International human rights groups have long said that Myanmar discriminates against the Rohingya, who are neither recognized as an ethnic minority by the government nor allowed citizenship under a 1982 law. Even opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said during a June visit to Europe that she did not know if Rohingya – who are often described as Bengalis by other Burmese – were entitled to Myanmar citizenship.
The violence started after a Rakhine woman was raped and murdered on May 28, with three Muslim men accused. This was followed by the lynching of 10 Muslims by a Buddhist mob on June 3, and then, on June 8, riots by Muslims in the town of Muangdaw. The tit-for-tat violence then reached regional capital Sittwe, whose Muslim population largely emptied out.
Myanmar Army detachments have kept an uneasy peace since mid June, though there are allegations of partiality in favor of the Rakhine, who, like Myanmar's majority Burmans, are mostly Buddhist. On July 27, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said that “We have been receiving a stream of reports from independent sources alleging discriminatory and arbitrary responses by security forces, and even their instigation of and involvement in clashes.”