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    Patterns of impunity and deceit in Myanmar

    The Rohingya Muslim minority in
    Myanmar continues to suffer from violent attacks [Reuters]   
    By Emanuel Stoakes
    Junuary 27, 2014

    A UN supervised investigation is
    needed before more atrocities are committed against the Rohingya Muslims.
    Yet another deadly attack on Myanmar‘s
    persecuted Rohingya minority made the
    news 
    recently, this time taking place in the village of Du
    Chee Ya Tan, Rakhine state, not far from the border with Bangladesh. It is the
    latest in a series of incidents over the past 18 months in which the nation’s
    Muslim community in general, and the predominantly Muslim Rohingya in
    particular, have experienced violence at the hands of Buddhist mobs.
    I consulted reliable NGO sources and
    interviewed witnesses shortly after the event hit the news in order to assemble
    a picture of what may have happened. Brutal acts of slaughter were perpetrated,
    so I was told, in retaliation for the killing of a policeman by the villagers,
    which occurred after eight Rohingya women had been allegedly kidnapped, killed
    and subsequently disposed of with the aid of a local ethnic Rakhine official.
    Harrowing claims of rape, murder and
    mutilation reported in the Rohingya media were variously corroborated and
    denied, off-the-record, by independent monitors, although one particularly
    well-placed source informed me that he could confirm that “people were…
    bound and executed en masse.”
    At the time of writing, what exactly
    happened in the village is still unclear; hopefully, the full facts will emerge
    soon. Despite such uncertainty, one thing that all those, whom I consulted,
    verified was that members of the “Hlon Thein” riot police and army
    were present when the attack on Du Chee Ya Tan took place, apparently
    letting it happen before their eyes.
    This allegation should concern anyone
    who recognises human rights, as it appears to represent yet another example of
    selective tolerance of slaughter by state forces in a run of disturbing
    incidents.
    Persisting violence
    In June and October 2012, two
    outbreaks of sectarian violence resulted in the death of hundreds; whole
    neighbourhoods were razed to the ground making more than 140,000 people homeless;
    the Rohingya were the principal victims. According to Human Rights Watch, the
    group were subjected to crimes
    against humanity
     undertaken as part of a campaign of ethnic
    cleansing. While those judged chiefly responsible for the abuses were local
    political and religious organisations opposed to the Rohingya, state forces
    weredeemed complicit and
    implicated in some of the worst atrocities.
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    In March 2013, a dispute at a gold
    shop in the town of
    Meiktila
     in central Myanmar sparked a riot which led to
    sectarian violence and resulted in mob attacks on Muslims. This left mosques,
    shops and whole neighbourhoods eviscerated by fire. Children from a madrassa were
    burnt alive 
    and Muslims were filmed being brutallyattacked in front of the
    police
     who watched without intervening.
    Later in the same year Muslim
    properties were subjected to arson and members of the religious minority were
    reportedly assaulted in front of Burmese authorities ina further two
    states at least
    . The government has not yet prosecuted a single
    member of the security forces despite the existence of considerable
    evidence
    of wrongdoing.
    Another incident that preceded the
    events at Du Chee Ya Tan conforms to a similarly alarming pattern, likewise one
    that, at this stage, cannot be easily dismissed as coincidental: Buddhist monks
    from the extremist anti-Muslim 969 movement visited the nearby city of Maungdaw
    not long before the violence broke out, reportedly encouraging ethnic
    hatred. According to the
    Associated Press
    , they gave “sermons by loudspeaker
    advocating the expulsion of all Rohingya”.
    It is a matter of documented fact
    that visits by 969 proponents preceded many major anti-Muslim attacks in towns
    across the country, undoubtedly heightening existing tensions. This was
    definitely the case in Lashio,
    and Thandwe;
    in Meiktila, weeks before the violence broke out, leaflets were circulated
    among the Buddhist clergy that claimed Muslims
    were part of a Saudi conspiracy to cause trouble in the town.
