What is happening against Muslims in Burma?

By Fayas Ahmed

The recent anti-Muslim violence in Mandalay that claimed two dead and many injured, in addition to colossal damages to the Muslim properties, has caused growing fear and consternation amongst the country’s Muslim communities. Round the clock senses of utter insecurity and abject haplessness on the part of the Muslims are prevalent in this holy month of Ramadan. Of the two dead one was a Buddhist named U Tun Tun and the other a Muslim namely U Soe Min alias Mohamed Noor. Both of them were killed by Buddhists. U Soe Min was attacked and killed in the early morning while he was going to mosque for morning payer, according to a local Muslim named U Hla Myint (not real name) on condition of anonymity. As usual, the tragic violence against the Muslims in Mandalay was pre-planned where the authorities were implicit. It was started on 1 July and continued for three days following the spread of false rumors and fabricated information on the social media that a Buddhist woman working at the Sun Cafe was raped by two Muslim brothers, who were owners of the shop. Police just stood by when the Buddhist mobs consisting of extremist monks rampaged the Muslim quarters and properties. The extremist Buddhists chanted slogan that they would eliminate all Muslims of the country. Nonetheless, according to AFP, state media reported on July 20, “Myanmar’s latest religious clashes began after a Buddhist woman was paid in make false rape claims against two Muslim brothers of the state”.

Since military rule in Burma, Muslims have occasionally been made scapegoats to divert the attention of the public away from political and economic crisis in the country. One of the common designs invented is ‘rape of Buddhist woman by Muslim man’. Now the question is in case of a rape or any offence committed by anyone, it is the responsibility of the government to maintain law and order situation by rule of law. Every action taken against an offense must conform to the law and it must be carried out by legal and competent authorities. Nobody is above the law. No person how powerful he/she may be can take the law in his/her own hand.

The government utterly fails to handle the situation and it has been, in fact, largely ignored which encourages the extremists to further their criminal activities against the helpless and defenseless Muslim minority communities in Burma.  The current situation is very woeful and dangerous for the Muslims.  Anytime, Buddhist extremists can ignite the fire of violence again against the Muslims, obviously under the tutelage of the government, particularly when there has been roar in the country demanding amendments to the constitution allowing Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to contest for presidency in general elections next year.

A Rohingya community leader from Maungdaw said preferring not to be named, “There is no religious freedom in Burma and the Rohingyas of Arakan State, in particular, cannot perform prayers and other religious duties in this holy month of Ramadan. Since June 2012, massacres or genocidal onslaughts against Rohingya and Kaman Muslims occurred and reoccurred in Arakan and many mosques have been burnt down while lots of the remaining mosques have been locked by the government prohibiting the Muslims and Rohingyas to practice their religious duties”

It may be mentioned that tragic violence in Arakan State in 2012 were carried out with similar pattern of allegation of rape of a Buddhist woman by three Muslim men. But it was proved false, without evidence, especially when the principal accused was declared to have committed suicide in police custody. In addition, the court process was closed to public and the rest two suspects were quickly imprisoned.

An elder from Sittwe (Akyab) refugee camp said, “In this holy month of Ramadan, Muslims are expecting a peaceful fasting. But the situation of the Rohingya refugees in squalid, apartheid like displacement camps is appalling with no proper shelter, adequate food, drinking water and sanitation. They are dying of hunger, malnutrition and diseases and have no access to education and medical care. The worst scenario is that all the INGOs and NGOs helping the needy Rohingyas were forced to quit Arakan and those who are later allowed by the government to restart operations are severely restricted causing great humanitarian disaster to the Rohingya IDPs.”

In a radio speech on 7 July, President Thein Sein stated that his government would not tolerate any hate speeches and disturbances and vowed to take severe action against    those who intentionally spread hate speech and caused the riots regardless of their race or religion. Immediately after the Mandalay violence, the government arrested some people who violated the curfew. As a matter of fact, the president has spoken against hate speech at least four times since taking office. But until now no action has been taken against those who triggered off the violence. Whereas the government had unduly arrested some Muslims, including an Imam of a mosque, on suspicion, still the firebrand monk Wirathu is delivering anti-Muslim hate speeches without let or hindrance. This suggests that the government is behind the violence.

In the name of reform the world leaders are rewarding President Thein Sein and are busy talking about their investments with Burmese government. These premature gestures have encouraged the quasi-military government to undermine the democratic reforms with grave violations of human rights. The ethnic minorities and the Rohingya in particular are facing ethnic-cleansing and genocide. Yet, the powerful countries are unwilling to set benchmark that atrocity crimes against Rohingya are not acceptable, in the interest of human rights and democracy in Burma. It is to be noted that violations of human rights and democracy cannot go together.

The extent of sufferings of the Rohingya people are amply known to the United Nation and international community. There is no change of attitude of the Thein Sein government towards Rohingya people. Without national protection or domestic protection the Rohingya have to continue facing atrocity crimes until they are completely wiped out. Now the responsibility to protect them weighs on the international community under the emerging international principle of “responsibility to protect”.

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