9404News from Myanmar and Rohingya Muslims: Burma Lets the Rohingya Burn
- Aug 7, 2012Burma Lets the Rohingya Burn
The Burmese government willfully ignores a human-rights disaster.
August 7, 2012, 12:31 p.m. ET
By MATTHEW F. SMITH
The West's faith in Burma isn't being repaid. When U.S. President Barack Obama lifted restrictions on investments by American companies in the country last month, state security forces were still committing killings, rape and mass arrests against Rohingya Muslims in Arakan state. These abuses came after the authorities failed to protect both Rohingya and Arakan Buddhists during sectarian violence that erupted in early June and which continues today.
The Rohingya, largely scorned by Burmese society, are treated as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Because they were stripped of citizenship in 1982, even in the best of times they are subjected to forced labor, arbitrary detentions, beatings and restrictions on movement.
But they've had it worse since June. We can trace the immediate causes of the violence to the rape and murder of a young Buddhist woman, allegedly by three Muslim men, which was followed on June 3 by the retaliatory massacre of 10 Burmese Muslim travelers in the town of Toungop. Thousands of Rohingya Muslims in northern Arakan soon rioted, and then violence quickly spread to the state capital Sittwe and beyond.
Despite the large Burmese military presence in the state, local Arakan and Rohingya residents described how the authorities failed to protect them through the days of grisly violence. A displaced Arakan mother of five told me how she witnessed a mob of Rohingya kill and nearly behead her husband, chopping off his arm. A displaced Rohingya woman explained how an Arakan mob beat her and her family in their home, killing her brother-in-law when he attempted to flee.
While the army eventually contained the violence in Sittwe, local security forces still opened fire on Rohingya as they attempted to extinguish fires set by groups of Arakan. A 36-year-old Rohingya man from the largest Muslim neighborhood in Sittwe told me that an Arakan mob set fire to his family's home in the presence of security forces. "When the people tried to put out the fires," he said, "the paramilitary shot at us."
Scores of witnesses to the violence say the same thing. "The government could have stopped this," a young Arakan man told us in Sittwe. Just days later an ethnic Rohingya elder used the exact same words: "The government could have stopped this."
Testimonials such as this should make observers doubt the government's word. The government claims 78 people died in the violence. Human Rights Watch fears the number is significantly higher.
In the predominantly Muslim townships of northern Arakan, state security forces have killed and rounded up fleeing Rohingya in violent mass arrests, holding detainees incommunicado and subjecting them to beatings and torture. Over 100,000 people have been displaced and the government has restricted humanitarian access to the Rohingya community, leaving many in dire need of food, shelter and medical care.
Successive Burmese governments have long abused both the Rohingya and Arakan populations—the Arakan because of their fierce ethnic nationalism, and the Rohingya because of a wholesale denial the group has any place in Burma, a view shared by much of Burma's population. The abuses we're seeing now are simply an extension of decades of state policies of persecution.
These human-rights abuses are worrying because they raise doubts about President Thein Sein's political-reform program. To his credit, he has instituted important changes in Burma since taking office in March 2011. Hundreds of political prisoners have been released, freedoms of assembly have been respected, and the democratic opposition now holds several seats in parliament. This is surely cause for hope.
Nevertheless, because these changes were carefully planned, it appears the government is now willfully ignoring the Rohingya stain on its human-rights record. Leave aside for a moment the fact that Burma's discriminatory citizenship law denies 800,000 to one million Rohingya their rights. Now, President Thein Sein proposes to address the crisis in Arakan by expelling them from the country. This would be the "only solution," he told the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Before Westerners treat the Rohingya story as a remote incident, consider that Arakan state is home to tens of billions of dollars worth of verified natural gas deposits. U.S. firms hope to compete in this area with Chinese, Korean, and Indian oil companies that have been there for years, but now it's in a state of emergency. If the government is violating human rights, businesses can't depend on the maintenance of law and order. Aung San Suu Kyi argued as much a few months ago.
