News / Asia

Burma's Investigation of Sectarian Violence Criticized

A Rohingya Muslim with the word "Rohingya" written on his T-shirt prays with others at a makeshift mosque at a camp for those displaced by violence, near Sittwe April 28, 2013.
A Rohingya Muslim with the word "Rohingya" written on his T-shirt prays with others at a makeshift mosque at a camp for those displaced by violence, near Sittwe April 28, 2013.
Daniel Schearf
A government-appointed commission in Burma looking into last year’s deadly sectarian fighting in western Rakhine state has recommended doubling security and assimilating Muslim minorities. But, rights activists are criticizing the commission for failing to hold accountable those responsible for the violence, including - they say - security forces and Buddhist extremists.

Fighting between Rakhine Buddhists and Muslims in June and October left 200 people dead and more than 100,000 homeless, most of them Rohingya Muslims.

Since then, violence has spread to Buddhist and Muslim communities across the country, leading to concerns of deepening sectarian divisions.

Accountability

Following international concern about the Rakhine violence, Burma’s president appointed a commission to investigate. On Monday, it issued a report that listed a series of measures including doubling security forces, despite allegations that some troops took part in the violence.

Human Rights Watch blames security forces, government officials and Buddhist monks for fomenting ethnic cleansing. The group also claims there are signs that the Muslim dead have been secretly buried in mass graves.

Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson said the government commission’s report largely dodged the issue of who was accountable for the violence.

"So, when you talk about doubling the size of the security forces without a commensurate increase in accountability for rights abuses, how does that help solve the problem?" he asked. "In fact, I would argue that it probably goes the wrong way."

Aung Naing Oo, a commission member who contributed to the report, acknowledged some evidence of abuse by security forces, but said it was not their job to investigate it.

"Our job’s mostly to do with why the violence took place and how the violence can be contained and how the reconciliation can be achieved, over time," Aung said.

Blame

The commission blames the unrest on historic animosities between ethnic groups in some communities. It recommends improved law enforcement, improved health care and education, as well as a ban on hate speech.  The steps are broadly aimed at assimilating the Muslim minority and promoting interaction with Buddhist communities.

But the report also emphasizes the need to keep an eye on Muslim religious schools and teachers, while making no mention of well-known Buddhist monk-led campaigns attacking Islam.

Aung Naing Oo admitted they were forced to censor parts of the public report out of fear of reaction from the Buddhist majority in Burma, also known as Myanmar.

"We are very much concerned about security issues that may arise out of our report," Aung conceded. "So, some of the issues have to be, you know, reported quietly and we cannot make them public. But, we have pointed out everything and anything possible in regard to the conflict to the president of the Union of Myanmar."

The commission says a fast-growing Muslim population has contributed to tensions with the Buddhist Rakhine and recommended family planning to reduce birth rates.

Fears

Rights activist Robertson says unfounded fears about a rising Muslim population are a theme promoted by Buddhist extremists. He said such recommendations show the report is skewed in favor of views held by the majority in Rakhine, also known as Arakan.

"The points in terms of practical assistance to people on the ground in terms of education, medical services, shelter, all those points are well taken and deserve support," Robertson said. "But, when we start getting to issues of security affairs, when we start to get to issues of culture and language, it is clear that the onus is on the Rohingya as opposed to the Arakanese."

The word “Rohingya” itself does not appear in the report. Burmese Rohingya are not among the country’s recognized minorities, which has long made them vulnerable to discrimination and abuse by authorities.

Rohingya

Instead, the commission refers to Rohingya as “Bengalis.” The reference gives weight to the widespread belief in Burma that the Rohingya are illegal migrants, despite many living there for generations.

Aung Niang Oo said they had no choice but to omit the term Rohingya because it could lead to further unrest.

"This is a very explosive issue. And, our report is to avoid any bloodshed at all costs," Aung explained. "And, when you talk about ethnicity you talk about nationalism. And, when you talk about nationalism, one smells of blood. And, this is the last thing the commission wants to get involved. So, we have avoided the term 'Rohingya' at all costs."

Nearly a year later,  after the fighting that sparked Burma’s recent round of sectarian violence, more than 100,000 people remain segregated in camps, the vast majority of them Muslim Rohingya.

The report, released Monday in Rangoon, recommends they remain in camps for the time being, because communal tensions are still high.

You May Like

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land In French Port

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching 'Fortress Europe' More

Video Westgate Mall Attack Survivors Confront Painful Memories

On anniversary of terror attack, survivors discuss how they have coped with trauma they experienced that day More

New Hints That Dark Matter Exists

New evidence from International Space Station hints at existence of dark matter and dark energy More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calaisi
X
Lisa Bryant
September 19, 2014 5:04 PM
The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video CERN Accelerator Back in Business

The long upgrade of the Large Hadron Collider is over. The scientific instrument responsible for the discovery of the Higgs boson -- the so-called "God particle" -- is being brought up to speed in time for this month's 60th anniversary of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known by its French acronym CERN. Physicists hope the accelerator will help them uncover more secrets about the origins of the universe. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid