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Human Rights

Ethnic Cleansing of Muslim Minority in Myanmar?

BANGKOK, Jun 15 2012 (IPS) - Reports of sectarian violence in western Myanmar have exposed the plight of 800,000 Muslim Rohingya, a persecuted minority that a regional human rights body described in 2006 as facing a “slow-burning genocide”.

By Thursday, clashes between the Buddhist Rakhine and the Rohingya in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar (formerly Burma) had resulted in 29 deaths, of which 16 were Rohingya and 13 were Rakhine, and 30,000 displaced, according to official accounts of the worst communal violence in the Southeast Asian country in years.

Over 2,500 houses have been torched and nine Buddhist monasteries and seven mosques destroyed since riots broke out.

On Jun. 3, a mob of 300 Buddhists intercepted a bus carrying Muslim pilgrims and beat 10 of them to death. Rights groups have pointed to the event as symbolic of the hostility swirling in the Rakhine State, for decades a tinderbox of ethnic tensions.

The spark for this latest attack on the Rohingya was a story that had spread around the province about a 27-year-old Rakhine woman being raped and murdered by three Muslim men in the Rambree Township.

Reports of the police detaining the three Rohingya men did little to calm Rakhine anger, which was further fanned by anti-Rohingya leaflets calling for revenge on the “Kalar,” a derogatory racial epithet for people with darker complexions and South Asian features.

“We are now getting calls daily from Rohingya living in fear and not knowing what will happen next,” a desperate-sounding Nurul Islam, an exiled political leader of the Rohingya, told IPS on a telephone call from London. “Piles of bodies have been noticed in the houses of the Rohingya and many people have (gone) missing.”

A curfew imposed by the reformist government of President Thein Sein has failed to rein in the mobs, revealed a 29-year-old Muslim from the affected areas who goes by the name of Htike and has been monitoring the violence from her room in Bangkok.

“The curfew has only been for the Muslim people to stay at home. The mobs are free to set fire to our houses,” she said.

But the terror on the streets is not all that the Rohingya have had to endure. Websites, blogs and Facebook pages based in and outside of Myanmar are brimming with hate speech calling for the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya.

“One day, after we solve (our) political issues, we will drive them away and never let them step on our soil again,” one poster proclaimed.

This online outburst by Buddhists inside the country and in the diaspora, “openly asserting that action tantamount to genocide is acceptable”, has surprised even long-time human rights champions in Myanmar.

“We have never seen it this bad online,” admitted Debbie Stothard, head of the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (ALTSEAN), a regional advocacy group. “Some have called for the rape of female Rohingya activists.”

“The Rohingya are one of the most threatened communities in the world,” added Stothard, whose organisation first raised the alarm of the “genocide-like conditions” faced by this minority six years ago.

“The repression they have faced for decades falls within the conditions identified in the international convention to prevent genocide.”

The anti-Rohingya rage has exposed a troubling side of Myanmar’s ethnic politics that could worsen, warns Richard Horsey, an independent political analyst who has authored many reports on the political situation in the country. “(Inter-communal) tensions exist in many parts of Myanmar (but) Rakhine State is one area where tensions are highest.”

“There is a serious risk of the violence worsening, and spreading beyond Rakhine State,” Horsey told IPS. “The government has acknowledged this, which is why the president has personally taken a very visible role in addressing the situation.”

Government-sanctioned discrimination

But the government’s supposed efforts to restore calm and ensure the international community that its reform agenda launched last March is still on track are belied by the ever-lengthening catalogue of abuses the Rohingya are being forced to ignore.

“The government has actually confirmed existing discriminatory polices implemented against the Rohingya by previous military regimes,” Chris Lewa, head of the Arakan Project, an NGO that advocates for Rohingya rights worldwide, told IPS.

“This was evident as recently as March this year during parliamentary sessions, when Rohingya MPs asked ministers if the government had plans to lift the restrictions imposed on the Rohingya and were informed that the policies will not be changed.”

The government has long failed to recognise the Rohingya as one of Myanmar’s 135 ethnic communities. Ever since the 1962 military coup, the Rohingya were violently and systematically targeted by the army, which resulted in widespread killings of civilians, rape and torture.

In the 1980s, the ruling military junta stripped this Muslim minority of its citizenship, deprived them of identity cards and effectively created a stateless community.

Last January, Lewa informed the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, “Myanmar blacklists Rohingya babies as part of its continuing oppression of a stateless minority.”

The lead researcher of the Arakan Project revealed that an estimated 40,000 Rohingya children have been condemned to a life of forced labour, denied access to health services and the formal job market and stripped of the freedom to travel beyond their villages – a fate shared by adults, too. Rohingya couples are even banned from getting married unless they get official permission.

In 1978 the military launched its ‘King Dragon Operation’ to drive out the Rohingya, prompting over 200,000 to flee the Rakhine State to neighbouring Bangladesh, where they lived in squalid refugee camps for decades.