Transition from authoritarian rule will not come without setbacks. But no one is served when the state fails to address the gravity of such abuses. Rather than generate undue optimism for the country's investment prospects, world leaders need to let Burma's rulers know they will not be rewarded for continuing these atrocities.
Mr. Smith is a researcher with Human Rights Watch and an author of the new report, "The Government Could Have Stopped This: Sectarian Violence and Ensuing Abuses in Burma's Arakan State," published last week.
Burma continues to practise rights abuses, report claims
ANDREW BUNCOMBE THURSDAY 02 AUGUST 2012
Burma’s government – hailed around the world for its flurry of recent democratic reforms – stood by as its security forces raped and murdered members of a long-persecuted ethnic minority, a new report has alleged.
According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), after troops opened fire and attacked the Rohingya Muslims, the authorities then unleashed a campaign of further violence and mass round-ups. Hundreds of men and boys remain in detention.
At least 80 people were killed and many more injured after clashes broke out in June between Muslim and Buddhist communities in Burma’s western Rakhine state. The New York-based organisation said the
official tally of those killed appeared to have been “grossly underestimated”.
“What is remarkable is that if the atrocities that we saw had happened before the government reform process had started, the international reaction would have been swift and strong,” HRW’s Phil Robertson told a press conference in Bangkok, according to Reuters. “But the international community appears to be blinded by a romantic narrative of sweeping change in Burma, signing new trade deals and lifting sanctions even while the abuses continue.”
The Muslims of western Burma have for decades suffered persecution. Considered “outsiders” by many Burmese despite the fact they have lived in the country for centuries, in 1982 they were stripped of
their citizenship rights by the then military ruler Ne Win. During various outbreaks of violence, groups of Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh and hundreds of thousands survive illegally in wretched camps close to the border.
President Thein Sein has said he would like to deport an estimated 800,000 Rohingya living in Burma to Bangladesh. Bangladesh’s prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, has resisted any such efforts and countless
numbers of desperate Rohingya families trying to reach Bangladesh on makeshift vessels have been turned back by navy personnel.
The violence this summer was triggered after a Buddhist woman was raped and murdered by a group of Rohingya men and a series of bloody reprisals were carried out. The report said that members of both communities committed horrendous acts of violence, including stabbings, beheadings, shooting and arson.
It quoted one Rohingya man in the Rakhine state capital Sittwe as saying that security forces had watched as a Buddhist mob started setting fire to homes. “When the people tried to put out the fires, the paramilitary shot at us. And the group beat people with big sticks,” he said.
Another Rohingya man said: “I was just a few feet away. I was on the road. I saw them shoot at least six people - one woman, two children, and three men. The police took their bodies away.”
The plight of the Rohingya could prove to be a major test for Thein Sein, whose reforms towards democracy, including the release of political prisoners such as Aung San Suu Kyi, saw Western nations lift economic sanctions and seek new political and business engagement. Western nations, including the US and Britain, insisted that the resolution of ethnic conflicts had to be a priority if relations with
Burma were to be normalised.
Ms Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) have also faced criticism for failing to speak out against the violence that has been directed towards the Rohingya. To the chagrin of international
observers, several senior Burmese figures long associated with the struggle for democracy have claimed the Rohingya are “migrants” who should leave the country.
Last month The Independent reported that even the country’s Buddhist monks had been calling on people to shun the minority group. Several monks organisations issued pamphlets telling people not to associate with the Rohingya community, and blocked humanitarian assistance from reaching them. One leaflet described the Rohingya as “cruel by nature” and claimed it had “plans to exterminate” other ethnic groups.
Bangladesh PM speaks out on Rohingya issue
Sheikh Hasina spoke to Al Jazeera on July 27 about her country's stance on Myanmar's Rohingya.
Last Modified: 05 Aug 2012 13:37
Dhaka bans NGOs from helping Rohingya
Three foreign aid groups barred from helping refugees fleeing violence in Myanmar, saying their work encourages influx.
