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Burma: International monitoring and protection of all civilians from religious and ethnic violence needed in Western Burma

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The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA), the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma (Altsean-Burma), the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (KontraS) of Indonesia, and Jakarta Legal Aid Institute (LBH Jakarta) of Indonesia are deeply alarmed by the continued sectarian violence in Rakhine State in western Burma since 3 June 2012, which has resulted in fatalities, injuries, destruction of property and displacement of residents. We appeal for immediate international attention to this disaster.

We call on the Burmese authorities to take immediate steps to protect all persons from all forms of religious or ethnically motivated violence and discrimination, and promptly conduct an independent, impartial and effective investigation into the violence. State security forces should at all times adhere strictly to the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials during the current state of emergency in Rakhine state.

We call on the international community, including diplomatic missions in Burma and the United Nations, to send independent monitors to visit and assess the situation and take appropriate steps to address any emerging humanitarian crisis.

We also call on the government of Bangladesh to re-open the border and provide necessary protection to all those fleeing from the violence in western Burma, consistent with obligations under international human rights and refugee norms. The policy to bar entry to civilians fleeing the violence puts them at risk for more violent crimes and death.

According to various reports, the outbreak of violence followed the rape and killing of a Buddhist woman in late May, in which the perpetrators were believed to be Muslim. On 3 June, ten Muslim bus passengers were beaten to death by a mob seeking revenge for the crime. In the days that followed, there have been numerous and conflicting reports of further sectarian attacks perpetrated by both Buddhist and Muslim residents. One report put the number of displaced at 5,000, but actual figures may be higher and rising. The Government of Bangladesh has sealed its border to prevent those fleeing from the violence from entering the country.

On 10 June, Burmese president Thein Sein declared a state of emergency in the state, the first time he has done so. The declaration authorizes the military to assume significant and sweeping administrative functions.

Although the current clashes were triggered by the 3 June incident, the violence is inextricably linked to the decades-long discriminatory policies of the Burmese government towards the Rohingya Muslims. The systematic persecution by the authorities includes denial of citizenship under Burma’s 1982 Citizenship Act which renders Rohingya stateless and utterly without protection. In addition to public vilification by state media and state officials, Rohingya have been subjected to restrictions on marriage, domestic travel and observation of religious ceremonies. The Rohingya have also been particularly vulnerable to other serious human rights violations faced by the general population in Burma.

It is crucial that the government of Burma takes all appropriate steps to protect, without discrimination on any grounds, the universal rights of all Rakhine state residents to life, liberty and security of person. In addition to their obligation to investigate the violence and bring perpetrators to justice consistent with international human rights standards, the authorities should invite and allow access to the state by diplomats, independent journalists and humanitarian agencies to assess the situation.

The human rights community has consistently called on the government of Burma to engage in a genuine and inclusive dialogue with all political parties, other pro-democracy forces, and all ethnic nationality groups, in order to move forward in a broad-based process of national reconciliation. Reconciliation would also require the amendment or repeal of all repressive and discriminatory laws and practices that have been used to persecute people from the many different communities in Burma.

We believe that the building of a truly democratic Burma requires commitment to address deep-seated discrimination and the laws that perpetuate them. The commitment of the Thein Sein administration to democratic reforms will be measured by its willingness both to acknowledge that these laws and practices are obstacles to democratization and to take bold steps to lift them.

We also call on the communities of Rakhine state and other parts of Burma, and well as the Burmese diaspora to exercise tolerance and restraint from further violence or statements that incite violence or racial discrimination.

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