Burmese government accused of complicity in 'ethnic cleansing' of Rohingya

Human Rights Watch says EU sanctions against Burma should not be lifted yet

Violence against Burma’s Rohingya Muslims in October last year was a carefully planned and co-ordinated assault involving Burmese security forces and Buddhist monks, according to fresh evidence unearthed in a report released today by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The report, which includes interviews with more than 100 people on both sides, and visits to all major camps where displaced Muslims are now living, concludes that there is compelling evidence of official involvement in the violence in Arakan state in October. More than 180 people were killed and 100,000 left homeless by anti-Rohingya violence last year.

The report states: “The absence of accountability against those to blame lends credence to allegations that this was a government-appointed campaign of ethnic cleansing in which crimes against humanity were committed.”

This week the European Union is due to eliminate the trade and economic sanctions on Burma – except the arms embargo – which were suspended one year ago, in recognition of the country’s moves towards democracy. But in light of the report’s findings, David Mepham, of HRW in London, told The Independent: “Lifting all the sanctions on Burma is premature and unjustified. European governments are relinquishing their leverage over Burma when concerted pressure is most needed to investigate anti-Muslim violence and crimes against humanity.”

The spark for the violence which began in the far west of Burma last June was the rape and murder of a 28-year-old Arakanese Buddhist woman by three Muslims. Tensions between Buddhists and Muslims that have simmered and periodically erupted for generations quickly exploded into an orgy of violence in which lives and homes on both sides were destroyed.

But when the violence flared up again in October 2012, it was in the form of simultaneous attacks on Muslim communities in nine of Arakan’s 21 townships.

“On 22 October, after months of meetings and public statements promoting ethnic cleansing, Arakanese mobs attacked Muslim communities in nine townships, razing villages and killing residents while security forces stood aside or assisted the assailants. Some of the dead were buried in mass graves, further impeding accountability,” says the report, entitled “All You Can Do Is Pray”.

In July, President Thein Sein, the former general who was building a reputation as a democratically minded reformer, had appeared to approve a plan to expel Rohingyas from Burma. “We will take care of our own nationalities,” he said. “But Rohingyas who came to Burma illegally are not of our nationalities and we cannot accept them here… They can be settled in refugee camps… If there are countries that would accept them, they could be sent there.”

That proposal was echoed in crude pamphlets distributed in the state. One of them was baldly headed: “Arakan Ethnic Cleansing Program of bad pagan Bengalis… taking advantage of our kindness to them”.

HRW documents other attempts during the summer of 2012 to inflame the fear and hatred of the majority community against the Muslim minority, while security forces demolished mosques and homes abandoned during the June violence, making it difficult for the Muslims to return the areas where they had previously lived.

Then on 22 October came the co-ordinated assault. “Carrying machetes, swords, spears, home-made guns, Molotov cocktails and other weapons, sizeable groups of Arakanese men simultaneously descended on Muslim villages in several townships in a coordinated fashion,” the report says. “Far from being a brief flash of violence, the carnage lasted over a week in nine of the state’s 17 townships… Most of these areas had not experienced violence in June.”

In perhaps the worst case, in Yan Thei village in Mrauk-u, Arakan’s historic capital, the day-long massacre led to the deaths of 70 Rohingyas, of whom 28 were children, 13 of them under the age of five.

Today, with the rainy season about to descend, around 120,000 Rohingyas are living in hastily improvised camps around the state, barred from returning to their homes or going anywhere else. Many of the most desperate have fled: the United Nations refugee agency estimates that some 13,000 people, including Rohingyas and Bangladeshi nationals, took to the Bay of Bengal in flimsy boats during 2012.

After October’s murderous attacks, President Thein Sein softened his rhetoric. In a letter to the UN Secretary-General in November, he promised that “once emotions subside on all sides” his government was prepared to “address contentious political dimensions ranging from resettling of displaced populations to granting of citizenship”. Critics voiced suspicion that this more emollient tone was aimed at the ears of US President Barack Obama on the eve of his historic visit to Burma in November, which were heightened when the Foreign Ministry released a statement the following month referring to “so-called Rohingyas” and “Bengalis”. It denied that the government had played any part in the attacks on them.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Neil Young performs on stage at Hyde Park
musicAnd his Hyde Park set has rhyme and reason, writes Nick Hasted
News
Women have been desperate to possess dimples like Cheryl Cole's
people Cole has secretly married French boyfriend Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini after just three months.
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Extras
indybestThe tastiest creations for children’s parties this summer
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Paolo Nutini performs at T in the Park
music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Web / Digital Analyst - SiteCatalyst or Google Analytics

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Campaign Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency is currently ...

Software Engineer - C++

£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Software En...

Software Team Leader - C++

£40000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Software Tea...

Day In a Page

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

Meet Japan's AKB48

Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor