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City of London to debate stripping Aung San Suu Kyi of freedom award

Concern over Burmese leader’s response to treatment of Myanmar’s Rohingya people prompts review by City of London council

Members of the City of London’s local authority are to discuss stripping Aung San Suu Kyi of the Honorary Freedom that was bestowed on her in controversial circumstances.

The award, which was conferred on the Burmese leader in May, was originally the subject of unhappiness among some councillors for the Square Mile as well as protests at a time when concern was already building over the treatment of Myanmar’s Rohingya people.

Following pressure from colleagues and increasing reports of atrocities in Myanmar, City of London Corporation leaders have now decided to discuss revoking the honour. Catherine McGuinness, a lawyer who chairs the body’s policy and resources committee, informed fellow councillors by email that she was “distressed at the situation in Burma and the atrocities committed by the Burmese military”.

Her response came after one member, Munsur Ali, sent an email to say that he was tabling a motion that would criticise Aung San Suu Kyi’s failure to publicly challenge the conduct of her country’s armed forces and which would instruct the committee in charge of overseeing applications for honours to examine whether her honour could be removed.

“Like many, this has been of great concern to me for a while, not only as a Londoner who is proud of the freedom and equality we celebrate and keen to share with the world, but more so as a person who is of Bengali heritage,” said Ali, who spoke out after another member, Thomas Anderson, also expressed concern.

It emerged last week that Aung San Suu Kyi is to be stripped of the Freedom of the City of Oxford, where she studied as an undergraduate, over her response to the Rohingya crisis.
Oxford city council voted unanimously to support a cross-party motion that said it was no longer appropriate to celebrate the de facto leader of Myanmar. The council is to hold a special meeting to confirm the honour’s removal on 27 November.

The council leader, Bob Price, supported the motion, calling it an unprecedented step for the local authority, according to the BBC.

In recent months, Aung San Suu Kyi has drawn increasing criticism for her apparent defence of Myanmar’s treatment of its Rohingya minority, described by the UN as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.

Oxford council bestowed the freedom of the city on her in 1997, when she was being held as a political prisoner by Myanmar’s military junta.

The decision to remove the award comes after the Oxford college where Aung San Suu Kyi studied recently removed her portrait from public display.

Source : https://www.theguardian.com

No sign of radicalisation in Rohingya, says Bangladesh Foreign Secretary

Describing the violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state as “ethnic cleansing”, Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque said the international community has been made aware of how the country was “snatching the rights” of the Rohingya.

Stressing that he has not seen any sign of radicalisation among Rohingya refugees, Bangladesh Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque Friday said that he would not comment on India’s move to deport them but hoped that “in the end… humanitarian issues will get due consideration”.

Haque’s position runs contrary to New Delhi’s stance that Rohingya refugees in India pose a national security threat amid fears of radicalisation. Haque, who met Foreign secretary S Jaishankar in the Capital on Thursday evening, was also hopeful of India’s support to Bangladesh in the wake of the refugee crisis. This was the third meeting between the two foreign secretaries in the past month-and-a-half following sessions in Colombo and New York last month after the crisis escalated.

Asked about India’s plan to deport around 40,000 Rohingya refugees, Haque, “I will not comment on India’s decision….but I hope, in the end, humanitarian issues will get due consideration.” Haque is one of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s trusted lieutenants.

On whether there has been radicalisation among Rohingya in Bangladesh, Haque said he has been to refugee camps several times in the last few weeks but “there has not been any sign of radicalisation in these people”.

Haque, however, said there was always a possibility of radicalisation since radical elements would try to take advantage of the situation but it was the government’s responsibility to not allow that to happen. “It is not an alarming situation,” he told reporters at the Bangladesh High Commission.

Haque, who also met National Security Advisor Ajit Doval Thursday, said they discussed all aspects of the issue, with the continuing influx of Rohingya refugees from Mynamar figuring “prominently”.

Describing the violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state as “ethnic cleansing”, Haque said the international community has been made aware of how the country was “snatching the rights” of the Rohingya.

“It is not only a people’s movement but also a security issue, a border issue, which has the potential to destabilise the region, not just areas in Myanmar and Bangladesh,” he said.

