Burmese security forces committed killings, rape, and mass arrests against Rohingya Muslims after failing to protect both them and Arakan Buddhists during deadly sectarian violence in western Burma in June 2012. Government restrictions on humanitarian access to the Rohingya community have left many of the over 100,000 people displaced and in dire need of food, shelter, and medical care.
The 56-page report, “‘The Government Could Have Stopped This’: Sectarian Violence and Ensuing Abuses in Burma’s Arakan State,” describes how the Burmese authorities failed to take adequate measures to stem rising tensions and the outbreak of sectarian violence in Arakan State. Though the army eventually contained the mob violence in the state capital, Sittwe, both Arakan and Rohingya witnesses told Human Rights Watch that government forces stood by while members from each community attacked the other, razing villages and committing an unknown number of killings.
“Burmese security forces failed to protect the Arakan and Rohingya from each other and then unleashed a campaign of violence and mass roundups against the Rohingya,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government claims it is committed to ending ethnic strife and abuse, but recent events in Arakan State demonstrate that state-sponsored persecution and discrimination persist.”
The Burmese government should take urgent measures to end abuses by their forces, ensure humanitarian access, and permit independent international monitors to visit affected areas and investigate abuses, Human Rights Watch said.
The “Government Could Have Stopped This,” is based on 57 interviews conducted in June and July with affected Arakan, Rohingya, and others in Burma and in Bangladesh, where Rohingya have sought refuge from the violence and abuses.
The violence erupted in early June after reports circulated that on May 28 an Arakan Buddhist woman was raped and killed in the town of Ramri by three Muslim men. Details of the crime were circulated locally in an incendiary pamphlet, and on June 3 a large group of Arakan villagers in Toungop stopped a bus and brutally killed 10 Muslims on board. Human Rights Watch confirmed that nearby local police and army stood by and watched but did not intervene. In retaliation, on June 8 thousands of Rohingya rioted in Maungdaw town after Friday prayers, killed an unknown number of Arakan, and destroyed considerable Arakan property. Violence between Rohingya and Arakan then swept through Sittwe and surrounding areas.
Marauding mobs from both Arakan and Rohingya communities stormed unsuspecting villages and neighborhoods, brutally killed residents, and destroyed and burned homes, shops, and houses of worship. With little to no government security present to stop the violence, people armed themselves with swords, spears, sticks, iron rods, knives, and other basic weaponry. Inflammatory anti-Muslim media accounts and local propaganda fanned the violence. Numerous Arakan and Rohingya who spoke to Human Rights Watch reached the conclusion that the authorities could have prevented the violence and the ensuing abuses could have been avoided.
A 29-year-old Arakan man and an older Rohingya man each told Human Rights Watch, separately but in the same words, “The government could have stopped this.”
The Burmese army’s presence in Sittwe eventually stemmed the violence. However, on June 12, Arakan mobs burned down the homes of up to 10,000 Rohingya and non-Rohingya Muslims in the city’s largest Muslim neighborhood while the police and paramilitary Lon Thein forces opened fire on Rohingya with live ammunition.