GENEVA (18 November 2016) – A United Nations expert has called on the Government of Myanmar to take immediate action to tackle the deteriorating human rights situation in northern Rakhine State.
The Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, criticized the authorities for placing the region on “lockdown” for six weeks. She said a Government-led two-day visit to the area in early November by a UN official and nine ambassadors had produced only limited results in terms of addressing the humanitarian crisis.
Ms. Lee expressed particular concern at reports from the area that the security operation had been stepped up since the international delegation conducted its visit.
"The Government has now admitted using helicopter gunships in support of ground troops, and there are unverified claims of reprisals against villagers who had shared their grievances with the delegation," said Ms. Lee.
"The security forces must not be given carte blanche to step up their operations under the smokescreen of having allowed access to an international delegation. Urgent action is needed to bring resolution to the situation."
Tens of thousands of people have fled their homes amid a security operation triggered by armed attacks on border posts in October. Residents, including members of the Rohingya minority and other Muslim communities, are reported to have suffered serious human rights violations including torture, rape and sexual assault, summary executions, and the destruction of mosques and homes.
Humanitarian programmes providing health, food, education and nutrition assistance have been suspended and civilians are reported to be caught up in military action including attacks by helicopter gunships.
Ms. Lee said allegations of human rights abuses, including the alleged rape and sexual assault of women and girls, needed to be investigated.
"State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has recently stated that the Government is responding to the situation based on the principle of the rule of law. Yet I am unaware of any efforts on the part of the Government to look into the allegations of human rights violations," said Ms. Lee.
"It would appear, on the contrary, that the Government has mostly responded with a blanket denial. This begs the question as to whether relevant evidence is being preserved to enable perpetrators to be held to account for their wrongdoings. Pointing fingers without definitive answers should be avoided. However, it is crucial to recognize the issue at hand - as objectively as possible - and immediately embark on a transparent, non-partial, independent investigation."
“It is not acceptable that for six weeks there was a complete lockdown, with no access to the affected areas," she added.
Ms. Lee echoed a statement by the Chair of the Rakhine Advisory Commission, Kofi Annan, for all communities to renounce violence and for security services to act in full compliance with the rule of law.
She expressed hope that even before the Commission publishes a report next year, the Government would start taking interim measures in line with past recommendations to prevent further restrictions and violations of human rights suffered by the Rohingya population as well as other religious and ethnic minorities.
A group of UN human rights experts* has already urged the Government to address the growing reports of violations emerging from Rakhine, calling on the authorities to allow access for humanitarian groups; to conduct thorough and impartial investigations of killings; and to implement concerted efforts to fight and prevent acts of incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence against minorities.
Ms. Lee stressed that the need for urgent action was undiminished.
“In my address to the General Assembly last month, I reiterated the need for humanitarian access to resume as soon as possible so that the needs of those affected and displaced are met, particularly the most vulnerable,” she said.
“Also of vital importance is for impartial and independent investigations to be undertaken to address the allegations of serious human rights violations, with their perpetrators held to account.”
This statement has been endorsed by the Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Rita Izsak-Ndiaye.
*Read the previous statement from the group of UN experts: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=20742&LangID=E
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