WASHINGTON, United State — Abuses appear “normal and allowed” in Burma’s response to armed attacks in Arakan State, a senior US official has said in an interview following the release last week of an interim report on alleged abuses by a government-appointed commission.
The Arakan State Investigation Commission said there was insufficient evidence so far to support allegations of rape and killings by security forces that have been made by self-identifying Rohingya villagers fleeing security operations in northern Arakan State, also known as Rakhine State.
Tom Malinowski, the US State Department’s human rights chief, questioned the credibility of that investigation in an interview with the Associated Press.
Malinowski said a video of police kicking and beating villagers—filmed by the police and recently surfaced on social media—suggests a disturbing pattern in the security response in Arakan State.
“People don’t film themselves committing a human rights abuse unless they think that doing so is normal and allowed,” Malinowski said.
“What that video suggests to me is that this kind of behavior, at least with respect to whatever unit or elements of the security forces was involved, has become normalized, much as the photographs at Abu Ghraib taught us the same lesson about things that were going on in our military in Iraq at the time,” he said.
The government has verified the video and detained the police officers involved, including the officer who shot the footage.
But it insists that the incident is an “isolated case.”
As early as two years ago, Malinowski said, the US expressed fears to Burma’s government that the grievances of Muslims needed to be addressed. Otherwise, he said, “outside forces would eventually exploit those grievances to promote a violent reaction.”
“It does seem that something like that, at least on a small scale, has happened,” Malinowski said.
The US would be prepared to share credible information of threats with Burma to help the civilian leadership respond effectively to attacks, he said. He would not say if any actionable intelligence has been shared to date.
“We do want to support the government of Burma in protecting its people and its borders. We want to help them do it the right way. That means not falling into the trap of an indiscriminate response that fuels recruitment for groups that may be using violence,” Malinowski said.