Wednesday, 3 April 2013

An Overview of Myanmar’s unfolding pogroms: Anti-Muslim Violence and Destruction

HRW Deputy Director for Asia Phil Robertson said extremists in the country, which is also known as Burma, have learned that they can attack Muslims and go unpunished..
"What we saw in Meiktila was police forces sitting around or standing behind various different mobs as they were attacking mosques and attacking communities. Why weren't they restoring order?" he asked.

"Why aren't they investigating to find out actually who is behind this? Who, not only committed the violent acts but also who instigated and incited people to do so?"

An op-ed in the International Herald Tribune noted, "Not one bullet was fired, not one smoke bomb was dropped as scores of Muslims were attacked and some were burnt alive in Myanmar last week. The security forces just looked on. In a country where they routinely use brute force against political dissidents, villagers who protest land grabs and even monks, their passivity was sadly revealing."
An Overview of Myanmar's unfolding pogroms: Anti-Muslim Violence and Destruction
Source Perdana4peace, 3 April

• What is the government doing as a plan to stop the violence (genocide) against the Burmese Muslims?
• What will the government do in order to rebuild their homes and mosques and reviving their livelihoods?
• Why have federal, state and local governments manifestly failed to protect Muslim citizens of Myanmar?
Anti Muslim leaflets and pamphlets have been spreading throughout Myanmar since the escalation of the violence in Rakhine state that began in June last year (2012). During the period of the 20th to 28th of March 2013, 28 Mosques were burned down and thousands of Muslim homes destroyed by so-called "Buddhist" extremists.

This is not a communal conflict – this is an attack against Muslim people, Myanmar's pogroms.

With no exception, the violence was overwhelmingly committed by the well-organized "Buddhist" mobs against Muslim families and communities, including children and babies. According to the UN, since the anti-Muslim violence erupted on 20 March the resultant displaced victims are estimated to be about 12,000, and the majority of them are Burmese Muslims.

The attackers often use the slogan and logo of 969 which is a corruption of Buddhist teachings, incompatible with the Buddhist message of universal loving kindness.

Dr. Maung Zarni of the London School of Economics, describes the 969 group as

Burmese men in monks' robes, who have been using Hitlerian tactics of e-mongering as they spread Islamophobia – they are Buddhist neo-Nazis.

The attacks started in Meiktila, which had a long-standing and thriving Muslim community, and spread to other towns in Mandalay Division and Western Pegu Division. Thirteen towns were attacked and mosques and Muslim property were destroyed; 13,000 people were forced to flee from Meiktila alone.

We estimate that 70 to 100 Muslim were killed during these anti-Muslim attacks. According to information collected on the ground, the state authorities and security forces present neither took adequate action nor provided leadership to try to stop the violence. According to eye witnesses, the attackers launched their assaults in full view of the police. The attackers were not local – they were brought in from outside and functioned as well organized mobs. There are multiple reports that in some areas, the attackers drove bulldozers during the assaults, which they used to maximize the destruction of houses and mosques.

The Wall Street Journal, 26 March 2013, expressed the following concerns:

As many as 10% of the 60 million people living in Myanmar are Muslim, a relatively small number. Analysts such as Maung Zarni, a visiting fellow at the London School of Economics, worry that Buddhist nationalist extremists are using old animosities to gain leverage in the new Myanmar that is emerging after the army ceded power to a nominally civilian administration in 2011—and that this could badly destabilize a geographically significant country courted by both China and the U.S

On March 28, President Thein Sein appeared on television in a national address regarding the violence in Meiktila. He said that "political opportunists and religious extremists" were behind the riots. He affirmed his "…commitment to individual freedoms, civil liberties for all and democracy" and emphasized "finding common ground to coexist peacefully while upholding our democratic ideals." He claimed that, "All perpetrators of violence will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law."

The President made a similar claim regarding the Rakhine violence last year. Yet the perpetrators of the violence against Muslims in Rakhine State have not been brought to justice. Peace has not get been restored and impunity to cause numerous forms of harm to Burmese Muslims across the country continues.

As a matter of fact, the quasi-civilian government and security forces have decades of experience and significant expertise in information gathering and highly skilled intelligence staff.

A most deeply disturbing aspect of the pogroms is the reported involvement of the State's institutions, especially the law enforcement agencies including local civil administrations, security forces and the military.

Quoting the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Burma human rights Tomas Ojea Quintana, the Oslo-based Democratic Voice of Burma and wire news agencies s such reported thus:

"I have received reports of State involvement in some of the acts of violence," Tomas Ojea Quintana said in a statement.

He also pointed to "instances where the military, police and other civilian law enforcement forces have been standing by while atrocities have been committed before their very eyes, including by well organised ultra-nationalist Buddhist mobs.

"This may indicate direct involvement by some sections of the State or implicit collusion and support for such actions."

Similarly, in a 29-March-dated essay entitled Kristallnacht in Myanmar, the New York Times unearthed the fact that the violence against the Muslims in Meikhtila took place, un-obstructed, in the presence of Myanmar security troops. The Times reporter wrote:

When on Thursday I asked a junior police officer in Meiktila how all of this could have happened in the presence of government forces, he said, with distinct unease: "We received an order to do nothing but extinguish fires. Obedience is more important than anything else in our service."

