ARAKAN – A leading human rights watchdog has accused Burma “biased” local police and military of using “brutal force” against Rohingya Muslim minority as sectarian violence flared in northern Arakan (Rakhine) state over the past few weeks.
“The Burmese government needs to put an immediate end to the abusive sweeps by the security forces against Rohingya communities,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a report released earlier this week cited by Eurasia Review on Saturday, July 7.
“Anyone being held should be promptly charged or released, and their relatives given access.”
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Sectarian violence plagued the western Rakhine state last month after the killing of 10 Muslims in an attack by Buddhist vigilantes on their bus.
The attack followed the rape and murder of a woman in the state, which borders Bangladesh, with Buddhists blaming Muslims for that.
The violence has left dozens of people dead and tens of thousands homeless.
A state of emergency is still in place after the outbreak of violence, which prompted reformist President Thein Sein to warn it could damage the country's emergence from decades of military rule.
Examining the exploding situation in Myanmar since the end of June, HRW said that Burmese security forces have systematically abused Rohingya Muslims.
The group accused local police, military and the area’s paramilitary forces, known as the NaSaKa, of using “biased” and “brutal force” against the Muslim minority group.
Authorities have also been implicated in mass arrests of Rohingya men, as well as direct complicity in killings and other abuses, such as razing and pillaging Rohingya towns, the report said.
Muslims make up nearly five percent of Myanmar's more than 53 million population.
The largest group of Myanmar’s Muslims is the ethnic-Bengali minority, generally known as the Rohingyas, who mainly live in the western state of Rakhine.
Rohingya Muslims 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".
The rights watchdog detailed cases in which security forces used brutal force against the country’s Muslim minority.
It cited one incident on 23 June, when security forces opened fire on dozens of villagers near Maungdaw who had been hiding from the violence in a nearby forest.
“Everybody was so scared,” a survivor told HRW.
“We saw them entering and we left, trying to get out of the village. There was a canal, but some people could not cross it and the army shot at them and killed them.”
HRW report also recorded a growing number of eyewitness accounts which suggest state complicity in the violence.
A recent report by the Equal Rights Trust (ERT) based on interviews with fifty refugees highlighted “serious questions of crimes against humanity” committed in Arakan state.
It also accused the government of denying humanitarian assistance to many of the 90,000 people that have been displaced by the conflict.
Described by the UN as one of the world's most persecuted minorities, Rohingyas are not allowed to own land in Myanmar.
Rohingyas say they are deprived of free movement, education and employment in their homeland.
They are not recognized as an ethnic minority by Myanmar and say they suffer human rights abuses at the hands of government officials.
Trying to escape the plight, thousands of refugees fled the unrest to be turned away by the Bangladeshi authorities, which insist they do not have the capacity to accept them.
“Death by NaSaKa is waiting for us if we are pushed back to Burma,” one refugee said.
“NaSaKa will kill us just like a street dog,” he added.
“We prefer to die here, we will get the proper funeral that a Muslim should get.”
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