April 22, 2013

VI. Humanitarian Concerns

In December 2012, the UN’s humanitarian affairs office, OCHA, referred to the situation in Arakan State as “dire,” and in February 2013 said there would be a “potentially devastating” effect on displaced Rohingya if the government did not take urgent action.[239] At least 125,000 people, the vast majority Rohingya Muslims, are living in official and unofficial IDP camps in the state and are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.[240] This included at least 74,800 displaced from in June 2012 and more than 36,400 displaced in October 2012 from the violence and abuses.[241] These figures do not account for the unknown number of those who have fled Burma’s borders since mid-2012.[242] Tens of thousands have not been receiving humanitarian aid.[243]

Since October, Human Rights Watch visited every major IDP camp in Sittwe Township as well as pockets of displaced persons in coastal and intra-coastal waterway areas, and in Mrauk-U Township. The displaced in Arakan State are located in 13 townships throughout the state. The 15 largest IDP camps are in the area of the state capital, Sittwe.

Even in the larger camps populated by those who were displaced in June, the humanitarian needs are great. In November, OCHA reported that 2,900 children in the IDP camps were suffering from acute malnutrition and “facing high risk of mortality” from months of untreated malnutrition. The UN also reported that “shelter needs have significantly increased”; 20,000 displaced persons were without sufficient safe water, and 24,000 were without latrines; and 65 percent had no access to health facilities in their locations of displacement.[244] Several Rohingya and displaced Kaman told Human Rights Watch the greatest needs in the most established camps were medical care and education for the children.[245]

Nearly every IDP site differs – some Muslim displaced persons are living in overcrowded tent camps, others in “semi-permanent” structures constructed by the government, while others had no shelter or basic aid. They said that as of November, weeks after their arrival, Burmese authorities guarded them like prisoners. Some of the displaced stayed in a treeless coastal area, known colloquially as the “coconut garden,” and were using tarps for shelter bearing the logo of a UN agency that they said they purchased from local merchants. The UN has noted that shelter “continues to be one of the main priorities for the displaced populations,” and that “a number of people in Sittwe ... have been without adequate shelter since June.”[246] UNHCR reported on January 30 that it was still in the planning stage of delivering tent shelters to areas where Rohingya had already been displaced for more than three months.[247]

These great needs reflect the lack of humanitarian access since the beginning of the crisis. The government failed to facilitate access for humanitarian organizations and created administrative obstacles, such as failing to issue travel authorizations and visas in a timely manner. Arakanese communities that were hostile to foreign aid workers who delivered aid to Muslim areas also sought to obstruct access. [248] In some areas, such as Myebon, in which aid deliveries to Muslim communities were being blocked, the security forces failed to intervene.[249] After initial security concerns subsided, the government did not fully reinstate humanitarian programs of international organizations, primarily for the Rohingya population, that existed before the violence began.

The long-term intentions of the Burmese government regarding the Rohingya and other displaced Muslims are of particular concern. The government has yet to rebuild Muslim-owned houses destroyed in the violence or take measures to permit Rohingya or Kaman Muslim displaced persons return to their home areas.[250]

In contrast, the government has worked closely with local Arakanese communities to assist the few remaining IDP sites populated by displaced Arakanese, demonstrating the government has the ability to assist displaced populations should it have the political will to do so. Thousands of displaced Arakanese have returned home with assistance from the government and, according to Arakanese who spoke to Human Rights Watch and our own site visits to Arakanese IDP camps, those who remain displaced generally have adequate shelter, and are provided with food, water, sanitation, and other services.[251] UNHCR reported that the government, with assistance from UNHCR and Save the Children, will have rebuilt permanent housing for all displaced Arakanese by the end of February – a total of 669 houses.[252]

Unlike with the Rohingya, displaced Arakanese are not confined to the camps. Thus when Human Rights Watch visited the comparably small Arakanese IDP camps in June and October, only women and children, and the occasional monk, were present. The men were off working, including reconstructing their communities. A displaced 32-year-old Arakanese mother of two from Purin village in Mrauk-U Township told Human Rights Watch: “Some of our husbands are still staying at our houses and some are working in the town. Some are still in the village.”[253]

UN agencies have repeatedly and publicly stressed the urgency of the situation, reported in detail on humanitarian and protection problems, and projected humanitarian needs through June 2013.[254] Several displaced Rohingya communities in Sittwe Township were informally working with nearby Rohingya villages to fill gaps and provide aid to the neediest Muslim IDP populations. Rohingya have been participating in camp committees tasked with, among other things, camp registration, which is required to receive aid from the World Food Program and other international agencies.[255]

The Burmese government has obligations under international law to ensure that all displaced persons have adequate access to food and other humanitarian relief.[256] The government has failed to meet its obligations by not addressing the security concerns of the Rohingya population, by imposing discriminatory restrictions on Rohingya freedom of movement, and by unnecessarily restricting humanitarian agencies that are seeking to provide for populations at risk.

Access to Aid and Restrictions on Movement

We can’t go to the market and don’t have enough food. I don’t know what happened to our paddy fields that are ready for harvest now.
Displaced Rohingya man, 56, Minbya Township, November 2012

Tens of thousands of Muslims in Arakan State have not had sustained access to humanitarian assistance since the outbreak of violence in June 2012. This has not only affected displaced persons, but the many Muslim communities that have been unable to move freely to resume their livelihoods go to markets due to hostile Arakanese communities and restrictions on movement enforced by Burmese security forces.

