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How can Burma halt the spread of religious violence?

Photo Reuters 
By DVB News
November 28, 2013
 
More than 200 people have died and 140,000 have been displaced in religious violence over the last year and a half.
The violence started in Arakan state in June 2012 between Arakanese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims. Although many Arakanese Buddhists lost their homes, the majority of the victims were Muslims. Then in Meikhtila last March, mobs of Buddhists torched Muslim homes, businesses and mosques in anti-Muslim violence that spread to other cities all over the country.
Amid intensifying religious tensions in Burma, DVB Debate’s final episode of the season discusses how to end religious violence.


In one of the liveliest debates on the show so far, panelists and guests plea for more law enforcement against hate speech and discrimination.

The three-person panel consists of: Buddhist monk from the Saffron Monks Network, Pandavimsa from Shwe Taung Monastery; High Court lawyer Kyaw Nyein; and Buddhist monk and leader of the anti-OIC protests in Rangoon, Parmaukkha of Magwe Monastery.
Pandavimsa called for stronger law enforcement to deter rabble-rousers.
“The weakness in law enforcement and administration gives the troublemakers their opportunities,” he said.
“The source of these problems is the incitement of racial hatred,” said High Court Attorney Kyaw Nyein.
He went on to say that ignorance of the law was not an excuse.
Buddhist monk Parmaukka suggested lawmakers should work together to create suitable laws in order to end the violence.
“If religious leaders and magistrates work together towards an agreement and submit a legal proposal to parliament, these conflicts will cease,” he said.
But Dave Mathieson from Human Rights Watch argued that proper enforcement of those laws would be more effective.
“It’s not enough just to have a law – you actually have to have the law enforced,” he said.
“You have to have the police force and the courts to actually enforce and punish people who create hatred and who perpetrate violence against different religions.”
Presenter Than Win Htut asks if the media could be blamed for escalating violence. Soe Thiha, a journalist from Pyi Myanmar Journal, said that government-run media use derogatory terms for Muslims like “Kalar” to report criminal stories, sparking more hatred. He said most independent media avoid these derogatory terms but agrees some journalists use them to gain popularity with the majority and admits some reporters are extreme nationalists.
In the longer debate, Soe Naing from the Democracy and Human Rights Party said if the government accepts Muslims as citizens of the country the problem will be solved.
Parmaukkha disagreed. “They are not accepted because Muslims don’t respect Burma’s laws and they sneak into the country as illegal migrants,” he said.
One of the leaders of the anti-OIC protests, he insisted the issue is not about human rights but about being true to the country.
Parmaukkha brought up the issue of underage and forced marriage.
“Some religions force underage women into marriage and forcibly convert them,” he said.
But Kyaw Nyein rebutted that underage marriage ended a long time ago in Burma, and said the creation of such misinformation has led to distrust between religious communities.
“Misinformation such as blaming one religious group for all rape cases has led to this conflict, he said .”