    Prior to violence in Rakhine state in
    October 2012, Buddhist groups openly advocated the ethnic cleansing
    of Muslims
    .
    A state of denial and impunity
    The state has solidly defended both
    the security apparatus and the Buddhist priesthood, the two entities allegedly
    linked to the atrocities, against international criticism and allowed them to
    continue to act with impunity. Despite the existence of laws proscribing
    religious hate speech, the government has done essentially nothing to halt the
    activities of the 969 movement, even as the anti-Muslim rhetoric of the group’s
    spiritual leader Ashin Wirathu has grown more and more provocative. Instead,
    the president himself, among other senior politicians, has publicly lent
    the demagogic monk his support
    .
    Maintaining past form, when news
    broke of the events in Du Chee Ya Tan, Naypyidaw issued a stern denial that a
    massacre had taken place. Hmuu Zaw, spokesman for President Thein Sein tweeted:
    #Myanmargovt
    has strongly rejected that mob kills more than dozen muslims, news from#AP .
    And warned that false news fuelling conflict.”
    The deputy information minister, Ye
    Htut, told the press:
    “We have no information on killings.” He latersuggested that
    the reports of violence may have been an attempt by the Rohingya to cover up
    the murder of a police officer.
    Reading these statements, redolent of
    desperation as they seemed, it was difficult to resist the suspicion that such
    denials were prompted by the fact that the state risked being implicated in an
    atrocity.
    What made it even harder to take such
    statements seriously was their similarity to past government declarations that
    evinced blatant, inciteful, anti-Rohingya bias.During the first outbreak of
    anti-Rohingya violence in June, Zaw announcedon
    Facebook that “Rohingya terrorists” had crossed the border into
    Rakhine state, adding “we will eradicate them until the end!. …We don’t
    want to hear any… any talk of justice nor want anyone to teach us like a
    saint.” The comment provoked outrage and was later removed by the author.
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    Story – Myanmar: Can the religious violence be ended?
    Ye Htut’s invocation of Rohingya
    conspiracy over this latest event was followed by a report in the
    state-run paper “The New Light of Myanmar”
     which
    was headlined “AP, Irrawaddy falsely reports violence occurred in Rakhine
    State.”
    Articles published during the pogroms
    in 2012 by government-controlled media placed the blame
    for the violence in Rakhine state on Rohingya “terrorists”
    .
    Such behaviour, all of it on record,
    appears to contradict Naypyidaw’s attempts to present itself as a neutral party
    in relation to the religious violence in the country and public claims of
    committed peace-promotion.
    The need for accountability
    While the last year-and-a-half’s
    spate of anti-Muslim assaults may well be an organic by-product of Myanmar’s
    reforms, as has been argued cogently by some,
    the trends outlined above nonetheless beg for closer scrutiny, not least
    because they point toward apparent government disregard or even tacit
    acquiescence to persisting crimes which they say they wish to halt.
    This is particularly so in the
    context of the ongoing ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, who, experts have
    judged to be at serious risk of genocide
    , in no small part due
    to state policy, which reflects a long-running, unconcealed contempt for the
    minority.
    While probity of these issues is
    urgently required, it will be difficult to have faith in any potential internal
    reviews commissioned by Naypyidaw; rather, it is high time that a full
    investigation be undertaken under the authority of the United Nations.
    The need for all this is, in my view,
    self-evident; the question remains: Will Myanmar’s new international friends
    have the courage to call for this before more monstrous crimes and vapid
    denials come to pass?
    Emanuel Stoakes is a freelance
    journalist and researcher whose principal area of interest is human rights and
    conflict. He has produced work for Al Jazeera, The Guardian, The Daily
    Telegraph, The Independent, The New Statesman and Souciant Magazine, among
    others. 
    Follow him on Twitter: @EmanuelStoakes
    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not
    necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.