Following the violent attacks against the Rohingya of Burma in June and October 2012, where hundreds were killed and more than 140,000 forced to flee their homes, no-one doubted that more attacks would take place. It was just a question of where and when. Now we have the answer. The where was Du Chee Yar Tan village, the when was 14th January.
Estimate of the dead vary from seventy to ninety. The United Nations has confirmed at least 48 killed. The government of Burma has denied anything happened, except the killing of one policeman.
Trying to piece together exact details of what happened has not been easy. The remoteness of the area, lack of ways for local people to communicate, threats to local people not to reveal information, and the government ban on people visiting the area, mean that establishing facts is very difficult. My organization, the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK has received direct and indirect information which has enabled us to build a rough picture of what happened.
On the evening of 9th January eight Rohingya men passing through the ethnic Rakhine part of Du Chee Yar Tan village, were detained by Rakhine villagers, and later their bodies were seen in the garden of the village head. As word of the killings spread in the local area, it seems local authorities became worried, and in the early morning, just after midnight on the 14th January, police and security forces entered the ethnic Rohingya part of the village, with the apparent intention of warning people not to talk about the incident.
As they approached one house in the village the man in the house fled, as Rohingya men often face arrest or beatings. They entered a house and demanded valuables, money and jewellery, from the Rohingya woman living there. Just extortion from police and security forces is very common. When the woman refused to give them her jewellery, the police and security forces raped and then killed her. This took place in front of her children. When their mother was killed the children began shouting and screaming that their mother had been killed. Local villagers heard and came to the house protesting. The police opened fire on the villagers. Three Rohingya women, three children and one man were killed and 4 people wounded by gunshots. It is likely that the policeman who authorities say was killed at this time.
The police and security forces left the village, and approximately half an hour later more police and security forces returned to the village, as well as around 20-30 Rakhine civilians.
Police and security forces began to make mass arrests. Some Rohingya trying to resist arrest or protesting about the arrests were shot by the police and security forces. The Rakhine civilians were also attacking Rohingya, hacking and clubbing Rohingya to death. The police and security forces took no action to stop this. They were acting side by side. Rapes of Rohingya women also took place at this time. Most villagers fled the village.
After the massacre, the response of the government was to cover up what had happened. No visitors were allowed, and they denied any incident had taken place except the killing of the police man. But consistent reports of the massacre were leaking out, and the United Nations took the unusual step of issuing a statement about the incident and the number of people is believed had been killed. The USA and UK followed up with statements calling for investigations into the incident. The government of Burma responded to these three statements with anger and denials. For a moment the reform mask slipped and underneath we saw the same old men making the same kind of statements about non-interference as when the country was under direct military rule.
For the United Nations, the USA and UK to make the statements they did is welcome. Many other countries have remained silent. However, their statements are also an example of why the repression and massacres of the Rohingya have been allowed to continue, as they are taking no practical action to prevent more massacres.
The government of Burma might be expressing anger at the statements by the UN, USA and UK, but part of this is bluff, trying to scare them into being silent. In fact they know that there will be no consequences for ignoring the call. The UN, USA and UK know that as well. Look at recent history. Two rounds of violence have taken place against the Rohingya, with more than 140,000 displaced. There were no consequences for the government of Burma when this violence happened. Even when Human Rights Watch collected evidence that violence constituted ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, there was silence from the UN, USA and UK. Humanitarian aid faced severe restrictions and still can't be delivered freely and safely. Again no consequences for the government of Burma. President Thein Sein asked for international help in deporting all Rohingya, again no outcry. Calls for the 1982 Citizenship Law have been flatly rejected. Again no consequences.
During the time that all these abuses have taken place, the EU and USA have lifted most sanctions, most of Burma's debt as effectively cancelled unconditionally, there have been huge increases in aid and loans to the government, western countries are competing for trade and investment opportunities, and US, USA and EU officials have also publicly described Thein Sein as courageous or having courage.
The message to the government of Burma is clear, do what you like to the Rohingya, we'll complain, but we won't take action.
The Du Chee Yar Tan massacre was of the kind which had been predicted, and which was probably preventable. But no real pressure had been applied on the government of Burma to take action against those inciting and taking part in violence, removing discriminatory laws, and promoting peace and reconciliation.
It is clear the Burmese government will not take action to end violence against the Rohingya. They share the views of those who attack out villages. The only way this issue will be addressed is through international intervention, and as a first step there needs to be an independent international investigation into abuses against the Rohingya in the past three years. Such an investigation will help establish the truth, could help prevent future violence, and can make recommendations for addressing the root causes of the violence.
The question is, how many more massacres will have to happen before the UN, USA and UK are forced to face up the fact that they will have to act?
Tun Khin is Human Rights Activist and President of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK.