[Photos: Greg Constantine]
Ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity have been committed against Myanmar’s ethnic Rohingya people, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), a New York-based nongovernmental organisation.
According to the report released on Monday, entitled All You Can Do is Pray, more than 125,000 ethnic Rohingya have been forcibly displaced since two waves of violence in May and October 2012.
Satellite images show almost 5,000 structures on land mostly owned by Muslim Rohingya have been destroyed, says the report.
The October attacks, the report states, were co-ordinated by Myanmar government officials, an ethnic Rakhine nationalist party and Buddhist monks. The deadliest attack took place on October 23, in which witnesses say at least 70 Rohingya – including 28 children – were massacred in Mrauk-U township.
The UN has described the Rohingya as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.
‘Not fully human’
Talking to Al Jazeera, Sam Zarifi, from the International Committee of Jurists, said that both Rohingya and Buddhists felt their views were not being fairly represented, but the report is still a crucial document.
“It shows whether the government will be serious in admitting that there is a real problem with ethnic violence, particularly targeting Muslims, and more important, what will the government do about it,” he said.
“The problem of ethnic violence and sectarian violence in Myanmar goes back decades, it’s not just the Muslims but also Christian groups and ethnic groups.
“The Rohingya seem to be really hated, there is no other word to describe it other than racism. They are simply viewed as not fully human.”
Most Rohingya who live in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state are denied citizenship by the Myanmar government, which claims they are illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh and often refers to them as “Bengali”.
The Myanmar government has done nothing to prevent the violence, alleges the report, and at times government forces have joined in the attacks on the Rohingya.
“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, HRW’s deputy Asia director, said.
“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.”
News from ‘one side’
In response to a letter from Human Rights Watch, the Myanmar government asserted that “the armed force, police force and militias handled the conflicts between the two communities in accordance with the existing laws, rules and regulations taking care of providing security in order to restore law and order and tranquillity”.
Allegations that the police used excessive force to handle the outbreak of violence in June “were unfounded and not true information”, the government said, adding that authorities faced “unfounded bias” from media both within and outside the country.
Ye Htut, a presidential spokesman and Myanmar’s deputy minister of information, dismissed the report for only taking
news from “one side” in a statement on his Facebook page.
“Its words are unacceptable. The government of Myanmar is not going to give any special consideration to a one-sided report,” he wrote, adding that the government would only pay heed to its own investigative commission set up after the initial violence in June.
The government also said it has established an independent commission to study “the conflict” in Rakhine.
Conflicts between Muslim Rohingya and Buddhist Rakhine have long roiled Rakhine. During World War II, clashes between the Rakhine, who supported Japanese forces, and the Rohingya, who supported the British, led to many deaths.