On India’s position that Rohingya pose a security threat, Haque said, “Not that it always becomes (a security threat), depends on how you manage it. So far the government of Bangladesh has been able to contain that. It has not moved into a security area… The population continues to remain neutral. They all look forward to
go back. It is the responsibility of the State not to allow it (radicalisation) to happen.”
The Bangladesh Foreign Secretary said there is a tendency to view such issues from the prism of radicalisation, but that obfuscates the fact that it is above all a humanitarian issue, involving women and children who “need support”.

“India has been with Bangladesh during difficult times like in 1971 or subsequently. They are our closest partner. We agreed this is a huge burden on Bangladesh and it has potential to destabilise the region. I think we were speaking in the same language,” he said.

On reports of mass graves of Hindus found in the violence-hit region, Haque said, “This is part of ethnic cleansing. Once there is ethnic cleansing I do not think people who commit ethnic cleansing make separation between Muslims and Hindus. They want to clear the whole area to set up a export processing zone I am told. It is
the government’s responsibility to protect all its citizens.”

Source : http://indianexpress.com

US Lawmakers Urge Action on Myanmar

U.S. lawmakers are calling for “full access” by journalists and aid workers to Myanmar’s troubled Rakhine state.

“It is very important that we get reporters on the ground, that we get USAID on the ground,” Representative Ed Royce, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee said Thursday. “Because as long as that presence is there, it’s a check to these kinds of atrocities,” he said, referring to the plight of Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya minority.

Royce added that the Trump administration has promised $32 million in assistance – $28 million of which will go to Bangladesh, where roughly half a million Rohingya have fled from across the border since late August.

Patrick Murphy, a senior U.S. official for Southeast Asia, says the U.S. has urged Myanmar’s civilian and military officials to take action to stop the violence, and representative Eliot Engel, the committee’s top-ranking Democrat, said the U.S. should consider imposing targeted sanctions on Myanmar’s military.

The lawmakers also echoed comments by the U.N. Human Rights commissioner, saying that the violence against Rohingyas which has led to their mass exodus constitutes ethnic cleansing.

“Just for the record, myself and Mr. Engel, this committee – we identity this as full-fledged ethnic cleansing,” Representative Royce said.

When asked why he doesn’t use the term ethnic cleansing, Murphy called the situation in Myanmar a “human tragedy.”

David Steinberg, a distinguished professor emeritus of Asian studies at the School of Foreign Service and who has had extensive experience in Myanmar, disagreed.

“Certainly there is a great prejudice against the people called Rohingya and they want them out of the country,” Steinberg said. “They always said, ‘Go back to Bangladesh where you belong.’ People have said that many, many times in Myanmar. So that term ethnic cleansing I don’t think is too wrong. I think that is very clear.

“When you have over a half a million people, maybe half of the Rohingya, have left Myanmar so I think … what everybody wants is a very humanitarian settlement of the problem so that the people are not as bad off as they are now. We all want that. The question is how best to get that,” he continued.

Meanwhile, the United Nations said Thursday that its response plan to the crisis had been revised to $434 million to help over one million people in Bangladesh – including over 500,000 Rohingya who have arrived since August 25, Rohingya refugees who arrived earlier, and local host communities.

After the Myanmar army began a crackdown in October last year to “flush out Rohingya militants” following a deadly attack on a police outpost, charges of rapes, killings and arson were leveled against the soldiers in the Rohingya village but outside media have been restricted in their access to the area.

As a result, the Rohingya leaders claim the true story of the crackdown has not been getting out to the world.

The Myanmar government has taken groups of reporters to the region in recent weeks and has denied charges of systematic abuses against the Rohingya. But because of the security situation, reporters say they are not able to freely move about the area and gather information.

Source : https://www.voanews.com

Chairman Royce to Convene Hearing on Violence Against Rohingya – Tomorrow at 9 a.m.

Media Contact 202-225-5021

Washington, D.C. – Tomorrow at 9 a.m., House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) will convene a hearing to discuss the U.S. response to Burma’s escalating violence against the Rohingya.  The hearing is entitled “The Rohingya Crisis: U.S. Response to the Tragedy in Burma.”

