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Myanmar: Workshop for Disaster Management Collaboration held

11 February 2017 - 5:52pm
Source: Government of Myanmar Country: Myanmar

February 08, 2017

The “Workshop for Disaster Management Collaboration Dialogue” was held jointly by Japan and Myanmar yesterday at the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation.

Officials from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure & Tourism from Japan and officials from the Irrigation and Water Resources Utilization Administration Department under the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Irrigation attended at the meeting, where they discussed matters relating to “Dam Operation, Management and Improvement”.

Present at the workshop were 29 officials led by Dr. Hitotada Matsuki, Director of International Affairs, MLIT from Japan and 50 officials led by U Kyaw Myint Hlaing, Director-General of Irrigation and Water Resources Utilization Administration Department.

Myanmar: Mountain of Trouble: Human rights abuses continue at Myanmar's Letpadaung mine

10 February 2017 - 4:41pm
Source: Amnesty International Country: Myanmar

After nearly half a century of isolation, Myanmar is undergoing a period of political and economic change.

The transition from military dictatorship to quasi-civilian rule, which began in 2011, saw the formation in April 2016 of a new government led by Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy (NLD).

Among other policy initiatives, the government has promised to extend further the economic reforms started by its predecessor and increase foreign investment.

During this same period, and in response to the reform process, western governments have lifted most sanctions and other restrictions on companies wishing to do business in Myanmar. Following a meeting at the White House between Aung San Suu Kyi and President Barack Obama in September 2016, almost all remaining US sanctions were dropped.

One sector to which the government wants to attract new foreign investments is mining. Myanmar has vast mineral wealth but the industry is largely underdeveloped. Investment in the sector has the potential to bring social and economic benefits to Myanmar. However, extractive industries, such as large-scale mining, also carry specific risks for human rights. This is because they often require the expropriation of land and generate harmful waste materials that require careful management. The risks are not theoretical. Since 2014 Amnesty International has documented a range of human rights abuses and illegal activity linked to Myanmar’s largest mining project, at Monywa, in Sagaing Region.

The Monywa project consists of the Letpadaung, and the Sabetaung and Kyisintaung (S&K) copper mines, as well as the Moe Gyo sulphuric acid factory. Since 2010, the mines have been operated by China’s Wanbao Mining Ltd (Wanbao Mining), in a joint venture with the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL) and the state-owned company, Mining Enterprise 1 (ME1). UMEHL is owned by Myanmar’s military, and was an entity previously on the US sanctions list.

Following a year-long investigation in 2014-15, Amnesty International exposed a range of human rights abuses linked to the Monywa project including forced evictions, poor environmental management which put the health of the local population at risk, and the repression, sometimes brutal, of those who protested against the mines. The research resulted in the February 2015 report, Open for Business? Corporate Crimes and Abuses at Myanmar Copper Mine (hereinafter referred to as ‘Open for Business?’).1 Wanbao Mining operates the Letpadaung Mine through its subsidiary Myanmar Wanbao Mining Copper Limited (Myanmar Wanbao). In May 2016, Myanmar Wanbao announced that the Letpadaung mine had begun producing copper for the first time, sparking new protests by villagers. In June 2016, Amnesty International sent researchers to Monywa again to assess whether anything had improved, or if people remained at risk of human rights abuses. This follow-up investigation found that little has changed and that serious human rights concerns regarding the Letpadaung mine have not been addressed.

World: 5 myths about child soldiers

10 February 2017 - 11:47am
Source: War Child UK Country: Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Colombia, Myanmar, World

This Sunday is Red Hand Day - also known as the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers. Children across the world share red hand prints to call on world leaders to stop the use of children in armed groups.

There's lots of misinformation out there about children associated with armed groups.

This Red Hand Day, we want to set the record straight on 5 of the most common myths and misconceptions.

Myth #1

Child soldiers are used as fighters

Not all are actually used as soldiers. They can also be used as porters, cooks, messengers, spies or for sexual purposes,

The term ‘child soldier’ isn't very accurate. It conjures up images of children in uniforms fighting with guns.

Instead we speak of Children Associated with Armed Forces and Armed Groups (CAAFAGs).

It's important to recognise that children do not have to take part directly in hostilities to be severely affected by them.

Myth #2

Child soldiers are all African

There is a misconception that CAAFAGs are all in Africa.

Whilst it is a serious issue in many African nations, it is a worldwide problem.

In 2016, the UN estimated that there were 20 conflict situations around the world involving children in armed groups, including Myanmar, Central African Republic, Colombia and Afghanistan.

The use of children by armed forces and groups is one of the worst violations in war across the globe.

Myth #3

Child soldiers are all boys

Girls are also recruited or forced into armed groups and it's estimated that up to 30-40% of CAAFAGs are girls.

Like boys, girls are often used for combat.

They are also especially vulnerable to sexual exploitation, and are often forced into early marriage and sexual slavery (it should be noted that boys are also a target of sexual abuse in many countries).

Myth #4

Child soldiers are abducted into armed groups

In many famous cases this is absolutely true. For example, The Lord's Resistance Army and ISIS are kidnapping or using force to recruit children.

But there are also many 'volunteer' recruitments into armed groups.

Some children are indoctrinated and others are lured in by promises of education, security, money and status. Having no access to school, employment or even food are just some of the reasons that leave children no other choice but to join.

Making a distinction between forced and voluntary recruitment is difficult, because the lines are often blurred.

Myth #5

It's easy for released child soldiers to regain their childhood

The risks to children in armed groups are huge. Even if they're released or escape, the after-effects can last a lifetime.

Children can face stigma, exclusion and the consquences of their traumatic experience. They may find their families have been killed in conflict – or sometimes they are rejected by their own communities.

War Child works to tackle this stigma and exclusion.

Our child friendly spaces have dedicated areas for listening sessions where children can share any distress, worry or trauma they are going through. If needed, we refer them to specialist services to provide further support.

We also work closely with families and communities to make sure they are equipped to reintegrate children back into day-to-day life.

Syrian children take action for Red Hand Day

This Sunday is Red Hand Day - also known as the International Day against the Use of Child Soldiers.

It was started in 2002 and is commemorated every year to call on world leaders to stop the use of children in armed groups. In 2008 children across the world collected and presented over 250,000 prints of red hands from 101 countries to the UN.

This week Syrian children from one of our youth groups in Jordan joined the global campaign to raise awareness and stand against the use of children in armed groups.

Myanmar: Over 7,000 IDPs at Mae Tha Wor facing food shortage

9 February 2017 - 11:51pm
Source: Myanmar Peace Monitor Country: Myanmar

Over 7,000 internally displaced persons who fled from Mae Tha Wor area, Hlaingbwe Township, Karen State, due to the outbreaks of fighting in September, 2016, are facing the food shortages.

The displaced people fled from Mae Tha Wor area about five months ago, as a result of the fighting in the area between a splinter group of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), a joint force of Tatmadaw and its allied Border Guard Force (BGF).

