GENEVA (24 June 2019) - The Myanmar Government’s shutdown of mobile data networks in nine townships could have serious implications for human rights and humanitarian monitoring in the conflict areas of Rakhine and Chin States, a UN expert warned on Monday.
“As there is no media access and serious restrictions on humanitarian organisations in the conflict-affected area, the entire region is in a blackout,” said Yanghee Lee, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar. “I fear for all civilians there, cut off and without the necessary means to communicate with people inside and outside the area.”
Recent reports allege violations of human rights and international humanitarian law to have been committed against the civilian population by both parties to the conflict in the last six months.
On 20 June, the Ministry of Transport and Communications issued an order to all mobile network providers under the Telecommunications Law 2013 to temporarily stop mobile internet services. The Ministry cited disturbances to the peace and internet services being used to coordinate illegal activities for the shutdown.
There are credible reports that on 19 June, the Tatmadaw conducted helicopter attacks in Minbya Township in central Rakhine. The following day, the Arakan Army fired on a navy ship in Sittwe, killing and injuring several soldiers.
“I am told that the Tatmadaw is now conducting a ‘clearance operation’, which we all know by now can be a cover for committing gross human rights violations against the civilian population,” the UN expert said. “We must not forget that these are the same security forces that have so far avoided accountability for the atrocities committed against the Rohingya in Rakhine State less than two years ago.”
The conflict between the Arakan Army and the Tatmadaw has been ongoing since late 2018, with civilians bearing the brunt of the violence. Over 35,000 civilians have been displaced and dozens of civilians, including children, have been killed and injured by both indiscriminate and targeted attacks. Others, mainly ethnic Rakhine men, have died while in the military’s custody.
“I call on the Government to reverse its decision to impose the mobile internet ban,” Lee said. “Both parties to the conflict must ensure that civilians and civilian objects are protected at all times and uphold international humanitarian law. The restrictions on the media and humanitarian organisations must be lifted immediately.”
Ms. Yanghee Lee (Republic of Korea) was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2014 as the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar. She is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity. Ms. Lee served as member and chairperson of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2003-2011). She is currently a professor at Sungkyunwan University, Seoul, and serves on the Advisory Committee of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea. Ms. Lee is the founding President of International Child Rights Center.
The Special Rapporteurs 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.
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