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Fear of “catastrophic violence” against Myanmar Muslims-report

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 20 Aug 2013 10:20 GMT
Author: Thomson Reuters Foundation Correspondent
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Mothers are pictured with their children at a Rohingya internally displaced persons (IDP) camp outside Sittwe, May 16, 2013. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
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Corrects number in paragraph 5 to 140,000 from 250,000. The latter number includes those displaced by separate government-Kachin conflict.

BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The attitudes behind the deadly and systematic violence against Muslims in overwhelmingly Buddhist Myanmar could, if left unchecked, lead to “mass atrocities,” Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) said in a report released on Tuesday.

The New York-based rights group cited the rapid dissemination of hate speech against marginalised groups and the inaction or acquiescence of many leaders in government and the democracy movement as creating the potential for “catastrophic violence.”

"People who've been attacked have very little legal recourse and no real avenue of justice to prosecute the people who perpetrated the attacks,” Bill Davis, PHR’s researcher for Myanmar, told journalists.

“There haven't been attacks there in several weeks but the structural violence that made it possible for this to happen is still in place … The culture of impunity is still there,” he said.

The violence against Muslims, which started with clashes between stateless Rohingya Muslims and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists in western Myanmar in June last year, has displaced about 140,000 people, mostly Muslims.

Despite being lauded for its democratic reforms, Myanmar’s first elected government in half a century has failed to protect the minority group, PHR said.

Like Reuters, PHR found security forces either taking part in attacks against the Rohingya and other Muslim minorities or failing to prevent them, and Davis said that, to his knowledge, no uniformed person had been prosecuted.

PHR is calling on the government to end such impunity and asking the international community, which has suspended most sanctions on Myanmar, “not to be reluctant to confront a country just because it has made some recent political improvements,” he said.

“All those dedicated to ending violence must see the crimes in Burma as a horrible example of what happens when impunity reigns and demagogues are not confronted, and as an urgent warning sign of potential atrocities,” PHR said.

HUMAN RIGHTS ARE FOR EVERYONE

Violence against ethnic groups - one third of the population - was common in the impoverished country, formerly known as Burma, during the half-century of brutal military rule, and the situation has not improved since an elected government took office, despite widespread praise for its democratic reforms, PHR said.

In fact, “violence against marginalized groups has escalated to an unprecedented level as Rohingyas and other Muslims throughout Burma face renewed acts of violence”, the report said.

While some civil society groups and monks have denounced the violence, many, including Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, have remained silent.

"Human rights are for everyone, not just people holding the government ID cards. We want human rights activists who have been pushing for human rights in Burma to come out and say this,” Davis said.  

The government must also address “the deeply engrained disdain for Muslims and other minorities that allowed for such patterns of human rights violations”, the report said.

The report was released a day before the U.N. special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, presents his preliminary observations on his current trip to Myanmar where he visited, among others, Rakhine State and Meikhtila town where the recent violence against Muslims occurred.

Scores of Rohingya were killed, some 140,000 displaced and thousands of homes were burnt down in bloody sectarian violence last year which uprooted Rohingya communities in western Myanmar’s Rakhine State, and the Rohingya’s living conditions in camps have worsened since then.

The government and the public consider the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh who deserve neither rights nor sympathy.  

Those who have lost their homes have been living in squalid, sprawling displacement camps ripe for disease. Tens of thousands, including an increasing number of women and children, have fled by boat to Malaysia, where many Rohingya have in the past found refuge.

Many are exploited by smugglers and traffickers and are stuck in detention centres in Thailand, while those who have reached Malaysia struggle to find peace.

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