22 Apr 2013

Burma authorities accused of ‘ethnic cleansing’

As a human rights group accuses the Burmese authorities of a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims, the EU lifts its sanctions against Burma.

Trade and economic sanctions were eased after graphic video footage emerged showing police failing to stop riots and attacks on Muslims.

The Burmese government and local authorities have been complicit in crimes of humanity and a “campaign of ethnic cleansing” against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State since June 2012, Human Rights Watch said – charges the Burmese authorities deny.

Security forces stood by, or even joined in, as Rakhine Buddhist mobs killed men, women and children in June and October 2012, the report said. The violence caused mass displacement of Rohingya, with around 120,000 forced to flee their homes in fear of attack.

“While the state security forces in some instances intervened to prevent violence and protect fleeing Muslims, more frequently they stood aside during attacks or directly supported the assailants, committing killings and other abuses,” the report said of the unrest, in which at least 110 people died.

Standing by

The report coincides with new footage which appears to show the authorities taking no action during riots in Meiktila. It was filmed in March 2013 (see video above), when 43 people were killed in the town.

At one point a man is burning on the ground after being set on fire. Someone in the crowd is heard saying: “No water for him – let him die”.

The graphic footage also appears to show Buddhist monks taking part in the violence.

Human rights abuses are still taking place in Burma despite reforms put in place by its new government since March 2011. Aung San Suu Kyi, a pro-democracy campaigner who was under house arrest for many years, leads an opposition party which has a small parliamentary presence.

In response to the reforms, the European Union decided to lift all but its arms embargoes on Burma – despite the increasing concerns over the treatment of minorities in the country.

Speaking last week to Channel 4 News, the Dalai Lama condemned the violence.

“We must respect each individual’s life,” he said.

The government has also blocked aid from going into the camps where the displaced Rohingya and other Muslim communities have been forced to live, Human Rights Watch said.

The lack of investigations into the abuses has encouraged more anti-Muslim campaigns across Burma, Human Rights Watch said – including attacks in March this year.

But the Burmese government dismissed the charges as one-sided and “unacceptable”.

Ye Htut, a presidential spokesman and Burma’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.