Although the displaced villagers want to return home due to the unstable situation, they feared going back. Some who went back to their homes to check their plantations were also injured from landmine blast.

“When they got here at first, there were a lot of donors. But now it has been over 4 months already – not just one week, 15 days or 3 months. So, at first, there were lots of donors but now not many,” said Naw Tin Hla, head of Rations for Displaced Persons at displacement camps in Myaing Gyi Ngu.

The displaced people at Myaing Gyi Ngu camp have depended on the rations provided by private donors, and for their meals, they cooked together and shared the foods.

“At our Kalawde [displacement] camp, we also have difficulties with rations. So, now because hundreds of refugees from Myaing Gyi Ngu area have moved to our area, we have difficulties with ration management. The government stated that they [displaced villagers] already returned to their villages. But, so far, they are afraid to go back. Instead, they have now move to our place,” said Saw Moe She, who helped managing at Kalawde camp, in ParPon Township.

At the moment, more than 7000 IDPs are taking shelter at three camps in Myaing Gyi Ngu, Nawta-Hteetaykhee and Kalawde, according to a social rescue group assisting the displaced people at the camps.

The Mae Tha Wor area, where the fighting broke out, is located in east and south of [proposed] Hatgyi Dam project site, and the fighting was connected to the dam project, according to Karen Rivers Watch in September, 2016.

Translated by Aong Jaeneh

Myanmar: Malaysian aid for Rakhine arrives in Myanmar

9 February 2017 - 11:23pm
Source: Government of Myanmar Country: Malaysia, Myanmar

A ship filled with food and supplies from Malaysia docked in Yangon yesterday, with the aid to be delivered to two communities in conflict areas in northern Rakhine State, said Dr Win Myat Aye, the Union Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement.

“We will send the aid to northern Rakhine by navy ships and we will distribute the aid to conflict areas in cooperation with Rakhine Government,” said Dr Win Myat Aye at the press conference held shortly after the arrival of the Malaysian ship.

The delivery comes after the Malaysian ambassador in Yangon asked the government to accept the aid as they want to donate to the two communities in northern Rakhine, according the Union minister.

Shortly after the Nautical Aliya, which was carrying 2,300 tonnes of food, medicines, daily essential goods, bottled water, clothes and blankets worth more than US$247,900 from Malaysia, docked at the Thilawa Port in Yangon, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Malaysia Dato Seri Reezal Merican Naina Merican handed over the aid to Union Minister Dr Win Myat Aye.

The Myanmar government has already expressed the country’s readiness to accept humanitarian aid, which comes to the country through diplomatic channels, urging the donors to deliver the aid to both communities in Rakhine in a fair and balanced manner.

—Myanmar News Agency

Myanmar: MOFA issues press release, 9 February 2017

9 February 2017 - 11:18pm
Source: Government of Myanmar Country: Myanmar

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a press release yesterday regarding the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) report titled “Interviews with Rohingyas fleeing from Myanmar since 9 October 2016” based on a report written by its delegation, which visited Bangladesh from 8 to 23 January. The following is the full text of the report.

Press Release

1. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a report entitled “Interviews with Rohingyas fleeing from Myanmar since 9 October 2016” on 3 February 2017. The Government of Myanmar considers the allegations contained in the report very serious in nature and is also deeply concerned about the report. Thus, the Government is investigating these allegations through the investigation commission led by Vice-President U Myint Swe. As State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi made it clear in her telephone conversation with OHCHR High Commissioner Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on 3rd February, where there is clear evidence of abuses and violations, the Government will take necessary measures.

Background to the situation in Rakhine State

2. The Government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar places high priority on addressing the situation in Rakhine State, and is striving to find a durable solution.

3. The Government is taking a comprehensive approach with the aim of fostering peace and stability in the State. It has adopted short and long term programmes to promote understanding and trust. The Government has formed the Central Committee on Implementation of Peace, Stability and Development of Rakhine State on 30th May 2016 with State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as Chairperson. Four working committees have been set up to facilitate the work of the Central Committee.

4. The Government of Myanmar has also established the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, chaired by Dr. Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations, to support the Government’s efforts in addressing the issue comprehensively. Prior to issuing its final report in second half of 2017, the Commission will be submitting its interim report to the Government of Myanmar.

5. Even as constructive steps were being undertaken, three police border outposts in northern Rakhine State were attacked by armed men funded and inspired from abroad on 9 October 2016. As the International Crisis Group (ICG) noted in their recent report, the attack seriously threatens the prospects of stability and development in the state. In these circumstances, the Government is taking steps to ensure the safety and security of its people. The Myanmar security forces have been instructed to act within the parameters of rule of law in compliance with human rights refraining from use of excessive force. The Government will spare no effort to take legal action against any perpetrators if there is clear evidence of human rights abuses.

6. On 1 December 2016, an investigation commission led by Vice President U Myint Swe was formed to look into the causes of 9 October and 12-13 November attacks and their consequences. The mandate of the Commission which inheres the guarantee of security and human rights for all the people of Rakhine, requires it to verify all allegations including those related to area clearance operations. The Commission was tasked to submit a report on 31 January 2017. However, the submission date has been extended so that a thorough report could be prepared after necessary investigations. Myanmar also facilitated the visits of Ambassadors, media and international experts including Ms. Yanghee Lee, Special Rapporteur of the situation of human rights in Myanmar, to the affected areas in Rakhine State. International aid organizations are resuming humanitarian aid to many affected areas in Rakhine.

7. Since the new Government took office, promotion and protection of human rights has been high on its agenda. The work of the National Investigation Commission with regard to all allegations will continue and action will be taken against the perpetrators of illegal acts and human rights violations. The Government of Myanmar stands firm in its commitment to national reconciliation and peace throughout the country.

Myanmar: Tatmadaw releases reaction to OHCHR report

9 February 2017 - 11:18pm
Source: Government of Myanmar Country: Bangladesh, Myanmar

The Tatmadaw true news information team released news in reaction to a report from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) yesterday.

The statement noted that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of the Union of Myanmar has issued a news release on Wednesday over “Interviews with Rohingyas fleeing from Myanmar since 9 October 2016,” issued on Friday concerning the investigation by the delegation to Bangladesh assigned by the OHCHR.

“The Government of the State had the investigation commission led by Vice-President U Myint Swe investigate the accusations. As regards other affairs in Rakhine State, security forces have been instructed to perform their duties in the framework of the law in accord with human rights and not to exercise force excessively. If sufficient evidence is found of violating human rights, the Government will take legal actions against anyone. As for the investigation, all the accusations, including accusations on area clearance operations, will be examined, whether they are true or not,” according to the statement.