Chairman Royce on the hearing: “Burma’s violence against the Rohingya is horrific, and one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.  Hundreds have been killed, at least 420,000 Rohingyas have been driven from their homes, and at least 200 villages have been burned to the ground.  Burma can’t be allowed to continue cruelly mistreating the Rohingya and other minority groups.  And the United States should use the tools at its disposal to help stop this violence.  This hearing will give members an opportunity to press the administration on the steps they are taking to ensure civilian and military authorities are working to end the violence and aid those in desperate need.”

What:
Hearing: The Rohingya Crisis: U.S. Response to the Tragedy in Burma

When:
9 a.m. on Thursday, October 5

Where:
2172 Rayburn House Office Building

Witnesses:
Mr. W. Patrick Murphy
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Southeast Asia
Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs
U.S. Department of State

The Honorable Mark C. Storella
Deputy Assistant Secretary
Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration
U.S. Department of State

Ms. V. Kate Somvongsiri
Acting Deputy Assistant Administrator
Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance
U.S. Agency for International Development

Source : https://foreignaffairs.house.gov

Prince Charles omits Myanmar from Asia tour amid Rohingya conflict

Myanmar visit was considered for prince’s trip on behalf of British government but it has now been left put of official program

Prince Charles will tour south-east Asia and India later this month but the heir to the British throne will not visit Myanmar, after a spate of violence and allegations that authorities are carrying out ethnic cleansing.

Media reports last month said an official visit to Myanmar was being suggested for the trip, which the prince is undertaking on behalf of the British government, and aides acknowledged it had been considered as part of the schedule.

But it was omitted from the final program issued on Wednesday. Charles and his wife Camilla will travel to Singapore, Malaysia and then to India where he will meet the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi.

“We looked at a range of options in the region and, as we’re announcing today, we’re going ahead with the visit to Singapore and Malaysia,” Philip Malone, the deputy head of department at Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, told reporters.

Malone and royal aides declined to elaborate.

More than 500,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh in the past month since insurgents attacked security posts near the border, triggering fierce military retaliation that the United Nations has branded ethnic cleansing.

Last month Britain suspended its training program for the military in Myanmar because of the violence, and diplomatic relations have deteriorated.

Rights campaigners had argued against a royal visit.

“To have someone of Prince Charles’s stature go to visit the country would be seen as a reward, and giving legitimacy to the government and the military that are currently violating international law,” said Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK.

Charles and Camilla will begin their tour in Singapore on 31 October before going to Malaysia, where they will celebrate 60 years of diplomatic ties since the former British colony became independent, before concluding the 11-day tour in India.

Source : https://www.theguardian.com

Who really attacked the Rohingya Hindus in Rakhine?

The Myanmar government on September 27 announced it had found a mass grave of Hindus near Fakirabazar, where at least 45 corpses of local Hindus were buried

Among the half million Rohingya refugees who have come to Bangladesh, only a handful of them are Hindus. In their statements to many journalists and authorities, these people have described suffering horrors of slaughter and arson just like their Muslim neighbours.

In particular, Rohingya refugees from the Hindu neighbourhood of Fakirabazar in Maungdaw, described how masked assailants clad in black had shot and stabbed people and dumped the bodies in holes in the ground.

Over the last week and a half, however, some of the statements have begun to change. The Hindus, who are mostly gathered in a separate camp in Ukhiya, Cox’s Bazar, have started to blame “militant Muslims” for attacks on the Hindus.

Last week, a group of Rohingya women told AFP they were Hindus, brought forcibly to the Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh by a group of men and told to convert to Islam.

A reporter from Indian news magazine India Today also found a woman from this group. She claimed to have been forced to perform namaz and wear a burqa.

Reuters reports that in late August, a group of Hindu Rohingya women had told them it was Rakhine Buddhists who attacked them. But later on, three of them changed their statements to say the attackers were Rohingya Muslims, who brought them here and told them to blame the Buddhists.

The Myanmar government on September 27 announced it had found a mass grave of Hindus near Fakirabazar, where at least 45 corpses of local Hindus were buried. A group of local and foreign journalists were flown to the spot by the Myanmar army and shown decomposing skeletal bodies laid out in rows on a field outside the village, as distraught relatives wailed nearby.

Rohingya killing Rohingya?

The Myanmar Army blamed the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) for this slaughter. Journalists have no access to Rakhine state outside of these official visits and cannot verify any of the official claims.

