KUALA LUMPUR (11 December 2017) – UN human rights experts wrapped up this weekend a five-day visit to Malaysia, during which they focused their inquiries on recent human rights violations and abuses allegedly committed in Myanmar.
In Malaysia, the experts – members of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar (FFMM) – interviewed persons from Shan and Kachin states, as well as members of the ethnic Rakhine and Rohingya communities. They talked both with recent arrivals and with those who had been here for some years. They also consulted with government officials, representatives of UN agencies and NGOs, and individual researchers.
While the recent events in Rakhine state have naturally been a significant focus for the FFMM Experts, the Malaysia visit allowed the experts to receive information on situations across Myanmar, including information on recent years from Kachin and Shan states.
“This visit allowed us to examine allegations in various states of Myanmar,” said Marzuki Darusman, former Indonesian Attorney-General and Chair of the FFMM. “We received information about practices and incidents alleging forced labour, abductions, rape and land grabbing.”
The UN Refugee Agency has registered some 134,000 persons from Myanmar in Malaysia, almost 90 percent of its total caseload in the country. These include Rohingya, Chin, Myanmar Muslims, ethnic Rakhine, Mon, Karen, various groups from Kachin, Bamar and Shan. The actual number of people who have left Myanmar for Malaysia is believed to be much higher.
During the visit, the FFMM experts observed some parallels with information received about Rakhine.
“We were struck by some patterns emerging from the allegations of Shan, Kachin and ethnic Rakhine groups similar to those we heard from the Rohingya we met in Bangladesh,” said FFMM Expert Christopher Sidoti, a former Australian Human Rights Commissioner.
“We heard accounts of events that, if true, would constitute serious human rights violations by the Myanmar military, as well as abuses by armed groups,” Sidoti added. “All those we spoke with said they left Myanmar very suddenly, with little or nothing, which highlights the dramatic nature of what caused them to leave.”
The use of insults and slurs to refer to ethnic communities was another parallel.
“Im particularly concerned to hear allegations that, as with the Rohingya, dehumanising language is used to refer to other groups,” Darusman said. “The testimonies point to ingrained prejudices against those who are not from the Bamar majority.”
Current events in Rakhine state remain on the FFMM’s radar. At the special session of the UN Human Rights Council on 5 December, Darusman noted that, while there are signs that the violence has abated in Rakhine, it has not stopped.
“Thanks to fire detection and satellite imagery, we know that villages were still being burned in Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships as recently as 25 November,” he said, cautioning against any plan to repatriate those who had fled until there are guarantees for their protection.
The Myanmar Government has not yet granted the FFMM access to the country. Nevertheless, according to Darusman, lack of access has not impeded the FFMM’s work.
Teams of human rights officers have been dispatched by the Fact-Finding Mission to various countries to conduct comprehensive interviews with those who fled Myanmar over recent years. This data, alongside other information sources, will be subjected to verification and legal analysis before being submitted as part of the Fact-Finding Mission’s final report.
The UN Human Rights Council appointed the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar last March to “establish the facts and circumstances of alleged recent human rights violations by military and security forces, and abuses, in Myanmar, in particular in Rakhine State.” The experts have defined “recent” to mean since 2011.
The FFMM is due to submit an interim oral report to the Human Rights Council in March 2018 and a final report in September 2018 to the Council and to the General Assembly.