Myanmar aided killings of Muslims, says HRW report
BANGKOK - Reuters
A Buddhist woman cries for her home that was burned down during a riot in Meikhtila in this March photo. A new report by HRW accused Myanmar authorities of aiding the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims. REUTERS photoAuthorities in Myanmar’s Rakhine State aided the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims last year in crimes against humanity that have sparked anti-Muslim violence elsewhere in the country, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said today.
Security forces were complicit in disarming Rohingya Muslims of makeshift weapons and standing by, or even joining in, as Rakhine Buddhist mobs killed men, women and children in June and October 2012, HRW said. “While the state security forces in some instances intervened to prevent violence and protect fleeing Muslims, more frequently they stood aside during attacks or directly supported the assailants, committing killings and other abuses,” the report said of the unrest, in which at least 110 people died.
The failure to investigate properly or punish state officials had emboldened those behind campaigns against Muslims elsewhere, said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at HRW, referring to violence in central Myanmar that killed more than 43 people in March and displaced at least 12,000. “People are allowed to incite and instigate in a coordinated campaign; this is the lesson taken in by others,” Robertson told Reuters. “What happened in Arakan [Rakhine] has helped spark radical anti-Muslim activity.”
Will only trust its own report
Ye Htut, a presidential spokesman, dismissed the report for only taking news from “one side” in a statement on his Facebook page. “Its words are unacceptable. The government of Myanmar is not going to give any special consideration to a one-sided report,” he wrote, adding that the government would only pay heed to its own investigative commission set up after the initial violence in June.
Human rights abuses still take place in fast-changing Myanmar despite widespread political, social and economic reforms by a quasi-civilian government that took power in March 2011 and convinced the West to suspend most sanctions to allow aid and investment into one of Asia’s poorest countries.
A decision expected yesterday by the European Union to lift all but its arms embargoes would only weaken the hand of Western powers seeking to clean up Myanmar’s poor human rights record, Robertson said.
“They’re going to be hostage to what the military and government does,” he said. The report into the Rakhine state violence, which called for international pressure on the government, said authorities had blocked aid from going into the squalid camps occupied by stateless Rohingya and Kaman Muslims, exposing them to malnourishment and diseases such as cholera or typhoid.
More than 120,000 people fled arson and machete attacks in Rakhine state and thousands have embarked on perilous journeys on rickety wooden boats to other countries, where they are prey to human trafficking gangs.
An estimated 800,000 stateless Rohingyas live in Myanmar, where the authorities restrict their movements and access to employment and consider them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
EU to lift Myanmar sanctions in 'new chapter' in ties
The European Union plans to lift the last of its trade, economic and individual sanctions against Myanmar on Monday as it embarks on "a new chapter" with the once pariah state.
"The EU is willing to open a new chapter in its relations with Myanmar/Burma, building a lasting partnership," said the draft of an EU foreign ministers' statement obtained by AFP.
A year after first suspending sanctions against Myanmar in reward for its historic reforms, EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg will announce a definitive end to restrictive measures but leave in place an arms embargo.
"In response to the changes that have taken place and in the expectation that they will continue, the Council (of ministers) has decide to lift all sanctions with the exception of the embargo on arms," the statement added.
It warns however that "there are still significant challenges to be addressed", in particular an end to hostilities in Kachin state and appeasement of the tensions regarding the Rohingya people.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said Monday that Myanmar has waged "a campaign of ethnic cleansing" against Rohingya Muslims, citing evidence of mass graves and forced displacement affecting tens of thousands.
To help Myanmar on the economic front, the foreign ministers will offer to look at the feasibility of a bilateral investment agreement, as well as more development assistance.
To help it deal with inter-communal violence, the EU is studying the possibility of assisting the reform of the police service, in partnership with its parliament, the statement adds.
On April 23 last year, the ministers agreed to a one-year suspension of measures targeting almost 500 individuals and more than 800 firms to bolster a reform process which the same month saw opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's election to parliament.
Among the sanctions, hundreds of people were targeted by a travel ban and asset freeze, while on the economic front the EU had barred investments and banned imports of the country's lucrative timber, metals and gems.
During a visit to Brussels last month, the first by a Myanmar head of state, President Thein Sein urged the EU to lift sanctions, saying "we are one of the poorest countries in the world." He received pledges of EU economic assistance coupled with calls to protect his country's ethnic minorities.
Since the former premier took over the presidency in March 2011, thousands of political prisoners have been released and elections held.
EU development aid since has more than doubled to around 150 million euros for 2012-2013, with Brussels pledging to explore the feasibility of a bilateral investment agreement.
The EU is also offering "a swift reinstatement" of preferential tariffs with Yangon.