According to OCHA, roughly 98 percent of “assessed IDPs” do not have access to markets.[257] Medecins San Frontieres reported that “tens of thousands of people are still unable to access urgently needed medical care.”[258]

On December 5, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordination, Valerie Amos visited Arakan State and found that up to 4,000 Rohingya displaced persons in Myebon “can’t leave the camp because their movement is restricted.”[259]

Moreover, a humanitarian response plan published by OCHA on November 16 and agreed upon by humanitarian partners in Arakan State, noted: “The lack of access to basic services by the IDPs and some communities, whose freedom of movement is now even more limited than before the violence erupted in June, is also of serious concern.”[260] Seven months later, in February 2013, UN Resident Coordinator in Burma Ashok Nigam, “stressed the need to address the issue of freedom of movement of the affected people, displaced or otherwise, as this is crucial to ensure resumption of livelihood activities and guarantee access to basic services to all people living in” Arakan State.[261]

In early November, a displaced Rohingya man in Yan Thei in Mrauk-U Township told Human Rights Watch:

We cannot go anywhere. ... Before the Arakanese attacked us we had 2,460 people here. We are still here. The government told us they would supply food, oil and other things ... but it hasn’t arrived. We cannot go out to the market or town, so we can’t buy anything.[262]

A 24-year-old man in Yan Thei village said:

We cannot move. … We are still here outside the village, in the open air. We have a makeshift tent made with leaves. The government supplied us with rice twice. Each family got four cups of rice. But we cannot go catch fish or buy anything from the market. Those who fled from the violence, they cannot come back. On the road, the Arakanese could attack us. We need more help from outside.[263]

Displaced persons who fled to Sittwe have faced similar problems. In November, a displaced Rohingya woman near Ba Du Baw camp told Human Rights Watch, “We have not received rations in three days. WFP usually delivers regularly but the rations have not come. It has been five months now and there are still many people who have no shelter, no rations.”[264]

A displaced man in a coastal area in Sittwe Township that had yet to receive any aid when we visited told us:

Now we live with the cow manure. We stay where the buffalos live. We need rice and shelter and medicine and many other things. ... The government has not supplied anything here. Only the local people are helping us. … We have no latrines. We need a water supply because the well water is no good. During the day we are in the sun and during the night we have no covers. We have no blankets, no clothes, no food, no medicine. Those further out on the shore have it worse. They have no water at all.[265]

In some cases the government provided small amounts of aid to newly arriving displaced persons reaching coastal areas outside Sittwe town. A displaced Rohingya in the area told Human Rights Watch:

We have been sleeping on the sand. When I arrived on the shore, the security forces supplied us with 17 bags of rice and 20 packets of noodles, and three water bottles. I think that came from the state government. Later these people here [members of the nearby Rohingya community] supplied us food. The first time [they came] we took money from those who came to donate food and we took rice and curry the [local community] donors gave us.[266]

Serious health concerns of the Muslim IDP population have not been addressed throughout the state, which UN agencies and international NGOs such as MSF have highlighted.[267] A displaced Rohingya man from Pauktaw said:

There are many sick here. Diarrhea and fevers are the most common illnesses. We have to live outside. The sun is very hot. There are also pregnant women here but no midwife. More than 10 women are pregnant here.[268]

When Human Rights Watch visited the government hospital in Sittwe in October 2012, there were no Muslim patients in the hospital. A hospital employee told Human Rights Watch: “There have been no Bengali [Rohingya] patients in the hospital. If some Bengali [Rohingya] patients were sent to the hospital there would be many problems. I think there is a separate hospital by the military, in the refugee [IDP] camp. This is a government hospital.”[269]

A displaced Rohingya man in Sittwe said: “After our houses were burned down here we couldn’t go to the government hospital. We cannot go to government hospitals.”[270]

While a number of seriously injured Arakanese patients have been sent to Rangoon for treatment since June, this is not an option for the Rohingya because the government does not permit them to travel outside their townships. Kaman Muslims have citizenship and the right to travel, but they too face restrictions due to security. A Kaman Muslim man, 65, from Sittwe said:

On September 28, a Kaman woman was attacked [in Sittwe] by Arakanese on her way back from the market. She was stabbed with a knife on her neck. She was sent to the hospital and was released. We were trying to send her to Rangoon for treatment. She cannot go outside here. She is very afraid to go outside here.[271]

Another humanitarian concern is with regard to displaced persons in Sittwe Township and other sites who are not registered with the UN and camp committees, and thus not receiving aid. The Burmese government has done little to ensure timely registration of IDPs at official government camps like Ba Du Baw IDP camp. A Rohingya woman near that camp told Human Rights Watch about thousands who are unregistered in the camps and thus not receiving aid:

The first step is to get a registration in the camp and if you don’t get registration you don’t get anything. There are 9,756 people registered here in Ba Du Baw camps, but there are over 14,000 people here. It is difficult. The registration is directly related to the rations. People are still coming every day. Some are from Pauktaw and Rathedaung.[272]

International aid workers who conducted unofficial surveys in the IDP camps estimated that approximately 40,000 people were receiving food aid as of January 30, 2013, leaving tens of thousands without adequate food and nutrition.[273] Win Myaing, a spokesman for the Arakan State government, suggested that Rohingya were deliberately inflating their own figures to receive more aid: “Now, when we are making a list in the camp over here, then people from [another camp] will come. Frankly, [the Rohingya] are just attempting to make the list bigger so that they can get more aid.”[274]

Some Rohingya IDPs alleged that security forces stole their belongings when they reached the shore in Sittwe. A 30-year-old Rohingya described what happened to some villagers from his community: “Some of us were stopped by the seashore by the authorities. We were blocked there. I saw the authorities take away possessions they [the IDPs] brought. Instead of giving them aid and relief, they took things.”[275]

Risks to Humanitarian Relief

Staff continues to be subject to threats and intimidations, and this resulted in several resignations of key staff discharging vital services including health provision for both communities.[276]
United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Response Plan, November 2012

A major obstacle to the delivery of humanitarian aid has been deep and widespread animosity among the local Arakanese community towards UN agencies and international humanitarian organizations providing relief to displaced Muslim populations. Local Arakanese, in some cases led by Buddhist monks, have publicly protested against and physically obstructed aid to Rohingya, issued threats against aid workers, and distributed pamphlets calling on the Arakanese community to attack staff and supporters of specific organizations.

