Brutal and Biased Police Response to Sectarian Violence in Arakan State

SOURCE: Burma: Mass Arrests, Raids on Rohingya Muslims

Brutal and Biased Police Response to Sectarian Violence in Arakan State

(New York) – Burmese security forces have responded to sectarian violence in northern Arakan State with mass arrests and unlawful force against the Rohingya Muslim population, Human Rights Watch said today. Local police, the military, and a border security force known as Nasaka have committed numerous abuses in predominantly Muslim townships while combating the violence between the Rohingya and ethnic Arakan, who are predominantly Buddhist, that broke out in early June 2012.

Human Rights Watch urged the Burmese government to end arbitrary and incommunicado detention, and redeploy and hold accountable security forces implicated in serious abuses. Burmese authorities should ensure safe access to the area by the United Nations (UN), independent humanitarian organizations, and the media.

“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. “Anyone being held should be promptly charged or released, and their relatives given access.”

Burmese security forces have been implicated in killings and other abuses since the sectarian violence in northern Arakan State began, Human Rights Watch said. For instance, on June 23, in a village near the town of Maungdaw, security forces pursued and opened fire on two dozen Rohingya villagers who had been hiding from the violence in fields and forest areas. The total killed or wounded is unknown, but one survivor told Human Rights Watch that out of a group of eight young men who were fleeing, only two managed to escape unharmed after the security forces fired on them.

“Everybody was so scared,” he told Human Rights Watch. “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.”

The recent sectarian violence began after an ethnic Arakan woman was allegedly raped and killed by three Muslim men on Ramri island in southern Arakan State in late May, which was followed by the June 3 killing of 10 Muslims by an Arakan mob in Toungop. On June 8, thousands of Rohingya rioted in the town of Maungdaw, destroying Arakan property and causing an unknown number of deaths. Groups of Rohingya subsequently committed killings and other violence elsewhere in the state, burning down Arakan homes and villages. Arakan groups, in some cases with the collusion of local authorities and police, committed violence against Rohingya communities, including killings and beatings, and burning down Muslim homes and villages.

On June 10, President Thein Sein declared a state of emergency in northern Arakan State, which permits the armed forces to carry out arrests and detain people without fundamental due process protections. While the Burmese army has largely contained the sectarian violence, abuses by security forces against Rohingya communities appear to be on the upsurge in recent weeks, Human Rights Watch said.

Local police and the Nasaka, claiming to be searching for Rohingya criminal suspects involved in the sectarian strife, have conducted mass round-ups of Rohingya. On July 1, the state-run New Light of Myanmar reported that 30 Arakan suspects were arrested for the June 3 killings. Nevertheless, the mass arrests ongoing in northern Arakan State seem to be discriminatory, as the authorities in these townships do not appear to be investigating or apprehending Arakan suspected of criminal offenses, Human Rights Watch said. The total number of people arrested, their names, and any charges against them have not been reported.

Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that state security forces violently raided predominately Rohingya villages in Maungdaw township, firing on villagers and looting homes and businesses. In several villages, police and Nasaka dragged Rohingya from their homes and violently beat them. Witnesses in villages outside of Maungdaw said dozens of people, including women and children, were taken away in mid-June in Nasaka trucks to unknown locations, and have not been heard from since. Mass arrests of Rohingya have also taken place in Buthidaung and Rathedaung townships. Witnesses in Maungdaw township described several instances in which Arakan men wielding sticks and swords accompanied the security forces in raids on Rohingya villages. A 27-year-old Rohingya man told Human Rights Watch, “Twenty-five of my relatives have been arrested.… I saw with my own eyes, two of my nephews were taken by the military and Nasaka. They tried to hide themselves in the large embankments in the paddy fields, but some Arakan found them and stabbed them with long knives. They stabbed them and took them to the jail.”

Human Rights Watch documented the destruction of Buddhist temples, mosques, and thousands of Arakan and Rohingya houses that were burned to the ground during the sectarian violence, leaving an estimated 90,000 people displaced and taking segregated refuge in temporary camps and community sites. Hundreds of Rohingya fled across the nearby border to Bangladesh, where many were forced back by Bangladeshi border guards.

“The violence in Arakan State has devastated both the Rohingya and Arakan communities, but government efforts to identify and arrest those responsible should not result in further abuses,” Pearson said. “The sectarian violence and state of emergency provides no excuse for the security forces to continue their past record of abuses and discrimination against the Rohingya community.”

The Burmese government restricts international access to northern Arakan State – an area comprising the predominantly Muslim townships of Maungdaw, Buthidaung, and Rathedaung – and severely curtails freedom of movement for Rohingya residents. The Nasaka’s long history of arbitrary detentions, torture, and other ill-treatment of Rohingya detainees heightens concerns about the recent mass arrests, Human Rights Watch said.

The government has not allowed independent investigations in the affected areas since the violence began. On June 6, Thein Sein ordered a high-level government committee to investigate the causes of the violence, identify the perpetrators, and issue recommendations. The committee is scheduled to present its findings by August 30. However, there are concerns about the independence and objectivity of the investigation committee, given that it includes local security forces and Arakan State officials, Human Rights Watch said.