The same day, the Rakhine state government urged Hindu refugees who fled to Bangladesh to return, promising they will be cared for in Sittwe, according to reports in Myanmar media.

This correspondent visited the camp of Rohingya Hindus in Ukhiya and found them sheltered in a chicken farm and makeshift houses beside a Hindu temple. The majority of them were from the villages of Chikanchhari, Fakirabazar and Balibazar in Maungdaw.

The refugees said they had fled to save their lives from a group of people clad in black, whom they called “Kala Party” (Black Party). They believed these people were Rohingya Muslims.

“Muslim terrorists have become desperate and started resenting the Hindus who have citizenship in Myanmar,” said Puja Mallik, a young Hindu woman whose husband was killed by the masked men clad in black on August 25.

“The government is willing to give Muslims second class green citizenship card like ours, they do not want that. They demand the first class red citizenship cards that the Moghs [Rakhine] have,” she said.

The Myanmar has three tiers of citizenship, and the green card is for “naturalised citizens,” essentially immigrants.

A number of Hindu refugees while arriving in Bangladesh had told the media that they had lost their fathers and husbands at the hands of Myanmar army for their reluctance to partake in Muslim killing in Rakhine.

Cox’s Bazar Correspondent for New Age Mohammad Nurul Islam said: “They arrived in Bangladesh with the Muslim refugees and told us that the Buddhists had attacked them. We have audio records of their speeches.”

“Myanmar military and Buddhists killed my husband for not participating in killing and ousting Rohingya Muslims,” Anika Dhar, a pregnant Hindu housewife, had told the Daily New Age in late August.

She also told a senior journalist with the Reuters Television that she had taken shelter in a Muslim village after her husband was killed and came to Bangladesh with them.

Another woman, Padma Bala, who arrived in Bangladesh on August 30, told the same journalist: “The Moghs [Rakhine] are cutting us up.” The Reuters journalist is still in possession of the audio recording.

Many Rohingya Hindus have said they received support from Muslim neighbours in escaping the army’s persecution.

“The Kala Party with arms, bombs and lethal weapons confined us to our houses for five consecutive days. We managed to escape the confinement with a Muslim neighbour’s help,” Arimahan Rudra told the Dhaka Tribune.

According to him there were 607 Hindus in the camp.

What do Rohingya Muslims say?

The green card citizenship makes the Hindus more privileged than the Muslims. They can study in colleges and universities, they can get jobs and medical treatment from government hospitals, they can travel freely, at least in theory, and they can vote.

On the other hand, Rohingya Muslims demand full-fledged citizenship, acknowledgement as Rohingya, and removal of state-sponsored restrictions; demands that are unlikely to be ever fulfilled.

Many Rohingya Muslims think this is Myanmar’s long-term plan, a classic divide and rule strategy, to create anger and hatred between the two religious groups among the Rohingya.

“We, the Hindus and Muslims, have been living together more than a hundred years in our village. The differences in our religious faiths did not create any trouble,” said Hashu Mia, a Muslim refugee from Fakirabazar village, now in Kutupalong.

“After coming to Bangladesh, I met one of my Hindu neighbours in Kutupalong bazar last week. He was the first to recognise me here. He embraced me tightly and we cried,” he said.

However, some Rohingya Muslims say some members of the Hindu community had sided with the army and Rakhine militia since the violence erupted.

“The Hindus are collaborating with the army and Moghs in Muslim killing. They helped them in looting and torching Muslim houses as they know the localities well,” said Abdus Salam, another Rohingya refugee from Fakirabazar.

“The relation between Hindus and Muslims has significantly deteriorated over a month,” he told the Dhaka Tribune.

Manufacturing a divide

The Rohingya insurgent group ARSA has strongly denounced the allegations brought by the Myanmar army.

“ARSA categorically denies that any of its member of combatants perpetrated murder, sexual violence, or forcible recruitment in the village of Fakirabazar, Riktapur and Chikonchhari in Maungdaw on or about 25 August 2017,” the statement issued on Wednesday said.

Who then, killed the Rohingya Hindus in the Rakhine state?

Rohingya refugees say that since ARSA’s attack, the Myanmar army started a deadly crackdown and killed hundreds of villagers regardless of their religious identities.