Human Rights Watch obtained several pamphlets circulated in Sittwe and vicinity, urging that Arakanese oppose the UN and international NGOs’ delivery of any aid to Rohingya in the state. One pamphlet says that in providing aid to the Rohingya, the UN and international organizations have “watered poisonous plants.” Regarding UN agencies, it says, “We have to attack them.”[277]

The threats against aid workers persisted long after the violence and have resulted in serious staffing problems, further hindering aid.[278] MSF reported in February that their “medical teams face continued threats and hostility” from local Arakanese populations, preventing the delivery of emergency medical care to displaced Rohingya.[279]

Several local Arakanese activists and political leaders – from the RNDP and the Arakan League for Democracy (ALD) – acknowledged and shared the longstanding local resentment for aid agencies, and the reasons behind it, but dismissed the threats to physical security. They told Human Rights Watch that the UN and international NGOs would be welcome to provide assistance to Arakanese communities now and in the future.[280]

Several Arakanese told Human Rights Watch that they believed Rohingya staff members of humanitarian agencies were linked to al-Qaeda and other international extremist groups.[281] A prominent Buddhist monk in Sittwe told Human Rights Watch:

We cannot trust the UN officers because they are al-Qaeda. The Muslim guy in UNHCR, the Muslim guys from MSF and ACF [Action Contre la Faim], the doctor [Dr. Tun Aung], and other Islamic men and women are all part of al-Qaeda. They contacted al-Qaeda members. That is real.[282]

A common view frequently expressed by Arakanese is that aid agencies have neglected their communities for decades and catered exclusively to the Rohingya population. This has led some Arakanese to call for blocking the delivery of aid to both Rohingya and Arakanese displaced persons. One pamphlet dated July 14, 2012 and delivered to aid agencies states:

[H]ere in Arakan the UN agencies and INGOs have been completely neglecting us native Arakanese Buddhists who are fully eligible for international aid, and one-sidedly supported only the so-called Rohingyas who actually are illegal Bengali Muslims. The direct outcome of their discriminatory actions was that so many of us native Arakanese Buddhists were killed and their properties destroyed by the terrorist Bengali Muslims. ... Thus we Rakhine Buddhists will be totally refusing the ineffective small aids given by the UN and INGOs.[283]

A man expressed a common view in the Arakanese community in Sittwe: “There is an NGO in front of my house and they wrote on a sign, ‘No discrimination,’ and so on, claiming they do not discriminate, but in reality they only provide aid to Rohingya people.”[284]

Many Arakanese consider it a problem that humanitarian groups have provided lifesaving aid to Rohingya. A senior monk in Sittwe who was active in obstructing aid convoys to displaced Rohingya told Human Rights Watch:

I don’t want to stop the cars that will go assist the Muslim community but in reality only 1 percent of the aid is going to the Arakanese and 99 percent is going to the Muslim community. The Muslim people get stronger day-by-day because the humanitarian agencies are providing assistance, which is why the problem is getting bigger.[285]

When asked to clarify, the monk confirmed his belief that humanitarian aid to Rohingya Muslims was a problem and should be stopped.[286]

Protests against the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC)

In late September 2012, a large two-day public meeting of approximately 2,000 people from all 17 townships in Arakan State was held in Rathedaung. It resulted in a public statement that called for, among other things, opposition to “OIC intervention” and the planned establishment of an OIC office “anywhere in Arakan State.” Opposition to the OIC reflects a larger, public effort by Arakanese to oppose humanitarian aid to the Rohingya by international aid agencies and organizations. This anti-OIC effort started as a concerted local campaign that then spread nationwide the following month.[287] In Arakanese villages, Human Rights Watch observed an abundance of “anti-OIC” materials, including t-shirts, pamphlets, and other written material, much of it in English.[288]

Following the September meeting, Arakanese supported by Buddhist monks organized public assemblies and street protests in Sittwe to oppose the presence of Rohingya in Arakan State and advocate against humanitarian aid for them. These protests proceeded without government interference. Protests in Sittwe on October 9 called for the government to expel Rohingya from the country, to deny the OIC entry into Burma, and to empty Aung Mingalar, the last remaining Muslim enclave in Sittwe.[289] A similar protest followed in Mandalay on October 12, involving an estimated 2,000 participants.[290] Other protests since June have opposed the presence of the UN and international aid agencies in Arakan State because they provide aid to the Rohingya.[291]

By November, the Arakanese opposition to the OIC’s plans to establish an office in Burma and administer aid to the Rohingya reached a fever pitch. An influential local Arakanese man in Sittwe told Human Rights Watch:

The OIC is not based on human rights but on the Islamic religion. In the past I didn’t study anything about the Islamic religion, but now I know more. Now I am starting to know that the Islamic religion is a kind of terrorism. ... We believe the OIC is a kind of terrorism. The purpose or goal of the OIC is to cover the world with Islam through Islamization.[292]

A prominent monk in Sittwe told Human Rights Watch:

The reason we protest against the OIC opening an office here is because the OIC is not representing one county – it represents 57 countries. We also think a lot of the OIC countries are militant countries. They should take care of their own domestic terrorist movements first. In reality, if the OIC values humanitarian norms and standards, then they should have come here when the cyclone [Giri] happened [in October 2010]. Why would they like to get involved now? Only when they first deal with the terrorist groups inside their own countries, then they can come to assist.[293]

Many Arakanese in Arakan State still speak about when the Taliban destroyed ancient Buddhist statues in Bamiyan, Afghanistan, which led to widespread anti-Muslim violence in Burma in 2001.[294] Most Arakanese, however, were unaware that the OIC traveled to Afghanistan to try to prevent the Taliban’s action.[295]

Notably, anti-OIC, anti-Rohingya protests in Sittwe received official permission from the state – which also requires state approval for any slogans uttered on the picket line – while those in Mandalay did not. Both protests occurred without incident or intervention from the authorities.[296]

The protests accomplished their goal. Immediately after the protests, President Thein Sein cancelled a signed agreement with the OIC that was to lead to the establishment of an official presence in Burma. An official from the president’s office was quoted as saying, “The president will not allow an OIC office because it is not in accordance with the people’s desires.”[297]

Human Rights Watch also documented small-scale corruption in the delivery of aid to unregistered IDP camps. This petty corruption raised concerns that the security forces might also be tampering with the aid itself.

