New Report Warns Of ‘Ethnic Cleansing’ In Myanmar

(Myanmar civilians with weapons approach a Muslim village already on fire Photo credit: Human Rights Watch)

A new report out this week warns of an “ethnic cleansing” taking place in Myanmar as the majority Buddhist population forces the nation’s Muslim communities from their homes.

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) report — titled “‘All You Can Do is Pray’: Crimes Against Humanity and Ethnic Cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in Burma’s Arakan State” — documents the clash between two ethnic groups in Myanmar’s Arakan State. The majority ethnic Arakanese population, according to the report, sought to remove the disenfranchised Rohingya group living within the Arakan state from their communities. The Arakanese are majority Buddhist, while the Rohingya are Muslim.

Further, the report accuses the Myanmar government and local authorities of not only complicity with efforts to forcibly evict the Rohingya from their homes, but also overt support for the campaign:

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,” said Phil Robertson, [Human Rights Watch’s] deputy Asia director. “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.”

The majority of the violence Human Rights Watch documented took place during a surge in violence in Oct. 2012. HRW says at least 70 Rohingya were killed in one day and that police assisted by disarming the Rohingya of the sticks and other weapons carried to defend themselves. The group also claims to have found evidence of at least four mass graves dug in the aftermath of the massacre throughout Arakan. Currently at least 125,000 Rohingya and non-Rohingya Muslims reside in a displacement camp, while the Myanmar government drags its feet on following through on its pledges for reconstruction aid.

Clashes between ethnic and religious communities have not quieted in Myanmar, however, nor are they limited to Arakan state. Rakhine state just last month was home to a renewed spate of the majority targeting Muslim communities, spurred on by hardline Buddhist monks. According the United Nations, more than 12,000 Muslims were forced from their homes during the most recent fighting. The BBC on Tuesday released newly obtained video showing Myanmar police officers standing idle while Muslim shops and houses were set ablaze, lending further credence to the Human Rights Watch reporting.

Despite the ongoing violence, the European Union on Monday lifted most of its sanctions on Myanmar, citing the country’s “remarkable process of reform.” Asked about the Human Rights Watch Report on Monday, U.S. State Department acting spokesperson Patrick Ventrell said, “We continue our engagement with Burmese authorities and we also continue to urge the government to bring justice to affected communities, to address the root causes of this violence, and put in place mechanisms to prevent future outbreaks so that ethnic groups in Burma can coexist.”