Hoping to mute international criticism, Burma dissolved a unit of the state security forces that had long abused ethnic Rohingya Muslims and failed to stop attacks on the Rohingya by ethnic Arakanese Buddhists during the violence that wracked Burma’s western Arakan State last year. Yet the replacement security forces are also failing to protect Rohingya.
The government’s disbanding in July of the notorious Na Sa Ka militia (officially the Border Area Immigration Control Headquarters), a composite unit of customs, immigration, police, and military personnel that operated only in Arakan State’s border regions, appears to be a laudable step towards government control of forces tasked with securing an estimated 180,000 Rohingya and other Muslims who were displaced during the 2012 sectarian violence.
Just in June, the Na Sa Ka were involved in shootings of unarmed protesters, including three women, demonstrating in a camp for internally displaced persons.
The Na Sa Ka were replaced by Combat Police Battalion No. 2, a paramilitary unit of the national police force that has proceeded to commit abuses against the Rohingya since the switch. On August 9, police personnel shot into crowds of Rohingya protesters in two incidents in camps, killing at least two people. This followed the alleged extrajudicial killing of another camp resident.
Especially vulnerable are residents of Aung Mingalar, a neighborhood in Arakan State’s capital, Sittwe, where nearly 7,000 Muslims have been contained by an outer cordon of police and an inner security line of army units, since the June 2012 violence.
The security reordering was apparently meant to make clear formerly opaque chains of command, and potentially decrease police and military abuses. Yet police units report to the minister of home affairs and the minister of border affairs – both army officers with constitutionally guaranteed posts and immunity from civilian prosecution and oversight.
International assistance to reform Burma’s corrupt and brutal police force is increasing. But the recent shootings demonstrate that institutionalized abuse by Burmese security forces continues, despite the dissolution of one agency. The government has a long way to go in resolving the humanitarian disaster faced by the Rohingya in Arakan State.