Bangkok, Jul 22 (efe-epa).- The NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) criticized Malaysia on Wednesday for sentencing a group of Rohingya, a minority group victim of ethnic cleansing and a possible genocide in Myanmar, to up to seven months in prison and for treating them as “criminals”.
In a statement, HRW claimed that 31 of the 40 Rohingya who arrived more than three months ago by boat on the Malaysian coast are serving a seven-month prison sentence imposed in late June for illegally entering the country.
In addition, 27 of them were also sentenced to be spanked, which in Malaysia are carried out with rattan rods, but another court today dismissed this conviction, according to The Malaysian Insight newspaper.
HRW also called for protection for 14 minors arriving on the ship who were sent to shelters, although they may also face legal charges.
“Malaysia is illegally treating criminals who fled atrocities in Myanmar. Rohingya arriving by boat should be considered refugees who have the right to be protected under international law,” said Phil Robertson, HRW deputy director for Asia.
HRW considers stateless Rohingya fleeing Myanmar as refugees due to “persecution” by Myanmar authorities, including military operations against their villages in 2016 and 2017.
At least a dozen boats with Rohingya refugees have departed in recent months from Bangladesh, where they live in overcrowded conditions in the world’s largest refugee camp, lacking accommodation, sanitation and education, among other basic needs.
HRW celebrated that Malaysia has not returned Rohingya refugee ships to the high seas recently, but denounced that hundreds of them are in unhealthy detention centers and demanded that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) be allowed to visit them.
Like other countries in the region, Malaysia is not a signatory to the UN conventions on refugees, and therefore legally considers them to be illegal immigrants.
The presence of abandoned Rohingya refugee ships at sea echoes a similar crisis that occurred in 2015, when several ships with at least 10,000 Rohingya roamed the Gulf of Bengal for weeks, some of which died on the high seas until governments Malaysia and Thailand decided to allow them to disembark.
Until then, and according to UN figures, between 2012 and May 2015, some 170,000 Rohingya from western Burma put themselves in the hands of human trafficking networks to flee to Malaysia or Thailand, but the authorities of those countries managed to In mid-2015, these networks were dismantled, so the use of these routes was reduced to a minimum.
At the time, it was estimated that slightly more than a million Rohingya lived in the Rakhine (Arakan) state, but in August 2017, the Burmese Army launched a military campaign against them, following several attacks by insurgents from the Rohingya Salvation Army in Arakan (ARSA) against police and military posts.
The military operation, by which Burma has to defend itself against the accusation of genocide before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, caused the exodus of some 725,000 Rohingya to neighboring Bangladesh. EFE-EPA