This raises some serious questions about Thein Sein government's commitment to protect vulnerable religious minorities, most specifically the Muslims.

  1. Why, nine months on from the violence in Rakhine State, have Buddhist extremist groups that preach and perpetrate violence against Muslims, including those responsible for the attacks in Rakhine State and members of 969, not been identified?
  2. Why have their members not been arrested?
  3. Why have they been allowed to continue with their campaign to disseminate verifiably malicious mis-information about the Burmese Muslims among the Buddhist majority?

Many other questions also remain unanswered, such as, how did the attackers gain access to bulldozers?

Who owns them? Who trained the attackers to drive them? In Myanmar, it is not easy for regular civilians to secure use of such equipment.

Why are power and phone lines – both under the government's direct control – typically cut off in the targeted Muslim neighborhoods before the violent attacks?

This is not communal or sectarian conflict between Buddhist majority and Muslim minorities: it is series of one-sided, targeted violent and often lethal attacks against, their properties and businesses, which occur under the purview of sta te authorities – in other words, the Myanmar pogroms.

It is not only concerns over the prevailing climate of impunity that exist regarding the anti-Muslim attacks, but we also have legitimate concerns regarding support for victims and respect for the rights of Muslims to return to their homes and rebuild their properties and lives. As the recent Human Rights Watch report emphasized, there is reportedly a Myanmar government policy regarding humanitarian aid to Muslims in Rakhine State as well as their long-term segregation:

(Press Release) Human Rights Watch: Rohingya Muslims Face Humanitarian Crisis

Fears of Long-Term Segregation of Displaced Population
(Bangkok, March 27, 2013) – The Burmese government is systematically restricting humanitarian aid and imposing discriminatory policies on Rohingya Muslims in Arakan State, Human Rights Watch said today. The government should permit unfettered access to humanitarian agencies to provide assistance to Muslim populations, end segregated areas, and put forward a plan for those displaced to return to their homes.

Burmese government restrictions on aid to Rohingya Muslims are creating a humanitarian crisis that will become a disaster when the rainy season arrives," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Instead of addressing the problem, Burma's leaders seem intent on keeping the Rohingya segregated in camps rather than planning for them to return to their homes.

It is vital that immediate action is taken to assist the victims of the anti-Muslim attacks that have occurred since March 20th throughout Myanmar. Thousands of people are now in serious need of immediate humanitarian assistance including shelter, medicine, clean water, food and protection from violent uprisings. Until now, there has been inadequate intervention by the either the military or the government to protect vulnerable communities and victims. There are wide-spread reports of inadequate policing and inadequate assistance to the victims.

The national government is not supplying adequate protection, and the assistance of international agencies is critical to save lives. These attacks follow a precedent of anti-Muslim incidents in Myanmar, and are a clear violation of human rights.

Crisis Timeline:
March 20th – 22nd

  • In the city of Meiktila, Mandalay Division, anti-Muslim attacks and riots led to the destruction of hundreds of buildings and homes, vehicles and motorcycles, and Mosques. People were brutally beaten, attacked with machetes and burnt in the streets. It is estimated that 50 people were left dead after this incident. The murders include 28 children and 4 teachers taken from an Islamic School on March 21st. The security forces in the area did not protect the school, despite requests from Muslim organizations. There are now about 13,000 refugees in the area, many are seeking refuge in camps in Meiktila. Refugees are left without communication lines and are running out of food and water.

March 22nd

  • Reports of violence from many towns including Yamethin and Lewei close to the capital Naypidaw. Also, there have been attacks in 3 townships in the Bago region.

March 25th

  • Anti-Muslim attacks reported in Pyay, Myanmar. Distribution of anti-Muslim propaganda including leaflets, anti-Muslim preaching in surrounding villages which a witness reports were played on loudspeakers distributed by a military truck. Muslims in this area were also threatened and told not to resist the destruction of their mosques or they would be in danger.
  • Ywe Su village in Tat Kon, Nay Payi Taw was attacked. There was a Mosque and 20 Muslim houses in this village.

March 26th

  • In Kyopinkauk near Pegu, Muslim houses, shops, a Mosque and a religious school were attacked. There were approximately 400 Muslims in this town and 150 Muslim houses.

March 27th

  • In Oak Kan, north of Yangon, "969" Buddhist monks were preaching anti-Muslim messages daily; the citizens fear attacks as there have been threats to Muslims in the area. Some attackers have threatened to burn the Panipin village which is a Muslim area.
  • In Minhla, Pegu Division 3 mosques were destroyed as well as Muslim owned houses, a cafĂ© and a bicycle shop. About 500 rioters came with weapons from Gone Su, Zigone Myo Thit. A mob raided Sit Kwin and destroyed properties. There were 3 mosques and about 100 Muslim houses in Minhla.
  • In Zigon, Pegu Division, about 500 rioters destroyed a Mosque and many houses.
  • In Patigone, Pegu Division, attackers destroyed Muslim houses.

March 28th

  • MoeNyo, Pegu Division. A Mosque was attacked.

April 2nd

  • An arson attack on the mosque on the 48th Street in Rangoon that resulted in the death of 13 Madrasa students. Government quick to announce the fire was the result of poor electrical wiring in the mosque while eyewitnesses saw people lobbing petrol-bombs into the building.

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