New evidence has emerged that the systematic violence against ethnic Rohingya in Burma – “described as genocidal by some experts” – is being actively supported by state agencies. But the violence’s links to the country’s ambitions to rapidly expand fossil fuel production, at massive cost to local populations and to the environment, have been largely overlooked.
Over 125,000 ethnic Rohingya have been forcibly displaced since waves of violence swept across Burma’s Arakan state last year, continuing until now, according to the New York-based Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) latest sobering report. The “ethnic cleansing” campaign against Arakan’s Muslim minority, although instigated largely by Buddhist monks rallying local mobs, has been the product of “extensive state involvement and planning”, according to HRW’s UK director David Mepham.
The group found:
“All of the state security forces [in Arakan] are implicated in failing to prevent atrocities or directly participating in them, including local police, Lon Thein riot police, the inter-agency border control force called Nasaka, and the army and navy.”
Burma’s Rohingya minority has resided in the country for decades, but been formally denied citizenship by the government, subjected instead to forced labour, arbitrary land confiscations, and routine discrimination. Although the latest violence raises urgent questions about the integrity of Burma’s ostensible democratic reform process, the west has refused to allow the campaign against the Rohingyas to interfere with efforts to integrate the regime into global markets.
The last two years has seen first the US, then the UK and the EU, lift decades of economic sanctions with a view to “open a new chapter” in relations with Burma.
Nestled strategically between India and China, Burma is rich in fossil fuels and other mineral resources, including oil, gas, gold, timber and jade. In recent months, even as genocidal violence has escalated, the country has been courted by world leaders, such as President Barack Obama, British foreign secretary William Hague, and European Commission president José Manuel Barroso.