Last Modified: 02 Aug 2012 11:02
Bangladesh has ordered three international charities to stop providing aid to Rohingya refugees crossing the border from Myanmar where they have fled persecution and violence.
Local administrator Joynul Bari said on Thursday that France's Doctors without Borders (MSF), Action Against Hunger (ACF) and Britain's Muslim Aid UK have been told to suspend their services in the Cox's Bazaar district bordering Myanmar.
"The charities have been providing aid to tens of thousands of undocumented Rohingya refugees illegally. We asked them to stop all their projects in Cox's Bazaar following directive from the NGO Affairs Bureau," Bari told the AFP news agency.
Bari said the charities "were encouraging an influx of Rohingya refugees" from across the border in Myanmar's Rakhine state in the wake of recent sectarian violence that left at least 80 people killed.
The charities have provided healthcare, training, emergency food and drinking water to the refugees living in Cox's Bazaar since the early 1990s.
MSF runs a clinic near one of the Rohingya camp which provides services to 100,000 people.
Speaking a Bengali dialect similar to one in southeast Bangladesh, the Rohingyas are Muslims seen as illegal immigrants by the Buddhist-majority Myanmar government and many Burmese.
They are viewed by the United Nations as one of the world's most persecuted minorities.
Obaidur Rahman, country head of Muslim Aid UK in Bangladesh, confirmed to AFP that his group had stopped its Rohingya project following the order.
The government says some 300,000 Rohingya Muslims are living in the country, the vast majority in Cox's Bazaar, after fleeing persecution in Myanmar. About 30,000 are registered refugees who live in two camps run by the United Nations.
In recent weeks, Bangladesh has turned away boats carrying hundreds of Rohingya fleeing the violence in Myanmar despite pressure from the United States and rights groups to grant them refuge.
Myanmar security forces opened fire on Rohingya Muslims, committed rape and stood by as rival mobs attacked each other during the recent wave of sectarian violence, New York-based Human Rights Watch said Wednesday.
The authorities failed to protect both Muslims and Buddhists and then "unleashed a campaign of violence and mass roundups against the Rohingya", the group said in a report.
Report blasts Myanmar treatment of Rohingya
Rights group says military conducted vicious crackdown on stateless Muslim group in aftermath of sectarian violence.
Last Modified: 01 Aug 2012 18:58
Myanmar security forces have killed, raped or carried out mass arrests of Rohingya Muslims after deadly sectarian riots in the northeast in June, a rights group has said, adding the authorities had done little to prevent the initial unrest.
Aid workers were blocked and in some cases arrested in a government crackdown on the largest group of stateless people in Southeast Asia, New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a report on Wednesday.
The report comes after a week of arson and machete attack by both ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingyas in Rakhine state.
Based on 57 interviews with Rakhines and Rohingyas, the report seeks to shed light on a conflict that exposed deep-rooted communal animosity and put the spotlight on promises by the civilian government in office since 2011 to protect human rights after decades of brutal army rule.
"Burmese security forces failed to protect the Arakan [Rakhine] and Rohingya from each other and then unleashed a campaign of violence and mass round-ups against the Rohingya," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
"The government claims it is committed to ending ethnic strife and abuse, but recent events in Arakan State demonstrate that state-sponsored persecution and discrimination persist."
In veiled criticism of the United States and European Union, which praised the government for its handling of the unrest, Adams said the international community had been "blinded by a romantic narrative of sweeping change" in Myanmar.
Foreign minister Wunna Maung Lwin said on Monday the authorities had exercised "maximum restraint" in restoring law and order and that the rioting was not fuelled by religious persecution.
He rejected what he said were attempts to "politicise and internationalise the situation as a religious issue", adding that the government was eager to promote "racial harmony among different nationalities".
The official spokesperson for Rakhine state also rejected the group's criticism of the government's response to the violence. Win Myaing told the AP news agency that allegations that government forces stood and watched as violence wracked the area were "absolutely untrue".
"Security conditions obviously improved day by day when government forces were deployed to control the situation," Win Myaing said.