During the week of October 22, when tens of thousands of Muslims were displaced in nine townships in Arakan State, several thousand fled to Sittwe in search of a safe haven. They arrived in droves with very few belongings, landing on desolate, treeless beaches. They soon encountered hostile police and Nasaka officers who restricted their movement and blocked assistance until local aid workers paid them bribes.

Rohingya in Sittwe Township told Human Rights Watch they had made payments to police to deliver food aid to otherwise isolated and displaced Rohingya. One makeshift coastal camp with an estimated 1,200 displaced Rohingya from Pauktaw lacked latrines, adequate shelter, and was subsisting primarily on donations from nearby Rohingya villages. A 38-year-old displaced Rohingya man who was delivering aid to the site told Human Rights Watch:

I gave 50,000 Kyat [$60] to the troops for snacks and tea. It was on October 26 in Ohn Daw. We brought rice, cooked beef, and water, and in order to give them these things we have to approach the police with money. I handed over the food and money to the police but I couldn’t watch what they did with it. I can only hope it gets delivered. There are no other groups giving food there yet. Yesterday we also had to give 40,000 kyat [$47] for pre-paid phone cards for the police.[298]

A Rohingya man, 30, originally from Pauktaw but living in a Rohingya village on the outskirts of Sittwe, said:

The local community here wants to donate some things but they [Lon Thein] don’t allow it. The [displaced] people have been there more than 10 days and they still have no steady source of food. We had to give 70,000 kyat [$83] to Lon Thein to bring them food on October 30. If we don’t give the money we can’t deliver the food. And the food can’t be given directly. We have provided that same payment to them every day for seven consecutive days.[299]

In some cases, after payments were made to security forces, local aid workers were permitted to deliver food directly to newly arrived IDPs. A displaced person from Pautkaw said: “No one from the government has come here to see us. But the local people came and gave us food and other supplies. They are all Muslim, mostly Rohingya.”[300]

Secondary and Tertiary Forced Displacement

The lack of sustained access to humanitarian aid in Arakan State puts internally displaced persons at greater risk of abuse after their initial displacement. The adverse humanitarian impacts of displacement, including psychosocial, economic, and health impacts, are typically compounded by multiple displacements. Humanitarian agencies in Arakan State have recognized and responded to situations of multiple displacements. In November, UNHCR recognized that aid shortfalls might contribute to instability for the population: “Provision of basic needs and services are urgently required in all affected locations to deter multiple displacements.”[301]

Following the October attacks, government officials, including Arakan State ministers and Nasaka officials transferred Muslim IDPs from the areas to which they had first fled to a second displacement site. The reasons for the multiple displacements are unclear. In some cases, the authorities said they intended to transfer displaced Muslims from Sittwe to areas in northern Arakan State, a largely Muslim area without a continued presence of international relief organizations. The concern was that this was intended as a permanent shift of the state’s population.

Several displaced Rohingya said the authorities told them they would have to go to Rathedaung or Maungdaw, two of the three predominantly Muslim townships in northern Arakan State.[302]

Beginning on October 23, Nasaka forces and government officials met displaced Rohingya from Pauktaw at sea and onshore when they approached Sittwe in small boats. The officials ordered the Rohingya to continue their journey to Rathedaung, a predominantly Muslim township several hours north of Sittwe. Finally they were allowed to temporarily come on shore – some groups had been at sea for several days. A 27-year-old fisherman from one such group said:

After two days on the beach, the Arakan State minister [Hla Maung Thein] arrived. He said we couldn’t stay and that we must go to Rathedaung. We replied that we didn’t want to go to Rathedaung, we wanted to stay in Sittwe. When the minister left, the Nasaka took five people from our group and beat them terribly right in front of me. Later, we secretly came onshore. Two or three days later Lon Thein took the wood from our boats for firewood. I spent eight days living on the beach. We had no shelter.[303]

Human Rights Watch confirmed that some members of this group avoided transfer to Rathedaung by secretly traveling to the IDP camps in Sittwe. Others were transferred to Sin Ta Maw, a site of Rohingya displacement but not an official IDP camp.

Nine displaced Kaman Muslims from Kyauk Pyu faced similar difficulties. A flotilla of 21 boats were forced to spend one night at sea near Navy ships that provided them with water but prevented them from traveling onward to Sittwe, pending permission from a state minister. After a day and a half at sea, a number of boats went ahead without permission and made their way to Sittwe, where they encountered hostile Nasaka border guards. A Kaman Muslim man said:

I carried people to shore with my [small engine] boat, from a larger boat. We did this three times to bring people ashore. But then the sunset was coming and we tried to bring the whole group of boats to shore. Nasaka fired warning shots in the air, and one bullet passed very close to us. My brother heard it go right past his head. So we turned our boat around and headed back to sea.[304]

This flotilla spent another night at sea and then one representative from each boat went on shore to negotiate with Nasaka:

We met with the Nasaka commander and army commander. The Nasaka commander said, “You cannot land at this village. You have to go to the Rathedaung area, to Kyauk Pan Du village,” a two-hour trip away. We replied that we couldn’t go there because we had old men and women and children.[305]

Despite the boats’ running very low on supplies, Nasaka forced them back out to sea. The next day, the western commander of the army and the Arakan State minister, Hla Maung Htin, arrived and reportedly allowed the group to come on shore “for two or three days,” but said the group would eventually have to travel on to Kyauk Pan Du village in Rathedaung Township.[306]

The following day, Nasaka ordered the group to return to their original village in Kyauk Pyu, even though it had been destroyed. The Kaman man said, “We thought that in Kyauk Pyu there would be no houses left and the flames would still be burning. We did not dare go back.”[307] The next day, the orders from the authorities changed yet again, and the authorities said they would instead have to go to Sin Ta Maw – several hours away by boat – in Pauktaw Township.[308] At that point, Nasaka brought in reinforcements and forced the group to travel to Sin Ta Maw. One Rohingya man said: “No one from Kyauk Pyu wants to go to Sin Ta Maw but Nasaka forced us to go. We heard they were planning to send us to Maungdaw from Sin Ta Maw. We heard that from a senior officer and state minister.” This man escaped the forced relocation and made his way to a nearby Rohingya village outside Sittwe.[309]

At the time of writing, some displaced Kaman remain in Sin Ta Maw, and due to a lack of access to aid, some have sought again to reach the camps outside Sittwe.

