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, 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.”

  • Alia

    20 years since Rwanda————-time goes by so very quickly. Yet, the world does not change, unless it is for the worse.

  • smilinginpoo

    The best way to deal with Muslims is to exterminate them like roaches as they show no signs of living like regular humans. They are equal to anti-matter against matter. Nothing will appease them and when they have the numbers like a bacteria they attack and infect until killed off. If they are not sub human and have empathy and compassion I wonder why the forgiving ignorant Christians and such provide the free aid and humanitarian help. I never see a red cresent flying in. However, once in the middle east I saw several UN and Care trucks come in and the local Islamic rulers immediately opened all the flour and other food stuffs and put them in red cresent bags for delivery and burned all the other containers.

  • goldengrain

    The problem with the West is that they consider Islam a religion. As such it is granted certain freedoms, but then it often tries to change the laws and culture of the new country to conform to their religion.

    This situation has presented difficulties to the effect that many Western countries now request that new citizens sign a loyalty oath to the laws of that country above any other, including their religion.

    Winston Churchill made some interesting observations regarding Islam. Frankly, I think of it as an alternate form of government, dictating banking policy, laws regarding how one does business, and both civil and criminal laws that regulate the life of the individual.

    As a competing form of government, it is subversive and those loyalty oaths are a wise thing.

  • Rachel

    Really? You saw the ruler, the president, the prime minister, etc., of a country out doing this ghastly work? Where? In your dreams? I am not saying the Red Crescent has not done this-but, the rulers?

    And you are wrong about the Red Crescent not being where they are needed. They are there helping people. There is one big difference though. The Red Cross has made themselves a worldwide organization. The Red Crescent is not.

    True, Islam does have a code similar to a government when the country is a Theocracy . Christians in America are trying to butt into our government to get their code enforced. Personally, I am sick and tired of them doing this. America is not a Theocracy and even if Christians wish it was (for their religion), it never will be. Thank G-d!

  • Rachel

    You say, ”but then it often tries to change the laws and culture of the new country to conform to their religion”.
    Isn’t this exactly what Christians are trying to do to our country? They way it rule by their rules and beliefs as if they are the only way. This country is build on many and all religions. Yet, I hear over and over that this is a Christian country. It is not. Many of our forefathers (Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, to name a few) were Deists-not Christians. I am tired of the right wing Christians wanting to control our country by their ideas.

  • goldengrain

    I strongly believe in the US as a place where we have not only freedom OF religion, but freedom FROM religion, as well.

    Don’t assume that I am either right wing or Christian. I just call it as I see it. Sometimes I’m wrong, and I admit to that when I feel I am.

    I am just saying that I like to hear both/all sides of a story before taking sides. Islam, if you look at current events, is not necessarily the peaceful religion that it proclaims to be.

    Maybe these monks are not handling the situation as we would have them do, but they could have some reasons for their discontent. I like coverage that includes both sides.

  • smilinginpoo

    I am not either or on religion as I see it as a form of explaining the unexplainable in terms of controlling the masses through fear and intimidation of after death. What I am is an observer and I have seen many areas of the human universe that have not had this problem and some that have. The idiocracy of this entire Islamic movement is the absence of observable facts.
    1. Their God has never blessed them out of the mindset of the past few hundred thousand years. O.k. a few hundred. They were given great wealth in resources and decided it best spent on the ruling theocracy and elite not on helping the world. They would rather live in the desert and develop weapons to destroy the earth and everyone in it. They are suicidal just like everyone else.
    2. They do not have a forgiving heart nor do the Jews and by that I mean they both want it their way only not Gods will.
    3. They don’t know God’s will and think they do. They believe God is powerless and needs humans to kill, punish, reward and control other humans.
    4. They claim everyone not of their thinking as an infidel but everyone else thinks they are just weird. They are not even united in what they believe.
    5. They hate women and worship the male role which sounds a lot like homo mentality to me. Just look at the laws and process of the Muslim justice system.
    6. The other Muslim countries have not sent their peace keeper to suppress the problems in Muslim lands so that shows they support it.
    7. The so called Christians have tried to live in peace but it is denied with beheadings, assassinations, and murder. Ahh, the religion of peace.
    8. Earth will not survive with this mentality and as such it is the most aggressive element of violence followed by Putin’s own agenda.
    Rachel, I have lived in Arab countries and have seen them prosper and move forward only to see the troglodytes return in the form of extremism and drive them back into the stone age. The Islamic religion like Christianity and others are outdated and do not apply in this century. We need a new mindset, vision and unified code of empathy, and humanity based on mutual respect, all of which Islam and communism do not have. I know you’ll mention the US and Democratic countries but the real problem is not the countries but the people who run them. Muslim are brainwashed and follow like mindless sheep. The rest of the world does not.

  • smilinginpoo

    Our country was based and formed under the Christian ideas and most laws are based on it as our foundation of culture. Immigrants brought their ideas and beliefs true but they have no right to dictate or destroy our country in that name. I agree if the Christian had all the guns they would shot everyone else too. I do not believe in religion I believe in God and my God does not need humans to help him do anything so we should just chill out and live together in harmony. Not possible with the Muslim mentality.

  • goldengrain

    The sad thing about fundie Muslims and Christians is that they take to heart that they must convert the world to their religions. Christianity does not contain within it a form of government, which is a plus, but Chrisitians often try to back legislation that affects the rest of us.