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Myanmar: UN expert urges the international community not to undermine human rights priorities in Myanmar

5 July 2016 - 12:27am
Source: UN Human Rights Council Country: Myanmar

GENEVA / YANGON (4 July 2016) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, today called for greater efforts in furthering the democratic transition and respect for human rights, and urged the international community not to undermine the country’s rights priorities. “It is vital that all actors work together to ensure human rights are respected and protected across Myanmar,” she said.

“In the rush to forge or strengthen political or economic ties, international actors must continue to prioritize human rights, particularly in business and investment relations,” 
Ms. Lee said at the end of an official visit* to Myanmar from 20 June to 1 July. “International actors should not undermine human rights priorities, including by remaining silent when confronted with human rights concerns or at worst, becoming complicit in perpetuating human rights abuses.”

The expert stressed that the international community must remain fully engaged on human rights issues in Myanmar, and committed to providing necessary support to further the reforms in line with international standards, building on the important steps already taken by the new Government.

“Myanmar’s young democracy can only advance if human rights are fully mainstreamed into its institutional, legal and policy framework,” the Special Rapporteur said. “Building a culture of respect for human rights must be a priority now and in the future.”

Ms. Lee pointed out the importance of strengthening State institutions so that they prioritize the needs and rights of the people in Myanmar’s diverse society. “I observed the very real tension between a new civilian leadership and a bureaucracy inherited from previous military regimes which often resulted in a duality in policy and approach,” she noted.

“The enjoyment of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly are essential ingredients for Myanmar’s democracy,” she said. “A change of mind-set is still needed at all levels of Government to allow civil society and the media to flourish.” Additionally, she noted the need to urgently resolve the cases of remaining political prisoners and to ensure the full re-integration of those released to society.  

Ms. Lee welcomed the priority given to upholding the rule of law, and renewed her call for a comprehensive legislative review with clear timelines and with adequate engagement by all relevant stakeholders, pointing out that many laws still in the books continue to limit the fully enjoyment of human rights. “Myanmar must also not lose sight of the need for constitutional reform,” she added.

The independent expert also urged greater progress in national reconciliation, calling for a peace process that is truly inclusive, collaborative and open. Ms. Lee, who visited Kachin, Rakhine and Shan States, recommended that future political dialogues tackle the root causes of conflict and the long-standing grievances of ethnic communities.

She also encouraged the Government to develop a comprehensive anti-discrimination law or policy to ensure that minorities can exercise their rights without any discrimination and in full equality before the law.  Additionally, she called for an end to the institutionalized discrimination against the Muslim communities in Rakhine State.

“It is clear that tensions along religious lines remain pervasive across Myanmar society. Incidents of hate speech, incitement to discrimination, hatred and violence, and of religious intolerance continue to be a cause for concern,” Ms. Lee said expressing concern at the lack of Government action “due to fears of fuelling greater tensions and provoking more conflict was precisely the wrong signal to send.”

“The Government must demonstrate that instigating and committing violence against an ethnic or religious minority community has no place in Myanmar,” she said.  “Perpetrators will be treated seriously in accordance with the law regardless of race, religious or ethnic background.” 

During the 12-day visit, the expert addressed a broad range of human rights issues with the authorities and various stakeholders, including political and community leaders, civil society representatives, as well as victims of human rights violations and members of the international community.

The Special Rapporteur will present her report to the UN General Assembly in October 2016, which will include her observations and recommendations to the Government of Myanmar.

(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s full end-of-mission statement:  http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=20224&LangID=E

Ms. Yanghee Lee (Republic of Korea) was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2014 as the Special Rapporteur on situation of human rights in Myanmar. She is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity. Ms. Lee is currently serving as the Chairperson of the Coordinating Committee of Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Ms. Lee served as member and chairperson of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2003-2011). She is currently a professor at Sungkyunwan University, Seoul, and serves on the Advisory Committee of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea. Ms. Lee is the founding President of International Child Rights Center. Learn more, go to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/CountriesMandates/MM/Pages/SRMyanmar.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

UN Human Rights, country page – Myanmar: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/MMIndex.aspx

For more information and **media requests**, please contact Ms. Thanda Thanda (+41 22 928 9194 / tthanda@ohchr.org)

For **media inquiries** related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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World: 2015–2016 El Niño: Early action and response for agriculture, food security and nutrition - Update # 9

4 July 2016 - 11:28pm
Source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Country: Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Bolivia (Plurinational State of), Botswana, Cambodia, Chad, Colombia, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Djibouti, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Fiji, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Indonesia, Lao People's Democratic Republic (the), Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Marshall Islands, Mongolia, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Nicaragua, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Suriname, Swaziland, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Vanuatu, Viet Nam, World, Zambia, Zimbabwe
What is El Niño?

El Niño is the warming of sea surface temperatures in the tropical Pacific, which occurs roughly every two to seven years, lasting from six to 24 months.

While reduced rainfall and drought is a key outcome of El Niño, the phenomenon can also cause heavy rains and flooding. Impacts of El Niño on agriculture and food security depend on a complex interplay of meteorological factors and range from minor to severe. The current 2015–16 El Niño is notable in terms of its strength and also its negative impact on crop production, livestock and agricultural livelihoods around the globe.

Background and purpose

The impact of the 2015–16 El Niño weather phenomenon has been one of the most intense and widespread in the past one hundred years. The agriculture, food security and nutritional status of 60 million people around the globe is affected by El Niño-related droughts, floods and extreme hot and cold weather. While the El Niño itself has passed its peak and is now declining, its impact is still growing. Harvests in several parts of the world have already failed and are forecast to fail in other areas.

This report provides a global analysis of the current and expected evolution of El Niño-related disasters and their impact on agriculture, food security and nutrition. It aims to give a consolidated outlook of the situation and the early actions being taken by governments, partners and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Analysis in the report is divided between FAO high priority countries (pp 5-31) and other countries at risk (pp 32-43). Countries were selected based on a combination of analysis of the El Niño event and FAO priorities for strengthening the resilience of livelihoods to threats and crises.

In view of the rapid evolution of the El Niño phenomenon, this report is updated regularly. It is part of a more general effort by FAO to increase the resilience of rural populations threatened by crises, including extreme climatic events such as El Niño. Given the high degree of exposure and vulnerability of populations to such events, the need for a focus on resilience building is clear. A recent ten-year analysis led by FAO’s Climate, Energy and Tenure Division showed that 25 percent of all damage caused during natural disasters is in the agriculture sector. For drought, agriculture is the single most affected sector, absorbing around 84 percent of all the economic impact.

Regional Highlights Africa
  • Ethiopia – an estimated 10.2 million people are still in need of food and non-food assistance in 2016. Malnutrition rates across the country remain extremely high, with over one-third of Ethiopia’s woredas classified as facing a food security and nutrition crisis.

  • Somalia – drought has been declared in Puntland and Somaliland, where some communities have not experienced normal rains for up to four seasons, spanning two years. Nearly 4.7 million people are food insecure. Of this figure, 1.7 million people are in Puntland and Somaliland.

  • Southern Africa – latest estimates by SADC indicate that 39.7 million people are projected to be food insecure by the peak of the 2016/17 lean season. Regional cereal balance sheet analysis (excluding DRC, Madagascar, Mauritius, Seychelles and Tanzania) shows overall cereal deficit of about 9.3 million tonnes. Lesotho, Malawi, Swaziland and Zimbabwe have declared drought emergencies. The forecast continues to indicate drier than normal conditions.

  • Sudan – 4.6 million people are acutely food insecure, primarily due to the effects of El Niño, and is likely to increase due to below-average agricultural production in 2015, rising staple food prices, very poor pasture conditions and continued conflict.

Latin America and the Caribbean
  • Haiti – an estimated 3.6 million are food insecure. The 2015 cereal harvest was the lowest in 12 years with losses as high as 90 percent in most affected areas.

  • Central America – currently experiencing the worst drought in decades, which is affecting food insecurity for a second consecutive year, with over 3.5 million people in need of humanitarian assistance after suffering major crop losses due to prolonged drought conditions. Rainfall levels have remained abnormal and below-average due to the dissipating El Niño. It is likely that the region will continue experiencing extremely warm and dry conditions through to June 2016 in most countries, which may affect planting of the main 2016 “de primera” agricultural season.

Asia and the Pacific
  • Fiji – crop damage from recent Category 5 cyclones is combining with unusual rainfall patterns to intensify food security risks. Total damage to crops and livestock is estimated at USD 61 million.

  • Papua New Guinea – a third of the population – 2.7 million people – are affected by drought, frost and forest fires.

  • Viet Nam – more than 83 percent of the country has been affected by drought, of which 18 provinces have declared drought and saltwater intrusion emergencies at different levels.

Myanmar: Myanmar: Oral statement by Amnesty International, The Women’s Peace Network-Arakan and The Arakan Project in light of the review of Myanmar’s fourth and fifth combined report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women

4 July 2016 - 11:19pm
Source: Amnesty International Country: Myanmar

By Amnesty International, 4 July 2016, Index number: ASA 16/4374/2016

In this statement, Amnesty International, the Women’s Peace Network-Arakan and the Arakan Project express their concerns regarding the situation of Rohingya in Myanmar and in particular women and girls who experience discrimination on multiple fronts, including their gender, ethnicity, and religion. Since Myanmar’s last review, the situation of Rohingya women has significantly deteriorated. Since violence swept Rakhine State in 2012, an estimated 120,000 individuals, mostly Rohingya remain in squalid conditions in internally displaced person camps. Because of restrictions on their movement they are confined to the camps and effectively segregated from other communities.

Myanmar: Readout of the meeting of the Secretary-General’s Partnership Group on Myanmar

4 July 2016 - 5:52am
Source: UN Information Centres Country: Myanmar

The Partnership Group of the Secretary-General on Myanmar met at United Nations Headquarters in New York on 1 July 2016. At the meeting, the Group welcomed the transformative change taking place in that country with the accession to power after the November elections of the National League for Democracy under the leadership of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The meeting also acknowledged the contribution made by former President U Thein Sein, whose administration helped achieve this defining change.

The Group welcomed the plans drawn up by the new government to meet the high expectations of the people. They underlined the continuing need for dialogue and cooperation among the different political and economic stakeholders, as well as with the leaders of the military and civil society to consolidate the democratization process, civilianize the political structures as well as to bring about stability and inclusive growth in the country.

The Group welcomed current efforts at engaging signatories and non-signatories of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) and to launch the Twenty-First Century Panglong Conference. They hoped these efforts would be unifying, forward looking and inclusive. They highlighted continued support to the implementation of the NCA. Concerns were expressed at the continuing tensions in Shan and Kachin states and their impact on the peace process and the Group urged for unimpeded humanitarian access to the displaced civilian populations.

On Rakhine, the Group underlined the urgent need to end the socio-economic hardship impacting all communities and the continued discriminatory restrictions of the fundamental human rights especially of the Rohingyas, including on their freedom of movement. They called attention to the desperate conditions in the IDP camps affecting access to health care, education and livelihoods. Four years after the 2012 violence, the fact that this situation continued was unconscionable. While noting that the number of irregular migrants from Rakhine had recently decreased, the members nevertheless highlighted that failure to alleviate current conditions could have major regional implications. They noted the various steps initiated by the new government and its commitment to action including through the establishment of a ‘Working Committees on Implementation of Peace, Stability and Development of Rakhine State.’

The Group underlined the importance of effective action to promote the conditions of livelihood of all communities in the state, to build more durable links between the two communities and develop early warning systems of tackle potential outbreaks of violent confrontation between them at the local level. Members also reiterated previous calls for the early establishment of an in-country office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights with a full mandate.

In the light of the overall changes taking place in Myanmar and the achievement of many benchmarks, members discussed how to recalibrate the future engagement of the international community with Myanmar in a manner that would support continued reform while helping to proactively tackle the remaining challenges the country faces.

New York, 1 July 2016

Myanmar: Mynamar mob torches mosque as religious tensions spike: report

1 July 2016 - 11:48pm
Source: Agence France-Presse Country: Myanmar

Yangon, Myanmar | AFP | Saturday 7/2/2016 - 03:12 GMT | 368 words

A mob wielding weapons razed a Muslim prayer hall in northern Myanmar, state media reported Saturday, the second attack on a mosque in just over a week as anti-Muslim sentiment swells in the Buddhist majority nation.

Myanmar has struggled to contain bouts of deadly religious bloodshed in recent years, with bristling sectarian tensions and rising Buddhist nationalism posing a steep challenge to the new government led by Aung San Suu Kyi.

On Friday villagers in Hpakant, a jade-mining town in northern Kachin state, ransacked a mosque "wielding sticks, knives and other weapons" before burning it down, according to the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar.

"The mob was unresponsive and entirely beyond control. The building was razed by the riotous crowd," the paper reported, adding that the rampage was sparked by a dispute over the mosque's construction.

No arrests have been made, it said.

The riot coincided with the end of a 12-day visit by a United Nations rights investigator who warned that "tensions along religious lines remain pervasive across Myanmar society".

In a press conference concluding her trip Friday, Yanghee Lee called on authorities to investigate the destruction of another mosque in central Bago late last month.

"The government must demonstrate that instigating and committing violence against an ethnic or religious minority community has no place in Myanmar," she said.

Religious intolerance has mushroomed across the country in recent years, threatening to unravel advances towards democracy since the former junta stepped down in 2011.

Authorities have been reluctant to launch prosecutions out of fear of stoking further unrest.

The worst religious violence struck western Rakhine State in 2012, leaving scores dead and pushing tens of thousands of the stateless Muslim Rohingya into destitute displacement camps.

The state remains almost completely divided on religious grounds, with Muslim communities subject to a host of restrictions on their movements and access to basic services and employment.

Lee urged the country's new government to make ending "institutionalised discrimination against Muslim communities in state... an urgent priority".

Suu Kyi, the Noble peace prize winner who championed her country's struggle against a repressive military regime, has dismayed rights groups by not taking swifter moves to carve out a solution for the Rohingya.

ssm/mtp

© 1994-2016 Agence France-Presse

Myanmar: End of mission statement by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, 1 July 2016

1 July 2016 - 11:44pm
Source: UN Information Centres Country: Myanmar

I have just concluded my fourth official visit to the country as Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar. I would like to thank the Government of Myanmar for its invitation and for granting me an extended visit of twelve days. This has not only allowed to me to travel to Kachin, Rakhine and Shan States, but also to devote more time in Nay Pyi Taw to engage with different ministers in the new Government. I would also like to thank the United Nations Country Team for their assistance throughout my visit. Additionally, I would like express my appreciation to the broad range of interlocutors with whom I met for their openness and cooperation with my mandate. My programme is listed in detail in the Annex.

The peaceful transition to a democratically-elected and civilian-led government after five decades is a significant milestone for Myanmar. My visit thus takes place at an important juncture for the country. After the euphoria in the wake of last year’s elections, the reality of the significant and wide-ranging challenges facing the new Government has not significantly dampened the sense of optimism and hope amongst many sectors of the population. It will therefore be the key test for this new Government to capitalize on the overwhelming public support and current momentum to push forward its priority agenda and reforms.

I welcome the Government’s commitment to furthering democratic transition, national reconciliation, sustainable development and peace, and the important steps already taken in this regard. The objective of my visit, therefore, was to make a comprehensive, objective and balanced assessment of the human rights situation in this new landscape. Today, I wish to highlight some preliminary observations from my visit. I will present a full report to the 71st session of the General Assembly later this year.

Forging human rights in a young democracy

Consolidating democracy and building a culture of respect for human rights is a complex undertaking that requires political will and sustained investment in enhancing the functioning and integrity of State institutions and bodies. Important human rights principles must underpin this process so that State institutions and bodies prioritize the needs and rights of the people in Myanmar’s diverse society.

In meeting with various interlocutors in Government and Parliament, I was encouraged to see a burgeoning understanding of this role and a broad commitment to further reform. I was struck by the candid exchange of views on human rights concerns, and the frank assessment of the remaining challenges ahead. At the same time, I observed the very real tension between a new civilian leadership and a bureaucracy inherited from previous military regimes which often resulted in a duality in policy and approach. I also observed the challenges in trying to enhance democratic governance within an institutional framework that impedes the development of democratic practices and respect for human rights. Overcoming these challenges will require further reforms and a change in behaviour and mindset. While this will take time, these issues cannot be overlooked and must be continually prioritized.

I was pleased to note that many aspects of the various 100-day plans of union ministries were broadly in line with the human rights priority areas set out in my last report to the Human Rights Council. I encouraged closer cooperation with my mandate and the international community in their implementation. At the same time, I noted that many of these plans were not well-publicized and had, for the most part, been developed with little or no public consultation or input from relevant stakeholders, in particular civil society. Looking ahead to the development of a longer-term five-year plan for the Government, greater efforts must be made to address these shortcomings.

Parliament also has a central role in the promotion of democracy. During my visit, I had the opportunity to engage with parliamentarians and various parliamentary bodies. While there was a clear need to enhance the capacity and functioning of this young institution and its new members, I was impressed by the understanding shown of their important check and balance functions over the executive. I welcomed their frank assessment of current structural challenges, such as the 25 percent military bloc, and the lack of a separate professional secretariat (with current support provided by the General Administrative Department under the Ministry of Home Affairs). In order to ensure a properly functioning parliamentary culture, the independence of Parliament must be ensured and members of Parliament should be able to exercise the right to freedom of speech in the course of discharging their duties. It is crucial that Parliament be a forum for expressing opinions reflecting the different interests of Myanmar’s multi-ethnic society.

I also met members of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission and encouraged the Commission to more fully step into its role as an independent advocate for human rights. While welcoming the many promotional and awareness-raising activities undertaken, the Commission should not shy away from addressing issues deemed sensitive to the Government; this is precisely when a neutral and objective human rights voice is most needed.

The foundation for any functioning democracy is the rule of law. I therefore welcome the priority given to upholding the rule of law and to strengthening legal and judicial institutions. Central to this is the continuing review and reform of legislation, particularly outdated laws that have been deemed to be inconsistent with international human rights standards. I am encouraged to see quick and real progress on the recommendations of the Legal Affairs and Special Cases Assessment Commission to amend 142 laws, including the recent repeal of the State Protection Act. While noting some improvements to the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act, several shortcomings remain and I hope to see these remedied before the Law is promulgated.

However, I am acutely aware that more needs to be done. During my visit, I consistently drew attention to many laws still on the books that continue to limit the full enjoyment of human rights. I therefore renew my call for a comprehensive legislative review to be undertaken, with clear target dates for the conclusion of the review.

Also during my visit, I continued to hear concerns about the lack of systematic consultation on draft laws and the opaque process of legislative reform. Clear timelines should be established for the review of draft laws and an appropriate consultation process should be developed to ensure transparency and adequate engagement by civil society organizations and members of the public. A vetting mechanism should also be established to ensure that all draft legislation complies with international human rights standards.

Finally, in the current transitional environment with delicate relationships still being forged between different constituents, Myanmar must not lose sight of the need for constitutional reform. Many shared my view but acknowledged that this remained sensitive and would not likely be feasible soon. Nevertheless, I urged continued discussion and consideration of this important issue particularly within Parliament and by the public at large.

Enhancing democratic space

The enjoyment of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly are essential ingredients for Myanmar’s democracy. Many are hopeful that continuing restrictions on the exercise of these rights will soon be lifted by the new Government. However, recent incidents, such as the banning of a film during a human rights film festival and the denial of permission for a press conference on a civil society report alleging grave violations by the military, are worrying signals. Additionally, I was informed by several civil society actors that they are facing visa restrictions, or have once again been placed on the ‘blacklist’.

I have previously highlighted concerns regarding the arrests and prosecution of individuals exercising fundamental rights. I stated that such practices were creating a new generation of political prisoners. While I have not seen the same frequency and scale of arrests, problematic legal provisions continue to be applied and the practice of bringing multiple charges across different townships for the same offence or historic offences also continues. Additionally, journalists and media workers continue to face legal action under outdated defamation laws.

I also continue to receive reports of monitoring and surveillance of civil society actors and human rights defenders. During this visit, I unfortunately was informed that my interlocutors were photographed by security officials, and were questioned prior to and following our meetings. During a private meeting with a village community in Rakhine State, I discovered a recording device placed in the room by a Government official.

I therefore renew my request to all civil society actors, media workers and prisoners with whom I met to report to me any cases of reprisal. I also reiterate that the Government (in particular the Ministry of Home Affairs and Special Branch police) must ensure the safety of all my interlocutors and guarantee that they will not face any reprisals, including threats, harassment, punishment or judicial proceedings as required by the Human Rights Council. I have been assured by the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs that these practices will cease in future visits and that no reprisals will occur. In my previous visits, I had also been assured by the then Minister of Home Affairs that these practices will cease. Nevertheless, they are still continuing. Old habits do die hard.

As the United Nations Secretary-General has said “civil society is the oxygen of democracy”. It is clear that a change of mind-set is still needed at all levels of Government to allow civil society and the media to flourish. Going forward, the fundamental role of civil society in supporting further democratic reforms and in advocating for human rights must be better understood and fully recognized. Civil society can also monitor the abuse of power and corruption and hold state institutions to account. Criticism helps to strengthen democratic institutions and critical voices should not be excluded or restricted, but rather, empowered and supported. Partnerships with civil society should be built and strengthened.

Political prisoners

I commend the recent amnesties granted to political prisoners. This is a significant step which affirms the Government’s commitment to democratic transition and national reconciliation. I note that many individuals, whose cases I had previously raised, have been released with the charges against them dropped or pardoned. I met with some of them during my visit, including U Gambira earlier today upon his release.

Many political prisoners remain behind bars however and their cases should be urgently resolved. I am aware that there continues to be discrepancies in the number of remaining political prisoners from different sources. Accordingly, a comprehensive and thorough review of all cases by the Government, based on broad consultations with all relevant stakeholders, is needed to clarify records. Related to this, in my view, is the need to develop a formal definition of political prisoner in consultation with all relevant actors.

I also hold the view that former and released political prisoners should not be subject to administrative and other restrictions that impede re-integration into society. These include restrictions in the acquisition of passports and professional work licenses, and in enrollment in formal university education. Additionally, released political prisoners, particularly those who suffered ill-treatment or prolonged periods of solitary confinement, should be given the necessary medical and psycho-social support.

National reconciliation

The impact of conflict and looking towards peace

The Government informed me that the peace process and the need to end continuing armed conflict in several areas of the country is a priority. In a worrying development since my last visit, a new front of fighting has broken out in Rakhine State. Fighting also continues in Kachin State and has taken on new dimensions in Northern Shan State.

On the ground, this violence continues to have a severe effect on the lives of civilians. In particular, I continue to receive reports of human rights violations committed by all parties to the conflict and in all areas where active fighting continues. One individual told me that her sibling had been kidnapped and there was still no news of his fate many weeks later. This is sadly not an isolated case: reports of abductions for forced recruitment and for use as hostages, predominantly by ethnic armed groups, are increasing. I also continue to receive reports of other grave violations, including sexual and gender-based violence, torture, killings and arbitrary arrest by all sides. I reiterate that investigations should be conducted into all such allegations and that perpetrators be held to account. Military personnel who are alleged to have perpetrated violations against civilians must also be held accountable and should be prosecuted in a civilian court.

Also of concern is the continuing detention and reported torture of individuals with suspected ties to ethnic armed groups under section 17 (1) of the Unlawful Associations Act. In particular, there has been a sharp increase in cases in Rakhine where reportedly some arrests have been made with little supporting evidence.

During my visit, I also met with internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Kachin, Rakhine and Shan States and heard of their daily struggles to survive, earn a basic living and access basic services such as education and healthcare. In this context, humanitarian assistance provides a lifeline to communities and I was concerned to hear of the extensive difficulties in accessing and delivering such aid to several areas. In Rakhine State, I was informed that international non-governmental organizations are required to seek travel authorisations through a cumbersome procedure, with additional authorizations required for areas in the northern part of the State. Muslim staff members face restrictions in their freedom of movement and require additional travel authorisations which hamper their ability to perform their functions.

In Kachin State, humanitarian access is shrinking particularly to non-government controlled areas. Previously there was access albeit subject to some limitations to the more than 40,000 IDPs in non-government controlled areas. However, access has been blocked in recent months with a proposal made to deliver assistance to neutral or government controlled areas – a 1.5 day walk for many of those affected. I had hoped to visit Laiza to look into these developments, but unfortunately was refused access to security considerations.

In Northern Shan State, access is hampered by shifting front lines. The situation is becoming more complex with multiplying numbers of actors using armed force. I am particularly concerned by reports from civil society actors that the fighting between the TNLA and RCSS is starting to create tensions between civilian communities in affected areas. Their work in ensuring that communities are not further divided is even more vital now. Whilst I was given positive signals on the feasibility of a visit to Kutkai until the day before my arrival in Shan State, my request was ultimately denied due to ‘security considerations’ forcing a late change in my schedule. I regret that I was unable to see the realities on the ground for myself.

During my visit, I repeatedly heard the sentiment that for communities affected by conflict, things have yet to change. They saw the recent elections as a sign of hope but they are still awaiting real change. Durable peace must be achieved to allow these areas of the country, and others to see the change they have been waiting for.

I discussed the peace process and the 21st Century Panglong Conference with many interlocutors. I was encouraged to hear that efforts are being made to reach out to all ethnic armed groups. It is vital that the process is truly inclusive, collaborative and open in order to build a sustainable peace going forward. Civil society actors must be seen as partners in this process, and have a voice in all areas of discussion. This includes issues which are seen by some as political, but in fact have significant impact on human rights.

The previous Government made a commitment to ensure at least 30% representation of women at all levels of the peace dialogue. This commitment should be met as a minimum. During my visit, I met with a number of qualified women working in the area of human rights and conflict, who would be an asset to the process. I hope that an effort will be made to ensure such individuals are included. A gender perspective must also be incorporated into all areas of the dialogue.

IDPs informed me that they are afraid to return to their villages due to the continuing presence of soldiers and the risk posed by landmines. I was pleased to hear from the Ministry of Defence that demining has been completed in a small area in Kayin State. I urge that such programmes be extended throughout the country where there has not been recent active conflict, with assistance from the international community.

Respect for the rights of minorities

During my visit, I addressed continuing reports of discrimination against ethnic minorities, including through restrictions on the freedom of religion or belief. These issues must be addressed in future political dialogues in order to tackle the root causes of conflict and the long-standing grievances of ethnic communities. While the creation of an Ethnic Affairs Ministry is a welcome step, the necessary institutional, legal and policy framework should be established to ensure greater respect for the rights of minorities. In this regard, the Government should consider developing a comprehensive anti-discrimination law or policy to ensure that minorities can exercise their rights without any discrimination and in full equality before the law.

The recent establishment of the Central Committee on Implementation of Peace, Stability and Development of Rakhine State signals the priority given by the Government to addressing the complex challenges facing both communities. Nevertheless, my visit to Rakhine State unfortunately confirmed that the situation on the ground has yet to significantly change.

The conditions in the IDP camps I visited remain poor with concerns about overcrowding, the deterioration of temporary shelters and housing, and the lack of proper sanitation facilities.

While there is rightful emphasis on ensuring development and humanitarian assistance to all communities, ending institutionalized discrimination against the Muslim communities in Rakhine State must also be an urgent priority. The continuing restrictions on the freedom of movement of the Rohingya and Kaman communities cannot be justified on any grounds of security or maintaining stability. In fact, as I have previously highlighted, such restrictions severely affect all aspects of life, including access to basic services and livelihoods. They also hamper community interactions and impede any prospects for long-term stability and reconciliation. Progress is needed on this key issue in order to address other human rights concerns in Rakhine State.

I note that the Government has re-initiated a citizenship verification exercise in several townships and villages, with plans to roll out the exercise throughout the State. Identity cards for national verification are being issued – without designations of race and ethnicity and without expiration dates. I must acknowledge the Government’s attempt to learn lessons from a similar verification pilot exercise conducted in Myebon last year. Yet, response to this latest initiative has been lukewarm at best. Many with whom I spoke, including representatives of the Kaman community, expressed frustration that citizens or those entitled to citizenship were required to undergo this process. Some in the Rohingya community also provided me with copies of National Registration Cards (pink cards) held by their parents and grandparents dating back generations. There was also distrust and scepticism of the Government’s initiatives given the revocation of the Temporary Registration Cards (white cards) last year and previous citizenship verification exercises. The residents in one village in Rakhine State refused to participate in the verification exercise for these reasons. Additionally, I was informed that they had not been given prior information on the exercise and had received no further explanation subsequently.

If the verification exercise is extended throughout Rakhine State, it would be important to fully consult and involve those directly affected by this process. Clear timeframes should be established on when participants will have their status reviewed and when decisions on their applications can be expected. The Government must address the situation in Myebon where those granted citizenship continue to face restrictions and demonstrate that all those granted citizenship will automatically acquire the rights to which they are entitled.

Religious intolerance; incitement to hatred

It is clear that tensions along religious lines remain pervasive across Myanmar society. Incidents of hate speech, incitement to discrimination, hatred and violence, and of religious intolerance continue to be a cause for concern. While I commend Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s commitment to combating and publicly condemning hate speech and incitement to violence against minorities, other public officials and political leaders must also speak out.

During my visit, I specifically addressed recent reported attempts to build pagodas or stupas on the property of or in close proximity to churches and mosques in Karen State. I also expressed concern at the recent mob attack resulting in the destruction of a house, mosque, a school and a Muslim cemetery in Bago. Whether deliberate or not, the incident can be seen as an attack on the past, present and future of one community.

It is vital that the Government take prompt action, including by conducting thorough investigations and holding perpetrators to account. I am therefore concerned by reports that the Government will not pursue action in the most recent case due to fears of fuelling greater tensions and provoking more conflict. This is precisely the wrong signal to send. The Government must demonstrate that instigating and committing violence against an ethnic or religious minority community has no place in Myanmar. Perpetrators will be treated seriously in accordance with the law regardless of race, religious or ethnic background.

At the same time, comprehensive measures to address the root causes of such tensions and violence must also be taken. Prevention should be prioritized, including through education, and information and media campaigns, in order to deconstruct discriminatory and negative stereotypes. Initiatives to promote interfaith and intercommunal harmony must also be taken in cooperation with civil society, as well as religious and community leaders.

Realizing economic, social and cultural rights for the prosperity of all

Priority attention on economic, social and cultural rights is also of fundamental importance. As Myanmar continues to open up, the impact of development projects on these rights is becoming increasingly prominent. Development is needed for increased prosperity but should not come at the cost of human rights. Careful planning should be undertaken to ensure a rights-based approach which maximises the benefits for all.

I met an individual who will shortly lose her family home to a mega-development project. She and other villagers were given no opportunity to discuss the project, but were instead summoned and informed that they would have to leave their village. She does not know if or when she will receive compensation or if there will be relocation options provided. Across the country, hundreds of others face a similar situation. This is unacceptable, and priority must be given to ensuring that communities are consulted in a meaningful process, and that relocations are conducted in line with international standards.

Time will be needed to develop and enforce the normative framework in this area, and to gain the capacity and expertise to properly scrutinise projects. In this vein, I welcome the decision of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation to halt Government timber extraction for one year. This will enable the Ministry to review the current state of forests and to ensure that they are used sustainably. In this regard, a similar temporary moratorium on large-scale development projects should be considered in order to conduct meaningful consultations with affected communities and full social and environmental impact assessments.

During my visit, I met with civil society groups active in the jade mining areas. They told me of the dire conditions faced by local communities, including extensive environmental degradation, continuing land confiscations as the mines expand, and weekly deaths from vehicles and landslides, all conducted against a backdrop of disregard for the rule of law. I was pleased to hear that all companies were now required to complete environmental impact assessments in accordance with the new procedures, but further steps are needed.

I have repeatedly underlined the need to resolve the issue of land confiscations, both historic and continuing. I was therefore pleased that the new Government quickly formed a new Central Committee to address this issue. The Committee recently completed its first returns, giving 7000 acres back to farmers. This is welcome progress. The Committee assured me of their desire to resolve the remaining cases, but many are complex and will take time. Whilst this process is continuing, priority should also be given to drafting a national land law, which can serve as a basis for fair and transparent land management going forward. Building on the National Land Use Policy, this should be done in a participatory manner, drawing on the expertise of civil society and international organizations.

Realizing the right to education will be key to improving the prospects of Myanmar’s next generation. A recent census report on employment showed that one in five children are in employment rather than education. Birth registration rates remain low across the country, but particularly in some conflict areas where no registrations have taken place due to difficulties accessing registration centers. The birth registration rate of Muslim communities in Rakhine State is also alarmingly low. Given my professional background, I have a particular interest in this area and have offered my assistance to parliamentarians and others working on issues related to the rights of children. I hope this is one of several areas where we can work together going forward.

Education for IDPs continues to be limited across the country. In all IDP camps I visited, ensuring access to education was the primary concern. In Kachin State, I was told of the lack of schools at the secondary and tertiary levels and low quality of education in the primary schools provided in the camps. In Rakhine State, I visited an IDP camp for the Rakhine community, where I was informed that children have to walk three hours each morning to reach a secondary school. In camps for Muslim communities around Sittwe, there is only one secondary school. Steps should be taken to secure universal access to education for all across the country, and priority attention should be given to IDP communities facing protracted displacement due to conflict. In Rakhine State, improving access to and the quality of education is one concrete and feasible step which can go a long way to improving the situation for all communities. It is particularly vital that restrictions impeding access to education for Muslim communities are removed.

Improving access to health care continues to be a priority for Myanmar, but particularly for IDPs in conflict-affected areas. This was another priority concern expressed to me in all IDP camps I visited. In Rakhine State, extending access to health care is vital for all communities and could provide a similar tangible step towards improving the situation on the ground. Of particular urgency is the need to remove restrictions preventing Muslims from accessing medical treatment in some Township Hospitals. Currently, Muslim communities are only able to seek treatment at Sittwe Hospital which, for some, is several hours’ travel. Even in medical emergencies, special permission to be referred to Sittwe Hospital is required, which is time consuming and cumbersome. This has resulted in preventable deaths and could lead to more if not urgently addressed. It is vital that all people are granted safe and timely access to health services without discrimination. As a minimum, it is important to ensure that all people (including Muslims and people of unresolved citizenship status) have safe access to all Township Hospitals in emergency cases. I raised this suggestion with several interlocutors and received assurances that steps towards this will be taken in this regard. I look forward to hearing of prompt action in this area.

Conclusion

Let me conclude by reiterating my firm belief that Myanmar’s young democracy can only progress if human rights are fully mainstreamed into its institutional, legal and policy framework. Building a culture of respect for human rights must be a priority now and in the future. While I am aware of the need to give space and time for the new Government to address the many complex challenges facing the country, I must remain constructively and critically engaged and vocal in encouraging and advocating for greater progress on human rights. I must also continue to hold Myanmar accountable to its international human rights obligations. That is my mandate as Special Rapporteur.

The international community also has a responsibility in this regard. In the rush to forge or strengthen political or economic ties, international actors must continue to prioritize human rights, particularly in business and investment relations. International actors should not undermine human rights priorities, including by remaining silent when confronted with human rights concerns or at worst, becoming complicit in perpetuating human rights abuses. The international community must remain fully engaged on human rights issues in Myanmar. It should also remain committed to providing necessary assistance and support to further the reforms in line with international human rights standards. It is vital that all actors work together to ensure human rights are respected and protected across Myanmar.

At the start of my visit, I stated that my objective, as Special Rapporteur, is to continue to work closely with the Government and people of Myanmar, for the promotion and protection of human rights in the country. I reaffirm that pledge to you now.

Thank you.

World: CrisisWatch No. 155, 1 July 2016

1 July 2016 - 3:32pm
Source: International Crisis Group Country: Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, China, Colombia, Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Cyprus, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Georgia, Guatemala, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Iraq, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mexico, Moldova, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, Niger, Nigeria, occupied Palestinian territory, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, Tajikistan, Thailand, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uganda, Ukraine, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Uzbekistan, Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of), World, Yemen, Zimbabwe

Global Overview – Trends and Outlook

While an upsurge of crises continued to test the international order, amid growing mass displacement and the spread of transnational terrorism, the UK's divisive vote on 23 June in favour of leaving the European Union brought a new dimension to global political and economic uncertainty. Jean-Marie Guéhenno, President & CEO of the International Crisis Group, said: “the Brexit crisis increases the risk of an inward-looking EU consumed with sorting out its own problems at a time when the world needs a Europe that is globally engaged".

The month saw security deteriorate in several countries in Africa. In South Sudan fighting escalated and the peace deal threatened to unravel, while Boko Haram increased deadly attacks in Niger. Insecurity also rose in Nigeria’s Niger Delta where militants fighting for a greater share of the region’s oil revenues stepped up attacks on oil and gas facilities, and communal and criminal violence spiked in the Central African Republic. In Turkey, a terrorist attack believed to be the work of Islamic State killed more than 40 people on 28 June. In a significant step forward, Colombia’s government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) signed agreements bringing the 52-year armed conflict closer to an end.

In South Sudan, fighting erupted in several places and conflict parties failed to make progress in implementing the peace deal signed in August 2015, instead appearing to prepare for a return to war. Forces allied to the former rebels, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-In Opposition led by Vice President Riek Machar, launched attacks mid-month to demand places in the planned army integration or disarmament processes. Crisis Group has called on the peace guarantors to act urgently, ahead of the African Union summit on 10-18 July, to salvage the agreement and prevent the country from returning to full-scale war.

Meanwhile, in West Africa, armed violence in Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger Delta worsened and threatened to spread, while Boko Haram insurgents in the north east continued to attack security forces and civilians. These crises, alongside the killing of about 59 people by Fulani herdsmen on 18-19 June, painted a picture of deepening insecurity across the country. As Crisis Group argued in a new report “The Challenge of Military Reform”, if the government is to defend its citizens it needs to take action including an overhaul of the defence sector, drastically improving leadership, oversight and administration.

Niger also suffered deadly attacks by Boko Haram in south-eastern Diffa region on the border with Nigeria. On 3 June insurgents overran Bosso town on Lake Chad, killing 26 soldiers. Similar attacks were reported on 9 and 16 June against an army-held town and barracks. In the Central African Republic, violence spiked in several parts of the country in the first major deterioration in security since a newly elected government took office in April. In the capital, Bangui, clashes between Muslims and Christians on 11 June left four dead, and fighting hit the north west.

In Turkey a gun and suicide bomb attack at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport on 28 June killed 44 people and injured over 200. The government said it believed Islamic State (IS) was responsible, with official sources reporting that the three attackers were from Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia’s North Caucasus. The attack comes as the government continued its clampdown against domestic IS networks and stepped up measures to prevent IS rocket attacks from Syria and seal off a 70km stretch of the border. Meanwhile clashes between the Kurdish PKK insurgency and Turkey’s security forces continued in the south east, with fighting increasingly moving from urban to rural areas.

On a positive note, the Colombian government and FARC signed agreements on the “end of conflict” on 23 June, providing the strongest assurance yet that the 52-year conflict is finally coming to a close. The agreements spell out how the ceasefire and cessation of hostilities will work, as well as how FARC guerillas will put down their arms and transition to civilian life. The parties also agreed on how to hold a referendum to approve the final peace deal. Crisis Group commended the work of both delegations and those involved in the negotiations, and applauded the inclusion of victims in the talks.

World: The Column AHA Centre News Bulletin Volume 18, July 2016

1 July 2016 - 1:19pm
Source: Association of Southeast Asian Nations Country: Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, World

ON THIS EDITION

NEWS HIGHLIGHT

ASEAN WebEOC Refresher Course and WebEOC Improvement Workshop

NEWS STORY

New Zealand Field Visit:
Leadership on Crisis Training
and Emergency Management Training
Leadership on Crisis Training

INSIGHTS

The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make in a Crisis

World: The SDC contribution : Report on the result of Swiss international cooperation 2013–2016

1 July 2016 - 8:48am
Source: Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation Country: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Benin, Bolivia (Plurinational State of), Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Guinea, Honduras, Iraq, Jordan, Lao People's Democratic Republic (the), Liberia, Mali, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, Nicaragua, Niger, occupied Palestinian territory, Pakistan, Philippines, Sierra Leone, South Africa, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Syrian Arab Republic, United Republic of Tanzania, Viet Nam, World

HIGHLIGHTS

HUMANITARIAN AID AND THE SWISS HUMANITARIAN AID UNIT

Emergency aid and reconstruction measures supported by Switzerland directly benefit around three and a half million people a year.
Given their scale and tragic consequences, Swiss Humanitarian Aid has focused its attention on the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, South Sudan and the Central African Republic, and the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. (p. 8)

TECHNICAL COOPERATION AND FINANCIAL AID FOR DEVELOPING COUNTRIES

Improved management of service delivery systems has enabled almost eight million people from poor and disadvantaged population groups to better exercise their economic and social rights by increasing their access to basic resources and public services. Through its global programmes, Switzerland also contributed considerably to anchoring a concrete, measurable goal on universal access to water and sanitation in the outcome document on the SDGs. (p. 12)

TRANSITION ASSISTANCE IN THE COUNTRIES OF EASTERN EUROPE AND THE CIS

By supporting the transition of the Western Balkans and the countries of the former Soviet Union towards democratic systems and market economy, Switzerland helps to restore political stability and improve conditions for the people living there. (p.30)

GOOD GOVERNANCE AND GENDER EQUALITY

An independent evaluation has confirmed the good results achieved by the SDC in strengthening governance systems and increasing citizen participation in several priority countries. The OECD has confirmed the progress made towards mainstreaming the goal of gender equality into SDC programming. (p. 34)

Myanmar: Myanmar Humanitarian News Digest - June 2016

1 July 2016 - 8:37am
Source: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Country: Myanmar

The Humanitarian News Digest is a monthly compilation of links to reports, web stories, press releases, and other public products published online by international organizations with humanitarian operations in Myanmar. The content and views expressed in these publications do not necessarily reflect the views of OCHA.

World: Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration, 2015 Key Highlights

1 July 2016 - 7:32am
Source: International Organization for Migration Country: Afghanistan, Albania, Aruba (The Netherlands), Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Djibouti, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Germany, Greece, Honduras, Hungary, Indonesia, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Iraq, Kenya, Mexico, Micronesia (Federated States of), Morocco, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Niger, Norway, Panama, Romania, Russian Federation, Serbia, Slovakia, Somalia, Suriname, Thailand, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Uganda, Ukraine, United Republic of Tanzania, United States of America, World, Yemen

Assisted Voluntary Returns Peaked at 70,000 in 2015: IOM

Switzerland - IOM assisted 69,540 migrants from 97 host and/or transit countries and 156 countries of origin in 2015, as part of its Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) programmes, according to the newly-released AVRR 2015 Key Highlights report.

This corresponds to nearly a 60 percent increase compared to the previous year, when it helped 43,786 migrants to voluntarily return to their countries of origin in a safe and dignified manner.

AVRR is one of IOM’s core support activities to migrants and Member States. Often implemented in cooperation with NGOs and diaspora communities, it provides vital and tailored assistance to tens of thousands of migrants voluntarily returning home every year.

“Last year we saw the largest number of voluntary returns of the past 15 years. But in the light of current migration trends, AVRR is likely to increase in the years to come – not only in the number of migrants in need of assistance, but also in the complexity of the process. We need voluntary return policies that guarantee migrant dignity and well-being and robust reintegration strategies that provide real opportunities for returning migrants,” said Anh Nguyen, Head of IOM’s Migrant Assistance Division.

According to the report, 31 percent of the returnees supported by IOM in 2015 were women and 24 percent were children. Over 3,000 highly vulnerable migrants were also assisted in line with IOM standards, principles and guidelines.

The majority of AVRR beneficiaries (80 percent) returned from the European Economic Area, with returns from the region increasing from 37,086 in 2014 to 55,851 in 2015, notably from Germany, Austria, Belgium, Greece and the Netherlands. Germany alone represented more than half of the 69,540 total returns.

“Voluntary returns from other regions such as the Middle East and North Africa, West and Central Africa, and Asia and the Pacific also rose in 2015. This is highlighted by the fact that Yemen, Indonesia, Morocco and Niger were also among the 10 most important host and/or transit countries for AVRR in 2015,” added Anh Nguyen.

The main countries/territories to which people returned in 2015 were Albania, UNSC Resolution 1244-administered Kosovo, Serbia, Ethiopia, Iraq, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Ukraine, the Russian Federation, Pakistan, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The AVRR 2015 Key Highlights report presents regional trends, innovative projects and capacity-building and dialogue initiatives.

AVRR 2015 Key Highlights

http://www.iom.int/sites/default/files/our_work/DMM/AVRR/AVRR_2015_Key_Highlights.pdf

AVRR 2015 Snapshot

http://www.iom.int/sites/default/files/our_work/DMM/AVRR/AVRR_Snapshot_2015.pdf

AVRR Flyer

http://www.iom.int/sites/default/files/our_work/DMM/AVRR/AVRR_Flyer.pdf

For further information, please contact Nazanine Nozarian at IOM HQ, Tel: +41 22 717 95 19, Email: nnozarian@iom.int

World: EU provides €6 million to make vulnerable cities resilient to disasters

1 July 2016 - 5:21am
Source: UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction Country: Bangladesh, Cabo Verde, Cameroon, Ecuador, Egypt, Ethiopia, Honduras, Indonesia, Jamaica, Kenya, Mauritania, Mongolia, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, Nicaragua, occupied Palestinian territory, Paraguay, Peru, Senegal, Solomon Islands, Sudan, Uganda, Vanuatu, World

1 July 2016, GENEVA – The UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) and the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) aim to reduce disaster losses in some of the world’s most hazard prone cities with the initial aid of a €6 million grant from the EU, over the next three years. Mr. Neven Mimica, European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development said: ”Strengthening disaster risk governance is an essential part of sustainable development and a key priority of the Sendai Framework. I am delighted that with EU support this project will help vulnerable cities become more resilient to disasters, increase the awareness of local authorities of future risks, and promote engagement of people living in these cities in reducing disaster risk.”

The project “Making cities sustainable and resilient: implementing the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 at the local level” is key to achieving a substantial increase in the number of countries with national and local disaster risk reduction strategies by 2020 as called for in the Sendai Framework, the global blueprint for reducing disaster losses. Making cities and communities resilient is also key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

The cities and towns covered by the project include Kathmandu, Nepal, a country where almost three million remain homeless following an earthquake last year which killed 8,800 people, and Port Villa, Vanuatu, which suffered heavy economic losses as a result of Category 5 Hurricane Pam which hit in March last year.

The UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction and head of UNISDR, Mr. Robert Glasser, said: “These cities and towns in least developed countries and small island developing states are on the front line of climate change and extreme weather events. This funding will enable us to work with these crisis-prone cities to address disaster risks at the local level.”

Mr. Joan Clos, Executive Director of UN-Habitat and Secretary-General of Habitat III, said: “We will work closely with local governments to establish disaster loss baselines and create risk profiles which will help integrate disaster risk management into urban planning.”

The project also seeks to expand the Making Cities Resilient Campaign with a further 560 new cities and local governments to join the 3,200 cities and towns that already participate in the Campaign which was launched five years ago by UNISDR and requires a commitment to implement ten essential actions for building resilience. At least 200 cities and local governments will be assisted in assessing their gaps and progress in building resilience.

UN-Habitat will focus on four crisis prone cities in post-disaster contexts: Asuncion (Paraguay), Dakar (Senegal), Maputo (Mozambique), Port Villa (Vanuatu) using its City Resilience Profiling Programme (CRPP) which provides local governments with tools for measuring and increasing resilience to multi-hazard impacts including those associated with climate change.

UNISDR will support the development of action plans for reducing disaster risk in these 20 cities: Kampala (Uganda), Dire-Dawa (Ethiopia), Kisumu (Kenya), Yaounde (Cameroon), Pria (Cabo Verde), Khartoum (Republic of Sudan), Ismaliya Governorate (Egypt), Nablus (Palestine), Nouakchott (Mauritania), Honiara (Solomon Islands), Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia), Kathmandu City (Nepal), Dhaka North City Cooperation (Bangladesh), Cilacap Regency (Indonesia), Mawlamyine (Myanmar), Tegucigalpa (Honduras), Kingston (Jamaica), Guayaquil (Ecuador), Managua (Nicaragua) and San Juan de Lurigancho (Peru).

Myanmar: Shan State villagers arrested by Myanmar military turn up dead near Lashio

1 July 2016 - 1:30am
Source: Radio Free Asia Country: Myanmar

Five days after the Myanmar army arrested three ethnic Palaung men and 11 Shan villagers working in a cornfield near Lashio township in conflict-ridden northern Shan state, five of them turned up in shallow graves along with two other identified locals on Thursday, RFA’s Myanmar Service has learned.

Government soldiers detained the six women and five men on June 25 in Long Mon village near the sub-township of Mong Yaw where fighting erupted that day between the military and armed ethnic soldiers. They later released all the women and three of the men, local villagers told RFA.

“They arrested and took us away, and later separated us along the way,” one of the released women told RFA through an interpreter. “We had to keep our heads down, and we were not allowed to look at their faces.

Those who were released notified lawmakers and civil society organizations (CSOs) about what had happened to them, villagers said.

They also reported the incident to local police, who declined to look into the incident since the powerful Myanmar military was involved, they said.

The police declined to provide information to CSOs and reporters who inquired about the incident.

Wait until morning

Some of the victims' relatives asked village authorities to do something, but they said they could do nothing,” said Mya Yin, the aunt of one of the Palaung victims who was killed.

“They thought the soldiers might beat them while they are angry, so they told us to wait until the next morning," she said.

Five days later, villagers found seven corpses in three shallow graves—the corpses of the three men who had been on motorbikes in one, the bodies of two men from the cornfield in the second, and the bodies of an unidentified man and woman who had passed along the road beside the cornfield in the third.

“We were told that three bodies were interred in a hole in the ground, and two others in another hole,” said Than Than Aye, adding that locals said the victims were members of the Palaung and Shan ethnic groups.

“Their hands were tied behind their backs,” she told RFA. “We saw the rope they were tied with near their bodies.”