The country formerly called Burma has a diverse ethnic and religious make-up, but the Rohingya Muslims are not included by the government.
There are at least 800,000 Rohingyas in the country but they are not recognised as one of its ethnic groups.
Neighbouring Bangladesh does not accept them and pushed boatloads back out to sea when they tried to flee the unrest.
Myanmar President Thein Sein said in June the government was only responsible for third-generation Rohingyas whose families had arrived before independence in 1948 and that it was impossible to accept those who had "illegally entered" Myanmar.
He recommended that the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR take care of them in camps or "resettle them" in third countries.
UNHCR chief Antonio Guterres replied it could only resettle refugees that fled from one country to another.
The riots followed two brutal incidents in Rakhine state: the May 28 rape and murder of a Rakhine woman by three Rohingya males, who were sentenced to death, and the June 3 lynching in response of 10 non-Rohingya Muslims travelling on a bus.
Human Rights Watch said police and troops did not intervene to stop the mobs from beating the Muslims to death. During the riots that followed, it said some Rohingyas who tried to flee or put out fires at their homes were shot at by paramilitaries.
It called for the government to end abuses, grant full humanitarian access and invite in international monitors. Access to the area remains restricted.
Michael Vatikiotis, the Asian director for the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue, said that while the primary factor in the recent violence is "the virulent hatred of the Rohingya people by the Rakhinese", this is by no means an isolated issue.
"Violence between the two communities is something that has happened in the past. This is compounding an already serious issue that affects not only Myanmar and Bangladesh, but the region as a whole."
Vatikiotis adds that claims of the state of emergency in the country being used as a cover for various abuses are "very easy to make," but says judgment should be reserved until access into the area is once again granted.
"It is very difficult to make an objective assessment because of the lack of access to the region."
Thein Sein is in a tight spot. Concessions toward the Rohingyas could prove unpopular among the general public, but perceived ill-treatment risks angering Western countries that have eased sanctions in response to human rights reforms.
Minister of border affairs Thein Htay says 858 people have been detained for involvement in the violence, including five UNHCR staff and a UN World Food Programme employee. It was unclear how many of the total were Rohingya or ethnic Rakhine.
The foreign ministry has said 77 people died and 109 were injured during the violence, and nearly 5,000 homes burnt down.
Burma Monks Fuel Rohingya Muslim Hatred
OnIslam & Newspapers
Thursday, 26 July 2012 00:00
CAIRO – Adding to the decades-long suffering of the Muslim minority, Burmese monks are seen fueling hatred against Rohingya Muslims, blocking international aid to the persecuted community, The Independent reported.
"In recent days, monks have emerged in a leading role to enforce denial of humanitarian assistance to Muslims, in support of policy statements by politicians," said Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan project, a regional NGO.
"A member of a humanitarian agency in Sittwe told me that some monks were posted near Muslim displacement camps, checking on and turning away people they suspected would visit for assistance."
Thousands of Rohingya Muslims fled their homes last month after ethnic tensions rocked the western state of Rakhine after the killing of ten Muslims in an attack by Buddhist vigilantes on their bus.
The attack came following the rape and killing of a Buddhist woman, for which Buddhists blame Muslims.
Observers have said that Burmese monks were seen blocking international aid to Muslim refugees, who fled their homes in the recent bout of violence.
Monasteries in Maugdaw and Sittwe have refused to allow international aid to Rohingya Muslims in shelter camps.
They described the aid to Muslim refugees as “biased” in favor of Rohingyas.
Discrimination against Rohingya Muslims has forced thousands of them to flee Burma into neighboring Bangladesh.
Amnesty International said Friday that Rohingya Muslims are increasingly being hit with targeted attacks that have included killings, rape and physical abuse.
Monks’ groups have issued pamphlets warning Burmese against associating with Rohingya Muslims.
One leaflet issued by monks described the Rohingya as “cruel by nature”.
It argued that Rohingya Muslims had plans to exterminate other ethnic groups in Burma.
