Rights groups call for action on anti-Muslim violence in Burma
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Rights groups call for action on anti-Muslim violence in Burma

NINETEEN non-governmental organizations have come together to sign a joint statement calling on the Burmese government to take steps to combat hate speech, reject incitements of violence and commence detailed investigations into recent religiously motivated attacks.

“The people of Myanmar elected the National League for Democracy on the basis of its campaign to uphold rule of law and human rights for all,” the statement said. The 19 organizations, consisting of groups from Yangon, Kachin State and the Mandalay Region, “call on the Government of Myanmar to deliver on its promise.”

The statement is a reaction to religiously motivated violence in Burma over the past two weeks, signifying a collective show of support from Burma’s civil society.

On July 1, a Buddhist mob ransacked a mosque in Hpakant, Kachin state. Witnesses say the armed mob of around 100 people stormed a prayer hall, wreaking havoc inside the building before burning it to the mosque to the ground.

“The government needs to roll out a concerted effort to protect religious freedom and prevent future outbreaks of violence.”

According to local news agencies, security forces were unable to contain the situation.

“The Myanmar government must make it clear that anti-Muslim violence and vitriol will not be tolerated. Authorities have a responsibility to fully investigate these attacks and bring to justice those involved. Anything short of that would represent a failure to protect a vulnerable minority community,” said Charles Santiago, Chairperson for ASEAN Parliament for Human Rights (APHR) and acting member of the Malaysian Parliament.

SEE ALSO: One year on from Rohingya boat crisis: Human rights groups call for action

This is the second occurrence of violence where mobs have attacked mosques and Muslims in Burma within two weeks.

On June 23, a crowd targeted a mosque in a Waw Township, in Bago Region when a dispute on Facebook escalated to destructive proportions.

Muslims in the area fled to a nearby police station in hopes of finding protection and shelter from the violent masses outside. Almost two weeks on, no one has been held responsible and no arrests have been made.

“These acts of religious extremism aren’t spontaneous,” said Matthew Smith, chief executive officer at Fortify Rights. “The government needs to roll out a concerted effort to protect religious freedom and prevent future outbreaks of violence. It’s the duty of everyone in Myanmar to ensure that communities of all faiths can practice their religion with freedom from fear.”

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Radical Buddhist monks shout slogans during a protest rally in Yangon last year. Pic: AP.

Once again, the violence stems from conflicting religious groups with nationalistic mentalities fuelling the persecution of Muslim minority communities.

Aggression towards Muslims in Burma is not a new occurrence.

The predominantly Buddhist state has a history of ultra-nationalism and communal tensions between the two religious groups. Over the years there has been frequent reports of intermittent and even state-sponsored violence towards Muslim minorities throughout the country.

Tensions peaked in 2012, leading to a series of riots that forced over 100,000 Muslim Rohingya to escape the escalating violence occurring in their western home of Rakhine State.

“It’s time for the government to stand up for religious minorities and take action against those perpetrating attacks.”

“These attacks demonstrate the need for the Myanmar government to work much harder to address anti-Muslim sentiment, which is rising rapidly throughout the country. The most recent acts of violence are not isolated incidents. They are just the latest in a series of disturbing developments fed by the hate speech of groups like Ma Ba Tha,” said APHR Vice Chair Eva Kusuma Sundari, a member of the Indonesian House of Representatives, referring to the Buddhist monk-led Association for the Protection of Race and Religion.

SEE ALSO: Why we need to worry about Burma’s extremist Ma Ba Tha monks

Discrimination against the Rohingya is rampant in Burma, as the government denies the group citizenship and basic human rights. It has also declined to even acknowledge the term “Rohingya”, alternately using the word “Bengali” referencing Bangladesh, from where many claim the group originates.

Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights protects the right to freedom of religion. Thus, states are responsible to ensure the rights of minority groups under international law.

“Myanmar’s human rights obligations require the authorities to protect at-risk religious groups,” said Shaivalini Parmar, Burma program officer at Civil Rights Defenders. “It’s time for the government to stand up for religious minorities and take action against those perpetrating attacks.”

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