Myanmar: Security forces stood by while anti-Muslim riots raged, says rights group


Policemen stand guard in front of an Islamic school after a fire broke out at the school in downtown Yangon on April 2, 2013. A fire killed 13 students at a Muslim school in Myanmar's main city on April 2, police said, raising tensions in the wake of sectarian clashes despite police assurances that the blaze was accidental.



In the aftermath of sectarian violence between Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar, which left at least 43 people dead last month, the country is being urged to hold the instigators responsible.

The attacks, which mainly targeted Muslims, resulted in entire neighborhoods being burned to the ground, said rights group Human Rights Watch.

HRW Deputy Director for Asia Phil Robertson said extremists in the country, which is also known as Burma, have learned that they can attack Muslims and go unpunished, according to Voice of America.

"What we saw in Meiktila was police forces sitting around or standing behind various different mobs as they were attacking mosques and attacking communities. Why weren't they restoring order?" he asked.

"Why aren't they investigating to find out actually who is behind this? Who, not only committed the violent acts but also who instigated and incited people to do so?"

An op-ed in the International Herald Tribune noted, "Not one bullet was fired, not one smoke bomb was dropped as scores of Muslims were attacked and some were burnt alive in Myanmar last week. The security forces just looked on. In a country where they routinely use brute force against political dissidents, villagers who protest land grabs and even monks, their passivity was sadly revealing."

More on GlobalPost: Myanmar: 13 children killed in fire at Yangon Muslim school

Anger between Buddhist and Muslims in Myanmar has burned hottest in Rakhine State, a coastal region of Myanmar bordering poor and heavily populated Bangladesh.

In the last year, mobs have battled with machetes and staves and Muslim refugees have been forced into muddy, disease-ridden camps. The official death toll stands at roughly 100, a lowball figure in the eyes of some Muslim organizations.

The recent bloodshed in Myanmar’s interior has stoked fears that violence between Buddhists and Muslims could rapidly spread across the nation.

Myanmar President Thein Sein, a former general who has brought about economic and political reforms, explained last Thursday that government forces had not intervened because he did not want to risk endangering "our ongoing democratic transition and reform efforts."

He also vowed he would take tough action against the "political opportunists and religious extremists" he blamed for the sectarian violence.

Haj. Aye Lwin, a Muslim leader, said he has heard of no incidents of violence since last Friday. "After President Thein Sein delivered his public speech the situation became quiet," he said on Monday, according to The Irrawaddy Magazine.

United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Burma, Ashok Nigam, said, "It is important that the rule of law prevails and that those who perpetrated this are brought to justice."

A fire which killed 13 students in a Muslim school in Myanmar's principle city of Yangon on Tuesday raised tensions in the wake of the sectarian violence, though the police attributed the blaze to an electrical fault and not to religiously motivated violence.