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LUCKY SEVERSON, correspondent: Violence in Myanmar, also known as Burma. Rohingya Muslims being burned out of their villages and driven out of their country by mobs of Buddhists, which sometimes include monks.

PHIL ROBERTSON: The police stood aside, the army stood aside.

SEVERSON: Phil Robertson is with the Asia division of Human Rights Watch.

ROBERTSON (Deputy Director, Asia Division, Human Rights Watch): Entire areas were burned down. I mean we had satellite photographs before and after showing the damage—that people were being shot and killed, people being Rohingya-Muslims-post01disappeared. We uncovered mass graves from that period of time. You know, it was a slaughter.

KO AUNG: They get out like 4,000, 5,000 people, and then they surrounded the village; they attack the Muslim.

SEVERSON: Ko Aung, a made-up name, is a Rohingya refugee who still has family in Myanmar, so he is afraid to be identified.

KO AUNG: They used their spears, their swords, knives, and also arrows.

SEVERSON: Matthew Smith is the Asia director of Fortify Rights, http://www.fortifyrights.org/index.html an international nonprofit that documents human rights violations.

MATTHEW SMITH (Executive Director, Fortify Rights): Many of the crimes that we have documented rise to the level of crimes against humanity. These are some of the most serious crimes that can be committed under international law.

SEVERSON: United Nations officials say the Rohingya Muslims in Myanamar’s Rakhine State are one of the world’s most persecuted religious minorities. They are stateless people, citizens of no country, treated as illegal immigrants even though many families have resided here for centuries.

Rohingya-Muslims-post02KO AUNG: They cannot move, they cannot walk, they cannot study, and they cannot even marry if they want. They are trying to make a law for the restriction of marriage and for the restriction of having the children. If they cannot have citizenship, if they cannot have medical treatment how can they survive? They will be disappeared in a few years. Their race will be disappeared.

SEVERSON: There has long been bad blood between the Rohingyas and the local Buddhists, but it boiled over in 2012 after Rohingya men were accused of gang-raping a Buddhist woman. At least 300 Rohingya men, women, and children were murdered by angry mobs, and there have been episodes of violence ever since. At least 140,000 have been driven out of their homes.

SMITH: There’s a fear among the Buddhist population, among large segments of the Buddhist population in Myanmar that the country is at risk of being taken over by Muslims. It’s a very unreasonable, irrational fear.

SEVERSON: Especially considering there are fewer than a million-and-a-half Rohingyas out of an estimated population of 60 million. Nine out of ten citizens of Myanmar are Buddhist. Almost all young males spend some time as a monk. It’s considered an experience that will set them on the right path.

Buddhism is known as a way of life or religion that promotes inner peace and harmony. So why the violence and oppression in one of the world’s most Buddhist countries?

Rohingya-Muslims-post03bSMITH: The government is actually actively involved in promoting this idea that the Rohingya population poses a threat to national security. This is something we hear very often, and it infuses all of the violence that is taking place right now.

ROBERTSON: Sittwe, the provincial capital before this violence, had a demographic balance that was roughly 50/50 between Buddhists and Muslims. Now, with the exception of one quarter that’s almost like a ghetto, Sittwe is a Muslim-free city. Everybody has been driven out.

SEVERSON: One monk in particular is behind the violence. His name is Wirathu, and he’s known as the Burmese Bin Laden. He’s the leader of a group called 969.

SMITH: And followers of 969 refer to Muslims as dogs, they refer to the Rohingya as subhuman, but beyond that they actually believe the Rohingya are subhuman, and I think this is an important point. It’s not simply that they are stirring up some sort of rhetoric for political purposes. These are people who genuinely believe the hateful rhetoric that they preach, and I think this is one of the things that make them particularly dangerous.

SEVERSON: Many Buddhists are unhappy with the extremist monks and do their best to protect the Rohingyas. But it’s not a subject that the Burmese speak of openly. Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel Peace Laureate and opposition leader, has refused to take sides, saying it could further exacerbate the tension. The Dalai Lama spoke against the violence to no avail.

Rohingya-Muslims-post04ROBERTSON: They basically told him to mind his own business. It was really actually quite a put-down. They’re not prepared to listen.

SEVERSON: Last year, some 80,000 Rohingyas crowded like livestock in small boats to escape Myanmar, but often at a very high price.

RUFUGEE WITH INTERPRETER: The boat that carried 58 people, 25 of them died on the way.

