(Bangkok) – Burma’s national government should immediately and impartially investigate reports of sectarian killings in western Burma, Human Rights Watch said today.
Violence primarily by ethnic Arakanese Buddhists against Rohingya Muslims in Du Chee Yar Tan village in the Maungdaw township of Arakan State resulted in an least four dozen deaths, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The violence began on January 9, 2014, when Arakanese villagers attacked and killed eight Rohingya who were allegedly being smuggled through the area, which is close to the Bangladesh border. The UN reported that on January 13, Rohingya villagers captured and killed a police sergeant, after which local police and Arakanese attacked and killed at least 40 Rohingya men, women, and children. Humanitarian organizations have said that they have treated a number of Rohingya from the area who had gunshot, knife, and machete wounds.
“The Burmese authorities need to promptly and transparently investigate this deadly violence, prosecute those responsible, and ensure aid gets to those in need,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “Official discrimination against the Rohingya population and impunity for past abuses has created a fertile ground for new atrocities to take place.”
Villagers from Du Chee Yar Tan fled after the attacks. The authorities have prevented the media from going to the area, making reporting difficult. The situation around Du Chee Yar Tan remains tense.
Reports received by Human Rights Watch say that police authorities have orally issued a blanket order permitting the arrest of all Rohingya men and boys over the age of 10 in the area. In the event such an order has been issued, it should be rescinded immediately and authorities should act to ensure the safety of the entire population in the area.
The government’s immediate response to reports of the killings suggested that they were not being taken seriously. Last week, Ye Htut, the President’s Office spokesman, dismissed initial reports of the violence. A visit to the area by Arakan State authorities and police commanders on January 22 also denied the extent of the violence.
Human Rights Watch’s investigations into violence in Arakan State in June and October 2012 found evidence that security forces and members of Arakanese groups committed crimes against humanity in a campaignof “ethnic cleansing.” More than 180,000 Rohingya remain internally displaced today and many others have fled the country. A government-appointed commission conducted an inquiry and released its findings in April 2013. Those findings failed to address accountability for the violence and most of the commission’s other recommendations have also not been implemented.
President Thein Sein and national-level security officials should take immediate steps to prevent further violence, including by deploying security forces under national government command and control.
The national government should order local-level authorities to lift all restrictions on the rights of the Rohingya community, including on freedom of movement, employment, religion, marriage, and access to health care. It should also immediately lift restrictions on access by UN and other international humanitarian agencies to the area to provide urgently needed humanitarian assistance, as called for by senior UN officials.
“Official denials of violence send the message to abusive local authorities that attacks against Rohingya will be ignored,” Robertson said. “The national government should take control of the situation and ensure security and protection of rights in an impartial manner, with a priority on preventing violence.”