“The army is playing a game. The Buddhists and government agents attacked the Hindu villages so that they can justify the military crackdown targeted on Muslim eradication,” Mohammad Ayes, who enrolled himself in ARSA in August, told the Dhaka Tribune.

Mohammad Ayes, who joined ARSA a few days before the insurgent attacks, said the government used the conflict between the Hindus and Muslims, and take side of the Hindus as they were working for them.

Ayes argued that since the ARSA combatants do not have any dress code, they do not need to hide their identity with black masks.

“Whoever uses masks, it means they want to hide their identities and commit atrocities. It is a conspiracy against the Rohingya Muslims to prove that what the army is doing is legal and necessary,”

“If Hindus were really attacked by the Muslims, would they not be afraid to escape with the Muslims to get shelter in Bangladesh?” he asked.

Ayes alleged that since the Rohingya Hindus already had Myanmar citizenship and the government had urged them to return, they were blaming Muslims to express their loyalty towards the government.

Another ARSA member who claimed to be a Jimmadar (commander) told the Dhaka Tribune through a messaging app that the corpses the Myanmar army found could be any Rohingya.

“Now they are showing those bodies and forcing the Hindu people to cry in front of the bodies and say that those corpses were their relatives,” he said.

“UN bodies and others are trying to enter Rakhine state to investigate what atrocities were done by the military. So they buried the bodies of Rohingya. If any investigation is carried out the military will be accused for sure. So to destroy the evidence they are posing Muslim bodies as Hindu bodies,” the militant said.

‘We want to go to India’

Asked why they had come to Bangladesh instead of moving further inland, Bhuban Pal, a refugee in the Hindu camp, said that they perceived all Muslims to be against them and had moved to Bangladesh because it was closer.

“One of our community leaders, Nirmal Dhar, told us we would be safe here and he would arrange our return soon,” he added.

Several refugees, when asked whether they had heard about Rakhine state government’s invitation to the Hindus to return and stay in Sittwe, said they did not feel safe in Myanmar and wanted to go to India.

Source : http://www.dhakatribune.com/

UN Security Council finally losing patience with Myanmar

United Nations (CNN)In the past four weeks over half a million Rohingya Muslims have been forced to flee Myanmar to escape an orchestrated campaign of violence described by the UN as “ethnic cleansing.”

But it wasn’t until Thursday that the UN Security Council held its first public meeting on the situation in more than eight years.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the council that the current outbreak of violence has “spiraled into the world’s fastest-developing refugee emergency, a humanitarian and human rights nightmare.”
“We’ve received bone-chilling accounts from those who fled, mainly women, children and the elderly,” he said.
At least 500,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar since violence intensified in late August, bringing with them stories of widespread destruction and murder in their home province.
Their forced migration constitutes the quickest exodus from a single country since the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
Rohingya Muslims are considered to be among the world’s most persecuted people. The predominantly Buddhist Myanmar considers them Bangladeshi, but Bangladesh says they’re Burmese. As a result, they’re effectively stateless.
On August 25, Rohingya militants killed 12 security officers in coordinated attacks on border posts, according to Myanmar’s state media. In response, the military intensified “clearance operations” against “terrorists,” driving thousands of people from their homes.
he security council meeting came as 15 Rohingya, including nine children, drowned after their boat sunk while trying to escape Myanmar to Bangladesh across the Bay of Bengal.
US ambassador to the United Nations told the Security Council Thursday Myanmar’s actions in Rakhine State appeared to be ethnic cleansing, an allegation UN human rights chief Zeid Raad al-Hussein first made weeks ago.
The government of Myanmar has repeatedly denied this, claiming security forces are carrying out counter attacks against “brutal acts of terrorism.”
In a statement, the country’s foreign ministry claimed that security forces are taking “full measures to avoid collateral damage and the harming of innocent civilians.”
Visiting Myanmar National Security Advisor U Thaung Tun blamed terrorism, not religious persecution, for the unfolding crisis. He said there is “no ethnic cleansing or genocide” in Myanmar, adding that those charges should not be lobbed lightly.
Despite the harsh words no formal action was taken after the session. Ambassadors said they felt that the 15-member council sent a strong message to Myanmar.