On November 31, Sittwe Police Battalion 12 attempted to forcibly move approximately 250 Rohingya displaced persons near the Ba Du Baw and Thaychaung IDP camps outside Sittwe to a makeshift IDP site in Sin Ta Maw village in Pauktaw Township, where IDPs and media reports have reported a lack of basic provisions and aid.[310] Some of the Rohingya resisted and stayed behind. The next day they were beaten by police, including a woman who gave birth the day before. The police shot and injured eight people before departing and leaving the injured behind.[311]

Obstacles to Return

There is a deeply held concern among displaced Muslims in Arakan State that the Burmese government intends to make their relocation permanent, segregating Rohingya and other Muslims from the Buddhist population. This belief is based upon the participation of the Burmese security forces in the attacks on Muslim communities, the efforts of security forces to relocate fleeing Muslims to areas far beyond their long-time residences, the tight restrictions on movement and humanitarian assistance, and the unwillingness of the authorities to prosecute members of the security forces and others responsible for serious abuses against Muslims. All these considerations point to a government program of ethnic cleansing. In such a context, the hopes for a prompt return to their homes seem very much in doubt.

Remarks by the government in their dealings with the diplomatic community and humanitarian agencies heighten such concerns. According to diplomats and humanitarian officials, then Border Affairs Minister Thein Htay and other government officials asserted in meetings that the two communities would have to remain apart for a minimum of three years in order to let tensions calm, and suggested that a plan of long-term separation of the communities was justified for the economic development of Sittwe and Arakan State. According to OCHA, “In Sittwe, the Government estimates that a return may be obstructed due to the continued tension between communities, as well as because of a government-led town planning exercise which envisages the extension of the urban area towards the north-west.”[312]

The populations of Sittwe are at present completely segregated. The neighborhood of Aung Mingalar, the last remaining Muslim neighborhood in the capital, is surrounded by an Arakanese community hostile to its existence and soldiers whose role seems more designed to keep the Rohingya inside rather than provide protection.[313] Many of the neighborhood’s residents are stuck in IDP camps outside town after having fled the city center during the June violence.[314] Downtown Sittwe, which previously was a bustling economic center inhabited by Buddhists, Muslims, and some Hindus, is now populated almost exclusively by Arakanese Buddhists. [315] While the forced relocations in Sittwe were presumably conducted to curtail the sectarian violence, the disparate treatment of the two populations since then amounts to unlawful discrimination against Rohingya.[316]

The government has constructed semi-permanent living structures in Ba Du Baw IDP camp, several kilometers outside Sittwe. The authorities have insisted to UN agencies and the diplomatic community that the camps were not envisioned as long-term “solutions.” But the government has put forward no plan or taken any evident preliminary steps suggesting that a return to homes was being considered, let alone put into place. And no timeline for returns has been publicly or privately discussed with the displaced populations.

Obstacles to Tolerance

The government’s failure to address the high levels of animosity and intolerance between the Arakanese and Rohingya populations – perhaps deliberately – complicates efforts to facilitate the return of displaced Muslims. Both Rohingya and Arakanese who spoke with us said that officials have not even broached the subject of reconciliation with displaced populations.

One notable exception was the “peacekeeping committee” formed in Kyauk Pyu after the June violence, which comprised Arakanese Buddhists and Kaman Muslims. However, even this local effort was unsuccessful in preventing violence against the Muslim community in October.[317]

Some government officials have asserted that the sectarian violence was a symptom of “underdevelopment” caused in part by insufficient international development assistance in Arakan State. Even if a contributing factor, it would not absolve the government of directly addressing existing intolerance particularly against the Muslim community.[318]

Opinion leaders in Burma have at times contributed to the poor situation, rather than helping to resolve it. Most notably, parliamentary opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) party have failed to condemn the rights abuses taking place in Arakan State or press for accountability for those responsible.

Suu Kyi is especially well positioned to address the abuses against Muslims. Beyond her international status as a Nobel peace prize winner, she remains highly respected, especially among the majority ethnic Burman population. She could use her moral authority to catalyze a national discourse on discrimination and intolerance based on religion and ethnicity. Yet so far she has just expressed a desire “not to take sides,” without offering much more.[319]

In the absence of any apparent government commitment to end the sectarian animosity and promote tolerance between the groups, displaced Muslims expressed apprehension about returning to their villages and possibly facing renewed attacks. Arakanese displaced from majority Muslim villages have not prepared to return home, either.

A displaced Rohingya, 56, from Tha Yet Oat village in Minbya Township told Human Rights Watch:

The [government] authorities did not ask us any questions. The army came and asked us if we wanted to go back. We replied that if we are secure there and have food, we want to go back, but if we are not secure, we do not want to go back. We cannot go reap our paddy without security. The authorities did not say anything in response to that.[320]

Kaman Muslims, also told Human Rights Watch they had no hope of returning home. A displaced Kaman man, 39, said, “I have no hope that I can go back to Kyauk Pyu. I cannot say where I will settle later.”[321]

A displaced Arakanese woman from Laung Krat village in Mrauk-U Township said, “If there are still Muslim people in the village then we don’t want to go back.”[322] Another Arakanese woman from Mrauk-U Township said, “There are only Muslim people there and so there’s no security. That’s why we have no hope of going back now.”[323] Another displaced Arakanese woman, 68, from Yan Thei, said, “We don’t want to go back home because we have no houses there now.”[324]

And those Muslims that are still in their home villages expressed concern about their future safety. A Rohingya man, 30, from Yan Thei village in Mrauk-U Township told Human Rights Watch: “I don’t think I will be able to continue living in this village. We are surrounded by Arakanese on all sides. If we want to go to another Rohingya village we have to cross Arakanese villages first. Now it’s like we’re living inside a jail.”[325]

[239] See OCHA, Humanitarian Bulletin: Myanmar, November 2012, November 26, 2012, p. 1; “Burma camp for Rohingyas ‘dire’ – Valerie Amos,” BBC News, December 5, 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-20615778#story_continues_1 (accessed December 6, 2012); UNOCHA, Humanitarian Bulletin: Myanmar, February 2013, http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/Myanmar%20Humanitarian%20Bulletin%2C%20Issue%20February%202013.pdf (accessed April 10, 2013), p.1.

