Doctrine divides, Action unites


  January 2014

New Year, Same Story:
Yet More Massacres and Rights Abuses Targeting Muslims

Burma Partnership

Not even this 4-year-old child was spared from the
violent attacks against the Muslim Rohingyas in
Du Char Yar Tan on Jan. 13.
(Photo from

It is still only January, and already 2014 has seen a disturbing resurgence of the anti-Muslim violence and rights abuses that afflicted Burma throughout 2012 and 2013 and tarnished the ongoing political reforms. According to the Arakan Project, on Jan. 13, at least 40 Rohingya Muslim women and children in the village of Du Char Yar Tan in southern Maungdaw Township in Arakan State were killed by local police officials and Arakanese Buddhists with others reportedly raped. As a result of the violence, hundreds are now displaced. Furthermore, Fortify Rights has confirmed the mass arrests of Rohingya men and boys in Maungdaw Township in breach of their fair trial rights and right to liberty.

However, the Burma government has denied that such killings have taken place, despite admitting that clashes did occur between Rohingya Muslims and Arakanese Buddhists, and journalists have been barred from the area. The United States has called for a proper investigation and for those responsible to be held accountable as has the U.N. special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma, Tomás Ojea Quintana, and U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos has also called upon the Burma government to immediately launch an impartial investigation into these events and to respect the rights of those arrested and detained. Burma Campaign UK has called for an international investigation into the violence, and Physicians for Human Rights and Human Rights Watch have demanded immediate investigations by the Burma government.

There have been other recent developments that have worrying implications for Muslims throughout Burma. For example, in Mandalay, Buddhist monks have formed a new association to “safeguard religion.” Moreover, discriminatory public speeches against Muslims by Buddhist monks are becoming increasingly prevalent as witnessed by human rights activists across the country. Furthermore, there have been reports of doctors at Sittwe hospital refusing Muslim patients on the grounds that Buddhists have threatened to kill them and that their safety cannot be guaranteed.

A number of urgent steps need to be taken. First, the Burma authorities urgently need to establish the rule of law across the country. On an immediate level, this entails ensuring that the investigation which the Burma government has promised is a full, proper and transparent investigation into all instances of violence, discrimination and abuses of human rights and includes bringing to justice those involved, including state officials and representatives of security agencies to the extent that they are perpetrators or complicit. On a broader level, the establishment of an independent, competent, non-compliant and non-corrupt judiciary is urgently required, so as to ensure accountability for serious crimes, create a reliable mechanism for victims to secure justice and redress, protect human rights and combat impunity and thereby deter future crimes.

Second, rigorous interracial, interfaith, intercommunal dialogue is necessary to ensure that different communities can live together in peace and that divided communities can become united once again to the benefit of everyone in Burma. While mistrust, suspicion and resentment poison communities and the country as a whole, it is highly likely that such instances of serious violence will continue to flare up time and again. The Burma government must commit to such dialogue to show that it is doing its absolute best to try to prevent such violence from happening again.

Third, human rights are universal, and the protection of all people within a country’s borders is the responsibility of the government, regardless of race, nationality or religion. The Burma government must demonstrate its political will to solve the problem by acceding to all relevant international human rights covenants, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), thereby protecting and promoting respect for the human rights of all people in Burma. It then must abide by its legal obligations by ensuring that relevant laws are implemented on the ground.

The Burma government needs to address these three points as an absolute priority, for the anti-Muslim violence and ongoing humanitarian fallout, including the widespread human trafficking of Rohingya people, is one of the most pressing crises facing Burma. Without addressing the problem, genuine national reconciliation and lasting peace cannot be achieved, and a lack of action will betray a lack of concern and interest on the part of the Burma government, Parliament, civil society and policymakers. Parts of the international community are quite rightly speaking up. It should, however, make future aid, investment and engagement with Burma conditional upon genuine efforts to resolve the problem. With Burma currently holding the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), now is the time to pressure Burma to take action, for otherwise, it will rapidly lose its credibility and legitimacy, which it has only recently begun to taste for the first time in decades.

* Burma Partnership is a network of organizations throughout the Asia-Pacific region that advocate and work toward realizing a movement for democracy and human rights in Burma. Based in Thailand, it acts as a link between groups inside the country and solidarity organizations around the world.

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