Haley: Time for words has passed

During Thursday’s meeting, Ambassador Haley said the time for “well meaning words in the Council have passed.”
She said that action must be considered against “Burmese security forces who are implicated in abuses stoking hatred among fellow citizens,” and urged countries that now sell weapons to Myanmar to suspend their deliveries until the military provides accountability.
Haley called for the Myanmar military to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.
“Those who have been accused of committing abuses should be removed from command responsibilities immediately and prosecuted for wrongdoing,” she said.
Before the meeting, Amnesty International called for an arms embargo on Myanmar. The group says Myanmar has torched entire villages inside Rakhine State and fired on people trying to flee.
Myanmar issued an invitation to the UN Secretary-General to come visit the country in the “near future.” The UN said that it’s studying the offer.
The Myanmar envoy also said diplomats accompanied by media will visit northern Rakhine state on Monday.
The UN does not have its own army, and it has gotten nowhere with pleas for diplomacy. A UN team set to tour Rakhine state on Thursday found its trip cancelled — due to the weather, according to Myanmar.

Guterres: ‘End the military operations’

The UN Secretary-General proposed three things for the Myanmar government to do.
“First, end the military operations,” Guterres said. “Second, allow unfettered access for humanitarian support. And third, to ensure the safe voluntary and sustainable return of the refugees to their areas of origin.”
Japan’s UN Ambassador Koro Bessho strongly condemned the attacks on civilians and said his nation was deeply disturbed at reports of killings.
Myanmar’s special envoy told the Council the country realizes the humanitarian situation needs to be addressed. He said thousands fled because of fear due to terrorism, and that Myanmar is cooperating with the Red Cross.
The UN Secretary-General warned that “we should not be surprised if decades of discrimination and double standards in treatment of the Rohingya create an opening for radicalization.”
China, a neighbor of Myanmar and Bangladesh where hundreds of thousands have fled, said “there is no quick fix” to the conflict.
Diplomats say they want a political dialogue to start. The Council plans to hear from former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who chaired a commission on Myanmar packed with recommendations, next week.
Swedish UN Ambassador Olof Skoog said the Annan report “provides the way forward,” as he urged the Myanmar government to take responsibility to bring an end to the conflict once and for all.”

Source : http://edition.cnn.com

The UN Toughens its Myanmar Stance—Five Years into the Rakhine Crisis

At the UN Security Council yesterday, both the UN Secretary-General and a number of UNSC members called for tough pressure on the Myanmar government, as the crisis in Rakhine State—and the exodus of refugees into Bangladesh—continues with little let up. U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations Nikki Haley called for all countries to stop providing weapons to the Myanmar military, according to reports in Reuters. She said, “Any country that is currently providing weapons to the Burmese military should suspend these activities until sufficient accountability measures are in place” to ensure that the ethnic cleansing stops and commanders who oversaw the Rakhine operation are removed from their posts. This is a commendable stance, and may be an important step to convincing the Myanmar armed forces that they could pay for their ethnic cleansing operations.

Meanwhile, during the discussion on Myanmar, Security Council members repeatedly mentioned commander in chief Min Aung Hlaing, who runs the Myanmar armed forces. He, even more than any other figure in Myanmar, is ultimately responsible for the army’s actions in Rakhine State. Yet his name has been barely mentioned in the international press as the crisis in Rakhine has escalated. (I will hopefully have two more pieces on Min Aung Hlaing next week, in The National and The Atlantic.) Although Aung San Suu Kyi certainly bears a significant part of the blame for the Rakhine crisis, Min Aung Hlaing needs to be front and center in discussions of Myanmar at the United Nations.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also has taken an increasingly tough rhetorical approach toward the Myanmar government. He seems to be getting increasingly frustrated with Myanmar’s stonewalling on letting in UN rights investigators, and Naypyidaw’s refusal to even acknowledge that there are serious rights violations going on in Myanmar. The Secretary-General has forcefully called on Myanmar to allow in UN investigators and to halt the army’s actions in Rakhine State. This week he called the Rohingya crisis “the world’s fastest developing refugee emergency and a humanitarian and human rights nightmare.”

But the UN’s actions, though welcome, are more than a bit late. Although the crisis has grown exponentially since August, Rakhine state has been wracked with violence for nearly five years. For five years, the military and vigilantes have laid waste to parts of the state. And for five years there have been massive refugee flights into Bangladesh, as well as large numbers of internally displaced people inside Myanmar.