“On 9 October 2016, terrorists supported by foreign countries with financial aid made a surprise armed attack at the No. 3 border guard police outpost in northern Rakhine, killing 10 policemen and looting 65 firearms and ammunitions. That event not only harmed the sovereignty of the State but also threatened the people’s lives and properties, hence the operations to launch area clearance to find out attackers and to bring back firearms and ammunitions looted. The Tatmadaw will form an investigation team to investigate whether there have been unlawful acts including violations of human rights.” It is learnt that the investigation team will be headed by Lt. General Aye Win of Tatmadaw, investigation chief officer as chairman. Members of the investigation team will be: Brigadier Khun Thant Zaw Htoo, Vice Adjutant-General, No. 9 Tatmadaw; Advanced Training School Principal Brigadier Aung Kyaw Ho and Major Hla Myo Kyaw Deputy Assistant Judge Advocate-General of West Command. Lt Colonel Myo Win Aung, Assistant Judge Advocate-General will serve as secretary, it is learnt.— Myanmar News Agency

Myanmar: Mountain of Trouble: Human Rights Abuses Continue at Myanmar’s Letpadaung Mine

9 February 2017 - 10:25pm
Source: Amnesty International Country: Myanmar

Executive Summary

After nearly half a century of isolation, Myanmar is undergoing a period of political and economic change. The transition from military dictatorship to quasi-civilian rule, which began in 2011, saw the formation in April 2016 of a new government led by Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy (NLD).

Among other policy initiatives, the government has promised to extend further the economic reforms started by its predecessor and increase foreign investment. During this same period, and in response to the reform process, western governments have lifted most sanctions and other restrictions on companies wishing to do business in Myanmar. Following a meeting at the White House between Aung San Suu Kyi and President Barack Obama in September 2016, almost all remaining US sanctions were dropped.

One sector to which the government wants to attract new foreign investments is mining. Myanmar has vast mineral wealth but the industry is largely underdeveloped. Investment in the sector has the potential to bring social and economic benefits to Myanmar. However, extractive industries, such as large-scale mining, also carry specific risks for human rights. This is because they often require the expropriation of land and generate harmful waste materials that require careful management. The risks are not theoretical. Since 2014 Amnesty International has documented a range of human rights abuses and illegal activity linked to Myanmar’s largest mining project, at Monywa, in Sagaing Region.

The Monywa project consists of the Letpadaung, and the Sabetaung and Kyisintaung (S&K) copper mines, as well as the Moe Gyo sulphuric acid factory. Since 2010, the mines have been operated by China’s Wanbao Mining Ltd (Wanbao Mining), in a joint venture with the Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Limited (UMEHL) and the state-owned company, Mining Enterprise 1 (ME1). UMEHL is owned by Myanmar’s military, and was an entity previously on the US sanctions list.

Following a year-long investigation in 2014-15, Amnesty International exposed a range of human rights abuses linked to the Monywa project including forced evictions, poor environmental management which put the health of the local population at risk, and the repression, sometimes brutal, of those who protested against the mines. The research resulted in the February 2015 report, Open for Business? Corporate Crimes and Abuses at Myanmar Copper Mine (hereinafter referred to as ‘Open for Business?’).

Wanbao Mining operates the Letpadaung Mine through its subsidiary Myanmar Wanbao Mining Copper Limited (Myanmar Wanbao). In May 2016, Myanmar Wanbao announced that the Letpadaung mine had begun producing copper for the first time, sparking new protests by villagers. In June 2016, Amnesty International sent researchers to Monywa again to assess whether anything had improved, or if people remained at risk of human rights abuses. This follow-up investigation found that little has changed and that serious human rights concerns regarding the Letpadaung mine have not been addressed.

Thousands remain at risk of forced evictions

Hundreds of families living in the environs of the mine continue to face forced evictions from their homes and/or their farmland. Myanmar Wanbao says it needs to expand the mine’s perimeter by a further two thousand acres. The company claims to have conducted genuine consultations with all affected people, but this is not the case. For example, residents of four villages have been excluded from consultations altogether, even though they are among the worst affected. Against their wishes, they face the loss of their farms and resettlement to a new location

Ongoing environmental management failures and risks to health and livelihoods

Myanmar Wanbao’s failure to undertake an adequate environmental assessment of the Letpadaung mine is putting the safety of the neighbouring communities at risk. The risks are extremely serious as the giant mine is in a region prone to both earthquakes and floods. If either of these strike the mine, they could result in contaminated waste spreading into the surrounding environment. Myanmar Wanbao has acknowledged that this could have a “catastrophic” impact. These risks were underlined when, during heavy flooding in August 2015, flood waters entered the mine area even though it was protected by an embankment. In this instance, Myanmar Wanbao said it was able to prevent any waste material from leaving the site, but it has not provided evidence to support this statement.

Another incident raises further serious questions about the management of the mine. Amnesty International has documented how the company failed to prevent the discharge of potentially hazardous waste material from the mine, starting from November 2015. That was when farmers in Wet Hme village, some 500 meters from the mine, saw that its perimeter drain had overflowed. Despite informing the local authorities and Myanmar Wanbao within ten days of noticing the spill, the liquid continued to run into their land for weeks, one of the farmers told Amnesty International. He described the damage that the spill caused to the wheat and beans that they were growing:

“Every crop perished. Everything died. Every place where the water got the crops perished. They perished steadily, taking around ten days. First the crops wilted and then died.”

In June 2016, Amnesty International researchers took samples of soil from two places where villagers described the spill as happening. These samples were tested at the Greenpeace laboratory at Exeter University, in the UK. The results were then analysed by an environmental scientist, who concluded that it was “highly-probable” that the liquid was contaminated.

“The soil samples indicate that the waste water in the drain at the time of the spill had elevated levels of various metals and in particular arsenic, copper and lead. This indicates that contamination of the water with mine – derived contaminants is highly probable.”

Neither the government nor Myanmar Wanbao has explained to the farmers what caused the spill, nor provided them with any information about the contents of the waste water, nor whether it posed any health risks. There has been no clean-up and no compensation for the loss of crops.

Repression of peaceful protests

Many people in the communities surrounding the Monywa project remain deeply unhappy with how the mines are managed. The loss of their lands has placed their agricultural livelihoods, and their futures, at risk.

They are fearful of the damage that they believe is being done to the environment and the health of their families. The government has promised to resolve differences between the communities and the mining companies. Yet villagers and activists who are opposed to the Monywa project continue to face arrest and harassment. Myanmar Wanbao and the authorities continue to use Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. This provision allows magistrates to restrict access to particular designated areas. Research for Amnesty International’s 2015 report found that the authorities used it to block access to areas around the two mines and charge villagers who protest against the companies. In 2016, Amnesty International found similar misuse. For example three villagers were convicted of trespass after taking part in a protest outside the main gate of the S&K mine.

Conclusion and recommendations

Amnesty International continues to call on the government of Myanmar to suspend the mine’s operations until the human rights and environmental concerns are dealt with and effective processes are put in place to prevent further abuse.