A similar campaign followed in 1991-1992, forcing over 250,000 to flee as refugees. Persecution has pushed the number of Rohingya living in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, India, Malaysia and Bangladesh to 1.5 million.

The Rohingya last hit international headlines in 2009, when Thai authorities intercepted boatloads of exhausted men in seas close to Thailand’s southwestern coast. Rights groups said at the time that the fate of over 1,000 Rohingya, who were driven back to the seas by the Thai military, remained unknown.


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  • Dwnk

    if the differences can be a reason to kill people, what will happend in my country Indonesia that have so many etnic and religion but the dominant one is muslim. can we kill all budist in Indonesia ? i think no matter what they religion, nationality etc, no reason to kill so many people like that. it just prove that they god is satan….

  • Arkar

    First, let me clarify the situation in brief. This conflict
    was between the Rohingya Muslims and the local Buddhist Burmese citizens, both
    residing in Arakan State. It is NOT a religious war between the whole Muslim
    community in Burma and the Buddhist government as it is spreading to the
    world’s media!


    Rohingyas are in fact illegal immigrants into Arakan State
    of Burma from Bangladesh, which borders Burma on the west. Rohingyas mass-moved
    into Burma during British rule, but the governments over the time have rejected
    citizenship to them and confined them to border cities in west Arakan, where a
    reported 800k Rohingya population resides. Population explosion, discrimination
    and repression by government have made Rohingyas to wait for an opportunity to
    rise up and to invade more of Arakan cities for living space.


    They got the spark they needed on June 4, 2012 when 10
    Rohingyas were lawlessly murdered by local Arakanese furious over the rape and
    murder of an Arakanese girl by Rohingyas which happened 6 days earlier.
    Rohingyas started raging Arakan villages, robbing properties and torching
    villages, forcing tens of thousands of locals to refugee camps. The government
    army and security forces intervened, clashing with the rioting Rohingyas. A
    state of emergency and a curfew were issued on following days, with armed
    forces firing shots usually into the air to disperse the rioters, according to
    non-government reputable medias. The situation was subsequently calmed by
    mid-June, and the combined death of Rohingyas and Arakanese during the riots
    were reported officially to be less than 30. The Burmese government has been
    notorious for its transparency when it comes to casualty numbers, but there is
    no way for the death toll to hit hundreds, far from thousands as seen over the
    internet. 30 Arakanese who allegedly started the murder of 10 Rohingyas are now
    facing trials in court.


    Islam is the 3rd most common religion in Burma after
    Buddhism and Christianity, and this event in Arakan had little to do with other
    Islamic communities across the country. There has been absolutely no harm to
    Islams outside of affected areas in Arakan. Islams in other states, including
    the largest and the most ethnically diverse city, Yangon, have been living normally
    and peacefully all these times, except at one point when they gathered in
    downtown Yangon after the government-run news media mentioned in Arakan riots
    news a term “kalar”, a racially abusive term in Burmese, for which
    the media immediately issued an apology and made correction.


    In short, there is no such thing as Muslim genocide or
    ethnic cleansing happening in Burma or in Arakan. And it is painful to see many
    misleading reports tagging our country’s name in headlines as “Burma
    Killing”, “Burma Muslim cleansing”, “Stop Burma
    genocide” when even Islams in Burma regard this very event as nothing more
    than government suppressing terrorism attacks by Rohingya immigrants.

  • Mo

    who the hell are you to say who is Burmese or not Burmese!! and who should stay or go! This is there home and their land, like it or and may be it is you who should leave their land and let them live in peace and go live with your so-called proud people. Amazing!

  • Mo

    Naphetchun, do you live in California or denial?

  • Paul Beatts

    if the government of Burma has engaged and taken part in genocide the names and identities of all government officals involved should be published world wide and steps taken to “crimes against humanity” charges in the internaional courts.

    We have abanoned these people and should move to create a independant state for the people to live since Burma has abanoned the norms of human decentcy . Iwould ask the world community to protest and increase sanctions on the Burmese Goverment.   

  • Paul Beatts

    I invite world wide debate on the rules that nations should operate as what the world standard is and the rule of law in regard Burma States. the under lying crime in burma is greed in stealing land for money.    

  • Ahmad Sharief

    Because the victims are muslims

  • Ahmad Sharief

    How would it be if we pushed back the Buddhist tribal people (Chakma and so on) to Mayanmar or kill them? but we muslims believe in communal harmony. we do not harm minorities.

  • Ahmad Sharief

    where are the brokers of humanity?

  • Ahmad Sharief

    Are you ready to take your Buddhist friends back? the Chakmas came to Bangladesh long ago from Burma.
    And, Muslim settlements have existed in Arakan since the arrival of Arabs there in the 8th century CE. The direct descendants of Arab settlers are believed to live in central Arakan near Mrauk-U and Kyauktaw townships …

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