Myanmar: worsening cycle of violence in Rakhine must be broken urgently, UN expert warns

31 August 2017
(Issued as received) GENEVA (31 August 2017) – A United Nations human rights expert has expressed alarm at the deteriorating situation in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, affecting not just the Rakhine and Muslim populations but also other communities. Tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims are now reported to be fleeing towards Bangladesh.

“The humanitarian situation is deteriorating rapidly and I am concerned that many thousands of people are increasingly at risk of grave violations of their human rights,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee.

“The worsening cycle of violence is of grave concern and must be broken urgently.”

Ms. Lee said the suffering of the Rohingya was particularly poignant this week, while the world’s Muslim communities celebrated Eid al-Adha on 1 September but the Rohingya remained in a precarious situation, not knowing their future or the fate of their relatives.

Latest estimates from UN sources suggest more than 27,000 people have crossed into Bangladesh in the area around Cox’s Bazar, while 20,000 more remain stranded between the two countries.  The number continues to grow.

The Special Rapporteur noted concerns over both the extremist attacks which followed the release of the final report by the Rakhine Advisory Commission, led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, and the major security operations undertaken in response to the attacks.

“I am concerned that these events will derail efforts to address the root causes of the systematic discrimination and recurrent violence in Rakhine State,” said the Special Rapporteur.

“If human rights concerns are not properly addressed, and if people remain politically and economically marginalized, then northern Rakhine may provide fertile ground for radicalization, with people becoming increasingly vulnerable to recruitment by extremists,” said Ms. Lee. “These concerns were raised by the Advisory Commission and I share them fully.”

“I am saddened to receive reports that, while the authorities are helping Rakhine and other communities living in affected townships evacuate to safer locations, this assistance is not being extended to the Rohingya Muslims,” she added.
The situation had worsened considerably since extremist attacks on 25 August, with credible multiple sources reporting violations which include Rohingyas being indiscriminately killed and injured by military gunfire, even while fleeing, and helicopters and rocket-propelled grenades being used against the civilian population.

Ms. Lee reminded the authorities of their human rights obligations to give equal protection to people from all communities, whether from attacks by extremists or excessive action from the security forces.  She has previously expressed concern over the military build-up in Rakhine State, urging the security forces to exercise restraint in all circumstances and to respect human rights.

“I express the strongest condemnation of the attacks carried out by militant extremists and urge them to immediately halt further violence against the innocent civilian population.

“I call on the Government to ensure the immediate provision of assistance to all affected communities in Rakhine State, and grant unfettered access to the United Nations to provide humanitarian assistance, including to address protection concerns, and to monitor the situation. Even before last Friday’s attacks, access for humanitarian actors had been very limited in northern Rakhine, negatively impacting the support they provide.”

This statement has been endorsed by the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ahmed Shaheed, and the Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Fernand de Varennes.

The Special Rapporteur on situation of human rights in Myanmar, Professor Yanghee Lee, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Mr. Ahmed Shaheed, and the Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Dr. Fernand de Varennes, 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

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