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

Analysis: China Raises Hong Kong Rhetoric to Tiananmen Level

A front-page commentary in The People’s Daily called the current demonstrations 'chaos,' the same word Party officials used 25 years ago to describe the Tiananmen Square protests More

US Airstrikes Anger Syrian Civilians Fleeing Their Homes

Pentagon officials say they have seen no credible evidence of civilian deaths caused by US airstrikes against Islamic State militants More

Child Sexual Exploitation to Worsen in SE Asia

Southeast Asia’s planned economic integration is a key step for boosting the region’s productivity, but carries downsides as well More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plainsi
X
October 01, 2014 10:45 AM
It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video The Legacy of Jimmy Carter: The Preacher from Plains

It is common in the United States to see tourists flock to sites associated with America's presidents. Some are privately owned and others are run by the National Park Service or the National Archives -- but most have helped draw business and people into the towns and cities where they are located. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there is one particular presidential hometown that is unique in what it has to offer those who make the trip.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests Draw New Supporters on National Holiday

On the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China, Hong Kong protesters are hoping to stage the largest pro-democracy demonstration since the 1989 Tiananmen protests. VOA's Brian Padden visited one of the protest sites mid-day, when the atmosphere was calm and where the supporters were enthusiastic about joining what they are calling the umbrella revolution.
Video

Video India's PM Continues First US Visit

India's prime minister is on his first visit to Washington, to strengthen political and economic ties between the world's oldest and the world biggest democracies. He came to the U.S. capital from New York, the first stop on his five-day visit to the country that denied him an entry visa in the past. From Washington, Zlatica Hoke reports Modi seemed most focused on attracting foreign investment and trade to increase job opportunities for his people.
Video

Video Malaysia Struggles to Stop People Joining Jihad

Malaysian authorities say militant groups like the so-called "Islamic State" have used social media to entice at least three dozen Malaysian Muslims to fight in what they call "jihad" in Syria and Iraq. As Mahi Ramkrishnan reports from Kuala Lumpur, counterterrorism police are deeply worried about what could happen when these militants return home.
Video

Video Could US Have Done More to Stop Rise of Islamic State?

President Obama says airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria will likely continue for some time because, in his words, "there is a cancer that has grown for too long." So what if President Obama had acted sooner in Syria to arm more-moderate opponents of both the Islamic State and the Syrian government? VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports from the United Nations.
Video

Video Treasure Hunters Seek 'Hidden Treasure' in Central Kenya

Could a cave in a small village in central Kenya be the site of buried treasure? A rumor of riches, left behind by colonialists, has some residents dreaming of wealth, while others see it as a dangerous hoax. VOA's Gabe Joselow has the story.
Video

Video Ebola Patients Find No Treatment at Sierra Leone Holding Center

At a holding facility in Makeni, central Sierra Leone, dozens of sick people sit on the floor in an empty university building. They wait in filthy conditions. It's a 16-hour drive by ambulance to Kailahun Ebola treatment center. Adam Bailes was there and reports on what he says are some of the worst situations he has seen since the beginning of this Ebola outbreak. And he says it appears case numbers may already be far worse than authorities acknowledge.
Video

Video Identifying Bodies Found in Texas Border Region

Thousands of immigrants have died after crossing the border from Mexico into remote areas of the southwestern United States in recent years. Local officials in south Texas alone have found hundreds of unidentified bodies and buried them in mass graves in local cemeteries. Now an anthropologist and her students at Baylor University have been exhuming bodies and looking for clues to identify them. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Waco, Texas.
Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.Colonel Steve ‘Spiros’ Pisanos left Greece and came to the U.S. to learn to fly. He flew fighters for the Allies in World War II, narrowly escaping death multiple times.

AppleAndroid