Attacks and arson in late October by ethnic Arakanese against Rohingya Muslims in Burma’s Arakan State were at times carried out with the support of state security forces and local government officials, Human Rights Watch said Saturday.
New satellite imagery obtained by Human Rights Watch shows extensive destruction of homes and other property in the predominantly Rohingya Muslim areas of Pauktaw, Mrauk-U, and Myebon townships, all sites of violence and displacement in late October 2012.
Rohingya and Arakanese residents of Pauktaw and Mrauk-U townships described to Human Rights Watch the sectarian attacks and arson that occurred in those areas on October 23 and 24, which in some cases involved state security forces. Similar violence between Arakanese Buddhists and Rohingya and non-Rohingya Muslims, also involving state security forces, occurred in seven other townships in late October.
US President Barack Obama is scheduled to make a one-day visit to Rangoon on November 19 to meet with Burmese President Thein Sein and opposition leaders.“President Obama should make clear to the Burmese president that the attacks on the Rohingya need to stop if the Burma government wants to avoid renewed sanctions and the suspension of renewed military-to-military dialogues with the United States,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “This is crunch time because Burma’s failure to contain sectarian violence in Arakan State and hold accountable those responsible calls into question the Burmese government’s stated goal of becoming a rights-respecting, multi-ethnic state.”
In satellite images of four townships in Arakan State that experienced violence in late October and in the state capital, Sittwe, which experienced violence in June, Human Rights Watch identified a total of 4,855 destroyed structures. These images show zones of documented destruction covering 348 acres of largely residential areas predominantly home to Rohingya Muslims who have since fled and to Kaman Muslims in Kyauk Pyu.
The images, which were captured on November 3 and 8, are not exhaustive and reflect damages in only five of the thirteen townships that have experienced violence in Arakan State since June.Rohingya from Pauktaw now at camps near Sittwe told Human Rights Watch that for weeks they faced hostile Arakanese mobs, sometimes led by Buddhist monks, who threatened violence against them and anyone else found selling or providing the Rohingya with food or other assistance. They said they repeatedly notified local authorities of these threats, but insufficient action was taken. In late October, just prior to the violence, Rohingya were called to a series of community meetings held by local Arakanese members of a nationalist political party and local government officials apparently aimed at convincing the local Muslim population to abandon their homes.
On October 23, when boats filled with several hundred armed Arakanese descended on the riverside Rohingya villages in Pauktaw, the Rohingya fled, fearing for their lives, and their villages were razed.
Displaced Rohingya and Kaman Muslims told Human Rights Watch that some members of the state security forces provided them temporary protection at various points in late October – for example by firing shots in the air to fend off hostile Arakanese mobs, or by providing water and food to their boatloads afloat offshore who were being denied permission to come ashore in Sittwe. But these instances of protection were offset by violence committed against the Rohingya and Kaman by other groups of security forces. For example, on October 26, soldiers from Nasaka, a government border guard force under the command of the army, severely beat dozens of displaced Rohingya who had clambered off boats on to the shores near Sittwe.
The new satellite imagery shows near 100 percent destruction of Yan Thei village in Mrauk-U Township. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that Arakanese mobs armed with swords, spears, homemade guns, bows and arrows, and other weapons descended on the village on October 23, and fighting ensued. The Rohingya were ultimately surrounded and overwhelmed, and survivors fled by land to an area outside the village. Gruesome casualties were sustained on both sides, including beheadings and killings of women and children.
After October’s violence, there are now more than 110,000 internally displaced persons in Arakan State, nearly all Rohingya Muslims. “People are still coming every day,” a displaced Rohingya near Baw Du Ba displaced person camp told Human Rights Watch.