Myanmar covers up evidence of abuse against Rohingya Muslims

Activists and international NGOs criticise the findings of a government commission, which rejected allegations of abuse. For the latter, the presence of mosques is proof there is no persecution. Myanmar’s Muslim minority mourns its own Aylan.

Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Human rights activists and organisations have accused the Myanmar government of covering up acts of violence against the Rohingya in Rakhine State, western Myanmar.

The clear and firm stance taken by humanitarian associations stands in contrast to the Myanmar government, which is hailing a commission of inquiry’s findings that refute allegation of genocide against the Muslim group in that state.

Yesterday, the commission appointed by the government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who is also Myanmar’s foreign minister, rejected allegations of abuses by security forces.

However, the authorities are still investigating alleged police abuses after a video emerged appearing to show officers beating and kicking Rohingya villagers.

In recent months, violent clashes have increased between the Myanmar military and what they call "a militant group of Muslim Rohingya" in Rakhine State.

The Rohingya are a Muslim group of just over one million people, originally from Bangladesh who live mostly in refugee camps scattered across Myanmar. The latter has refused to grant them citizenship.

Since early last October, at least 90 people have been killed and about 34,000 have been displaced. Meanwhile, the military continue to go from village to village to clear the territory of rebel elements.

Peace calls by Card Charles Bo, archbishop of Yangon, and other local and international figures have gone unheeded.

The Rohingya have complained of summary executions, arbitrary arrests, rapes, houses torched in a what the government has called “clearance operations” intended to strike those who have attacked Myanmar security forces.

The authorities flatly deny allegations of abuses and genocide, but they have prevented independent journalists and aid workers from accessing parts of the State.

Aung San Suu Kyi, once seen as a human rights icon, has found herself at the centre of an international controversy, accused of not defending the Muslim minority, and thus tacitly endorsing the violence against the Rohingya committed by the country’s majority Buddhists and military.

Under international pressure Ms Suu Kyi (and the Council of State) ordered the commission to investigate the attacks and the abuse allegations.

Its report found that "The Bengali population residing in Maungtaw region, the increasing population of Mawlawi (Islamic scholars), mosques and religious edifices are proof that there were no cases of genocide and religious persecution in the region". In Myanmar, many refer to the Rohingya as "Bengalis" as they view them as foreign migrants from Bangladesh.

Conversely, human rights activists and organisations persist in their charges of abuse. Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at New York-based Human Rights Watch, said the panel was "looking more and more like the Myanmar government whitewash mechanism that we feared it would be”.

For Matthew Smith, founder of campaign group Fortify Rights, “The army has committed atrocity crimes and this commission is attempting a whitewash”.

Evidence for the prevailing climate of violence is available online and in the media. This now includes the picture of the lifeless body of a toddler lying in the mud, like that of Aylan Kurdi, the Kurdish boy who died off the Turkish coast trying to reach Europe with his family in September 2015.

Today, the Rohingya weep for their own Aylan. His name is Shohayet Mohammed, 16 months old, who died fleeing from Rakhine State with his mother, uncle, and brother to reach Bangladesh.

He apparently drowned when the boat he was in sank in the Naf River when Myanmar forces fired upon it.