Indeed, multiple reports, including by the BBC, have shown that the UN mostly avoiding taking serious action on the Rakhine crisis over the past five years.

The BBC reports that, until the crisis that began this past August, “the head of the United Nations Country Team (UNCT) [for Myanmar], a Canadian:

  • tried to stop human rights activists travelling to Rohingya areas
  • attempted to shut down public advocacy on the subject
  • isolated staff who tried to warn that ethnic cleansing might be on the way.”

The United Nations has “strongly disagreed” with the BBC report.

Other reports back up the BBC reporting on the UN’s go-slow approach to Rakhine. Last year, Vice obtained leaked documents which showed that “UN officials on the ground [in Myanmar] disregarded multiple recommendations on the rights and security of the [Rohingya].” The Vice documents further showed that an internal UN report had noted that the United Nations was focused mostly on “emphasizing development investment [in Rakhine State and Myanmar generally] as the solution to the problems in Rakhine State.”

Although Rakhine certainly could use development, investment and growth is hardly going to stop an ongoing humanitarian catastrophe. What’s more, as some of the Vice documents showed, many UN officials accurately recognized that development in Rakhine State actually might be further fueling the conflict. Finally, the Vice documents noted that the United Nations’ coordinator in Myanmar had repeatedly “discarded or simply ignored information that underscored the seriousness of the [human rights] situation” in Rakhine state.

So, the United Nations’ actions this week on Myanmar are to be acclaimed. But they should have come much sooner.

Source : https://www.cfr.org/blog/un-toughens-its-myanmar-stance-five-years-rakhine-crisis

U.S. envoy to U.N. demands Myanmar prosecutions, weapons curbs, over Rohingya

UNITED NATIONS/YANGON (Reuters) – U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on Thursday called on countries to suspend providing weapons to Myanmar over violence against Rohingya Muslims until the military puts sufficient accountability measures in place.

It was the first time the United States called for punishment of military leaders behind the repression, but stopped short of threatening to reimpose U.S. sanctions which were suspended under the Obama administration.

“We cannot be afraid to call the actions of the Burmese authorities what they appear to be – a brutal, sustained campaign to cleanse the country of an ethnic minority,” Haley told the U.N. Security Council, the first time Washington has echoed the U.N.’s accusation that the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people in Rakhine State was ethnic cleansing.

Myanmar rejects the accusations and has denounced rights abuses.

“The Burmese military must respect human rights and fundamental freedoms. Those who have been accused of committing abuses should be removed from command responsibilities immediately and prosecuted for wrongdoing,” Haley said.

“And any country that is currently providing weapons to the Burmese military should suspend these activities until sufficient accountability measures are in place,” Haley said.

Myanmar national security adviser Thaung Tun said at the United Nations on Thursday there was no ethnic cleansing or genocide happening in Myanmar. He told the Security Council that Myanmar had invited U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres to visit. A U.N. official said Guterres would consider visiting Myanmar under the right conditions.

China and Russia both expressed support for the Myanmar government. Myanmar said earlier this month it was negotiating with China and Russia, which have veto powers in the Security Council, to protect it from any possible action by the council.

The Trump administration has mostly hewed to former President Barack Obama’s approach of forging warmer relations with Myanmar, partly aimed at countering China’s influence in the resource-rich Southeast Asian country.

Meanwhile, international aid groups in Myanmar have urged the government to allow free access to Rakhine, where an army offensive has sent more than 500,000 people fleeing to Bangladesh, but hundreds of thousands remain cut off from food, shelter and medical care.

Refugees are still leaving Myanmar, more than a month after Rohingya Muslim insurgents attacked security posts near the border, triggering fierce Myanmar military retaliation.

Aid groups said on Thursday the total number of refugees in Bangladesh was now 502,000.

The Myanmar government has stopped international aid groups and U.N. agencies from carrying out most of their work in the north of Rakhine state, citing insecurity since the Aug. 25 insurgent attacks.

Aid groups said in a joint statement they were: “increasingly concerned about severe restrictions on humanitarian access and impediments to the delivery of critically needed humanitarian assistance throughout Rakhine State.”

“We urge the government and authorities of Myanmar to ensure that all people in need in Rakhine State have full, free and unimpeded access to life-saving humanitarian assistance.”