Statements were also issued by two monk groups, The Young Monks’ Association of Sittwe and Mrauk Oo Monks’ Association, calling on Burmese not to associate with Rohingya.
Monks' leader Ashin Htawara has recently called on the government to send Rohingya "back to their native land".
"The Rohingya are not a Burmese ethnic group,” he said an event in London hosted by the anti-Rohingya Burma Democratic Concern.
“The root cause of the violence… comes from across the border."
The monks’ position is shocking to many as they have often played a role in helping vulnerable people.
"We were shocked to have [Ashin Htawara] propose to us that there should be what amounts to concentration camps for the Rohingya," said Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK.
Described by the UN as one of the world's most persecuted minorities, Myanmar’s ethnic-Bengali Muslims, generally known as the Rohingyas, are facing a catalogue of discrimination in their homeland.
They have been denied citizenship rights since an amendment to the citizenship laws in 1982 and are treated as illegal immigrants in their own home.
Myanmar’s government as well as the Buddhist majority refuse to recognize the term "Rohingya", referring to them as "Bengalis".
Earlier this month, Burmese President Thein Sein said that Rohingyas should be settled in a third country.
UN calls for inquiry into Myanmar riots
UN human rights chief says forces sent to quash violence in Rakhine state reportedly targeted Muslims.
Last Modified: 28 Jul 2012 11:17
Burma's monks call for Muslim community to be shunned
The Buddhists have reportedly tried to block humanitarian aid getting to ethnic group
HANNA HINDSTROM WEDNESDAY 25 JULY 2012
Monks who played a vital role in Burma's recent struggle for democracy have been accused of fuelling ethnic tensions in the country by calling on people to shun a Muslim community that has suffered decades of abuse.
In a move that has shocked many observers, some monks' organisations have issued pamphlets telling people not to associate with the Rohingya community, and have blocked humanitarian assistance from reaching them. One leaflet described the Rohingya as "cruel by nature" and claimed it had "plans to exterminate" other ethnic groups.
The outburst against the Rohingya, often described as one of the world's most oppressed groups, comes after weeks of ethnic violence in the Rakhine state in the west of Burma that has left more than 80 dead and up to 100,000 people living in a situation described as "desperate" by humanitarian organisations. As state-sanctioned abuses against the Muslim community continue, Burma's president Thein Sein – credited by the international community for ushering in a series of democratic reforms in the country and releasing political prisoners such as Aung San Suu Kyi – has urged neighbouring Bangladesh to take in the Rohingya.
"In recent days, monks have emerged in a leading role to enforce denial of humanitarian assistance to Muslims, in support of policy statements by politicians," said Chris Lewa, director of the Arakan project, a regional NGO. "A member of a humanitarian agency in Sittwe told me that some monks were posted near Muslim displacement camps, checking on and turning away people they suspected would visit for assistance."
The Young Monks' Association of Sittwe and Mrauk Oo Monks' Association have both released statements in recent days urging locals not to associate with the group. Displaced Rohingya have been housed in over-crowded camps away from the Rakhine population – where a health and malnutrition crisis is said to be escalating – as political leaders move to segregate and expel the 800,000-strong minority from Burma. Earlier this month, Thein Sein attempted to hand over the group to the UN refugee agency.
Aid workers report ongoing threats and interference by local nationalist and religious groups. Some monasteries in Maungdaw and Sittwe sheltering displaced Rakhine people have openly refused to accept international aid, alleging that it is "biased" in favour of the Rohingya. Monks have traditionally played a critical role in helping vulnerable citizens, stepping in to care for the victims of Cyclone Nargis in 2008 after the military junta rejected international assistance.
Many have been shocked by the response of the monks and members of the democracy movement to the recent violence, which erupted after the rape and murder of a Buddhist woman, allegedly by three Muslims, unleashed long-standing ethnic tensions.
