Rights group accuses Burma of ‘ethnic cleansing’
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The Burmese government is waging a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the country’s Rohingya Muslims, Human Rights Watch said on Monday, as the EU announced that it had lifted sanctions against the regime as a reward for recent reforms.
The government of Burma has encouraged and aided a campaign of ethnic cleansing against minority Rohingya Muslims in the country’s western state of Rakhine, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Burmese officials, local community leaders and Buddhist monks coordinated mob attacks on Muslim villages in October, the New York-based right group said on Monday. The group claimed it had evidence of mass graves and forced displacement.
“The violence has been very systematic and widespread, but we also documented the organising and instigation of a campaign against the Rohingya,” Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director, told FRANCE 24.
In Rakhine, more than 125,000 Rohingya and other Muslims have been forcibly displaced, denied access to humanitarian aid and are unable to return home, the report said.
At least 180 people have died in two outbreaks of Buddhist-Muslim violence in Rakhine since June 2012, according to the official toll, but rights groups like HRW believe the real figure is much higher.
In a report based on more than 100 interviews, it said that it had uncovered evidence of four mass grave sites in Rakhine, accusing the security forces of trying to destroy evidence of crimes.
In one instance in June, HRW said, a government truck dumped 18 naked and half-clothed bodies near a camp for displaced Rohingya, describing it as an attempt to scare residents into leaving permanently.
Robertson said his organisation had sent letters to the Burmese government, but that officials had “basically denied the Rohingya, as a group, existed”.
“They did provide information about the casualties and the arrest that took place, but essentially they side-stepped many of the key issues that we were seeking clarification on,” Roberton said of the Burmese government’s response to accusations it was sanctioning crimes against humanity.
EU lifts sanctions
Robertson added that the international community was not taking accusations of ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya seriously enough, amid widespread international support for Burmese efforts to make the Southeast Asian country more open and democratic.
“The fact that the EU is going to be lifting sanctions later today against Burma -- everything except the arms embargo -- is an indication there are still in fact serious problems with the international community’s response to this violence,” he said.
The European Union suspended most of its sanctions against Burma last year following sweeping reforms, but on Monday it went even further by agreeing to lift all sanctions with the exception of the embargo on arms.
"The EU is willing to open a new chapter in its relations with Myanmar/Burma, building a lasting partnership," an EU statement said.
The measure will also allow European companies to invest in Burma, which has significant natural resources and borders economic giants China and India.
“We of course have to recognise that there has been progress in some areas in Burma, certainly in areas of media freedom and trade union rights,” Robertson said, but he added that it was not certain that the government was completely committed to a path of reform.
He said the fate of the Rohingya was one reason to second-guess Burma’s leadership.
“Where we see the situation in Rakhine state, where there is ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, and no one is being held accountable for that, that raises some very serious concerns about the commitment of the Burmese government,” Robertson noted.
(FRANCE 24 with wires)