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Burma: Investigation into Alleged Police Crimes Planned

(Feb. 22, 2017) On February 8, 2017, officials in Burma (also known as Myanmar), announced that there would be an investigation of alleged police actions, and possible serious crimes, against the Rohingya Muslims, an ethnic and religious minority population.  (Roseanne Gerin, Myanmar Investigation Commission Begins Fact-Finding Mission in Maungdaw, RADIO FREE ASIA (Feb. 10, 2017); Justin Cosgrove, Myanmar to Investigate Alleged Police Crimes Against Rohingya Muslims, PAPER CHASE (Feb. 14, 2017).)  Muslims comprise about 4.3% of the population in the predominantly Buddhist country.  (U.S.  Central Intelligence Agency, Burma: People and Society: Religion, WORLD FACTBOOK (last visited Feb. 15, 2017).)

Burmese officials have denied all allegations of wrongdoing by government security forces, stating that there has been a legally conducted counterinsurgency effort in the Rohingya region since nine police officials were killed in October 2016, during an attack on a security post.  (Cosgrove, supra.)  The Home Ministry of Burma has said that the inquiry would establish “whether the police forces have committed illegal actions including violations of human rights during their area clearance operations.”  (Id.)  The country’s Foreign Ministry has said that action will be taken against anyone found guilty of human rights’ abuses.  (Gerin, supra.)

U.N. Report on Treatment of Rohingyas

According to a report of the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), “[s]ince 2012, incidents of religious intolerance and incitement to hatred by extremist and ultra-nationalist Buddhist groups have increased across the country.  The Rohingya and other Muslims are often portrayed as a ‘threat to race and religion.’  Against this backdrop, tensions have occasionally erupted into violence.”  (Interviews with Rohingyas Fleeing from Myanmar since 9 October 2016, REPORT OF THE OHCHR MISSION TO BANGLADESH (Feb. 3, 2017), at 5, OHCHR website.)  The report was based on interviews conducted with refugees from the Burmese state of Rakhine, which has been the home of a population of Rohingya Muslims.  The OHCHR noted that some Burmese citizens consider the group to be not truly Burmese, but Bengali.  (Id.)

The types of offenses reported in the OHCHR report include:

  • extrajudicial executions or other killings, including by random shooting;
  • enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention;
  • rape, including gang rape, and other forms of sexual violence;
  • physical assault including beatings;
  • torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;
  • looting and occupation of property;
  • destruction of property; and
  • ethnic and religious discrimination and persecution. (Id. at 40.)

The report went on to state that “[a]ll of the eyewitness testimonies the team gathered referred to violations allegedly perpetrated by either the Myanmar security forces … or by Rakhine villagers (either acting jointly with security forces or at least with their acceptance ).”  (Id. at 41.)

Comments from U.N. Special Advisor

Adama Dieng, the U.N. Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide stated on February 6, 2017, that the scale of the violence against the Rohingya community in Burma shows “a level of dehumanization and cruelty that is ‘revolting and unacceptable.”  (Violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State Could Amount to Crimes Against Humanity – UN Special Adviser, UN NEWS CENTRE (Feb. 6, 2017).)  He added that “[i]f people are being persecuted based on their identity and killed, tortured, raped and forcibly transferred in a widespread or systematic manner, this could amount to crimes against humanity, and in fact be the precursor of other egregious international crimes. …  This must stop right now!”  (Id.)