In particular, the government needs to ensure that Myanmar Wanbao does not carry out any more evictions of people from their homes or land until all procedural safeguards required under international human rights law have been put in place. It must require Myanmar Wanbao and its joint venture partners to address the shortcomings in their management of environmental risks, including through sharing final designs of key infrastructure for public scrutiny and undertaking a comprehensive assessment of the environmental, social and human rights impacts in consultation with all affected people.

Wanbao Mining and UMEHL should investigate the cause and impact of the spill of waste liquid at Wet Hme village in 2015, and the impact of the floods of 2015, and make the findings public. The two operating companies should make a public commitment to suspend plans for extending the project area and construction for the Letpadaung mine until human rights and environmental concerns are resolved in genuine consultation with affected communities.

More broadly, the Myanmar government needs to strengthen the legal framework to improve the regulation of large projects, such as mines, and put in place an adequate framework for land acquisition that is based on international standards on the right to adequate housing and the prohibition of forced evictions. Both the government of Myanmar and Myanmar Wanbao must also ensure an effective remedy for the human rights abuses that people there have already suffered.

The Monywa project is not an isolated case of human rights abuses involving corporations in Myanmar. Activists and NGOs have highlighted other deeply troubling examples which expose both the systemic weaknesses in Myanmar’s ability to regulate companies and protect affected communities, as well as foreign corporations’ apparent willingness to take advantage of this context.

Foreign corporations doing business, or planning to do business, in Myanmar have a responsibility to ensure that their investments do not cause or contribute to human rights abuses. A critical first step is conducting human rights due diligence on planned business activities in Myanmar in line with international standards on business and human rights. The governments of foreign companies investing in Myanmar, including China, must require their companies to undertake due diligence prior to investing or undertaking business operations in Myanmar.

Myanmar: Myanmar government to conduct investigation of violence against Rohingya in northern Rakhine

9 February 2017 - 9:15pm
Source: Radio Free Asia Country: Malaysia, Myanmar

Myanmar’s foreign affairs ministry said on Thursday the government will conduct an investigation of the crisis in Rakhine state following accusations by the United Nations that security forces committed serious human rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims who live there.

Based on interviews with more than 200 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, the U.N. report issued on Feb. 3 said the military’s actions “very likely amounted to ethnic cleansing,” though Myanmar's government and military have largely dismissed allegations of abuse against the Muslim minority.

“We’ll have to find out how truthful the allegations are,” the ministry’s director-general Aye Aye Soe told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

A national-level commission led by Vice President Myint Swe has been investigating reports of murder, torture, arson, and rape in northern Rakhine state since December.

But in an interim report issued in January, the commission said it had found no cases of genocide or religious persecution of Rohingya Muslims living in the region in the wake of deadly border guard attacks and a subsequent security lockdown.

It also said its interviews of local villagers and women about the rape allegations yielded insufficient evidence to take legal action, and that its investigations into accusations of arson, torture, and illegal arrests were ongoing.

“The Rakhine state commission which is carrying out the investigations hasn’t even released its [final] report yet,” Aye Aye Soe said. “How can we comment on these allegations?”

“We would have to find out the truth first before doing anything,” she said about other allegations of atrocities put forward by some of the 69,000 Rohingya who have fled northern Rakhine and sought refuge mainly in Bangladesh.

The commission is an independent body and does not take orders from any government ministry, she said, adding that it will welcome any proof to substantiate the allegations.

She added that the government “took action immediately” against three police officers who were shown abusing Rohingya civilians in a village in Maungdaw township during a security sweep in early November 2016.

In a rare instance of action taken against officers, those involved have been sentenced to two months in prison for their actions captured in a video that has circulated on social media.

Military creates inquiry board

Myanmar’s military has formed an inquiry board comprising five senior officers led by Lt. Gen. Gen Aye Win, inspector-general of the armed forces, to investigate the allegations in the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights report.

The Office of the Commander-in-Chief said in a statement issued Thursday that the board will try to determine whether soldiers used excessive force and committed human rights violations in Maungdaw.

The Myanmar government on Thursday refuted a news report that more than 1,000 Rohingya Muslims had been killed during the military crackdown in Maungdaw.

Presidential spokesman Zay Htay told RFA’s Myanmar Service that a Reuters report quoting two U.N. officials about the number of dead from security operations since early October attacks on border guards was incorrect.

Myanmar’s military indicated that the number of deaths did not exceed 100, he said, adding that he could not say anything about the discrepancy between the government and U.N. figures until he has received a full report from the ground.

Malaysian ‘food flotilla’ arrives

Meanwhile, Buddhist nationalist protestors greeted a Malaysian ship carrying about 2,200 tons of humanitarian aid, including rice, instant noodles, bottled water, hygiene kits, and clothing, for the Rohingya who fled to safety, when it arrived in the commercial capital Yangon on Thursday.

The country’s majority-Buddhist populace views the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and denies that they constitute a legitimate Myanmar ethnic group.

“These ships arrived in Yangon under the pretext of helping refugees,” said Buddhist monk Ven Thuseitta from the Yangon chapter of the Patriotic Myanmar Monks Union.

“We can accept sincere help for refugees, but not this being exploited politically with the use of the word ‘Rohingya.’ We have never had Rohingya in our country, and we don’t want to hear that they want to help this nonexistent group.”

Win Ko Ko Latt of the Yangon Region Nationalist Alliance said the protesters reject the humanitarian mission because it was organized under pressure by the foreign ministers of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, an intergovernmental body of 57 member nations that met recently to discuss the plight of the Rohingya in Rakhine state, and other foreign organizations.

“The government may allow such humanitarian assistance, but we as nationalists will object as much as we can if they come with an intent to exploit the situation politically using the name ‘Rohingya,’” he said. “They are using this term to [invoke] an identity [for the Rohingya] and to cause bigger problems.”

'Not an easy task'

Muslim-majority Malaysia and Indonesia have criticized the Myanmar government over the Rakhine crisis and its treatment of the Rohingya, who are denied citizenship and access to basic services although many have lived in the country for generations.

The Myanmar government initially objected to the “food flotilla” from Malaysia, which it claimed had not received official permission to enter its waters and deliver aid.

But Win Myat Aye, Myanmar’s minister for social welfare, relief, and resettlement called the aid delivery “an official arrangement between our ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] member countries.”

“Malaysia has contacted us officially to send this humanitarian assistance, and we will distribute all this assistance fairly among the two communities through the Rakhine state government,” he said.”

The Myanmar government has said that the aid must be distributed to both Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine people alike.

“It is not an easy task to reach Yangon, and praise God the first phase has been accomplished,” said mission chief Abdul Azeez Rahim. “We have asked the Myanmar government that several of our volunteers be present during the distribution of aid in Rakhine.”

Some of the food and other items will be transported to Rakhine’s capital Sittwe and northern Rakhine state, while the rest will go by boat to the seaport of Chittagong in southern Bangladesh for distribution to tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees living in camps in Teknaf, Kutupalong, and Nayapara, Rahim said.

