Anti-Muslim Violence in Burma/Myanmar and the Responsibility to Protect
After more than fifty years of military rule, in 2011 Burma/Myanmar embarked upon a historic transition with the new civilian government, led by President Thein Sein, undertaking a series of political and economic reforms. Burma/Myanmar has been congratulated by the international community for its attempt to end gross human rights abuses and establish a more tolerant and peaceful society.
Burma/Myanmar’s democratic transition has also caused insecurity. Although the government has permitted greater freedom of expression and allowed for political debate, Buddhist chauvinists have been able to exploit this newly-opened space. Political reforms have not diminished the risk of mass atrocities against some vulnerable minority populations.
During June and October 2012 inter-communal violence in the country’s western Arakan/Rakhine state left at least 200 people dead and 120,000 displaced, most of whom were Rohingya Muslims. Worryingly, anti-Rohingya sentiments have continued to spread, with violence now affecting the broader Muslim community. Following deadly clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in Meikhtila during March 2013, anti-Muslim rhetoric and sporadic attacks have persisted.
The government bears the primary Responsibility to Protect all populations within its borders, regardless of ethnicity or religion, from mass atrocity crimes. Yet, it is failing in this responsibility.