UN calls for Rakhine probe
As allegations of serious abuses perpetrated against the Muslim majority in northern Rakhine State continue to mount, the United Nations has called on the government to launch an independent investigation.
UNITED Nations human rights experts have urged the government to investigate allegations of serious abuses perpetrated by security forces against northern Rakhine State’s Muslim majority as accusations of misconduct continued to mount this week.
Rakhine State’s volatile north, which borders Bangladesh, has been on virtual lockdown since October 9 attacks on Border Guard Police posts in Maungdaw and Rathedaung townships plunged the region into further turmoil.
“In the aftermath of the attacks, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has rightly called for proper investigations to be conducted and for no one to be accused until solid evidence is obtained,” said the UN special rapporteur on Myanmar’s human rights situation, Yanghee Lee, in a statement from Geneva on October 24.
“Instead, we receive repeated allegations of arbitrary arrests as well as extrajudicial killings occurring within the context of the security operations conducted by the authorities in search of the alleged attackers.”
While the state counsellor has pledged that suspected militants would be handled lawfully, both the military and the police force operating in Rakhine State are constitutionally beyond her control.
Rohingya Muslims advocacy groups and human rights monitors have accused security forces of torching Muslim villages, extrajudicial killings and rape as they carry out what the government is referring to as “clearance operations”.
With access to the area severely restricted, independently verifying much of the information being provided by state media, human rights groups and government officials has been difficult. State media has confirmed that security forces have killed at least 30 people in the October 9 border raids and the manhunt that has followed, but referred to the slain as “violent armed attackers”.
“What troubles me most is the lack of access for a proper assessment of the true picture of the situation there at the present moment,” Ms Lee said.
The pre-dawn strikes by unknown assailants on three police posts killed nine police officers and eight of the attackers. The President’s Office and State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi have said the perpetrators were motivated by Islamic extremism, leaving the largely stateless Rohingya vulnerable to targeting.
The UN special rapporteur on summary executions and on internally displaced persons, Agnes Callamard and Chaloka Beyani respectively, joined in voicing concern for the conduct of security forces in Rakhine State.
“Reports of homes and mosques being burnt down and persons of a certain profile being rounded up and shot are alarming and unacceptable. The authorities cannot justify simply shooting suspects down on the basis of the seriousness of the crime alone. The authorities have the duty to take concrete measures to prevent extrajudicial killings in the country, not to perpetuate them,” Ms Callamard said.
“While the State has the legitimate authority and power to carry out operations to pursue the alleged perpetrators of the 9 October attacks, such crimes should be investigated and prosecuted in a court of law and not dealt with violence.”
Meanwhile, the Burma Human Rights Network (BHRN) yesterday added rape to the list of accusations being levelled against security forces in northern Rakhine State.
“At least 10 cases of rape against Rohingya women have been documented by civilians in Maungdaw since the army entered the city. These reports, while difficult to independently verify, contain strong evidence and beg for further investigation,” the Londonbased network said in a statement.
The BHRN said it had interviewed one of the alleged victims in Bangladesh. The woman, three months pregnant, told of how she fled across the border after being raped at the hands of two Tatmadaw soldiers and subsequently miscarrying. A doctor’s examination corroborated her account of being beaten, raped and suffering a miscarriage, the BHRN said.
With the Tatmadaw declaring Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships an “operational zone” and sharply curtailing access for aid groups as well as media, humanitarian concerns are growing.
Roughly 13,000 people have been displaced since October 9, according to the forum and the European Union’s Directorate General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations. About 3000 are ethnic Rakhine and 10,000 are self-identifying Rohingya Muslims.
The UN World Food Programme told The Myanmar Times last week that it was being denied access to deliver rations in northern Rakhine State. INGO Forum Myanmar said the lockdown was “preventing INGOs from being able to reach people to ascertain their needs and provide assistance, halting ongoing programs such as health clinics and placing critical strains on existing stocks and supplies”.