Indonesia has already sent 10 shipping containers of food, baby supplies, and clothes for Rohingya affected by the violence.

Reported by Kyaw Thu for RFA’s Myanmar Service, and by Hata Wahari for BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

Myanmar: UN rights envoy urges inquiry into abuses of Rohingya in Myanmar

9 February 2017 - 8:55pm
Source: IRIN Country: Myanmar

YANGON, 9 February 2017

By Jared Ferrie, Asia Editor

The UN should launch an inquiry into military abuses of Myanmar’s minority Rohingya Muslims, because the government is incapable of carrying out a credible investigation, the UN’s rights envoy will tell the Human Rights Council next month.

Read more on IRIN

Myanmar: Australian Government must push for an end to Myanmar’s devastating Rohingya crisis

9 February 2017 - 3:56pm
Source: Australian Council for International Development Country: Myanmar

In the wake of a UN report documenting atrocities against the Rohingya people, a coalition of civil society organisations are calling for the Australian Government to urgently pressure the Myanmar authorities to condemn the human rights abuses and act immediately to protect Rohingyas.

The report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights is based on interviews with Rohingya refugees who describe witnessing mass gang rape, brutal beatings, disappearances and killings, including of babies and young children.

Kate Lee, Executive Officer of Union Aid Abroad APHEDA said: “The recounts from Rohingya people fleeing Myanmar are horrific and truly devastating. They have seen their family members killed and more than half of the women interviewed said they had been raped or sexually violated.”

Despite numerous reports of violence committed by the country’s security forces, the new National League of Democracy (NLD) led Government in Myanmar has repeatedly denied any human rights abuses taking place in the area.

To date, the Australian Government’s position has been to avoid openly criticising the new government.

Kate Lee continued: “The Australian Government has the potential to play a significant diplomatic role in resolving this escalating crisis. Australia has a history of diplomatic and political influence in the region and it should be used to pressure the Myanmar government to condemn the human rights abuses in Rakhine State being perpetrated by the military and immediately move to protect the Rohingya people”.

Ged Kearney, President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions said: “The persecution of the Rohingya is a blight on Myanmar's global reputation. The Australian government must now intervene.”

A global statement issued today by a coalition of civil society organisations has highlighted the assassination of prominent Muslim NLD legal advisor, U Ko Ni and calls on the NLD Government to “prohibit advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence”. U Ko Ni had proposed an amendment to Myanmar’s constitution which would have limited the powers of the country’s military.

Marc Purcell, CEO of the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) backed the statement, adding: “The Myanmar Government must assert the religious and ethnic equality of all people in Myanmar, including the persecuted Muslims in Rakhine State. Australia should use its international influence to push for an immediate end to the crisis and for a UN Commission of Inquiry”.

ENDS

Notes to Editors

UN News Centre – UN report details 'devastating cruelty' against Rohingya population in Myanmar's Rakhine province

Link to Report of Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Mission to Bangladesh Interviews with Rohingyas fleeing from Myanmar since 9 October 2016

Link to global statement on the assassination of U Ko Ni and international signatories

Yanghee Lee, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, has told journalists that she will urge member states of the Human Rights Council to sponsor a resolution for a UN commission of inquiry.

Media Contacts

For further comment, contact Kate Lee, Executive Officer of Union Aid Abroad APHEDA via KLee@APHEDA.ORG.AU or on 0420 293 083.

Carla De Campo, ACTU Media coordinator can be contacted via cdecampo@actu.org.au or on 03 9664 7315.

Myanmar: Myanmar: Populations at Risk - Current Crisis (15 January 2017)

9 February 2017 - 1:41pm
Source: Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect Country: Myanmar

Myanmar (Burma)

Stateless Rohingya in Myanmar (Burma) face systematic persecution that poses an existential threat to their community. The current counterinsurgency operation and ongoing human rights violations against the Rohingya amount to possible crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.

BACKGROUND:
The situation in Rakhine state in northwest Myanmar continues to deteriorate following a series of attacks on border guard posts on 9 October by what appears to be a newly established armed group. A subsequent joint army-police counterinsurgency operation began on 10 October. Since then, there have been widespread reports of mass arrests, rape, forcible removal, extrajudicial killings and the widespread destruction of Rohingya buildings and mosques. The army deployed helicopter gunships to several Rohingya villages on 12 and 13 November, resulting in the death of at least 25 civilians. On 24 November the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees' (UNHCR) representative in Bangladesh accused Myanmar's government of the "ethnic cleansing" of the Rohingya. 

On 16 December the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, expressed disappointment at the government of Myanmar for not approving the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights' (OHCHR) persistent requests for access to Rakhine state. Previously, High Commissioner Zeid stated that the "widespread and systematic" abuses perpetrated against the Rohingya amount to crimes against humanity.

A commission established by the government to investigate the situation in northern Rakhine state issued its first findings on 3 January. The commission claimed there is no evidence of genocide against the Rohingya and insufficient evidence of security forces raping civilians. International observers have questioned the impartiality of the commission, which is led by Vice President Myint Swe, a retired army general, and does not include any Rohingya or Muslim commissioners.

The Rohingya, a distinct Muslim ethnic minority group, have been systematically disenfranchised and marginalized under discriminatory laws in Myanmar. In March 2015 the former government invalidated the identification cards held by many Rohingyas, forcing them to apply for citizenship as "Bengalis," implying their illegal migration from Bangladesh. This follows the government denying Rohingyas the ability to self-identify on the national census of March 2014, the first since 1983. 

Former President Thein Sein signed into law the last of four so-called "Protection of Race and Religion" bills in August 2015. These discriminatory laws place harsh restrictions on women and non-Buddhists, including on fundamental religious freedoms, as well as reproductive and marital rights. Rohingyas were largely disenfranchised in advance of Myanmar's historic November 2015 elections and continue to be denied citizenship and other fundamental human rights. 

According to OCHA, as of December 2016 an estimated 120,000 people in Rakhine state are internally displaced. Many Rohingya have lived in internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps since inter-communal violence during 2012. 

The cumulative impact of deteriorating living conditions, combined with ongoing persecution, has led tens of thousands of Rohingyas to flee to neighboring countries, where they are often subject to further abuse, human trafficking and refoulement. According to OCHA, an estimated 65,000 civilians have fled Rakhine state into Bangladesh since October. 

While the previous government signed ceasefire agreements with several ethnic armed groups, conflict continues. Recent fighting between Myanmar's military forces (Tatmadaw) and the Kachin Independence Army in Kachin state, particularly around IDP camps, has resulted in more than 23,000 people displaced since December 2016. 

ANALYSIS:
The recent violence in Rakhine state represents a dangerous escalation of the conflict between state security forces and the Rohingya minority, heightening the risk of further mass atrocity crimes. The obstruction of humanitarian aid endangers the lives of vulnerable populations. 