“We saw two other bodies—a man and a woman who were interred together in a hole on the opposite side of the road, but we haven’t yet identified who they are,” Than Than Aye said.

“As a CSO, we object to and condemn any killings or executions by any group," she said. "We cannot accept any armed groups killing unarmed civilians.”

The same day that soldiers detained the villagers, police arrested three Palaung men who arrived at the cornfield on motorbikes to pick up relatives who were working there, residents said.

Local residents reported to the CSOs that they had heard gunshots in the vicinity, said Than Than Aye, chairwoman of northern Shan state’s CSO Network who went to the area.

“The shooting occurred around 3.30 p.m.,” said one of released men. “We are sure it was the Myanmar army. During the interrogation, they asked us, ‘Did you see the rebels? Did you see armed men?’ We told them we hadn’t.”

Soldiers open fire

A Myanmar army unit from Lashio entered Long Mon village in about five trucks on June 25 and suddenly opened fire near the cornfields, injuring three female villagers who were taken to a hospital in Mong Yaw, Myanmar’s Shan Herald Agency for News (SHAN) reported, citing a resident who requested anonymity.

The troops then unloaded their guns and began stopping and questioning drivers who passed, shooting one man dead at the checkpoint, the report said.

As farmers ran for cover, the army allegedly told them to line up by the side of the road for questioning and they took five into custody—Aik Hseng, 23; Aik Lod, 39; Aik Maung, 27; Sai Mon Awn, 17; and Sai Aik Maung, 23, it said.

The source told SHAN that the army later denied arresting the villagers, though soldiers claimed to have released all of them.

Of the ethnic armies that operate in the area, the Manpang Peoples Militia commanded by Bo Mon is active in and around Mong Yaw, according to SHAN.

The Kachin Defense Army (KDA) People’s Militia led by Matu Naw, Kachin Independence Army (KIA), Shan State Army (SSA), and Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) are active about 30 miles outside the area.

Human rights abuses

Arbitrary detentions by soldiers in Shan state are nothing new.

Unidentified gunmen abducted 50 men from four villages between Lashio and Namtu townships during a raid last Nov. 26. Clashes between Myanmar’s military and the ethnic Shan State Army-North (SSA-N) had frequently occurred in the area.

Hostilities resumed between the army and the SSA-N early last October, forcing an estimated 10,000 people to flee their homes in the central part of Shan state.

At the time, local civil society groups urged the international community to “break its silence on the war crimes” being committed by Myanmar government troops in Shan state with their repeated air and ground missile attacks on densely populated civilian areas, along with the shootings and rapes of villagers.

Last week, officials prevented Yanghee Lee, the United Nations human rights envoy to Myanmar, from visiting areas of Shan state where fighting and human rights abuses have reportedly occurred, according to another SHAN report.

Citing security reasons, they also prevented her from visiting conflict zones in northern Myanmar’s restive Kachin state where fighting is taking place.

Lee had wanted to include the states on her 12-day mission to Myanmar, which ends Friday, to observe the situation of war refugees, especially in the aftermath of heavy fighting in Shan state between the Myanmar military and armed ethnic groups in May.

However, she did meet with CSOs in Lashio and told them that she would thoroughly review reports of human rights violations submitted to her for a report she is compiling for the U.N., the SHAN report said.

Reported by Kan Thar for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

Myanmar: Kayah State provided with K100 ml fund for disaster preparedness

1 July 2016 - 1:23am
Source: New Light of Myanmar Country: Myanmar

KAYAH State, which experienced deadly landslides in November last year, was provided with a disaster preparedness and response fund by a philanthropic organisation Wednesday.

The establishment of the K100 million-fund in Kayah State came after the KBZ’s Brighter Future Myanmar foundation’s establishment of such a fund in Rakhine and Chin states as well as in Sagaing and Magwe regions recently.

“The establishment of the fund is aimed at assisting a quick response to disasters by authorities,” said Daw Ei Ei Khaing, KBZ’s bank branch in Loikaw, at the ceremony in Loikaw to hand over the cash to the Kayah State Government.

Kayah State Chief Minister U El Phaung Shi accepted the donation and expressed thanks.

Following landslides which occurred in a mountainous area in Mawchi last year that destroyed around 60 houses, displaced 360 people and killed around 17, the foundation carried out rescue and relief efforts. The village is also equipped with two water tanks with a total storage capacity of 8,000 gallons and a pipe system to supply water to each home as well as one 100 KVA transformer for electrification.

Thura Lwin

Myanmar: Nearly 200 Burmese refugees to be repatriated from Thailand

1 July 2016 - 12:47am
Source: Irrawaddy Country: Myanmar, Thailand

By TIN HTET PAING / THE IRRAWADDY

RANGOON — The Burmese government plans to repatriate 196 Burmese nationals displaced by conflict from refugee camps on the Thai-Burma border, according to Burma’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The two countries agreed to cooperate on refugee returns during the visit of Burma’s State Counselor/Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi to Thailand last week.

The statement released by the ministry on Wednesday said the two governments will start working on repatriation and rehabilitation for the Burmese refugees in Thailand through both short- and long-term plans—creating job and educational opportunities and providing health and social services in their places of origin.

“The government will send a delegation group [to Thailand] to work on the citizenship verification process for the 196 displaced individuals who expressed their desire to be sent back to their original homes,” the statement read.

The statement did not include a timeline or start date for the process.

The ministry told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that citizenship verification would be handled by the Ministry of Labor, Immigration and Population, adding that the whole process of repatriation may take some time.

Director-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Kyaw Zeya said his ministry had received information on the 196 refugees through the United Nation’s refugee agency, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), before the State Counselor’s visit. He said that 75 percent of the returnees-to-be are ethnic Karen.

“We also have informed our Thai counterparts of our plan,” Kyaw Zeya said. “All we need from their side is understanding and patience in dealing with this refugee repatriation issue.”

According to The Border Consortium (TBC)—which provides food, shelter and other forms of support to Burmese refugees—there are roughly 120,000 refugees from Burma in nine official camps and shelters on the Thai-Burma border, some of whom have resided there for over two decades due to the armed conflicts between the Burma Army and ethnic armed groups.

Talks between Thailand and Burma on refugee issues began during the previous administration of President Thein Sein and accelerated after the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) was signed by eight ethnic armed groups—including two ethnic Karen groups—in October last year.

According to a report in the Bangkok Post, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said during Suu Kyi’s three-day visit to Thailand last week that Burma should be given more time to prepare for the safe, voluntary and dignified return of its refugees.

The former head of the Royal Thai Army added that, in the meantime, Thailand would continue to take care of the refugees in accordance with humanitarian standards, even though drawing out the process would result in an increased burden on Thailand.

According to the UNHCR’s report released last week, Burma had more than 450,000 displaced people as of the end of 2015, and its nationals made up the eighth largest group of refugees in the world.

Malaysia: UNHCR Bay Of Bengal Situation 2016 Funding Update as of 21 June 2016

30 June 2016 - 11:55am
Source: UN High Commissioner for Refugees Country: Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand

4.2 M required for 2016
795,300 contributions received, representing 19% of requirements
3.4 M funding gap for the Bay Of Bengal Situation

World: US: Don’t Fund Child Soldiers Abroad

30 June 2016 - 11:43am
Source: Human Rights Watch Country: Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Myanmar, Nigeria, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syrian Arab Republic, World, Yemen

State Department List Adds Iraq, Excludes Afghanistan

(New York) – The Obama administration should require foreign governments receiving United States military aid to immediately end their use of child soldiers, Human Rights Watch said today. On June 30, 2016, the US State Department issued a new list of countries implicated in the use of child soldiers as part of its annual Trafficking in Persons report. The list of 10 countries includes Burma, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Nigeria, Rwanda, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.

The 2008 Child Soldiers Prevention Act prohibits certain forms of US military assistance to countries that either use child soldiers in their national armed forces or support militias or paramilitaries that recruit and use child soldiers. The president can waive the prohibition for national security reasons. Since the law went into effect in 2010, the Obama administration has issued such waivers in 26 of 33 cases, allowing governments using child soldiers to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in US military aid.

“Many of the governments listed by the State Department receive US military aid year after year despite their continued use of children as soldiers,” said Jo Becker, children’s rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “President Obama should make clear that countries using child soldiers are going to lose US military support.”

President Obama must decide by the end of September whether to waive the law’s military sanctions for any of the listed governments for fiscal year 2017.

