The Human Rights Council in Geneva has been told by the special rapporteur on rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, that the international community is “beginning to overlook” the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya.
“So long as impunity for alleged atrocity crimes prevails, we will continue to bear witness to flagrant violations of rights perpetrated against ethnic minority populations in the name of counterinsurgency, entrenching grievances and prolonging insecurity and instability,” the Korean said.
Burmese troops are currently in combat with the Arakan Army (AA) – a separatist group that is fighting for greater autonomy for ethnic Buddhists – in Rakhine and adjacent Chin State.
On June 22, the authorities ordered telecoms providers to shut down internet services in both states. Norway’s Telenor said the Ministry of Transport and Communications had justified the order with reference to “disturbances of peace and use of internet to coordinate illegal activities”.
The order was seen as indicative of growing official concern over the escalation of the Rakhine conflict.
AA, a well-trained and equipped militant force with widespread popular support, has inflicted serious casualties and is providing a more serious challenge than older rebel armies on the northern and eastern borders.
In Geneva, Lee called on the UN council to maintain pressure on Myanmar, amid concern about possible war crimes in Rakhine State, the treatment of minorities, the environment and freedom of expression.
In September 2017, an estimated 730,000 Rohingya were forced by an army crackdown across the border in Bangladesh.
Around 35,000 Rakhine State residents had fled the violence this year, Lee told the council.
Around 1 million Rohingya refugees were in Cox’s Bazar where they “are subject to a human rights crisis, responsibility for which lies with Myanmar”, Lee said. Those Rohingya remaining in Rakhine State “continue to be denied their rights and are persecuted by authorities, making returns from Bangladesh impossible,” Lee said.
She called for a referral to the International Criminal Court.
In April, a military helicopter opened fire on Rohingya men and boys collecting bamboo, the special rapporteur said.
“The situation is not improving, and serious violations continue to take place on a regular basis,” Lee told the event.
Myanmar’s ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun demanded respect for Nay Pyi Taw’s “genuine and concerted efforts for enabling repatriation” and accused Lee of “naming, shaming and pressuring the country based on groundless allegations”.
The Rakhine population is enduring increasing violence. Picture credit: Asean Economist