Rights Abuses Persist Against Burmese Muslims: Report

Posted July 20th, 2012 at 3:35 am (UTC-5)
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A leading rights groups says violence continues against Burma's ethnic Muslim minorities, six weeks after a state of emergency was declared in western Rakhine state.

Amnesty International says security forces and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists are still carrying out attacks – including rape, property destruction, and unlawful killings – against Rohingyas and other Muslims.

The government says at least 78 people have been killed in the region since late May, when longstanding tensions between the Rakhines and the Rohingyas erupted into communal violence.

Amnesty's Burma researcher Benjamin Zawacki says the state of emergency imposed June 10 has reduced sectarian clashes in some areas. But he tells VOA it has not protected Muslims against ongoing human rights violations.

“One would have expected by now a net human rights gain in terms of the restoration of order and security and the protection of people's rights. What we've found is that even as communal violence has decreased in much of the state, violence against Muslims generally and ethnic minority Rohingyas specifically has actually increased,” says Zawacki.

Zawacki says hundreds of Muslims have been arrested and held incommunicado during massive security sweeps through Rohingya areas. Most of the detained are men and young boys who were apparently targeted because of their religion.

“They're being detained on a discriminatory basis and on the grounds of their religious and ethnic affiliation,” he says. “And as such, those detained – in Amnesty's view – constitute political prisoners.”

Zawacki says such abuses erode the human rights progress made by Burma in the past year. But he points out that the political reforms have never done much to improve the situation of ethnic minorities.

“This in many ways is simply keeping with what's been the case, not only with respect to the Rohyingyas, but in other ethnic minority areas, as well,” says Zawacki. “In many ways, the human rights progress made over the past year or so has always been confined to the political and economic centers, and is not extended to the ethnic minority areas.”

Up to 90,000 people have been displaced from the unrest in Rakhine, creating a potential humanitarian crisis. But Amnesty says it is difficult to tell their condition because Burma has allowed “extremely limited” access for aid workers and international monitors.

State-run media said Friday several government officials visited Rakhine this week to monitor recovery efforts and visit displaced villagers. The New Light of Myanmar said construction was underway on rebuilding houses damaged in the unrest.

Amnesty is also calling on Burma to amend or repeal laws denying citizenship to the the technically stateless Rohingya Muslims, who the Burmese government regards as illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh.