Statement by UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Kate Gilmore
Geneva, 10 July 2019,
PdN, Room XX
Distinguished Members of the Council,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am honored to present on behalf of the High Commissioner this oral update, pursuant to Human Rights Council Resolution A/HRC/RES/S-27/1 of 5 December 2017, which requested the High Commissioner to track progress concerning the human rights situation of the Rohingya people.
The situation of the Rohingya community remains dire. More than 730,000 Rohingya men, women and children continue to be confined to desperate humanitarian conditions in Bangladesh, whose government’s efforts in hosting the refugee community in Cox’s Bazar is to be saluted and commended. And as OHCHR continues to document, Rohingya continue to flee northern Rakhine State, who report ongoing serious discrimination, and continuous and systematic violations of their fundamental rights and freedoms.
While the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Government of Myanmar, UNHCR and UNDP on the return of the Rohingya population was extended for an additional year on 28 May 2019, the conditions conducive for refugee return simply do not yet exist and the implementation of programs under the MoU have been tightly constrained.
The Government of Myanmar has taken some steps to implement some recommendations made by the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State (appointed by the Government) but has yet to tackle the most fundamental issues that must be addressed if the requisite enabling environment for returns is to be in place.
In northern Rakhine State, around 240,000 Rohingya remain from a previous population of approximately one million. Verifying their situation remains difficult due to lack of access by OHCHR and other international actors. However, we continue to receive and verify reports from a variety of sources, including reports on Sexual and Gender Based Violence related cases allegedly committed by members of the security forces.
In a continuation of attacks, it was reported that on 2 and 9 May 2019 Rohingya homes and shops were burned in Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships. Later, on 28 May 2019, reports alleged that the remaining Rohingya houses in Taung Bazar, Buthidaung township, were also burned to the ground. Our information suggests that the authorities have taken no steps to investigate these attacks.
Disappearances of Rohingya continue to be reported. In May, a Rohingya man newly arrived in Bangladesh, told my colleagues that he fled Myanmar rather than comply with a summons he and three other individuals received to report to the local police station. The three others did report to the police station and their families have not heard from them since.
OHCHR has received numerous reports that Rohingya face harassment, threats, physical violence and at times restrictions on their freedom of movement when they leave their residences to try to farm their lands, fish or conduct their businesses. This also limits their access to essential, life sustaining services, including to humanitarian assistance on which many now depend.
In another concerning development, it was reported that the authorities in northern Rakhine State went house-to-house in January to revise the official household registration lists, allegedly removing the names of those not present. If substantiated, the ramifications of this intervention are very serious. For many Rohingya, the household registration lists may be the only official record that establishes their place of origin and rights to their property within Myanmar. Without such proof of residence, returning to their places of origin or reclaim of their property may well be impossible while access to basic services, including healthcare, education, or other essential Government services can be denied.
The situation of the estimated 126,000 Rohingya, mostly IDPs, who live in central Rakhine is of equal concern. The appalling living conditions that they are forced to endure – lack of access to basic services, including poor levels of nutrition, water, adequate shelter, healthcare, and education – are once again more acute during the monsoon season.
While the Government has moved to close some IDP camps as part of its draft national strategy to provide new locations with improved infrastructure, it seems that the Rohingya themselves have not been consulted, and few of the new settlements are in their places of origin. Given restrictions on their freedom of movement and lack of access to sustainable livelihoods, these new settlements will likely further entrench segregation and dependency on humanitarian aid. It is clear that human rights standards affirmed by this Council require that the Government ensure its strategy for the closure of IDP camps complies with international standards, addresses the root causes of displacement, and that the IDPs are fully and appropriately consulted in its design and implementation.
The Government also continues to require Rohingya to apply for the National Verification Card or NVC which it says will enable them to access services and pursue unimpeded their livelihoods. However, the NVC does not enable this. It only permits the Rohingya to be identified as “Bengali”, denying them the right of self-identification as Rohingya. Also, the application for the NVC card requires the applicant to indicate the exact date they entered Myanmar, even if they were born in the country and never left its territory. In other words, the NVC suggests that the holder is somehow other than a citizen of Myanmar: a foreigner seeking to enter or remain in the country.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The situation for both Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine communities in Rakhine state has been further exacerbated by the conflict between the Arakan Army and the Tadmadaw. More than 300 armed clashes have been reported since December 2018 in northern Rakhine state and southern Chin State, with some in more central areas. Government restrictions on humanitarian and media access to the conflict-affected areas have limited the information available, but reports indicate that the violence may have resulted in significant losses on both sides, as well as civilian casualties and 30,000 people displaced. In one incident on 3 April, a helicopter gunship allegedly fired at an area where Rohingyas are known to cultivate bamboo. Around seven Rohingyas were killed and 20 others were injured, although sources later indicated the death toll may have been much higher. OHCHR has also received reports of at least 14 Rakhine men accused of membership of or support to the Arakan Army who are believed to have died while in the custody of the security forces between March and June – the families alleging they were subjected to torture and other mistreatment.
Government restrictions on humanitarian aid have cut off an estimated 95,000 people from basic services – compounded by arrests of ethnic Rakhine local officials accused of supporting the Arakan Army and the resignations of others that has created a vacuum in local governance in some areas. Furthermore, a dozen media outlets have reported being subjected to threats from anonymous sources while criminal cases were filed against the editors of the Burmese edition of The Irrawaddy and The Development Media Group in April and May 2019 for reporting on the conflict.
In recent months, the Government has continued its own investigations into human rights violations in Rakhine State. The Independent Commission of Inquiry appointed in 2018 by the Government assisted by two international experts, has yet to produce its first report. In April 2019, the Tatmadaw also established a military Court of Inquiry to investigate alleged terrorist attacks and human rights violations under the Defense Service Rules. Several other investigations have been conducted by the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission and local parliamentarians. As previously reported, these steps are not sufficient to promote accountability given the gravity and scale of the crimes allegedly committed.
Against a background such as this, the full operationalization of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, mandated by this Council, is of particular importance. We welcome the commencement by the Head of the Mechanism, Mr. Nicholas Koumjian, of his functions on 1 July 2019, and will, together with the Office of Legal Affairs, continue to work closely with him and his team as the Mechanism moves quickly towards full operationalization.
The Government of Myanmar can and must take urgent steps to reverse this situation and to end the statelessness of the Rohingya. They must establish a credible process for recognition of their citizenship status and the conditions conducive for the return of all refugees and IDPs to their places of origin in compliance with international law. Furthermore, the Government must act to bring the continuing violations of human rights to an end, and ensure that the grave crimes that have been committed against the Rohingya, and now the ethnic Rakhine community, are properly, transparently, impartially and fully investigated and that those who are responsible for such crimes are held accountable according to the rule of law.