UN Special Rapporteur expresses alarm at escalating conflict in Myanmar

By agency reporter
January 22, 2019

The UN’s human rights expert on Myanmar has expressed alarm at the escalating violence in northern and central Rakhine State and Chin State, and called on all sides to exercise restraints in use of force and to ensure the protection of civilians.

Since November 2018 the Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw, and Arakan Army (AA), an ethnic armed organisation, have been engaged in heavy fighting, resulting in deaths and injuries to civilians. At least 5,000 people have been displaced from their homes.

“Both sides must take precautions and ensure the protection of civilians”, said Yanghee Lee, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.

She condemned an attack by the AA on the four Border Guard Police posts on 4 January 2019, and expressed concern at the Tatmadaw’s disproportionate response to the attack. “It is unacceptable for the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army to conduct hostilities in a manner that impact civilians”, Lee said.

Following the 4 January AA attack, the Tatmadaw deployed a large number of troops to the region. Reports say heavy weapons and artillery, as well as helicopters, have been used in civilian areas, leading to civilian deaths and injuries.

“What is happening in Rakhine reminds me of the tactics used by the Tatmadaw against ethnic populations for decades”, the Special Rapporteur said. “All the people of Rakhine State, including the Rakhine, Mro, Daignet, Hindu and Rohingya, have suffered enough.”

On 10 January, the Rakhine State government sent a letter to the UN and international humanitarian agencies instructing them all, with the exception of the World Food Program and the International Committee of the Red Cross, to suspend their activities in the five townships in northern Rakhine that are affected by the conflict, Ponnagyun, Kyauktaw, Rathedaung, Buthidaung and Maungdaw. 

“It is vital that assistance is able to reach those who have fled violence, and the Government must immediately reverse its decision not to allow access to all humanitarian organisations,” Lee said. “I remind the Government and the Tatmadaw that blocking humanitarian access is a serious violation of international humanitarian law.”

She said that even before the Government’s recent order, access to the region for humanitarian organisations was limited, and even less so for media and independent monitors. “I call on the Government to allow full and unfettered access to the region to allow a free flow of information in the interest of the public”, Lee said.

“I am also seriously concerned about the dangerous rhetoric being used by the Government. The ethnic Rakhine population must not be demonised and targeted by the military on suspicion of association with the AA. Equally, this conflict must not be used by the Tatmadaw as a means to further its ongoing campaign of violence against the Rohingya population remaining in Rakhine state."

So far, 15 people have been arrested, apparently on suspicion of links to the AA, including seven young people who were detained for bringing supplies to displaced people at a monastery. Reports say two of the 15 people remain in detention, including a village administrator, and that they have been charged under the Unlawful Associations Act.

“This conflict risks exacerbating divisions among communities in an already fractured state, further complicating the complex situation that exists in the country,” the Special Rapporteur said. “The Government should prioritise the safety and well-being of all the people of Rakhine State and work towards peace around Myanmar.”

* Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Pages/Home.aspx

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