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UN staff sentenced in Burma for alleged involvement in Rakhine violence

Photo: Bernard Jaspers-Fajer, EU/ECHO. There is a heavy security presence in displaced-persons camps in Rakhine.

Voice of America reports today that two staff members with the United Nations and one United Nations partner have been sentenced to prison terms in Burma for their alleged involvement in the violence between Muslims and Buddhists in the Rakhine state. According to CNN, one is from the UN refugee agency, one is from the UN food program, and one is from a nongovernmental organization that works with the refugee agency.

Aye Win, a UN spokesperson in Burma, said the sentences were handed down on Friday, although the UN was never notified of the trial and the accused were denied legal counsel. Read More »

Violence and unrest in Burma continue, UN reports 90,000 displaced

Monks in Rakhine during less violent times

We reported on the violence and unrest in Burma’s Rakhine state about a week and a half ago—clashes between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims began after a Buddhist woman was reportedly raped and murdered by three Muslims. At that time, there were about 17 reported deaths, but that number has now risen to around 50.

According to the BBC, a United Nations body reports that approximately 90,000 people in the western region have now been displaced due to the violence. Read More »

Violence in Burma’s Rakhine state results in a state of emergency

Monks in Rakhine during less violent times

A state of emergency was declared in the northwestern Burmese state of Rakhine on Sunday after violence between Buddhists and Muslims left at least 17 dead. The clashes are between Rohingya Muslims, who are denied citizenship in Burma, and Rakhine Buddhists, the state’s largest minority group. According to Voice of America, “The riots began after 10 ethnic-Rohingya Muslims were mobbed and murdered by ethnic Rakhines, in retaliation for the gang-rape of a Rakhine girl. ” Read More »

Burmese monks issue call for official apology on Saffron Revolution anniversary

Burmese monks leading protests during 2007's Saffron Revolution

In a sign of further emboldening among the people of Burma following recent democratic reforms, more than 100 Buddhist monks gathered this week to mark the sixth anniversary of the military junta’s brutal crackdown on 2007’s monk-led Saffron Revolution and to demand a formal apology from those responsible for the violence.

Burmese monks have refused any interaction with the military since 2007. As Radio Free Asia explains,

“[Burmese] Buddhists have a longstanding practice of donating food and other necessities to monks, but the clergy boycotted alms from the army in 1990 when the government refused to hand over power to Aung San Suu Kyi and her opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party despite a decisive victory at the polls.

“They declared a similar boycott in 2007 following the anti-junta Saffron Revolution, which started as a protest in Yangon led by tens of thousands of monks against high fuel prices, but ended in a military crackdown which left at least 31 people dead and saw hundreds of monks arrested.” Read More »

Buddhist-Muslim conflicts in Asia garnering major media attention

News has steadily been seeping out of Burma (Myanmar) about occasionally deadly ethnic conflict between the country’s majority Buddhist population and its Muslim minorities. (See our ongoing Burma coverage here.)

Most unusual have been reports that schemes aiming to isolate Muslims economically and socially, such as the “969 Campaign,” as well as street violence, have in some cases been directly organized or instigated by some of the country’s revered Buddhist monks themselves. This news, combined with other reports of certain monks involving themselves in communal conflict in Sri Lanka and Thailand, sometimes in alleged collusion with Buddhist-majority governments, is now garnering major international media attention. Read More »

Burmese monks promoting peaceful initiatives to quell tensions (Updated)

Among the many unsavory details of the occasionally violent, decade-long conflict between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya, now beginning to spread beyond Burma’s western Rakhine state, is the involvement of so-called “nationalist monks” in fomenting anti-Muslim bigotry and even directly inciting the violence. Some of these monks have organized around the “969 campaign” (the name derives from a particular way to categorize the qualities of the Three Jewels — Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha — and is supposed to indicate the “pure following” of these). Originally pushing an initiative to encourage Buddhists to boycott Muslim businesses, the “969 monks” made the news again last week, after a conference at which they issued a call for the Burmese government to implement a law to restrict Buddhist women from marrying Muslim men

But welcome news emerged from Burma, over the past week, that the greater majority of the country’s revered ordained sangha are vigorously promoting peaceful initiatives to quell the ethnic tensions and engaging in hands-on actions of compassionate charity. Read More »

Video: The monk who calls himself “the Burmese Bin Laden”

Over the past year, fighting between Buddhists and Muslims in Burma has intensified, with the Muslim Rohingya being persecuted in the country’s Western Rakhine state and dozens killed in sectarian riots last month in the central city of Meiktila. Some of the violence has been incited by Buddhist monks. The Guardian has a video interview with Wirathu, a monk who calls himself “the Burmese Bin Laden.” Wirathu and his controversial 969 movement have been inciting violence throughout Burma by spreading rumors and racist stereotypes about Muslims.


Burmese writer Swe Win also reports on Burma’s radicalized monks in the New York Times, noting the corruption present in many of Burma’s monasteries. Many other Buddhists, including the Dalai Lama, have spoken out against the violence and condemned the Burmese monks. Watch a new interview with His Holiness after the jump. Read More »

Burmese sectarian violence spreads; at least 20 dead

As we reported yesterday, violence has broken out between Buddhists and Muslims in the city of Meiktili, central Burma. The fighting has now spread to neighboring villages, and the death toll is estimated to be at least 20. The New York Times has the full story.

A report from Amnesty International’s DC Town Hall event with Aung San Suu Kyi (with video)

By Danny Fisher

Last week, I had the great honor and pleasure of attending Amnesty International’s town hall event with Burma’s Nobel Peace laureate and engaged Buddhist icon Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Held at the Newseum in Washington, DC, and moderated by MSNBC’s Alex Wagner, the event came only a day after “Daw Suu” met with President Barack Obama and received the US Congress’s highest civilian honor, the Congressional Gold Medal.

Suu Kyi is the leader of Burma’s National League for Democracy and currently sits in the lower house of the country’s parliament. Her election came after she had spent 15 of the 21 years between 1989 and 2010 under house arrest. During that time, she became the symbol for Burma’s struggle for democracy and freedom from the repressive ruling junta. In addition, she became the world’s most recognized prisoner of conscience during that time — thanks not only to her Nobel Prize and the international media, but also to the efforts of Amnesty International. The town hall, then, celebrated a special relationship between guest and host. Read More »

Read and sign this open letter from the Buddhist community regarding Islamophobia

In honor of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a group of Buddhists has issued this open letter expressing their growing concerns about Islamophobia from governments and within the Buddhist community.

Organized by Joshua Eaton and Buddhadharma News reporter Danny Fisher, the letter points to examples of Muslims being targeted for hate crimes, police profiling, and basic human rights abuses — including recent attempts by Buddhist monks in Burma to block humanitarian aid from reaching persecuted Rohingya Muslims — and calls for them to stop. Read More »