[240] UNOCHA, Rakhine Response Plan, http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/Revised%20Rakhine%20Response%20Plan%20%28amended%29.pdf, p. 1, refers to 115,000 displaced; European Commission, “Myanmar: Displaced Rohingyas still in dire need of urgent humanitarian assistance,” January 31, 2013, refers to 126,000 displaced; OCHA attributes the figure of 120,000 displaced to the government of Burma in its February 2013 Humanitarian Bulletin: Myanmar, p. 1.

[241] OCHA, Myanmar: Displacement in Rakhine State, situation report number 12, November 6, 2012, p. 1; Human Rights Watch, “Burma: Satellite Images Show Widespread Attacks on Rohingya,” news release, November 17, 2012, http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/11/17/burma-satellite-images-show-widespread-attacks-rohingya (accessed December 7, 2012).

[242] While the UN has not disaggregated the demographics of the displaced, UN Resident Coordinator Ashok Nigram has said: “The number of Rakhine [Arakanese] people who are displaced is far fewer than the number of Muslim people who have been displaced.” Helen Regan, “Ashok Nigam: ‘Fundamentally, everybody has a right to citizenship,’” Democratic Voice of Burma, December 13, 2012, http://www.dvb.no/interview/ashok-nigam-fundamentally-everybody-has-a-right-to-citizenship/25221 (accessed February 1, 2013).

[243] “Humanitarian Emergency in Rakhine State, Myanmar: Greater Protection Needed for Vulnerable Communities and Threatened Staff,” Medecins San Frontieres, press statement, February 7, 2013, http://www.msf.org/msf/articles/2013/02/myanmar-humanitarian-emergency-in-rakhine-state.cfm (accessed April 10, 2013).

[244] OCHA, Humanitarian Bulletin: Myanmar, November 2012, http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/Myanmar%20Humanitarian%20Bulletin%20Issue%20November%202012.pdf (accessed April 10, 2013), p. 2.

[245] Human Rights Watch interviews with Rohingya IDPs in Sittwe Township, October and November 2012; see Human Rights Watch interview with M.P., displacement site, Arakan State, December 2012.

[246] UNOCHA, Rakhine Response Plan, http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/Revised%20Rakhine%20Response%20Plan%20%28amended%29.pdf, p. 23.

[247] UNHCR noted that, “The shelter team conducted 4 missions to Ah Nauk Ywe, Sin Tet Maw, Nget Chaung and Kyein Ni Pyin near Sittwe to plan for the distribution of 1,126 tents. The installation of tents donated by the Korean International Development Agency continues at Ohn Taw Gyi.” UNHCR Myanmar, “Rakhine State Situation Update #9,” January 30, 2012, p. 2.

[248] In December 2012, UN Resident Coordinator Ashok Nigram stated that:

The [government] response cannot be seen to be adequate within the time that we have had. ... There are issues of access to these communities that we have faced. We faced also issues in the allocation of land for putting up shelter. ... We have faced issues with communities who have been very averse to giving us access. And there is a level of discomfort that many foreign humanitarian workers feel when they go in and try to help the people in the Muslim areas. They have to go through Rakhine [Arakanese] areas, and in some areas there is a level of discomfort that is expressed to the international staff, who then feel reluctant to be able to go back and help. So that is an issue of access that we have. The government has become better in terms of allowing us to go to many of the areas in Rakhine [Arakan] but we still have administrative issues in terms of getting travel authorizations and visas on time. ... [This] doesn’t help in a situation when we have to respond urgently.

Helen Regan, “Ashok Nigam: ‘Fundamentally, everybody has a right to citizenship,’” Democratic Voice of Burma, December 13, 2012, http://www.dvb.no/interview/ashok-nigam-fundamentally-everybody-has-a-right-to-citizenship/25221 (accessed February 1, 2013).

[249] See, e.g., Jonah Fisher, “Burma’s Displaced Rohingya Suffer as Aid Blocked,” BBC News, December 13, 2012, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-20694414?print=true (accessed January 31, 2013).

[250] UNHCR reports that it has worked with the Burmese government to construct permanent housing for displaced Arakanese in Maungdaw, “with 243 houses completed by the government, UNHCR and soon, CARE.” UNHCR Myanmar, “Rakhine Situation Update #9,” January 30, 2013, p. 2.

[251] Human Rights Watch interviews with Arakanese IDPs, interviews with L.L., L.M., L.N., L.O., L.P., L.Q., L.R., M.S., M.J., M.K., M.L., M.M., Mrauk-Township, November 2012.

[252] UNHCR Myanmar, “Rakhine State Situation Update #9,” January 30, 2012, p. 2.

[253] Human Rights Watch interview with L.O., Mrauk-U Township, Arakan State, November 2012.

[254] See for example UNOCHA, Humanitarian Bulletin: Myanmar, February 2013, http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/Myanmar%20Humanitarian%20Bulletin%2C%20Issue%20February%202013.pdf (accessed April 10, 2013); UNOCHA, Rakhine Response Plan, http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/Revised%20Rakhine%20Response%20Plan%20%28amended%29.pdf (accessed April 10, 2013).

[255] See for example Human Rights Watch interview with K.M., displacement site, Arakan State, November 2012.