The previous government's refusal to end discriminatory state policies against the Rohingya encouraged violations of their fundamental human rights and reinforced the dangerous perception of them as ethnic outsiders. The Protection of Race and Religion bills were intended to eradicate the Rohingya's legal right to exist as a distinct ethnic group in Myanmar. 

The National League for Democracy (NLD) government, which is uniquely positioned to improve the plight of the Rohingya and has been hailed by many international partners for making progress towards democracy, has yet to repeal discriminatory laws and anti-Rohingya policies.

With a pervasive culture of impunity, the Tatmadaw has not been held accountable for previous mass atrocity crimes, and there are grave fears for the safety of vulnerable Rohingya civilians as the security forces continue operations in Rakhine state.

The government of Myanmar is failing to uphold its primary Responsibility to Protect with regard to the Rohingya.

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE:
Following decades of military dictatorship, democratic reforms have contributed to rapprochement between Myanmar and the international community, including the lifting of sanctions. Citing progress on human rights under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi, the European Union announced on 16 September that it would not be submitting a UN General Assembly human rights resolution on Myanmar for the first time since 1991.

At the request of the United States, on 17 November the Special Adviser of the UN Secretary-General on Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar, briefed the UN Security Council (UNSC) on the situation in northern Rakhine state. 

On 4 December Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak led a protest rally in Kuala Lumpur against what he called the "genocide" of the Rohingya minority and urged other Asian countries to apply pressure on the government of Myanmar.

Foreign Ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) attended talks on 19 December in Yangon to discuss the ongoing counterinsurgency operations in Rakhine state. During the meeting Malaysia reportedly urged the creation of an independent ASEAN-led investigation into widespread reports of abuses by the security forces against Rohingya civilians. 

On 29 December a group of 11 Nobel Peace Prize laureates and other public figures issued an open letter calling upon the UNSC to put the situation of the Rohingya on its agenda and urging the new UN Secretary-General to visit Myanmar as a matter of priority. The letter urged the UN to encourage the government of Myanmar to lift all restrictions on humanitarian aid and ensure access for journalists and human rights monitors. The letter also encouraged the creation of "an independent, international inquiry" into the situation in Rakhine state.

NECESSARY ACTION:
While responding to the recent border post attacks, the NLD government and Tatmadaw must prioritize protection of civilians and ensure that all security operations in Rakhine state are fully compliant with international law. The government must expand accountability measures for human rights abuses committed by the security forces. 

The government of Myanmar must uphold its Responsibility to Protect all populations, regardless of their ethnicity or religion. The government should immediately abolish the Rakhine Action Plan and end institutionalized discrimination against the Rohingya, including the denial of citizenship. The government needs to prohibit hate speech and should collaborate with OHCHR to open a UN human rights office in Myanmar.

In Rakhine state the government must facilitate the safe, voluntary return of IDPs to their communities. Countries that receive Rohingya asylum seekers should offer them protection and assistance. ASEAN members should continue to urge the government of Myanmar to address immediate humanitarian concerns as well as the root causes of the crisis.

The UN should establish an independent, international Commission of Inquiry to investigate the situation in northern Rakhine state and the plight of the Rohingya.

Last Updated: 15 January 2017

Myanmar: Aid ship to help Rohingyas arrives in Myanmar, greeted by protest

9 February 2017 - 10:19am
Source: Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation Country: Malaysia, Myanmar

The aid shipment from mostly Muslim Malaysia has stirred opposition in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where many see the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh

By Simon Lewis and Aye Win Myint

YANGON, Feb 9 (Reuters) - A small group of protesters greeted a ship from Malaysia when it docked in Myanmar on Thursday carrying aid bound for the troubled state of Rakhine, where many members of the stateless Rohingya Muslim minority live.

The ship docked on the outskirts of the commercial hub, Yangon, where it was due to unload 500 tonnes of food and emergency supplies, with the rest of its 2,200 tonne cargo bound for southeast Bangladesh.

Read more on the Thomson Reuters Foundation

Myanmar: EXCLUSIVE-More than 1,000 feared killed in Myanmar army crackdown on Rohingya - U.N. officials

9 February 2017 - 4:56am
Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation Country: Myanmar
  • Army began crackdown in northwestern Myanmar in October

  • Two senior UN officials say more than 1,000 may be dead

  • Around 69,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh

  • UN report detailed accounts of mass killings, gang rapes

  • Aung San Suu Kyi's government says will investigate allegations

By Antoni Slodkowski

COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh, Feb 9 (Reuters) - More than 1,000 Rohingya Muslims may have been killed in a Myanmar army crackdown, according to two senior United Nations officials dealing with refugees fleeing the violence, suggesting the death toll has been a far greater than previously reported.

The officials, from two separate UN agencies working in Bangladesh, where nearly 70,000 Rohingya have fled in recent months, said they were concerned the outside world had not fully grasped the severity of the crisis unfolding in Myanmar's Rakhine State.

"The talk until now has been of hundreds of deaths. This is probably an underestimation - we could be looking at thousands," said one of the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity. Both officials, in separate interviews, cited the weight of testimony gathered by their agencies from refugees over the past four months for concluding the death toll likely exceeded 1,000.

Myanmar's presidential spokesman, Zaw Htay, said the latest reports from military commanders were that fewer than 100 people have been killed in a counterinsurgency operation against Rohingya militants who attacked police border posts in October.

Asked about the UN officials' comments that the dead could number more than 1,000, he said: "Their number is much greater than our figure. We have to check on the ground."

About 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims live in apartheid-like conditions in northwestern Myanmar, where they are denied citizenship. Many in Buddhist-majority Myanmar regard them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

In addition to the information the two UN officials gave Reuters, a report released by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on Friday gave accounts of mass killings and gang rapes by troops in northwestern Myanmar in recent months, which it said probably constituted crimes against humanity.

The government led by Aung San Suu Kyi said last week it would investigate the allegations in the report. It has previously denied almost all accusations of killings, rapes and arson.

But mounting evidence of atrocities by the army puts Suu Kyi, who has no control over the armed forces under a constitution written by the previous military government, in a difficult position, Myanmar-based diplomats say.

The Nobel peace prize winner has been criticised in the West for her silence on the issue, undermining the goodwill she built up as a democracy champion under years of junta rule and threatening international support. Challenging the generals, however, could put Myanmar's democratic transition at risk.

COUNTING THE DEAD

Independent verification of what has been happening in Myanmar is extremely difficult as the military has cut off access to northwestern Rakhine.

The OHCHR report cited supporting evidence including bullet and knife wounds sustained by refugees and satellite imagery showing destruction of villages.

A second senior UN official, from a different agency in Bangladesh, told Reuters that the report only described "the tip of the iceberg".

The OHCHR report was based on interviews with 220 people, the majority of whom said they knew of people who had been killed or disappeared.

Reuters also has reviewed a separate, internal UN analysis using a much larger sample size.

