The International Crisis Group (ICG) released a new report on Tuesday that predicts outbursts of anti-Muslim sentiment in Myanmar will continue and possibly spread if the government fails to more effectively address the situation. Since 2012, the country has seen hundreds killed and hundreds of thousands displaced by ethnic violence.
The report — titled “The Dark Side of Transition: Violence Against Muslims“– shows that deep anti-Muslim sentiments in the majority Buddhist population remain in the face of a weak government response. The ICG noted that “intercommunal relations remain seriously strained, and are being addressed at present through segregation. While this may be unavoidable in the short term to ensure security and stability, it is not viable, even counterproductive, in the medium term.” Failure to address these problems could threaten the recent progress Myanmar has made in reforming its government.
The report continued by highlighting steps the government must take to improve relations between Buddhists and the country’s most persecuted ethnic minority–the largely Muslim Rohingya population–who were denied citizenship in a 1982 law and are largely viewed as illegal immigrants by their Buddhist neighbors. While President Thein Sein has indicated in the past he would use force to contain the violence, the ICG calls for more concrete action, reporting that a critical step in reducing ethnic tension is to address “issues of status and rights of the Rohingya, including granting them freedom of movement.”
The ICG report indicates that the violence is beginning to threaten regional instability:
There have been attacks in Malaysia on Buddhist migrant workers from Myanmar, with five killed. Violence has also erupted between Buddhists and Muslims from Myanmar in an Indonesian detention center. Rakhine Buddhist residents in Bangladesh have also been attacked, had their houses burned and temples vandalised. All of these incidents appear to have been directly related to the escalating intercommunal tensions in Myanmar.
Ethnic conflict in the South Asian state came to a head in October 2012 in the country’s Arakan State, when the majority ethnic Arakanese, who are largely Buddhist, sought to remove the displaced Rohingya. According to the Human Rights Watch, the attacks led to the killings of at least 70 Rohingya in a single day while the police looked on, sometimes aiding the Buddhist mobs. The report indicates the violence left 200 dead and 140,000 displaced, the vast majority of which are Muslims.
More violence followed in March and May of this year, and Myanmar’s government has faced increasing criticism for its ineffective response while a Reuters report noted that Buddhist mobs attacked Muslims in plain view of police without government intervention.
While it may be surprising to some that generally non-violent Buddhists are burning mosques and damaging Muslim-owned stores, much of the recent violence plaguing the country has actually been spurred on by Buddhist monks. Indeed, one nationalist monk who has spewed hateful rhetoric against Muslims through DVDs and social media has labeled himself the “Burmese Bin Laden.”
While President Obama called for protections for minority and religious liberty during his historic visit to the country and reiterated these thoughts when President Thein visited the White House, the United States has done little to pressure the government to act.
Christopher Butterfield is an intern at ThinkProgress.