SEVERSON: These young men, now hiding in a mosque in southern Thailand, were among the fortunate ones to make it here alive. They prefer to be nameless. They were tortured by their smugglers and traffickers, detained in a Thai illegal immigrant camp, then wound up back with the traffickers where, among other forms of torture, they were forced in a crouch position for so many weeks they cannot walk standing up.

ROBERTSON: They have to pass through Thailand, and this is where we see these smuggling camps, these people being held, being beaten while they’re holding the phone call to their relatives to ask for money to be transferred to this trafficker’s bank account in Thailand. I mean, it’s incredible brutality.

SMITH: They’re told to call their family, and they’re told that they need to raise $2000 in order to be set free.

SEVERSON: An average Burmese earns about $800 a year, so $2000 is a lot of money. We obtained a tape of a phone conversation between a representative of Fortify Rights and a refugee being held by traffickers.

Rohingya-Muslims-post05TRANSCRIPT OF PHONE CALL: Are you okay? How could I be okay? My skin is peeled off from beatings. Thai guys came and beat us because nobody transfers money for us. Would you please collect money from others and transfer money? Please do not use rough words with them.

SMITH: They know the risks of dying at sea. They know the risks of experiencing violence from human traffickers and from the authorities, but they’re willing to take that risk because the situation is so bad in Rakhine State.

SEVERSON: Robertson is discouraged that it has been 20 years since the UN set up a system to prevent another Rwanda.

ROBERTSON: And the problem is we keep saying “never again,” and it keeps happening.

SMITH: The international community has been in some way intoxicated by this narrative of political reform in Myanmar over the last couple of years, and in the interest of not wanting to disrupt that idea of reform, most government are treading very softly around the government when it comes to its human rights record, and this is the wrong approach entirely.

SEVERSON: Buddhist and other religious leaders can condemn what’s happening here, but they can’t stop it. Human rights activists says only the Myanmar government can put a stop to it, and if it doesn’t, the situation could decline into genocide.

ROBERTSON: Unless the international community acts and acts with some consistency and some immediacy, we could face a much worse situation in Rakhine State in just the coming months.

SEVERSON: These young Rohingyas still have not made it to a country that will accept them, wondering if one ever will.

YOUNG REFUGEE THROUGH INTERPRETER: So now we don’t have any hope. God will know. Almighty God will know what will happen in the future.

For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, I'm Lucky Severson in Myanmar.

Atrocities in Myanmar

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, continues to experience the violent persecution of its minority population of Rohingya Muslims. Muslims are being attacked by mobs of extremist Buddhist factions, despite Buddhist principles of nonviolence. “They refer to the Rohingya as subhuman, but beyond that they actually believe the Rohingya are subhuman,” says Matthew Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights, an independent organization to protect and defend human rights, “and I think this is one of the things that make them particularly dangerous.”

  • Sassy

    Two religions going completely against their teachings. How very sad.

  • DFendR

    what does it take to piss off a Buddhist monk? they see what islam does when it gets entrenched in a non-islamic society. they know what islam brings with its ideology by watching world news. the so-called “majority of peaceful muslims” look the other way, watch and wait while their more radical brothers spread their cult. it is taking to long for the islamic cult to evolve and it may never.

  • brooklynn1

    One so often sees these “Know Nothing” responses assuming that the Muslims are to blame. When you know the facts in this situation, with killings and land confiscations and displacement camps and limits on marriage and number of children, it is a reminder that state and military authorities can use any faith tradition–including Buddhism– to divide the people and rule. Muslim rulers in some other countries play the same game, but that hardly excuses the Burmese from their persecutions of unarmed Muslim villagers, from the rape of women and from keeping the Rohingya people as stateless nonpersons in their own lands.

    Rohingya are an ethnic group, not a race, which follows Muslim traditions. They make up 5% of the total population– that’s it. Accept them and accept all ethnic groups, do business together and integration will follow. Readers– Have a heart and please do some reading on the issue.

    One more note: Many Christians are being persecuted in Burma as well.

  • Rebecca

    I do not consider Islam a cult. In fact, tho I am not a Muslim, I think Islam makes a lot more sense than Christianity does. There is no god but G-d.

  • Marc

    I read Genesis 16:12 which is the account of the Muslim race, and we see why the world has had its issues with all Muslims since. God cursed them, and they continue to show that curse. Yes, over the centuries, Christians have behaved bad themselves, but not what we have seen from Muslims. Any belief that one must earn their place in a paradise, has people going to extremes to find favor with their god. For Christians….Grace Alone.

