CAIRO – A leading international human rights group has accused Burmese authorities of waging a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims in western Burma by displacing them from their areas and denying them access to humanitarian aid.
“The Burmese government engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya that continues today through the denial of aid and restrictions on movement,” Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch’s Asian deputy director, said in a statement obtained by OnIslam.net on Monday, April 22.“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.”
In a 153-page report, the New York-based group accuses Burmese officials, Buddhist monks and community leaders of leading and encouraging attacks on Muslim areas in October to terrorize and forcibly relocate the Rohingya in western Burma.
The report, titled “All You Can Do is Pray': Crimes Against Humanity and Ethnic Cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in Burma's Arakan State”, says the campaign has led to the displacement of more than 125,000 Rohingya and other Muslims from their areas.
It also says that thousands of displaced Muslims have been denied access to humanitarian aid and been unable to return home.
"Burmese authorities and members of Arakanese groups have committed crimes against humanity in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims in Arakan State since June 2012," the HRW says.
The report draws on more than 100 interviews with Rohingya and non-Rohingya Muslims and Arakanese who suffered or witnessed abuses, as well as some organizers and perpetrators of the violence.
Described by the UN as one of the world's most persecuted minorities, Burma's ethnic-Bengali Muslims, generally known as the Rohingya, are facing a catalogue of discrimination in their homeland.
Thousands of Rohingya Muslims were forced to flee their homes after ethnic violence rocked the western state of Rakhine in July after the killing of ten Muslims in an attack by Buddhist vigilantes on their bus.
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.
The HRW accused Burmese authorities of destroying mosques, conducting violent mass arrests, and blocking aid to displaced Muslims.
The "mobs attacked Muslim communities in nine townships, razing villages and killing residents while security forces stood aside or assisted the assailants.”
The report cited incidents in which riot police, local police, and army soldiers participated in killing Muslims rather than protecting them.
One of the deadliest incidents occurred on October 23 when at least 70 Rohingya Muslims were killed in a daylong massacre in Yan Thei village in Mrauk-U Township.
At least 28 children were among the dead, who were hacked to death, including 13 under age 5.
“First the soldiers told us, ‘Do not do anything, we will protect you, we will save you,’ so we trusted them,” a 25-year-old survivor told HRW.
“But later they broke that promise. The Arakanese beat and killed us very easily. The security did not protect us from them.”
In another incident on June 13, a government truck dumped 18 naked and half-clothed bodies near a Rohingya camp outside Sittwe, the state capital.
Some of the victims had been “hogtied” with string or plastic strips before being executed, sending an official message that the Rohingya should leave permanently.
“They dropped the bodies right here,” said a Rohingya man, who saw the bodies being dumped.
“Three bodies had gunshot wounds. Some had burns, some had stab wounds. One gunshot wound was on the forehead, one on the chest.”
These facts were a shocking evidence of the government support for the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslims.
“In October, security forces either looked the other way as Arakanese mobs attacked Muslim settlements or joined in the bloodletting and arson,” Robertson said.
“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.”
HRW also accused local authorities, politicians, and monks of acting, often through public statements and force, to deny Muslims their rights to freedom of movement, opportunities to earn a living, and access to markets and to humanitarian aid.
The apparent goal has been to coerce them to abandon their homes and leave the area.
“Local officials and community leaders engaged in an organized effort to demonize and isolate the Muslim population as a prelude to murderous mob attacks,” Robertson said.
“Moreover, since the bloodshed, the central government has taken no action to punish those responsible or reverse the ethnic cleansing of the forcibly displaced Muslims.”
The rights group urged the Burmese government to urgently amend the 1982 Citizenship Act to eliminate discriminatory provisions and to ensure that Rohingya children have the right to acquire a nationality where otherwise they would be stateless.
“Burma should accept an independent international commission to investigate crimes against humanity in Arakan State, locate victims, and provide redress,” said Robertson.“Burma’s donors need to wake up and realize the seriousness of the Rohingya’s plight, and demand that the government urgently stop abuses, promote the safe return of displaced Muslims, and ensure accountability to end the deadly cycle of violence in Arakan State.”
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