Myanmar 'supported ethnic cleansing'
- Published: 22 Apr 2013 at 11.33
- Online news:
The Myanmar government has been accused of supporting a campaign of "ethnic cleansing" against Rohingya Muslims in the country’s Rakhine state.
Men from Rakhine State in Myanmar walk away from a village in flames holidng their weapons in June 2012, as a soldier stands and looks on at the scene. (Human Rights Watch photo)According to a report by New York-based Human Rights Watch, the government and local authorities have been complicit in displacing more than 125,000 Rohingya and other Muslims in the country since sectarian violence erupted between Rohingya Muslims and Buddhists in June 2012.
The report claims that authorities sanctioned the destruction of mosques, conducted violent mass arrests, and blocked aid to Muslims in the region, which is in western Myanmar.
It argues that “months of meetings and public statements promoting ethnic cleansing” led Buddhist mobs to attack Muslim communities in nine townships last October – destroying villages and killing residents while security forces stood aside or assisted.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said the Myanmar government has engaged in “a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya that continues today through the denial of aid and restrictions on movement”.
“The government needs to put an immediate stop to the abuses and hold the perpetrators accountable or it will be responsible for further violence against ethnic and religious minorities in the country,” he said.
The report is based on more than 100 interviews with Rohingya and non-Rohingya Muslims and people from Rakhine state who suffered or witnessed abuses, as well as some organisers and perpetrators of the violence.
It claims that state security forces in Rakhine are implicated in failing to prevent atrocities or directly participating in them, including the local police, Lon Thein riot police, the inter-agency border control force called Nasaka, and the army and navy.
One soldier reportedly told a Muslim man who was pleading for protection as his village was being burned: “The only thing you can do is pray to save your lives”.
Displaced Rohingya told Human Rights Watch that security forces stood by or joined with large groups of men armed with machetes, swords, homemade guns, and Molotov cocktails, who attacked their villages in October. In some cases, attacks occurred simultaneously in townships separated by considerable distance, the report says.
In the deadliest incident, on Oct 23, at least 70 Rohingya were killed in a daylong massacre in Yan Thei village in Mrauk-U Township.
Despite advance warning of the attack, only a small number of riot police, local police and soldiers were on duty to provide security. Human Rights Watch says the authorities “assisted the killings by disarming the Rohingya of their sticks and other rudimentary weapons they carried to defend themselves”. Included in the death toll were 28 children who were hacked to death, including 13 under the age of five, the report says.
“Six months later, the government still blames ‘communal violence’ for the deaths and destruction when, in truth, the government knew what was happening and could have stopped it,” Robertson said.
He added that local orders of Buddhist monks and the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party are among a number of organisatons that have issued “numerous anti-Rohingya pamphlets and public statements, explicitly or implicitly denying the existence of the Rohingya ethnicity, demonising them, and calling for their removal from the country”.
Robertson also warned tens of thousands of Rohingya face a range of deadly waterborne diseases if they are not moved from overcrowded refugee camps to higher ground before the rainy season begins in May.
The BBC has meanwhile obtained a police video, allegedly showing officers standing by while Buddhist rioters attacked minority Muslims in the town of Meiktila.
The footage shows a mob destroying a Muslim gold shop and then setting fire to houses. A man thought to be a Muslim is seen on fire. It was filmed last month, when at least 43 people were killed in Meiktila.