Rakhine state, on the western coast of Burma, is among the most dangerous places in the world to be a Muslim.
Just over a year ago, simmering tensions and small-scale clashes erupted into mass violence between Buddhist Rakhines and Muslim Rohingya, a minority of about 800,000 whose roots in Burma are several centuries old. During these rampages, Buddhist mobs stormed Muslim enclaves, setting fire to villages, destroying schools and mosques and leaving scores of Rohingya dead.
A key catalyst for the violence is the rising influence of the 969 movement, a campaign led by Buddhist monks that preaches religious purity and urges boycotts of Muslim-owned businesses.
The threat of future violence is acute against all Muslims in Burma but particularly the Rohingya. Burma’s 1982 citizenship law does not include the Rohingya among the country’s officially recognized ethnic groups, so they are essentially stateless. They are widely reviled throughout Burma as illegal immigrants. They must obtain official approval to marry and to travel, even to neighboring villages; in some areas, they are prohibited from having more than two children. Many Rohingya, including children, have been forced to work without pay for government and military authorities. Rohingya routinely face arbitrary arrest and detention, confiscation of property, and physical and sexual violence.
In the past few years, Burma has made remarkable progress on political reform. But in his final report last month as the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, Tomás Ojea Quintana called attention to the “profound crisis” in Rakhine state and expressed concern that the de facto segregation of Burma’s Muslim communities would become permanent.