[256] See, e.g., OCHA, “Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement,” principle 24(2) (“Humanitarian assistance to internally displaced persons shall not be diverted, in particular for political or military reasons.”), http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/AB752ABEA5C1EFFCC1256C33002A8510-idp.html (accessed April 10, 2013); ibid. principle 25(3) (All authorities concerned shall grant and facilitate the free passage of humanitarian assistance and grant persons engaged in the provision of such assistance rapid and unimpeded access to the internally displaced.”).

[257] UNOCHA, Rakhine Response Plan, http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/Revised%20Rakhine%20Response%20Plan%20%28amended%29.pdf, p. 7.

[258] “Myanmar: Violence and Intimidation Leave Tens of Thousands Without Medical Care,” Medecins Sans Frontieres, news release, February 7, 2013, http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/press/release.cfm?id=6628 (accessed April 8, 2013).

[259] “Top UN relief official calls on Myanmar’s leaders to support humanitarian efforts,” United Nations News Centre, December 5, 2012, http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=43686&Cr=myanmar&Cr1=#.UMBNyrYY1K5 (accessed December 6, 2012).

[260] UNOCHA, Rakhine Response Plan, http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/Revised%20Rakhine%20Response%20Plan%20%28amended%29.pdf, p. 2.

[261] UNOCHA, Humanitarian Bulletin: Myanmar, February 2013, http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/Myanmar%20Humanitarian%20Bulletin%2C%20Issue%20February%202013.pdf (accessed April 10, 2013), p. 1.

[262] Human Rights Watch interview with J.Q., displacement site, Arakan State, November 2012.

[263] Human Rights Watch interview with J.R., Mrauk-U Township, Arakan State, November 2012.

[264] Human Rights Watch interview with K.M., displacement site, Arakan State, November 2012. At the time of writing, the World Food Program (WFP) had the most access of all international humanitarian agencies in the state and was providing food aid to affected populations.

[265] Human Rights Watch interview with M.O., displacement site, Arakan State, November 2012.

[266] Human Rights Watch interview with M.N., displacement site, Arakan State, November 2012.

[267] See “Humanitarian Emergency in Rakhine State, Myanmar: Greater Protection Needed for Vulnerable Communities and Threatened Staff,” Medecins San Frontieres, news release, February 7, 2013; “Myanmar: Violence and Threats Block Access to Medical Care in Rakhine State,” Medecins Sans Frontieres, news release, November 5, 2012, http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/press/release.cfm?id=6383&cat=press-release (accessed December 7, 2012).

[268] Human Rights Watch interview with M.O., displacement site, Arakan State, November 2012.

[269] Human Rights Watch interview with M.M., Sittwe, Arakan State, November 2012.

[270] Human Rights Watch interview with J.M., displacement site, Arakan State, November 2012.

[271] Human Rights Watch interview with J.P., displacement site, Arakan State, November 2012.

[272] Human Rights Watch interview with K.M., displacement site, Arakan State, November 2012.

[273] Human Rights Watch phone and email communications with international aid workers, Bangkok, Thailand, February 2013.

[274] Hannah Hindstrom, "Thousands of Displaced Rohingya Still Receive No Aid," Democratic Voice of Burma, February 8, 2013, http://www.dvb.no/news/thousands-of-displaced-rohingya-still-receive-%E2%80%98no-aid%E2%80%99/26221 (accessed February 8, 2013).

[275] Human Rights Watch interview with S.O., displacement site, Arakan State, October 2012.

[276] UNOCHA, Rakhine Response Plan, http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/Revised%20Rakhine%20Response%20Plan%20%28amended%29.pdf, p. 8.

[277] The undated pamphlet is entitled, “Beware! NGOs that came here to assist Bengali Kalars,” and is signed by a group identifying itself as Wuntharnu Ethnic People, an organization established after the violence began in June. Unofficial translation, June 2012.

[278] UNOCHA, Rakhine Response Plan, http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/Revised%20Rakhine%20Response%20Plan%20%28amended%29.pdf, p. 8.

[279] “Humanitarian Emergency in Rakhine State, Myanmar: Greater Protection Needed for Vulnerable Communities and Threatened Staff,” Medecins San Frontieres, press statement, February 7, 2013, http://www.msf.org/msf/articles/2013/02/myanmar-humanitarian-emergency-in-rakhine-state.cfm (accessed April 10, 2013).

[280] Human Rights Watch interviews with B.B., B.I., D.A., Sittwe, Arakan State, June 2012.

[281] For example, a 29-year-old Arakanese journalist in Sittwe said: “After the conflict Dr. Tun Aung was hiding in the UNHCR office [in Maungdaw]. He is not UNHCR. His daughter Mya has a high-ranking UNHCR position. He has links to al-Qaeda. In Maungdaw he is one of the main leaders in command of the people. The government arrested him.” The journalist provided no evidence to support his wholly unfounded allegation of an al-Qaeda connection. Human Rights Watch interview with B.D., Sittwe, Arakan State, June 2012; see also Human Rights Watch interviews with B.C., B.D., C.Z., C.D., C.G., C.H., Sittwe, Arakan State, June 2012.

[282] Human Rights Watch interview with C.D., Sittwe, Arakan State, June 2012.

[283] Untitled pamphlet, July 14, 2012, provided to Human Rights Watch by the Arakan Project.

[284] Human Rights Watch interview with L.M., Sittwe, Arakan State, November 2012.

[285] Human Rights Watch interview with L.L., Sittwe, Arakan State, November 2012.

[286] Ibid.

[287] Human Rights Watch conducted interviews in Rangoon Region and Mandalay Region with Arakanese and Burmese who spoke of support for the campaign against the OIC opening an office in Burma, September-November 2012.

[288] These materials were observed in Sittwe and Mrauk-U townships, October and November 2012.

[289] See, e.g., “Monks Rally in Sittwe,” Agence France Presse, October 10, 2012, http://www.dvb.no/news/monks-rally-in-sittwe-as-sectarian-tensions-intensify/24173 (accessed December 9, 2012).