The government has put the Myanmar Red Cross in charge of aid to the state, with the help of the International Committee of the Red Cross. But the groups said they feared insufficient aid was getting through.

Relations between the government and aid agencies had been difficult for months, with some officials accusing the groups of helping the insurgents.

Aid groups dismissed the accusations, which they said had inflamed anger toward them among Buddhists in the communally divided state, and called for an end to “misinformation and unfounded accusations”.

Rights groups have accused the army of trying to push Rohingya Muslims out of Myanmar, and of committing crimes against humanity. They have called for sanctions, in particular an arms embargo.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned on Thursday that the violence against Rohingya Muslims in the northern part of Rakhine could spread to central Rakhine, where 250,000 more people were at risk of displacement.

Guterres told the U.N. Security Council during its first public meeting on Myanmar in eight years, that the violence had spiraled into the “world’s fastest developing refugee emergency, a humanitarian and human rights nightmare.”

A group of Republican and Democratic senators urged the Trump administration on Thursday to use the “full weight” of its influence to help resolve the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar and Bangladesh.

A letter seen by Reuters and signed by four Republican and 17 Democratic members of the 100-seat Senate also calls on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Mark Green to provide more humanitarian aid.

The British Minister of State for Asia and the Pacific, Mark Field, described the situation as “an unacceptable tragedy” after visiting Myanmar and meeting leaders including Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who has faced scathing criticism and calls for her Nobel prize to be withdrawn.

DROWNINGS

Police in Bangladesh said they recovered the bodies of 14 refugees, including nine children, who drowned when their boat capsized off the coast in bad weather. A Reuters photographer said he saw several babies among the victims.

The U.N. International Organization for Migration later put the toll at 15.

Police officer Afrajul Hoque Tutu said three boats had capsized in heavy seas.

Myanmar was getting ready to “verify” refugees who want to return, the government minister charged with putting into effect recommendations to solve problems in Rakhine said.

Myanmar would conduct a “national verification process” at two points on its border with Bangladesh under terms agreed during a repatriation effort in 1993, state media quoted Win Myat Aye, the minister for social welfare, relief and resettlement, as saying.

Myanmar authorities do not recognize Rohingya as an indigenous ethnic group, instead regarding them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

“The government hates us,” said refugee Zafar Alam, 55, sheltering from rain near a refugee settlement in Bangladesh, referring to the Myanmar government.

“I don’t think I’d be safe there. There’s no justice.”

Source : https://www.reuters.com

Burma is Playing Politics with the Dead

Alleged Atrocities Need International Inquiry

Burma’s military announced this week that it had dug up 28 bodies in a mass grave in northern Rakhine State. The following day, they claimed to have found another 17 bodies. While continuing to block independent observers from the area, the military suggested that dozens of Hindu, a minority community, were “cruelly and violently killed by extremist Bengali terrorists.” Those claims were splashed across the local press and social media as ostensible proof of the threat Burma faces from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).

While ARSA did attack over two dozen police outposts and an army base in late August – which sparked a Burmese military campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya population, forcing more than 400,000 people to flee to neighboring Bangladesh – no one has been able to independently verify the Burmese government’s most recent allegations. While Burmese authorities have put on a stage-managed tour to the Hindu village in question, as well as Rohingya villages unaffected by the recent violence, they have denied access to independent monitors to he mass graves and the rest of northern Rakhine State. If indeed ARSA responsibility is impartially and credibly established, those responsible should be held to account.

The government’s quick conclusion on ARSA’s guilt contrasts sharply with its own unwillingness to credibly investigate countless alleged crimes committed by its own forces against Rohingya Muslims.

Refugees in Bangladesh have described horrific accounts of soldiers conducting summary executions, burning people alive, and rampant sexual violence. Many Rohingya bear terrible injuries from attacks with spades, machetes, or guns. Human Rights Watch has concluded that these abuses against the Rohingya population are crimes against humanity.

The Burmese government should care about all its citizens – Hindu and Muslim, as well as majority Buddhists. While it has the responsibility to respond to security threats, it needs to do within the restraints of the law.

Burma’s government should stop playing politics with the dead. Beyond stopping military atrocities, it should allow the United Nations fact-finding mission into the country to investigate all crimes.

Source : https://www.hrw.org