Monks' leader Ashin Htawara recently encouraged the government to send the group "back to their native land" at an event in London hosted by the anti-Rohingya Burma Democratic Concern. Ko Ko Gyi, a democracy activist with the 88 Generation Students group and a former political prisoner, said: "The Rohingya are not a Burmese ethnic group. The root cause of the violence… comes from across the border." Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK, said: "We were shocked to have [Ashin Htawara] propose to us that there should be what amounts to concentration camps for the Rohingya."
Ms Suu Kyi has also been criticised for failing to speak out. Amal de Chickera of the London-based Equal Rights Trust, said: "You have these moral figures, whose voices do matter. It's extremely disappointing and in the end it can be very damaging."
The Rohingya have lived in Burma for centuries, but in 1982, the then military ruler Ne Win stripped them of their citizenship. Thousands fled to Bangladesh where they live in pitiful camps. Foreign media are still denied access to the conflict region, where a state of emergency was declared last month, and ten aid workers were arrested without explanation.
Why is the world ignoring Myanmar's Rohingya?
They have faced decades of discrimination but the Muslim minority's plight has garnered little international attention.
Inside Story Last Modified: 23 Jul 2012 09:43
Scant compassion for Muslim Rohingya refugees
Nicolas Haque is an Al Jazeera correspondent working out of Dhaka, Bangladesh.
Entering the Rohingya camps along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border is restricted.
Officially they don't even exist, but in reality authorities tolerate their presence. Bangladeshi official say there are about 300,000 unregistered Muslim Rohingya refugees from Myanmar living in dismal and squalid conditions with no electricity or drinking water and restricted from access to hospitals or schools. Leaving the camps is prohibited, but many find a way out anyway.
Visitors are not welcome, especially ones with cameras. Police informants are placed inside and out to keep an eye on unauthorised visitors. We managed to sneak in during a sudden spell of heavy monsoon downpour. The rains were a blessing; the police informants ran for cover and we walked unnoticed into the camp. As we climbed up the narrow muddy lanes, an eerie silence hung thick in the air. Behind each improvised tent we passed, we could see the eyes of men, women and children peering out. They were all quiet, as if in hiding. Some were shaking. They were scared.
Last month, sectarian violence between the Rohingya Muslim minority and the Buddhist majority left about 80 dead and many more injured in Myanmar's Rakhine state bordering Bangladesh. The violence was taken as a sign of more to come; thousands tried to flee across the border into Bangladesh and they continue to do so.
Authorities in Bangladesh's capital Dhaka do not see these fleeing Rohingyas as refugees but as illegal asylum seekers, and the country's border guards are under strict order to send them back to where they came from. Still, many make it across.
Huddled in a dark makeshift tent made of mud and plastic sheets, I tried to speak to a group of them. It took time to build trust, to get the conversation going. Their silence speaks much louder than words. Some wept. A 14-year-old girl broke the silence.
She said one word.
The others followed suit. They told us the Myanmar army and police go house to house, abducting men and sexually abusing women. One of the elders described what was happening in his homeland as state sponsored sectarian violence. And it is escalating, he said.
For decades, Muslim Rohingyas have suffered extreme discrimination. Their dark skin and religious difference are a source of deep prejudice amongst Myanmar's Buddhist majority. They are prohibited from owning land, running businesses, practicing their religion or getting married.
Myanmar's move towards democracy last year instilled many Rohingya with a new sense of hope. Most are supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi, but she has remained uncomfortably quiet on their plight.
Roughly 29,000 Rohingya are recognised as refugees by the Bangladeshi government and UNHCR. In the eyes of the Bangladesh authorities the 300,000 others don't exist, so they do not receive any UN aid. A handful of aid agencies work with them, but none of them want to be filmed or named.
They say if we film these camps, the Bangladeshi authorities could shut their aid programmes down. Authorities have already refused $33m in UN aid money for the Rohingya and local Bangladeshi community in the area, saying that this would make life too comfortable and may risk attracting more refugees to Bangladesh.
As the downpour turned to a drizzle we made our way out of the camp before the informants showed up. The monsoon weather kept us safe, before it stopped we had to move. As we hurried out, a group of Rohingyas hurried in, like us, using the rain as the only source of cover.