For Immediate Release
PHR today released a report detailing the organized attacks against Muslims that took place in central Burma in late March and resulted in the killing of at least 20 children and four teachers.
The report provides evidence that state authorities, who idly stood by watching the events unfold, are complicit in these crimes. The rights group also issued policy recommendations for addressing anti-Muslim violence on the day Burmese President Thein Sein is scheduled to attend an historic meeting with President Obama in Washington, DC.
“President Obama must use this occasion to persuade Burma’s leader that the only path from tyranny to democracy is through the promotion and respect of human rights,” said Richard Sollom, the report’s lead author and PHR’s director of emergencies. “One concrete step toward this goal is for President Thein Sein to support an independent investigation into these killings, bring perpetrators to justice, and speak out forcefully against ongoing anti-Muslim violence.”
The report released today, “Massacre in Central Burma: Muslim Students Terrorized and Killed in Meiktila,” details the results of an investigation into the March 20 and 21 attacks on Muslim students, teachers, and residents in the Mingalar Zayyone quarter of Meiktila, a small town in central Burma (also known as Myanmar). The Mingalar Zayyone Islamic boarding school, which housed 120 students as young as 11, was set ablaze and destroyed; attacks and killings continued after police officers forced children and residents to come out from hiding.
PHR investigators conducted 33 interviews with the school’s students and teachers, as well as religious leaders, civil society representatives, and government authorities. Among the 33 respondents are 13 eyewitness survivors of the Meiktila massacre, including eight male students. The eyewitnesses range in age from 9 to 72, and include men, women, boys, and girls. All interviewed eyewitnesses are Muslim except for one, who is a non-Muslim member of the Parliament.
“The testimonies we heard described horrific acts that have terrified a community,” said Dr. Holly G. Atkinson, one of the report authors and a PHR volunteer medical advisor, who also directs the Human Rights Program at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “Innocent children and adults were humiliated, beaten, and killed with complete impunity, which — if not addressed — will only lead to more human rights violations.”
Several witnesses saw the killings, including one student getting decapitated and another being set on fire. Survivors also described being forced to climb past body parts and seeing charred corpses around them. Instead of protecting the unarmed civilians, eyewitnesses said police officers watched the killings take place while other bystanders cheered and clapped. All eight students interviewed by PHR reported suffering from nightmares or insomnia in the aftermath of the event. PHR also found that 12 of the city’s 13 mosques and all three Islamic schools were damaged or completely destroyed.
The 14 eyewitness accounts presented in the report, corroborated by photographic, video, and other documentation, provide compelling evidence that police officers were complicit in violent crimes against civilians. State authorities not only neglected to protect vulnerable children and others at risk, but also failed to apprehend any of the perpetrators. The crimes in Meiktila showcase the Burmese government’s disregard for the rule of law and failure to implement meaningful reform.
The report offers policy recommendations for the Burmese government and the international community, including unfettered access to human rights investigators, journalists, and humanitarian workers; protections for ethnic and religious minority groups; and withholding of security assistance until the Burmese government establishes full accountability for its security forces.
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.