Source: UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
(Yangon/New York, 9 August 2012) Ending a four-day mission to Myanmar, John Ging, OCHA’s Director of Operations, voiced concern for the plight of over half a million internally displaced people and called for respect for humanitarian principles and international humanitarian law to enable aid agencies to access areas of conflict and help those in need.
Despite notable efforts by the Myanmar authorities to achieve peace throughout the country, conflict still continues in Kachin State, while recent communal tensions and clashes between Muslim and Rakhine communities that have lived together for generations has displaced at least 64,000 people in Rakhine State.
“This is a time of unprecedented change in Myanmar,” said Mr. Ging. “On the one hand, we see significant progress resulting from the democratization, peace building and economic development processes, while on the other hand, conflict and communal tensions have the potential to undermine stability and generate significant humanitarian needs.”
In meetings with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Railways and Minister of Social Affairs, Mr. Ging welcomed the generally excellent cooperation between the Government of Myanmar and humanitarian agencies but voiced grave concern for fourteen recently detained humanitarian staff from the United Nations and international NGOs. He echoed the call of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, for the staff members’ immediate release and for respect for the rule of law and international conventions.
Mr. Ging also highlighted that aid agencies are currently denied access to tens of thousands of displaced people in Kachin and Rakhine States and underlined the urgency for respect for humanitarian principles by all parties to allow humanitarian assistance to reach all people in need in all areas.
Spending two days in Rakhine State, Mr. Ging travelled to Thet Kel Pyin camp and Shwe Zayti monastery, where he met internally displaced people and their community and religious leaders. Seeing first-hand the plight of displaced families and the impact on the communities hosting them, Mr. Ging noted, “Emotions are running high, grievances are decades old and the recent violence has ignited a potent combination of fear and anger within both communities. It is vital that people’s immediate humanitarian needs are met, while, at the same time, fundamental issues are addressed to prevent future occurrences of communal conflict.”
In a meeting with State Ministers, he commended the actions taken to defuse the situation, including correcting misconceptions about the role of the UN and INGOs, and encouraged them to continue to act quickly to build trust and confidence between the affected communities. “Although the situation is extremely fragile, I was encouraged that community leaders on both sides are rejecting conflict as a way of dealing with their grievances and instead are calling for humanity for all and respect for the rule of law. This call must be supported and their needs urgently addressed,” said Mr. Ging.
Encouraging donor support for the US$32.5 million Rakhine Humanitarian Response Plan, Mr. Ging announced that the Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos has released $5 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund to enable immediate shelter, food and sanitation support for the displaced and the most vulnerable among their host communities.
“We hope that donors will respond quickly and that the Government will quickly outline its medium term plans to ensure that a situation of aid dependency is not created through isolation and separation of communities from each other and their livelihoods,” said John Ging. “What people want is security, their grievances addressed and a normal life. As the situation in Rakhine State continues to be volatile, I applaud the courage of humanitarian staff, particularly the Myanmar nationals who have continued to work, in spite of the dangers and intimidation, and are saving lives and reducing humanitarian suffering as a result.”