The government should invite the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, Tomas Quintana, to Arakan State to conduct an urgent visit to investigate the violence and conduct of the security forces, Human Rights Watch said. The authorities should immediately disclose the location of all detention centers, provide the names of all detainees, bring them promptly before a judge, and allow independent humanitarian agencies access to all facilities.

Human Rights Watch urged the United States, European Union, ASEAN, Australia, Japan, and other countries concerned about human rights in Burma to press the government to allow an independent and thorough investigation of the violence, and to ensure that the basic rights of those detained are respected. They should also call upon the Bangladesh authorities not to return or push back those fleeing violence and to provide them temporary protection.

“The Burmese government should demonstrate that the political changes taking place in the country extend to the ethnic areas, and that abuses by local authorities will not be tolerated,” Pearson said. “This means stopping the violations, holding abusive officials to account, and promptly permitting an independent investigation.”


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2 Responses to “Brutal and Biased Police Response to Sectarian Violence in Arakan State”

  1. drkokogyi Says:

    Human Rights in Burma
    Burma showed signs of change in 2011, but the government still failed to seriously address the dire human rights situation in the country. The new government, comprised mostly of former generals, has released hundreds of political prisoners, enacted laws on forming trade unions and freedom of assembly, eased official media censorship, and amended laws enabling the opposition National League for Democracy to register as a political party. However, ethnic conflict has escalated and the Burmese military continues to commit abuses against civilians such as forced labor, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, the use of “human shields”, and indiscriminate attacks on civilians.

  2. drkokogyi Says:

    Burma: Protect Muslim, Buddhist Communities at Risk
    Ensure Prompt Access to International Media, Aid Workers
    (New York) – The government of Burma should take all necessary steps to protect communities at risk in Arakan State after violence between Buddhists and Muslims in western Burma left an unknown number dead. The government has taken inadequate steps to stop sectarian-violence between Arakan Buddhists and ethnic Rohingya Muslims, or to bring those responsible to justice.

    Human Rights Watch urged the government to permit prompt access to international journalists, aid workers, and diplomats.

    “Deadly violence in Arakan State is spiraling out of control under the government’s watch,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Opening the area to independent international observers would put all sides on notice that they were being closely watched.”

    Brutal violence in Arakan State in western Burma erupted on June 3, 2012, when an estimated 300 Arakan Buddhists attacked a bus of traveling Muslims, killing 10 passengers. The angry mob was reacting to information that an Arakan girl was allegedly raped and murdered in late May by three Muslim suspects. At the time of the attack, the suspects were reportedly in police custody. Clashes have intensified since, with the police opening fire and allegedly killing Rohingyas, and Rohingya mobs burning Arakan homes and businesses. Mobs of Rohingya and Arakanese, armed with sticks and swords, have reportedly committed violence that resulted in a number of deaths. The violence has spread from Maungdaw to the state’s capital and largest town, Sittwe.

    On June 7, the Burmese government announced an investigation into the violence. As clashes worsened, on June 10, President Thein Sein issued a state of emergency in the area, ceding complete authority to the Burmese army.

    For decades, the Rohingya have routinely suffered abuses by the Burmese army, including extrajudicial killings, forced labor, land confiscation, and restricted freedom of movement. Arakan people have also faced human rights violations by the army. Using the army to restore order risks arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, and torture, Human Rights Watch said.

    “Given the Burmese army’s brutal record of abuses in Arakan State, putting the military in charge of law enforcement could make matters worse,” Pearson said. “The government needs to be protecting threatened communities, but without any international presence there, there’s a real fear that won’t happen.”

    Where security permits, international agencies such as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees should maintain an on-the-ground presence in Arakan State to provide assistance and protection as possible.

    For decades the Rohingya have borne the brunt of the earlier military government’s brutal state-building policies. The Rohingya have been formally denied citizenship and were excluded from the last census in 1983. They are widely regarded within Burma as “Bengalis” – people of Bangladesh nationality. Since the 1960s there have been multiple campaigns led by the Burmese authorities to expel the Rohingya from Burma, resulting in a litany of human rights violations. There are an estimated 800,000 Rohingya in Burma, and about 200,000 live in Bangladesh, of which 30,000 live in squalid refugee camps.

    “The Burmese government’s policies of exclusion have fostered resentment against the Rohingya,” said Pearson. “Longer-term, the government should be thinking about how to address the years of discrimination and neglect that the Rohingya have faced, provide some mechanism for accountability, and ensure the rights of Rohingya equally with other Burmese.”

    The ongoing violence in Arakan State shows that despite the democratic progress of recent months, there are still formidable challenges for human rights in Burma, Human Rights Watch said. Many areas populated by ethnic minorities have seen few benefits from the reform process. International journalists and aid workers still face restricted access to large parts of the country.

    Influential governments such as the US, Japan, Australia, and members of the European Union should continue to press for full civilian control over the military and building the rule of law, instead of giving up all its leverage at a moment when the reform process has barely begun.

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