Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) condemns the recent ethnic clashes in Arakan State, Western Burma, and urges all parties to end the violence. PHR also calls on the Government of Burma to respect human rights in the region.
Ethnic tensions, which have long been high in the area, erupted into violence last week after three Muslim men allegedly raped and murdered a Buddhist ethnic Arakanse woman. After the men were jailed, a mob of Arakanese men and women lynched ten Muslims, triggering riots among Muslims in several towns in the state. These, in turn, led to a violent backlash from Arakanese.
The region has a long and complex history of ethnic strife. The Muslim Rohingya minority number about 800,000 in Northern Arakan State; most do not have citizenship despite having lived there for generations, and they have been long abused by government policies such as forced labor, forced migration, extortion, and severe restrictions on movement.
Arakanese people are predominately Buddhist and though they are a recognized minority group in Burma, they have also suffered discrimination by the government and human rights violations by the military. Recent abuses included the government’s crackdown on the Saffron revolution in 2007; this anti-government protest by Buddhist monks began in the capital of Arakan State. The government responded to the protest by torturing and imprisoning many monks in Arakan State.
In recent days, the Burmese government has deployed troops to quell the current violence and has imposed a curfew for the next two months. All international organizations working in the area have evacuated their foreign staff.
Buddhists and Muslims alike have lost homes, property, and family members in the violence in Arakan State. Several sources have reported that Rohingya are fleeing to Bangladesh but are being stopped and more than 1,000 have been sent back to Burma by Bangladeshi border patrols. One report said those refused entry included Rohingya who had been wounded in the violence, and that some later had died from their wounds.
Immediate action must be taken to ensure that international monitors and investigators have access to the area and to ensure that any civilians fleeing the area are able to seek refuge. PHR calls on the Government of Burma to allow international monitors into Arakan State and on the Government of Bangladesh to provide refuge to those fleeing the violence.
In the long term, the Burmese government must recognize that martial law is not a solution to ethnic tension, no matter which ethnic groups are involved. For more durable solutions, the Government of Burma must ensure the rights of all ethnic minorities, find durable solutions for stateless Rohingya, promote dialogue among ethnic groups, acknowledge past human rights abuses, and hold perpetrators accountable for their acts in a manner that adheres to internationally recognized legal standards.