In this unpublished report, based on interviews with families comprising more than 1,750 refugees, there were 182 reports of killings of people just in the interviewee's home village, and 186 reports of people from their village disappearing, more than 10 percent in both cases.

The document acknowledges the actual number in both categories was likely lower as interviewees from the same village may have separately described the same incidents.

The UN says 69,000 people have crossed the border since October, so if the proportion reporting people killed or missing among all the refugees was consistent with those in the report the total number would run into the thousands.

HARROWING ACCOUNTS

According to refugees' accounts provided to Reuters in camps in Bangladesh over the past two weeks, the army intensified its offensive in northern Rakhine in mid-November, unleashing what the OHCHR report described as a "calculated policy of terror" after an incident in which several hundred Rohingya attacked an outnumbered group of soldiers, killing an officer.

The OHCHR report details deaths in random firings, including from helicopters and grenades; targeted killings of imams and teachers, slitting of throats with knives and locking people inside burning houses.

Reuters reporters have heard similar accounts from refugees in the camps in Bangladesh.

Khatun Hazera, a 35-year-old woman from the village of Kya Guang Taung, told Reuters that soldiers shot her husband, a teacher at the village madrassa, as he was returning from school with his students.

"They shot him and then turned the body upside down, dragged it, put a sword inside it and took pictures," she said. Her elderly parents-in-law, interviewed separately, gave similar accounts.

Reuters could not independently confirm these accounts.

Presidential spokesman Zaw Htay said the authorities "will try to verify" such reports, adding: "If it's true we need to find out the reason and the background data about the incident."

"WHERE ARE THE MEN?"

The OHCHR report says that the vast majority of the new Rohingya refugees were women and children, raising questions about the fate of the men left behind, UN officials said.

"Boys and men between the age of 17 and 45 were particularly targeted, as they are considered to be strong and seen as a potential threat to the army and authorities," it said, adding that many accounts describe men of that age being rounded up and taken away with their hands tied behind their backs or heads.

Zaw Htay said the police and army were doing their jobs in making arrests.

Myanmar authorities have given little information about how many may have been detained, although prison officials told a UN human rights envoy last month that they were holding about 450 people.

"If you look at the new arrivals - the majority are women - so many of them talk about a killed husband, a slaughtered uncle or a missing brother. Where are all the men?" said the first UN official. (Additional reporting by Simon Lewis in Yangon; Editing by Alex Richardson)

Bangladesh: Bangladesh: Reject Rohingya refugee relocation plan

9 February 2017 - 12:40am
Source: Human Rights Watch Country: Bangladesh, Myanmar

Provide protection, not isolation on flooded island

(New York) – The Bangladeshi government should immediately drop its plan to transfer Rohingya refugees to an uninhabited, undeveloped coastal island, Human Rights Watch said today. Relocating the refugees from the Cox’s Bazar area to Thengar Char island would deprive them of their rights to freedom of movement, livelihood, food and education, in violation of Bangladesh’s obligations under international human rights law.

Between 300,000 and 500,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees, most of them unregistered by the authorities, are in Bangladesh after fleeing persecution in Burma dating back to the 1990s. Since October 2016, nearly 69,000 Rohingya from Rakhine State in Burma have entered Bangladesh to escape attacks by Burmese security forces, including unlawful killings, sexual violence and wholesale destruction of villages.

“The Bangladesh government is making the ridiculous claim that relocating Rohingya refugees to an island with absolutely no facilities that is deluged at high tide and submerged during the monsoon season will improve their living conditions,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “This proposal is both cruel and unworkable and should be abandoned.”

The plan to move long-term refugees to Thengar Char was first suggested in 2015, but was shelved after widespread condemnation.

A 2015 letter from the Bangladeshi government on the appropriate location to relocate the refugees stated that it must “minimize conflicts between Bangladeshis and Rohingya.” Thengar Chor was apparently chosen because of its distance from inhabited areas – it is 30 kilometers from the populated Hatiya island and a long journey from existing Rohingya camps

The government revived the plan in early February 2017 following the new influx of Rohingya refugees.  Officials contended that the new arrivals pose a law and order and a public health problem, but have produced no evidence to support this claim. In addition, the government has issued warnings against new arrivals mixing with the general population and established committees  to increase security around the camps to prevent refugees from exiting the camps or “intermingling” with Bangladeshi citizens.

A cabinet order, passed on January 26, 2017, is unclear as to whether all Rohingya in Bangladesh would be transferred or only new arrivals.  However, State Minister for Foreign Affairs Mohammad Shahriar Alom has said that, “The Rohingya will live [in Thengar Char] temporarily and our desire is that the Myanmar [Burma] government will take them back as soon as possible.”

Journalists who have visited Thengar Char island, which emerged from river silt deposited in the Bay of Bengal just a decade ago, describe it as empty and featureless, subject to cyclones and flooding. During monsoon season, the island is submerged; anyone living on the island will have to be evacuated, and any infrastructure would be damaged. The government announced that it will build embankments around the island to stave off the constant flooding, but similar islands along the coast have long faced flooding and frequent evacuations despite government interventions. One government official from the area, speaking anonymously to the BBC, said that sending people to live there was “a terrible idea,” noting that the island is "only accessible during winter and is a haven for pirates."

Aid agencies, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which administers the refugee camps, expressed alarm over the revival of this plan, and said that any relocation of the refugees to Thengar Char must be voluntary, and be done through a consultative process after a feasibility study has been completed.

Human Rights Watch regards Rohingya people who flee from Burma to Bangladesh to be prima facie refugees for four reasons. First, the Burmese government has effectively denied its Rohingya minority citizenship, failing to protect them and itself perpetrating rampant and systemic violation of their human rights, including restrictions on movement; limitations on access to health care, livelihood, shelter, and education; arbitrary arrests and detention; and forced labor. Second, because of Burma’s discriminatory citizenship policies, it also refuses to cooperate in the repatriation of Rohingya, itself a denial of the human right of any person to return to their country, and the basis for a _sur place_ claim to refugee status. Third, Bangladesh is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention, and has neither registered Rohingya as refugees since the early 1990s, nor allowed them to lodge asylum claims, thereby abdicating its responsibility to determine their status. Finally, a person does not become a refugee because of recognition, but is recognized because they meet the refugee definition, so refugees in Bangladesh do not forfeit their rights as refugees simply because the authorities have not recognized their status.

“The Bangladeshi government needs to treat the persecuted Rohingya humanely, but they shouldn’t have to go it alone,” Adams said. “Instead of dumping Rohingya on a flooded island, the government should be seeking immediate donor support to improve existing conditions for the refugees.”

Myanmar: Myanmar: Human rights for Rohingya worsening, warns Special Rapporteur

8 February 2017 - 10:38pm
Source: Inter Press Service Country: Bangladesh, Myanmar

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

UNITED NATIONS, Feb 8 2017 (IPS) - A UN Special Rapporteur has expressed grave concern over escalating violence and discrimination against the Rohingya minority in Myanmar.

