Sunday, July 29, 2012

US State Department, rights groups speak out against ongoing violence in Myanmar

The Turkish Humanitarian Aid Foundation distributes food to displaced Muslims who have fled Myanmar. (Photo: AA)
26 July 2012 / ALÄ° H. ASLAN , WASHINGTON
The US State Department as well as US-based human rights organizations have spoken out against ethnic violence in Myanmar, where thousands of Rohingya Muslims are being targeted.
Rights groups say Rohingya Muslims, who live in the coastal Rakhine (Arakan) area where the Myanmar government announced a state of emergency in June, are increasingly being hit with attacks which have included killings, rape and physical abuse. Rights groups say both locals and security forces have carried out attacks against the Rohingya, who are denied citizenship by the government, which considers them illegal settlers from Bangladesh. Noel Clay, a spokesperson for the US State Department, told Today's Zaman that the US is watching the ethnic tension closely, adding that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged the Myanmar government to end the ethnic violence on a recent visit to the country.

“The United States continues to monitor ethnic and sectarian tensions in Burma's Rakhine State. During Secretary Clinton's recent meeting with Burmese President Thein Sein on July 13, she urged the Burmese government to reach a peaceful resolution as soon as possible. We continue to urge authorities to investigate the violent attacks that have occurred in Rakhine State and to bring those responsible to justice in a timely manner and in accordance with due process,” Clay said.

He also said a regional advisor for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) had recently traveled to the affected areas in west Myanmar to participate in a joint assessment of humanitarian conditions being carried out by the UN, donors and civil society groups.

Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch (HRW) deputy Asia director, said the HRW will soon release a report on the violence against the Rohingya. “Historically, there have been severe abuses against the Muslim Rohingya in Arakan state -- they are effectively stateless because of their exclusion under the 1982 Citizenship Act and, as a result, have been subjected to restrictions on movement, the right to marry and have a family and faced forcible expropriation of land and property and requirements to do forced labor. Since the sectarian violence which took place in June 2012, local security forces known as the nasaka [an amalgamated force of army, police, immigration and customs officials that operate in Arakan state] and the police have been engaged in violent sweeps and arbitrary, mass arrests of Rohingya that they suspect were involved in the violence. Hundreds have disappeared into detention and an unknown fate.”

Robertson noted that both sides -- the Buddhist Arakan and Muslim Rohingya -- were responsible for the violence at the outset, from June 8-12, but said: “However, since June 12, we've seen increasing retaliation and reprisals against the Rohingya, conducted by local security forces with impunity. For that, the national government of Burma is ultimately responsible, and they should take immediate steps to restrain local security forces in Arakan state, impartially investigate the violence, and permit international human rights observers and humanitarians into all corners of Arakan state.”
He said to ease the situation the UN must continue delivering assistance to the estimated 90,000 displaced persons inside Arakan state. “The international community should press the Burmese government to allow that assistance, and equally importantly, to permit access to international observers, journalists and others who can witness what is happening in Arakan state and report to the world where human rights abuses are being perpetrated. Bangladesh, which borders Arakan state, should end its policy of cruelly pushing back Rohingya refugees trying to flee violence and persecution, and let them enter and receive temporary protection.”

The international community must speak out, he finally noted, adding that Burmese President Sein's suggestion that the 800,000 Rohingya all be put in camps or sent to a third country should be condemned “roundly and thoroughly.”

USCIRF pleased with OIC involvement

“Continued ethnic violence is unacceptable and is the most pernicious threat to Burma's reformist path,” said United States Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Chair Katrina Lantos-Swett. "Burma's leaders and the international community should call for an end to the violence against Rohingya, particularly during the holy month of Ramadan." "USCIRF has always stated that sanctions targeting Burmese leaders should remain -- in part, because of the religious freedom violations experienced by Burmese Muslims," said Lantos-Swett. "In the past we have also raised this issue with OIC [Organization of Islamic Cooperation] officials, urging the organization's intervention on behalf of the Rohingya. We are pleased that the OIC and other countries are now speaking out on this issue."

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