased politicization of identity” and discriminatory “measures or legislation” targeting protected groups serve as indicators in creating “an environment conducive to the commission of atrocity crimes.” Genocidal states often use legal and administrative tools to facilitate the destruction of a targeted group. This is the case for the junta in Myanmar.

In June 2022, Fortify Rights published a report Genocide by Attrition: The Role of Identity Documents in the Holocaust and the Genocides of Rwanda and Myanmar, providing information about the longstanding and ongoing persecution of the Rohingya in Myanmar, including the use of the NVC in the commission of genocide. The report details how the Myanmar junta continues to use identity documents to facilitate the genocide of the Rohingya people, mirroring tactics used in the Holocaust and Rwandan genocides and violating existing ICJ orders for Myanmar authorities to cease ongoing acts of genocide. 

In 2019, a 102-page report by Fortify Rights exposed how civilian and military authorities in Myanmar forced or coerced Rohingya to accept NVCs as part of a systematic campaign to erase the Rohingya identity.

“Links between the ongoing persecution in Rakhine State, including the NVC process and genocidal acts, should be a focus of ongoing investigations and legal proceedings,” said Zaw Win, Human Rights Specialist. “Rohingya are citizens of the country and should be seen by our fellow citizens as valued members of the pro-democratic revolution.”

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