Following a fact-finding mission, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee expressed concern over atrocities committed against the Rohingya, as well as the government’s denial of allegations.

“For the Government to continue being defensive when allegations of serious human rights violations are persistently reported, that is when the Government appears less and less credible,” she said during a press conference.

Lee added that this response is “not only counterproductive but is draining away the hope that had been sweeping the country,”

After half a century of military rule, Myanmar saw its first democratic elections when Aung San Suu Kyi led the National League for Democracy (NLD) to a majority win. However, she faced criticism for failing to protect Myanmar’s minority groups, namely the Muslim Rohingya minority.

Myanmar’s government disputes the Rohingya people’s status as Burmese citizens and have since enacted discriminatory policies including restrictions on movement and exclusion from healthcare, rendering the majority of the group stateless and impoverished.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) previously described the Rohingya community as one of the most “excluded, persecuted, and vulnerable communities in the world.”

Violence once again reignited following attacks on border guard posts in October in Rakhine state, prompting Myanmar’s military to conduct an ongoing offensive.

According to a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), cases of sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, torture and enforced disappearances by military and police forces have emerged since the retaliation.

In one incident, an eyewitness told OCHR that the military beat their grandparents, tied them to a tree and set them on fire. The UN office also found that more than half of the 101 women interviewed experienced rape or other forms of sexual violence, including pregnant women and pre-adolescent girls.

The attacks “seem[ed] to have been widespread as well as systematic, indicating the very likely commission of crimes against humanity,” the report stated.

Approximately 90,000 people fled the area since the attacks with an estimated 66,000 Rohingya crossing the border into Bangladesh.

Lee said the government’s response to her regarding the military attacks was that it had “rightly launched a security response.” Though authorities must respond to such attacks, Lee noted that the response must be in full compliance with the rule of law and human rights.

“I saw with my own eyes the structures that were burnt down in Wa Peik, and it is hard for me to believe that these are consequent to actions taken in a hurry or haphazardly,” she stated.

OHCHR found that hundreds of Rohingya houses, villages and mosques were deliberately burned down with one eyewitness noting that only Buddhist houses in her village were left untouched.

Human Rights Watch estimates at least 1500 buildings were destroyed, further driving Rohingya from their homes.

The government has denied these allegations, telling Lee that it was villagers who had burnt down their own houses in order to lure international actors to help build better houses. Authorities also said that this was part of the Rohingya’s propaganda campaign to smear the country’s security services.

“I find it quite incredible that these desperate people are willing to burn down their houses to be without a home, potentially displaced…just to give the Government a bad name,” Lee said.

“I must remind again that these attacks took place within the context of decades of systematic and institutionalized discrimination against the Rohingya population,” she continued.

Those that do flee face further challenges in host nations. Bangladesh has been one of the primary hosts of displaced Rohingya, but due to population pressure and security concerns, the South Asian country has been pushing back on refugees. According to Amnesty International, Bangladeshi authorities have denied Rohingya refugees asylum and have detained and pushed hundreds back to Myanmar.

The government had also proposed a plan to relocate refugees to an island.

“We cannot just open our doors to people coming in waves,” said Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. In a country of an estimated 160 million people, her government has its own share of issues to take care of.

The crisis has prompted international groups and leaders to call for actions including unfettered humanitarian access to all parts of northern Rakhine state.

Though Myanmar’s government announced the creation of a committee to investigate the situation in the border state, Human Rights Watch also urged the government to invite the UN to assist in an impartial investigation.

“Blocking access and an impartial examination of the situation will not help people who are now at grave risk,” Human Rights Watch’s Asia Director Brad Adams said.

In December, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak also called on Asian neighbors and the international community to address the crisis.

“The world cannot sit by and watch genocide taking place,” Razak said while protesting violence against the Rohingya minority.

““We must defend them [Rohingya] not just because they are of the same faith but they are humans, their lives have values,” he continued.

In addition to accepting assistance from international actors, Lee encouraged the Government of Myanmar to “appeal to all communities…to be more open and understanding of each other, to respect each other instead of scapegoating others for the sake of advancing their own self-interests.”

“I stand ready to assist in the journey towards a more free and democratic Myanmar,” Lee concluded.

The Special Rapporteur is due to present her final report on her trip to the UN Human Rights Council in March.

World: Index for Risk Management: 2017 Results

8 February 2017 - 1:53pm
Source: INFORM Index for Risk Management Country: Afghanistan, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Haiti, Iraq, Kenya, Libya, Myanmar, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, World, Yemen

The INFORM Global Risk Index measures the risk of a country experiencing a humanitarian crisis that would overwhelm national capacity and lead to a need for international assistance.

World: Emergency Response and Preparedness in the Asia-Pacific Region

8 February 2017 - 6:24am
Source: UN Population Fund Country: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Vanuatu, World

Key facts, figures and examples of how we support actions to better mitigate the risks of disasters and support humanitarian response work that is underpinned by UNFPA’s unique mandate encompassing sexual and reproductive health, gender equality, population data and youth empowerment.

Myanmar: Myanmar: Dooplaya Interview: Saw A---, August 2015

8 February 2017 - 5:32am
Source: Karen Human Rights Group Country: Myanmar

This Interview with Saw A--- describes events occurring in Kawkareik Township, Dooplaya District, prior to and including August 2015, including armed group activities, taxation and a rape case.

  • Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA) collect yearly taxes from villagers such as farm, hill farm, chainsaw, lumber saw and wild yam business tax. Local villagers mentioned that the DKBA tax villagers based on the Karen National Union (KNU) taxation system which they have also been paying.

  • A DKBA soldier named Nya Kheh, under Company Commander Hsah Noo has been logging trees on a B--- villager's land without paying compensation. He also threatened villagers not to complain about what he does, by saying he would cut more trees if the villagers do so.

  • A woman named Naw C--- was raped by a DKBA soldier named Hpah Ta Roh in July 2015 in Kawkareik Township. After she was raped she was threatened by Hpah Ta Roh not to report the rape to the village head or anyone else therefore the case had not been resolved at the time of the interview.

Philippines: UNFPA and Disaster Risk Reduction in Asia and the Pacific

8 February 2017 - 3:49am
Source: UN Population Fund Country: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Vanuatu

At times of upheaval, pregnancy-related deaths and sexual violence increase. Reproductive health services—including prenatal care, skilled attendance at birth and emergency obstetric care—are often impacted and sometimes unavailable. Young people become more vulnerable to unsafe sex leading to HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, and sexual exploitation. And many wom- en lose access to family planning services, exposing them to unwanted pregnancy in perilous conditions.

The United Nations Population Fund’s 23 country offices across the region, supported by the UNFPA Asia-Pacific Regional Office in Bangkok, assist governments and civil society partners in responding to emergencies, reducing immediate risk and preparing for future disasters—underpinned by UNFPA’s unique mandate encompassing sexual and reproductive health, gender equality, population data and youth empowerment.