Grant Immediate Humanitarian Access, Ensure Accountability for Violations

(Bangkok, January 23, 2014)—The government of Myanmar should act immediately to bring an end to attacks and abuses against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State, Fortify Rights said today. The government should end the mass arrests of Muslim men and boys and ensure due process rights for all those detained in areas surrounding the site of recent mass killings of Rohingya in Du Char Yar Tan village, Maungdaw Township. Unfettered access to the area should be granted to humanitarian organizations, independent observers, and national and international media.

Du Char Yar Tan is the site of the January 14 suspected killing of a police sergeant and ensuing retributive attacks against Rohingya Muslims by state security forces and local Rakhine Buddhist residents. Fortify Rights confirmed that at least 40 Rohingya from the village were killed and several hundred were forcibly displaced in the last week. The actual number of deaths may be higher, but information is circumscribed by government-imposed restrictions on access to the area.

Following the attacks, local officials purportedly issued a verbal order on January 14 for Lon Htein riot police to indiscriminately arrest all male Rohingya, including children over age ten, in areas surrounding Du Char Yar Tan. Arrests have been carried out since January 14. As of January 22, Fortify Rights confirmed men and boys from the village have gone into hiding to avoid arrest.

“These arbitrary detentions broaden the scope of the human rights violations in the area and should be immediately brought to an end,” said Matthew Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights. “There needs to be accountability for this wave of horrific violence in Maungdaw Township but mass arrests of Muslim men and boys are not the way.”

The central government of Myanmar and Rakhine State government officials have repeatedly denied that any violence or killing took place in Maungdaw Township, apart from the death of the police sergeant and allegations that Rohingya “mobs” attacked police. Local authorities have attempted to isolate the area for the last several days. Residents have been prevented from returning and independent observers and media have been effectively denied access to the area.

“The government should immediately provide unfettered humanitarian access to the area and grant access for national and international media,” said Matthew Smith. “The authorities can’t defensibly speak the language of human rights reform while sealing off the site of yet another massacre in Rakhine State.”

The residents of Du Char Yar Tan should be allowed to return home under the protection of security forces brought in from outside Rakhine State, Fortify Rights said.

Since violence erupted in Rakhine State in June 2012, hundreds have been killed, at least 145,000 Muslims have been displaced, 40,000 others are in desperate need of humanitarian aid, and tens of thousands have fled the country by sea. A year and a half after initial violence, displaced Rohingya in Rakhine State still lack adequate shelter, drinking water, latrines, and health care, despite assurances from state and central governments.

A series of events in Maungdaw Township in the last two weeks led to the latest outbreak of severe violence in Du Char Yar Tan village, also known as Kiladong, which is home to at least 3,500 Rohingya Muslims, most of whom are stateless.

On January 9, 23 Rohingya from Rakhine State’s Kyauktaw Township were traveling through Maungdaw Township, reportedly with the intention of fleeing the country, when they encountered a group of Rakhine Buddhists outside Du Char Yar Tan village, Maungdaw Township. The group of Rakhine allegedly abducted eight of the Rohingya while the others fled. On January 11, local Rohingya allegedly discovered a fresh grave with visible body parts in the area.

Late in the evening on January 13, a small group of plain-clothed Lon Htein riot police and local Rakhine entered Du Char Yar Tan village and unsuccessfully attempted to detain Rohingya men. Rohingya villagers repelled them from the village before any arrests were made.

Hours later, on January 14, Lon Htein and armed Rakhine returned to Du Char Yar Tan village in greater numbers. Both civilian Rakhine and Rohingya were armed with sticks, knives, and swords, evidently in preparation for a violent confrontation. Local sources and others tell Fortify Rights that a police sergeant was abducted at that time and allegedly killed by Rohingya.

The sergeant’s disappearance prompted a third and sizable “security” operation by Lon Htein in the early morning hours of January 14, ostensibly to determine the whereabouts of the police sergeant. At that time, most Rohingya men and boys—who typically flee when security forces are thought to be approaching, as they bear the brunt of violence and abuse—fled the village in fear, leaving behind mostly women and children. Lon Htein and armed Rakhine entered the village from the main north-south Maungdaw road and brutally attacked Rohingya who had not yet fled. Muslim-owned properties in the village were looted.

No officials have been prosecuted or held accountable for abuses against Rohingya since the outbreak of violence in Rakhine State in June 2012. State-sanctioned killings, torture, and other mistreatment perpetrated against Rohingya have been well documented.

In August 2012, Myanmar President Thein Sein established a 27-member “investigative commission” to “reveal the truth behind the unrest” in Rakhine State and “find solutions for communities with different religious beliefs to live together in harmony.” On April 29, 2013, the commission released a long-awaited report, which failed to address abuses by state authorities or the need for accountability for human rights violations, effectively denying any wrongdoing by the state.

Fortify Rights called on the government of Myanmar to support an independent, transparent, international investigation into human rights violations and humanitarian deprivations in Rakhine State, in partnership with national Myanmar partners.

“What we’re seeing is a protracted pattern of atrocities inflicted upon Rohingya, in addition to abuses they’ve endured for decades,” Matthew Smith said. “The authorities in Naypyidaw and Rakhine State are unable or unwilling to put an end to the violence. An international investigation is long overdue.”

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