Myanmar: the roots of the sectarian violence between Buddhists and Muslims in Rakhine state


On Saturday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published on its website a series of satellite images showing “extensive destruction of homes and other property” in areas populated by Rohingya Muslim in western Rakhine state, Myanmar[1]. Since last Sunday, in fact, fighting between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslim has resumed, causing the death of about 64 people, the wounding of 95 and the destruction of 3.000 private properties[2]. Violence between the two ethnic groups sparked in June 2012, when 80 people were killed and 75.000 were displaced. At that time, a curfew and a state-of emergency were imposed.

So far, Myanmar’s authorities have been unable, or unwilling, to restore peace and security in Rakhine state. However, as President Then Sein said on Friday: “such unrest could tarnish the image of the country”[3]. The United Nations warned, in fact, that such violence could “irreparably damaged” the democratic process undertaken so far[4].

The roots of the sectarian violence between Buddhist and Muslim lies within the lack of recognition of Rohingya (Muslims) as one of the 135 recognized ethnic minorities. Rohingya are Bengali-speaking ethnics, who originally come from neighboring Bangladesh. Myanmar authorities consider Rohingya as illegal immigrants and has denied them citizenship since 1982[5]. According to humanitarian organizations, they are often targeted by Rakhine and Myanmar security forces, as they perceive them as a threat to their scarce lands. Somehow, Rohingya are considered as the “Roma of Asia”[6]; a stateless ethnic group without any protection of basic human rights. According to HRW, the minority group suffers constant abuses from Myanmar with regards to: “restrictions on freedom of movement, discriminatory limitations on access to education, arbitrary detention, forced labor, and discriminatory taxation and confiscation of property”[7].

On Friday, the Committee of the Rule of Law and Tranquility, chaired by opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, proposed to discuss the Rakhine unrest in Parliament. The debate led to the approval of a proposal to deploy more security forces in the troubled state. This short term measure might prevent further violence to take place. However, in the long term Naypyidaw is called to engage in a more constructive dialogue between the opposing parties in order to find a political solution. This would regard Myanmar to grant Rohingya with basic civil rights, such as citizenship and protection from ethnic-driven violence.

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File Photo by Human Rights Watch


[1] Human Rights Watch, Burma: New Violence in Arakan State, 27/10/2010, [link];
[2] Reuters, Muslim Rohingyas under “vicious” attack in Myanmar: rights group, 27/10/2010, [link];
[3] Huffington Post, Myanmar Clashes Leave Dozens Dead, Thousands Of Houses Torched In Rakhine State, 26/10/2012, [link];
[4] United Nations, Secretary-General Urges Swift Action by Myanmar Government to Stop Vigilante Attacks in Northern Rakhine, [link];
[5] France24, ‘Burma’s Rohingya minority are the Roma of Asia’, 22/06/2012, [link];
[6] Ibidem;
[7] Human Rights Watch, “The Government Could Have Stopped This”, 01/08/2012, [link];

About Author

Edoardo Camilli

Edoardo Camilli is the founder and director of the International Security Observer. He is also CEO and Co-Founder of Hozint – Horizon Intelligence, a global risk and travel security solution provider. His research activities focus on intelligence, insurgency, organised crime and national security policies. Edoardo holds a Master in International Relations and a second level Master in Intelligence and Security. Edoardo is alumnus of the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) and European Young Leader Under 40 (EYL40). He is fluent in English, French, Spanish and Italian.

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