MANHATTAN (CN) - Myanmar committed genocide and human rights abuses against more than a million Rohingya Muslims living in the western part of the country, activists claim in a class action lawsuit.
The Rohingya people, a minority community residing primarily in western Myanmar's Rakhine State, have been the victim of "hate crimes and discrimination amounting to genocide" perpetrated by "the Burman Buddhist supremacist government" that has ruled Myanmar since 1962, according to the complaint. The lawsuit was filed Thursday in Manhattan Federal Court against Myanmar President Thein Sein and five of the country's current and former officials.
The Burma Task Force, Rohingya member Hitay Lwin Oo and unnamed plaintiffs sued on behalf of "themselves and their injured and deceases relatives." They say they "are excluded from citizenship and brutally persecuted because of their faith and ethnicity." The task force is made up of Muslim-American organizations managed by nonprofit human rights group Justice for All.
In 1982, despite having lived in Rakhine State for hundreds of years, Rohingyas were stripped of their citizenship, renamed Bengalis and reclassified as foreign, according to the lawsuit. Since 2012, anti-Muslim sentiment has fueled state-sponsored attacks against the community, resulting in "deaths, widespread destruction of property and the internal displacement of more than 150,000 people", mostly Rohingyas, the complaint states.
Oo says he was illegally detained for 27 days by Burmese authorities, who beat and tortured him. They told him he had been arrested because he is a Rohingya, he says. Oo eventually fled to the United States.
"Genocide, ethnic cleansing and persecution of Rohingya people in Myanmar is well documented and is acknowledged by the international community," the 26-page complaint states. "United Nations officials and independent human rights groups have reported evidence of direct state complicity in ethnic cleansing and sever human rights abuses, blocking of international aid and incitement of anti-Muslim violence."
The Rohingya community includes more than 1.3 million Muslims, according to the complaint.
In addition to Sein, the lawsuit names as defendants Myanmar's minister of foreign affairs Wunna Maung Lwin, former minister of border affairs Thein Htay, former minister for immigration and population Khin Yi, Rakhine State chief minister Maung Ohn, and minister of home affairs Ko Ko.
The Burma Task Force and Oo seek damages for the Myanmar government's violation of the U.S. Alien Tort Statute and international law as well as a court declaration that its actions amounted to genocide. They are represented by Babak Pourtavoosi in Jackson Heights, N.Y.
The lawsuit's proposed class consists of Rohingya community members "who are survivors of or next of kin of those who were killed as a result of the policies and acts of genocide, ethnic cleansing and persecution," the complaint states.
Myanmar's presidential spokesman did not reply to a request for comment.
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