What's In Blue

Posted Wed 30 Aug 2017

Consultations on Myanmar

This morning (30 August), at the request of the UK, Council members will be briefed under “any other business” on the situation in Myanmar by Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Miroslav Jenča. The focus of the briefing will be the situation in Rakhine State, where there have been reports of many civilian casualties after attacks on 25 August by Rohingya armed groups on police border posts and the response of security forces, which led to the deaths of close to a hundred people. Council members were last briefed on the situation in Myanmar, also under “any other business”, on 17 March. Although a representative from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) was present to answer questions at the last two briefings on Myanmar, at press time it appeared that OHCHR would not participate today.

Members will be interested in more information on the attacks, including whether soldiers had shot indiscriminately at unarmed Rohingya. According to a statement from the Office of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, one soldier, 10 police officers, an immigration official and 77 alleged fighters of the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) were killed as a result of the attacks. The ARSA, which the Myanmar government designated as a terrorist group in August 2016, took responsibility for the attacks on more than 25 locations. Secretary-General António Guterres issued a statement condemning the attacks, expressing concern over reports of civilians being killed during security operations in Rakhine State and reiterating the importance of addressing the root causes of the violence and the responsibility of the government of Myanmar to provide security and assistance to those in need.

Members will want to know whether the violence is continuing and what can be done to prevent the situation from escalating further. Human Rights Watch has reported that it has satellite data showing widespread fires in ten areas in northern Rakhine. Members may want to know if there is any evidence that these fires are a result of arson. There is likely to be interest in having Jenča provide an assessment of whether the situation could escalate further. Members will also want to hear more about those who have been displaced by the violence. According to UNHCR, over the weekend more than 5,000 Rohingya refugees entered Bangladesh from Myanmar. UNHCR said that it had reports of refugees being sent back to Myanmar. Members may inquire about the fate of those who were turned away and what the UN is doing to help those displaced by the violence. Guterres has called on Bangladesh to keep its borders open.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Tuesday (29 August) condemned the violence and said that those responsible needed to be brought to justice. He called on the Myanmar government to ensure that its security forces refrained from using disproportionate force. He said that the government had a responsibility to protect all civilians “without discrimination” and that the situation had been both predictable and preventable. He also voiced concern over allegations that staff members of international organisations had participated in the attacks. It seems that Suu Kyi’s office had posted comments on Facebook, which have since been removed, suggesting that the authorities were investigating such allegations.

On 24 March, the UN Human Rights Council established an independent, international fact-finding mission with a mandate to investigate allegations of recent human rights abuses in Myanmar, especially in Rakhine State. Attacks by ARSA on three police border posts in October 2016, in Rakhine state, led to a strong military response and over 80,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh. An OHCHR report released in February, found that crimes against the Rohingya community “seem to have been widespread as well as systematic, indicating the very likely commission of crimes against humanity.” In early August, following a late July visit to Rakhine State, Special Rapporteur on Myanmar Yanghee Lee reported that she had found a worsening security and human rights situation. The Myanmar military and Suu Kyi’s office deny allegations of serious human rights violations in Rakhine State since October 2016, and the Myanmar government has indicated that it will not cooperate with the international fact-finding mission or let its members into the country. Some members of the Council may call on the Myanmar government to cooperate with the fact-finding mission.

The Advisory Commission on the Rakhine State established by Suu Kyi in August 2016, with a mandate to look at the root causes of conflict there, released its final report on 24 August. The Commission, which is headed by former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, recommends that the government take concrete steps to end enforced segregation of Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims; ensure full and unfettered humanitarian access throughout the state; tackle Rohingya statelessness and “revisit” the 1982 Citizenship Law; hold perpetrators of human rights violations accountable; and end restrictions on freedom of movement. Jenča may reiterate the Secretary-General’s support for the Commission’s recommendations and call on the Myanmar authorities to implement them.

Although there has been a steady deterioration of the situation in Rakhine State with the emergence of Rohingya armed groups and increasing evidence of violations committed against civilians, most Council members have shown little interest in having regular briefings on the situation. The UK holds the pen on Myanmar and calls for a meeting about once a year, usually in March. Sweden has for some months now been interested in having a briefing on the situation in Myanmar, It seems that with China continuing to take a cautious role on Myanmar, it would be difficult to have a substantive outcome.

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