Myanmar officials have reaffirmed a controversial two-child policy for Rohingya Muslims in the restive Rakhine state where recent religious violence has killed nearly 200 people and displaced tens of thousands.

The junta-era rule, which bans Rohingya people to have more than two children, was reinforced in two townships, said Win Myaing, the spokesperson for the Rakhine government.

“Because the birth rate is so high in that area, a district order was imposed a long time ago to enforce monogamy and not to have more than two children. It was approved again last week,” he told AFP.

Win Myaing said authorities in the Rohingya-majority districts were now trying to implement the policy after an official commission’s report in April into the unrest suggested “voluntary family planning” to stem a high birth rate among the Rohingya, which it said stoked tensions.

Rights groups condemned the policy as “abhorrent, inhumane”. Human Rights Watch long accused local authorities of taking part in “ethnic cleansing” by restricting birthrates and refusing to acknowledge any more than two children per couple, further denying them legal rights.

“The state government is trying to use the Rakhine investigation recommendation, which is outrageous, to justify a policy of limiting births of Rohingya,” said Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch deputy director in Asia.