Burma: A Summary of Recent Events

October 3, 2013 |

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September began with the government-appointed body (the Sangha Maha Nayaka committee) that oversees Burma’s Buddhist monkhood “issuing a directive intended to check the influence of a monk-led movement accused of stoking violence against minority Muslims.”[1] The purpose of the directive dated September 2nd is to prohibit the creation of formal organizations associated with the 969 movement.[2] In essence, it is a declaration claiming to bar the creation of formal anti-Muslim groups, but it will likely act as way for the government to limit the power of the 969 movement. Buddhist monks will still be able to promote the 969 ideology, including the parts aimed at protecting their own faith from Islam.[3] This means that the disparaging rhetoric aimed towards Muslims will continue to be preached. Ashin Wirathu and other monks responded with displeasure to the directive, with Wirathu attempting to delegitimize the legitimacy of the Sangha Maha Nayaka committee, stating that, “Every procedure and rule in the Sangha Nayaka was written while under the gun.”[4] This is in reference to the fact that the committee was formed while the nation was still under military rule.

Meanwhile, violence in Burma against Rohingya Muslims has continued during the month of September. While at an international human rights conference in the Czech Republic capital of Prague earlier this month, the Dalai Lama urged Buddhist monks in Burma to act in accordance with Buddhist principles, in reference to the violence being committed against Muslims in the country. “Those Burmese monks, please, when they develop some kind of anger toward Muslim brothers and sisters, please, remember the Buddhist faith,” he pleaded.[5]

These remarks come in response to the reality of the situation in Burma, which is slowly gaining attention and concern of those outside of the country. Towards the end of August, a group entitled Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) released a report about the situation on the ground in Burma in which concern was expressed towards the increasing violence and intolerance towards Rohingya Muslims in Burma[6]. The report suggests that the spread of violence along with an increase in hate speech are “ingredients for potential catastrophic violence in the future, including potential crimes against humanity and/or genocide.”[7]

Radical Buddhist monk Ashin Wirathu, often considered to be one of the main perpetrators of the current instability in Burma, began the month by continuing to inject fear into fellow Buddhists residing in Burma at a sermon which took place in Mandalay in central Myanmar on September 5th. “If we don’t drive out the wild elephants, we will be killed. We cannot live together with wild elephants” he stated.[8] The comparison of those belonging to a particular ethnic or religious group to animals was a deliberate attempt to dehumanize the group, increasing the likelihood that people will be less offended by persecution. Following this sermon in an interview, Wirathu denied being the perpetrator of the violence and insisted all he wants to do “is to protect Buddhism.”[9] Attempting to portray Buddhists as the victims in Burma is another clear example of trying to justify to the masses that targeting Muslims within the country is justifiable.

Harassment of Muslims in Maungdaw Township of Arakan state has become a daily ritual since August.[10]  According to reports out of this region, Hlun Htaine police and Rakhine extremists have been raiding houses on a nightly basis. There are also allegations that the police and Rakhine extremists have been sexually harassing/raping women in the area.[11] As a part of these near daily raids, it is also often the case that properties are raided and valuables looted. According to locals, raids of this nature have been occurring now for several years.[12] The most troubling part of these raids is that the central government clearly has the ability and authority to stop the raids, but chooses not to.

A frightening example of this type of raid occurred on September 4th when 38 innocent Rohingyas were arrested by police.[13] The targets of the arrest were allegedly rounded up for no reason, other than for being Muslims. Mass arrests of this nature are also being used by police as an extortion tactic. Once the Muslims have been arrested and detained, a large sum of money is often required in order to secure their release.

Furthermore, on September 10th, six Rohingya fishermen from Ka Din Pike village were attacked. 5 of them are now believed to be dead, and there is 1 confirmed survivor.[14] After the boat was attacked, the fishermen’s hands and legs were tied with rope and they were beaten with a steel stick. Following this they were dropped off in the middle of the river, where the lone survivor was able to free himself and swim to safety.[15] The survivor Abdul Majed, then reported the crime to police in the area. Villagers and the local police were unsuccessful in their attempts to recover the bodies of the five fisherman believed to be deceased.

September also saw the formation of a replacement group for the previously disbanded Nasaka. The new group is known as the Western Region Ma Ka Pa, and the purpose of their presence is to prevent illegal immigrants from entering the region as well as to prevent people from escaping the region.[16] They intend to arrest people entering and leaving the region illegally. Perhaps what is more disturbing is that the group will also be conducting surprise checks of villagers’ homes to ensure that guests have the proper documentation to be in the area.[17]

As previously mentioned, the situation in Burma is slowly starting to garner the interest and attention of the international community, which is a positive development that could contribute to finding a solution for the conflict. It is extremely important to note that the conflict threatens to destabilize not only Burma, but also neighbouring countries and other parts of the world . In September, the Hudson Institute reported that there is a real fear that the events in Burma and Indonesia are feeding off of each other.[18] There is also a concern that if Muslims continue being targeted in Burma, then it could “call the attention of radical Islamist groups” to use violence against Buddhists, thereby perpetuating the violence and potentially escalating the conflict.[19]

 


tle=”” href=”#_ftnref”>[4] http://www.irrawaddy.org/archives/43796

October 3, 2013 | | English

Posted in Burma, General News

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