[290] See, e.g., “Anti-OIC Protests Spread,” Radio Free Asia, October 12, 2012, http://www.rfa.org/english/news/burma/mandalay-10122012170823.html (accessed December 9, 2012).

[291] See, e.g., “Anti-Myanmar Rally in Myanmar Over Rohingya Aid,” Agence-France Presse, August 19, 2012, http://www.rnw.nl/english/bulletin/anti-un-rally-myanmar-over-rohingya-aid (accessed December 9, 2012).

[292] Human Rights Watch interview with L.M., Sittwe, Arakan State, November 2012.

[293] Human Rights Watch interview with L.L., Sittwe, Arakan State, November 2012.

[294] For documentation of the anti-Muslim backlash in Burma following the Taliban’s actions, see Human Rights Watch, Crackdown on Muslims, July 2002, http://www.hrw.org/legacy/backgrounder/asia/burmese_muslims.pdf (accessed April 10, 2013).

[295] “Giant Buddha Statues ‘Blown Up,’” BBC News, March 11, 2001, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/1214384.stm (accessed December 10, 2012).

[296] See “Anti-Myanmar Rally in Myanmar Over Rohingya Aid,” Agence-France Presse, August 19, 2012, http://www.rnw.nl/english/bulletin/anti-un-rally-myanmar-over-rohingya-aid (accessed December 9, 2012). This was not the case for activists who recently protested in Rangoon on September 21, 2012 against the war in Kachin State – 13 of them now face jail time for allegedly violating the peaceful assembly law by protesting without permission. Similarly, villagers and monks in Monywa, Sagaing Region, recently protested a Burmese military and Chinese-operated copper mine in Monywa that resulted in a forcible crackdown by police, injuring up to 40 protesters, including many with severe burns. See “Burma: Peaceful Protesters Charged,” Human Rights Watch, news release, October 1, 2012, http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/10/01/burma-peaceful-protest-organizers-charged (accessed March 15, 2013); “Burma: Drop Charges Against Peaceful Protesters,” Human Rights Watch, news release, January 13, 2013, http://www.hrw.org/news/2013/01/13/burma-drop-charges-against-peaceful-protesters (accessed March 15, 2013); “Burma: Investigate Violent Crackdown on Mine Protesters,” Human Rights Watch, news release, December 1, 2012, http://www.hrw.org/news/2012/12/01/burma-investigate-violent-crackdown-mine-protesters (accessed March 15, 2013).

[297] “Thein Sein prevents Islamic group from opening office in Burma,” Agence France Presse, October 15, 2012, http://www.dvb.no/news/thein-sein-prevents-islamic-group-from-opening-office-in-burma/24274 (accessed December 9, 2012).

[298] Human Rights Watch interview with J.S., displacement site, Arakan State, October 2012.

[299] Human Rights Watch interview with S.O., displacement site, Arakan State, October 2012.

[300] Human Rights Watch interview with M.O., displacement site, Arakan State, November 2012.

[301] UNOCHA, Humanitarian Bulletin: Myanmar, November 2012, http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/Myanmar%20Humanitarian%20Bulletin%20Issue%20November%202012.pdf (accessed April 10, 2013), p. 6.

[302] Northern Arakan State comprises Maungdaw, Rathedaung, and Buthidaung townships.

[303] Human Rights Watch interview with M.N., displacement site, Arakan State, November 2012.

[304] Human Rights Watch interview with L.S., displacement site, Arakan State, November 2012.

[305] Human Rights Watch interview with L.S., displacement site, Arakan State, November 2012.

[306] Ibid.

[307] Human Rights Watch interview with L.S., displacement site, Arakan State, November 2012.

[308] Human Rights Watch interview with L.S., displacement site, Arakan State, November 2012.

[309] Human Rights Watch interview with L.S., displacement site, Arakan State, November 2012.

[310] Ibid.

[311] Human Rights Watch interview with M.P., displacement site, Sittwe, Arakan State, December 2012; Email communication with international health workers in Sittwe, Arakan State, December 2, 2012.

[312] UNOCHA, Rakhine Response Plan, http://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/Revised%20Rakhine%20Response%20Plan%20%28amended%29.pdf, pp. 23-24.

[313] See for example Hannah Hindtsrom, “Arakan Segregation Takes Toll on Local Communities,” Democratic Voice of Burma, January 25, 2013. http://www.dvb.no/uncategorized/arakan-segregation-takes-toll-on-local-communities/26007 (accessed February 1, 2013).

[314] See Human Rights Watch, The Government Could Have Stopped This,pp. 34-35.

[315] Small numbers of ethnic Chin, who are predominantly Christian, also live in Sittwe and Arakan State.

[316] Ibid.

[317] Human Rights Watch interviews with displaced Kaman from Kyauk Pyu, interviews with S.M., J.K., J.L., J.O., J.P., K.L., K.R., L.S., L.J., displacement sites, Arakan State, November 2012.

[318] See Kyaw Phyo Tha, “‘Underdevelopment’ Caused Arakan Violence, Govt Says,” TheIrrawaddy, December 9, 2012, http://www.irrawaddy.org/archives/20804 (accessed December 9, 2012).

[319] Anjana Pasricha, “Aung San Suu Kyi Explains Silence on Rohingyas,” Voice of America, November 15, 2012, http://www.voanews.com/content/aung-san-suu-kyi-explains-silence-on-rohingyas/1546809.html (accessed February 1, 2013).

[320] Human Rights Watch interview with K.J., displacement site, Arakan State, November 2012.

[321] Human Rights Watch interview with J.S., displacement site, Arakan State, November 2012.

[322] Human Rights Watch interview with M.K., Mrauk-U Township, Arakan State, November 2012.

[323] Human Rights Watch interview with M.K., Mrauk-U Township, Arakan State, November 2012.

[324] Human Rights Watch interview with L.Q., Mrauk-U Township, Arakan State, November 2012.

[325] Human Rights Watch interview with J.Q., Mrauk-U Township, Arakan State, November 2012.