Iraq was added to the list for the first time this year. The Popular Mobilization Forces, a government-recognized paramilitary force under the prime minister’s command, has recruited children as young as 11 to fight against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS. Human Rights Watch has documented that children as young as 15 have been killed while fighting with one of the militia forces making up the Popular Mobilization Forces.

Nigeria was included for the second year in a row, based on the use of child soldiers by the Civilian Joint Task Force, a government-allied force used to fight the armed group Boko Haram. Rwanda, which had been included in 2013 and 2014 but removed in 2015, reappeared after officials recruited child soldiers from a refugee camp. The other countries have been included for at least four years in a row. Several – Congo, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen – have been named every year since the list was first published in 2010.

Afghanistan was omitted from this year’s list, despite evidence that the Afghan Local Police, a government-backed militia engaged in combat operations against the Taliban and other insurgents, recruits and uses children as soldiers.

“The United States has paid hundreds of millions of dollars to support an Afghan militia that recruits and uses children to fight the Taliban,” Becker said. “Afghanistan should also be on this list and subject to military sanctions.”

Afghanistan was excluded because the State Department determined that the Afghan Local Police fell into a gray area not covered by the Child Soldiers Prevention Act. That decision appears contrary to the plain meaning of the law, Human Rights Watch said. The law covers “governmental armed forces or government-supported armed groups, including paramilitaries, militias, or civil defense forces, that recruit and use child soldiers.” The Afghan Local Police was established under the Afghan interior minister by presidential decree in August 2010, and according to the US Defense Department, is an “integral part” of the Afghanistan security forces.

“There’s no gray area concerning children and the Afghan Local Police,” Becker said. “The Afghan government has failed to rein in the militia’s recruitment of children while the US turns a blind eye.”

In 2015, President Obama gave full or partial waivers to four of the five countries listed that were scheduled recipients of US military aid. Withholding at least a portion of US military aid would provide foreign governments with an incentive to curb child recruitment, Human Rights Watch said.

“President Obama should take a much harder line, and insist that countries that receive US military aid end their use of child soldiers,” Becker said. “Unconditional military aid sends a terrible message that the US knowingly supports countries that use children to fight.”

Myanmar: WFP Myanmar: Magway Operational Brief (June 2016)

30 June 2016 - 9:38am
Source: World Food Programme Country: Myanmar

Overview

Magway Region with 3.9 million, representing 7 percent of the country’s population, is located in the central part of Myanmar, bordering with Sagaing Region in the north, Mandalay Region in the east, Bago Region in the south and Rakhine and Chin States in the west. Despite largest land area, economically, it is one of the poorest regions in Myanmar due to lack of job and poor infrastructure and services. Moreover, limited access to land, inadequate farming inputs, drought, and scarcity of water and declination of soil fertility also lead to food insecurity of the vulnerable. Rural population accounts for 15 percent of the total in the region. The chronic food insecurity causes migration of the local people and many social and health problems. The chronic poverty and high vulnerability to shocks are widespread throughout the region. A food security, poverty and nutrition survey conducted in 2013 by WFP and Save the Children in the Dry Zone - large part of Magway, Mandalay and lower part of Sagaing Divisions - reported that 26 percent of the people in Dry Zone live below the poverty line and 18 percent is food-insecure.

Chronic and acute malnutrition was found to be widespread among children under the age of five with 12 percent acutely malnourished while 27 percent chronically malnourished. In 2003, WFP opened a sub-office in Pakkoku to provide relief food assistance to families, whose breadwinners contracted HIV/TB. The food assistance was provided through the direct support from Fund for HIV/AIDS for Myanmar (FAHM). Two years later, WFP sub office moved to Magway Town, to provide food assistance to the vulnerable communities, to improve their food security and nutritional status through its protracted relief and recovery operations. Additionally, WFP operated emergency response for Pakkoku flash flood victims in 2011, Mandalay flood victims in 2012 and people affected by Meikhtila inter -communal violence in 2013.

At present, in cooperation with seven partners, WFP is providing food assistance to the food insecure and vulnerable populations in eight townships of Magway Region. In addition to traditional in-kind food assistance, WFP has employed cash based transfers (CBT) initially in cash for work activities and since late 2015, in relief activities for population affected by floods.

Myanmar: Myanmar: Floods - Emergency appeal operations update 4 (MDRMM006)

30 June 2016 - 5:24am
Source: International Federation of Red Cross And Red Crescent Societies Country: Myanmar

Summary:

This update provides an overview of the progress made during nine months of the operation with focus on the latest three months considering that operations update no. 3 was an account of the first six month of operations.

The timeframe of the operation has been extended by one month, due to be completed by 30 September 2016. The no-cost is to allow sufficient time to undertake an end-line evaluation of the operation as well as to provide a smooth transition of disaster risk reduction and National Society capacity enhancement activities into the Operational Plan 2017, in which the activities will continue in the context of linking relief, recovery and development.

The appeal was launched following floods that affected several parts of Myanmar in July and August 2015. The floods were wrought by heavy monsoon rains coupled with high winds and heavy rain from Cyclone Komen which passed nearby on 30 July 2015, bringing strong winds and additional heavy rains to the country, which resulted in widespread flooding and landslides across 12 of the country’s 14 states and regions.

Six months on from the devastating floods that struck Myanmar, around 400,000 people have received emergency assistance and support for their recovery from MRCS and its partners in the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. At its peak, the floods affected over 9 million people across 12 of Myanmar’s 14 states and regions. The floods temporarily displaced over 1.7 million people and destroyed 15,000 homes as well as more than 840,000 acres of agricultural crops.

Between July 2015 and January 2016, over 1,400 Red Cross volunteers and staff from MRCS and Partner National Societies assisted flood-affected people across the country. The first phase included evacuations, providing emergency relief such as purified water, food, household items and shelter materials. Since then, efforts have been focused on supporting the longer term recovery of flood-affected communities across the five worst-hit regions of Chin, Rakhine, Sagaing, Magway and Ayeyarwady with livelihood activities, cleaning of contaminated ponds and wells, and infrastructure rehabilitation.

The reporting period is characterized by finalizing and ensuring that the activities in the plan are initiated and monitored. The cash transfer programme (CTP) intervention was finalized and a lessons learned workshop was conducted, to be able to build on the achievements made and to look at how these lessons could be put in practice in other programming.

Thailand: Thailand, Myanmar discuss repatriation of war refugees

30 June 2016 - 5:00am
Source: Bangkok Post Country: Myanmar, Thailand

By Wassana Nanuam

Thailand and Myanmar have agreed to set up a committee to examine related documents in preparation for the repatriation of war refugees residing on the Thai side of their common border.

Defence Ministry spokesman Maj Gen Kongcheep Tantrawanich said the agreement was reached during the visit by Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon to Myanmar.

Gen Prawit and his entourage arrived in Myanmar on Wednesday for a two-day visit.

On his arrival, Gen Prawit paid a courtesy call on Lt Gen Sein Win, Myanmar's defence minister, and Gen Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the Myanmar Armed Forces.

The two sides discussed ways of increasing military relations and security cooperation. They agreed to increase exchanges of visits and training of armed forces personnel in various levels.

They also discussed problems over their common border, war refugees, illegal immigration, transnational crime, terrorism, cross-border smuggling of contraband and drugs.

The two sides agreed to set up a joint committee to take concrete measures to solve these security-related problems.

Gen Prawit also met with Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's foreign minister and state counsellor. Mrs Suu Kyi thanked Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha for his warm welcome during her recent visit to Thailand.

They talked about cooperation in border demarcation, handling of war refugees, joint cooperation in the development of the Dawei economic develoment zone, the development of police affairs, and welfare for Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand.

Concerning the Myanmar war refugees now residing along the Thai side of the common border, they agreed to set up a committee to jointly examine related documents to prepare for their repatriation in the future.

Mrs Suu Kyi stressed that she wanted Thai-Myanmar relations to be a model for cooperation for other countries sharing a common border. They agreed on the importance of the development of human resources and conservation of natural resources.

During Gen Prawit's meeting with Myanmar President Htin Kyaw, they agreed that Aung San Su Kyi's recent visit to Thailand signifies the tight relationship between Thailand and Myanmar.

Mr Htin Kyaw was full of praise for HRH Princess Sirindhorn for her donation to repair schools in Rakhine State which were damaged by heavy storms last year.

They agreed that a new bridge to be built between Myawaddy of Myanmar and Chiang Rai's Mae Sai district, linking to the Asian Highway, will help expand their ttrade and investment relations and connect special economic zones on both sides of the border.

The bridge is expected to play an important part in lifting the quality of the life of people in the two countries, said Maj Gen Kongcheep.