  • M.G. ASEANIAN G. JAN

    Let me begin since 1948, from 1948 till 1962, the Rohingyas had been recognized as citizens of Burma like other ethnic groups, such Shan, Kachin, Kaya, Mon, and Chin; the Rohingyas had been participated at the national level Burmese national programmes; their voces in their Rohingya language had been aired from Burmese national TV and Radios; the Rohingya political leaders had been given education ministry and health ministries portfolios during that period-Burmese golden era. Since coup d’etat by the infamous military general Ne Win in 1962, the process of revocation of the Rohingyas’ citizenship right started in a very systematic ways-concocting/inventing histories of non-existence of Rohingyas in Arakan, educating all other nationalities of Burma as Rohingyas non-nationals of Burma, branding the Rohingyas as foreigners from Bangladesh, creating animosities between Rohingyas and Rakhine Buddhists, enacting and amending Citizenship clauses-articles in the Union of Burma Constitution 1947, 1948 and 1982. Further, the Rohingyas had been living in Arakan as citizen, thus an ethnic community in Burma for nearly 14 years. Why has not the international community raised this issue thus far? I suggest the World Human Rights Bodies ought to raise this issue in confronting the current quasi-military regime of Burma. I further suggest that should the international community want to prevent massacre like Rwanda, Bosnia, cambodia, a preventive measure is needed, i.e., to bring the issue of Rohingyas to the International Court of Justice or ICCJ otherwise the despotic regime cannot be stopped from conniving the Rakhine and 969 extremists from slaughtering Rohingyas.

  • Johnny

    Everytime muslims move into a country, they try and take it over and impose sharia law and try and strip the natural citizens on their rights in the name of religion. you really REALLY have to piss Buddhist off for them to use violence so openly.

  • FAIZ

    Do you know what sharia means …. its the arabic word for law sooo sharia law means “LAW LAW” … and yeah are you trying to justify the deaths of innocent Muslims ?
    thirdly i truly did not intend to offend you

  • mohican23

    This program by PBS is nothing but a one sided yellow journalism sponsored by Al Qaeda, Boko Haram and ISIS supporting organizations and countries. Forty Rights and others appearing in the interview and sponsored by the same terrorist organizations.

    One cannot but notice the disconnect between this PBS program and the current world news related to Islamic violence and jihadi terror: Islamist Boko Haram kidnapping more that 200 school girls and forcing them to sex slaves, ISIS calling Christians and Yazidis to “covert to Islam or be killed, etc. Thus muslims are also engaged in jihadi terror in Myanmar and have funded and created “human rights” groups and some in the liberal media to speak for them.

    It is an undisputed fact that muslims in Myanmar have been engaged in jihadi terror since 1940s. In early 1942, as the Japanese were advancing towards Arakan, the British formed a battalion of Muslims – called the Bengali V Force – and gave them weapons. As the British suddenly retreated – the Bengali Muslims quickly used the weapons – not against the Japanese -but they used them to slaughter thousands and thousands of indigeneous Buddhists and burned down all of the Buddhist villages, pagodas, temples and monasteries in the Maungdaw and Buthidaung areas. About 30,000 Rakhine Buddhist were killed in this absolute genocide, hundreds of villages were burned down, and around 100,000 Rakhine Buddhists were ethnically cleansed from their ancestral lands. By late 1942 the whole Maungdaw-Buthidaung region was firmly in the hands of Bengali Muslims – who were now well armed with abandoned Japanese and British weapons. Active Islamic Terrorism and de facto ethnic cleansing continues to this day in the area.

    During neighboring muslim Bangladesh independence war in 1970-71, when 3 million Bangladeshis were killed by the Pakistan army, the indigenous Buddhist Rakhine people of Myanmar hosted over 500,000 refugees without the support from international organizations. Let no one accuse the indigenous Rakhine people for lack of compassion. Now the muslims are the majority is some areas and instead of being thankful and loyal to the host nation (Myanmar) and the indigenous people, they are now engaged in jihad (arson, murder, rape) in an attempt to establish a new country called “Newrosia” with the help from Bangladesh and other Islamic worldwide terrorist organizations and countries.
    Read more at:
    http://seanrobsville.blogspot.co.uk/2009/12/what-buddhists-and-pagans-need-to-know.html

  • Darka

    Islam is no more a “cult” than christianity is a cult. I agree with Rebecca.

  • Anniyah

    Rohingyans did not “move into this country”. They have been there for centuries. The change has been in the government policies. This has caused the problems.

  • Anniyah

    Another example of Buddhist’s being violent is in China. Google Xianjing and Uighers.

  • samiannie

    Yes Obama gets his nose out of joint over any perceived Muslim offence.