UN Expert 'Alarmed' at Worsening Human Rights Situation' in Myanmar’s Rakhine State

Human Wrongs Watch

An independent United Nations expert on 7 April 2014  sounded the alarm on the deteriorating human rights situation in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, adding that the evacuation of aid workers following recent attacks on the humanitarian community would have severe consequences for life-saving work in the area.*

A Rohingya woman and her child at a makeshift camp outside Sittwe in Myanmar's western Rakhine State. Photo: IRIN

A Rohingya woman and her child at a makeshift camp outside Sittwe in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State. Photo: IRIN

“Recent developments in Rakhine state are the latest in a long history of discrimination and persecution against the Rohingya [Muslim majority] community which could amount to crimes against humanity,” said the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana.

Increasing Vulnerability
He warned in a news release that the evacuation of aid workers, following the recent attacks on UN and non-governmental organization (NGO) premises in the state capital, Sittwe, “will only increase the vulnerability of this community,” according to UN release.
“These workers were in Rakhine state providing essential life-saving support, including health services, water and food to internally displaced persons, isolated villages, and other affected communities,” he noted. “The withdrawal of these workers will have severe consequences on the enjoyment of fundamental human rights, including the right to life.”
No Water in Some Camps
He warned that the availability of water could reach critical levels within a week in some displacement camps, particularly in Pauktaw. The impact on healthcare will be particularly severe for the 140,000 people still in such camps in Rakhine and the 700,000 vulnerable people outside the camps.
Ojea Quintana noted the Government’s commitment last week to ensure the safety and protection of UN and NGO personnel, and underlined the need for the prompt return of all humanitarian staff so that their life-saving work can resume with all communities.
Denial of Self-identification
Prior to these latest developments, the Special Rapporteur had reported to the UN Human Rights Council in March that, taking into consideration the information and allegations he had received throughout his six years on the mandate, crimes against humanity may have been committed in Rakhine. He also expressed concern about the ongoing census in Myanmar. “
The Government’s decision against self-identification of the Rohingya for the census is not in compliance with international human rights standards,” he stressed.
Self-identification for the Rohingya has been at the root of some protests in the past in Rakhine that led to violence and human rights violations and abuses for which there is yet to be accountability.
Violence, Rights Abuse
“The ongoing census risks this cycle repeating itself,” the expert said. “Self-identification should constitute a pillar of the collection of ethnically disaggregated data. It is related to respect for the rights of individuals to assert their own identity,” Ojea Quintana stated.
“To deny self-identification is therefore a violation of human rights.”
During his latest mission to the country last February, the expert heard from various ethnic groups that the ethnic categories included in the census did not reflect how they identified themselves. “It is not only in Rakhine state that people object to the ethnic categories included in the census,” he noted.
“It became clear during my discussions with communities in Kachin state that the Government has approached the census without sufficient or meaningful consultation with all affected communities.”
Wide Consensus
The news release noted that Ojea Quintana’s views on the census and calls for the prompt return of all humanitarian staff are shared by the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Chaloka Beyani; the Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Rita Izsák; and the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, Anand Grover.
The Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, and the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Mutuma Ruteere, also shared his views.
Independent experts or special rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.
Live-saving Assistance, Seriously Disrupted
On 2 April 2014, the United Nations humanitarian wing warned that life-saving assistance to hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people in Myanmar’s Rakhine state have been seriously disrupted following the recent attacks on the UN and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).**

“Life-saving assistance to displaced people, isolated villages and Rakhine communities have been seriously disrupted,” the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) stated in a news release.

“The provision of water, health services, food, and protection are of particular concern.”

The UN is working with the Myanmar authorities to ensure that conditions are put in place to allow humanitarian groups to resume the operations that were taking place prior to the attacks in the state capital, Sittwe, which led to the relocation of more than 170 staff and severe damage to more than a dozen premises.

“What happened in Sittwe last week was not just an attack on international organizations, but an attack on the entire humanitarian response in Rakhine state,” said UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Myanmar Renata Dessallien.

“We have had constructive discussions with the Myanmar authorities, who have assured us that their international obligations to ensure the safety and security of humanitarian staff will be met,” she stated.

“Our main priority now is to work with the Government to put the necessary conditions in place to allow more than 1,000 humanitarian staff to get back to work to assist vulnerable people from all communities.”

Waves of Violence

According to OCHA, the immediate effects of the disruption of humanitarian services is already being felt in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) and isolated villages in Rakhine state, which has witnessed waves of violence between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims.

It is currently the peak of the dry season and water availability could reach critical levels within a week in some IDP camps, particularly in Pauktaw, the Office noted.

In addition, nearly 15,000 children in IDP camps no longer have access to psycho-social support, while life-saving therapeutic treatment for more than 300 children with severe acute malnutrition in Sittwe has been suspended.

A total of 1,300 metric tonnes of food will need to be distributed in Rakhine within the next two weeks, which will be a challenge in the absence of the NGOs as implementing partners.

International NGOs Extremely Concerned

“International NGOs are extremely concerned about the impact of the recent violence against the humanitarian community, especially international NGOs in Rakhine, and the severe reduction of activities which support thousands of displaced and vulnerable people,” said Kelland Stevenson, Country Director for Save the Children.

“Without the immediate and full restoration of an enabling and secure environment to re-establish essential life-saving assistance, the humanitarian situation will rapidly deteriorate, putting children and their families at even greater risk.”

OCHA noted that the violence on 26 and 27 March, during which UN and NGO offices, living quarters, and warehouses were seriously damaged or looted, was the culmination of months of increasing intimidation and harassment of humanitarian staff and local suppliers by a vocal minority of the Rakhine community.

In a telephone call with Myanmar’s President, Thein Sein, on Sunday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the Government to ensure the safety and security of all humanitarian workers and their property in the wake of the attacks, and stressed that impunity cannot be tolerated in the context of the country’s reform process.

*Source: UN Release.

**Source: UN Release.

Read also:

Burma: Is Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi Complicit in the Rohingya Ethnocide?

Myanmar’s First Census in 30 Years

“Everything Was on Fire” – Ma Kyi, Displaced by Violence in Burma

Burma’s Step-By-Step Approach toward Rohingya Genocide, Ethno-cide

Burma — Plight of 800,000 Muslim Rohingya Worsened

Burma — People Suffering from Burns, Gunshot, Arrow Injuries in Rakhine State

Burma: Did the Government Incite the Racial Violence Targeting the Rohingy?

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