Brutality against children ‘cannot be the new normal’ stresses UNICEF

28 December 2017 – The scale of attack on children in conflict zones throughout 2017 is “shocking” said the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), calling on all parties to conflict to abide by their obligations under international law and immediately end violations and attacks against children.
Children are being targeted and exposed to attacks and brutal violence in their homes, schools and playgrounds,” said Manuel Fontaine, the Director of Emergency Programmes at UNICEF, in a news release Thursday.
“As these attacks continue year after year, we cannot become numb. Such brutality cannot be the new normal.”
According to UNICEF, children have become frontline targets, used as human shields, killed, maimed and recruited to fight in conflicts around the world.
Sexual violence, forced marriage, abduction and enslavement have become “standard tactics,” in conflicts from Iraq, Syria and Yemen, to Nigeria, South Sudan and Myanmar, said the UN agency.
In addition to the physical trauma children have had to suffer, far too many children have been subjected to the psychosocial trauma in having to witnesses shocking and widespread violence.
Hundreds of thousands have been displaced and many children have died as a result of lack of health care, medicines or access to food and water, because these services and were damaged or destroyed in fighting.
In some contexts, children abducted by extremist groups experience abuse yet again upon release when they are detained by security forces, added UNICEF.
In the news release, the UN agency underscored the need of all parties to conflict to abide by their obligations under international law to immediately end violations against children and the targeting of civilian infrastructure, including schools and hospitals.
UNICEF also called on all States with influence over parties to conflict “to use that influence to protect children.”
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UN Gathers Horror Stories from Rohingya Women Fleeing Myanmar

Now, living in massive refugee camps and settlements near the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, victims must deal with past traumas and face new risks.
Rejina is a grandmother who didn’t want her last name used. She said she has felt empty inside since losing contact with her 15-year-old granddaughter, following the army’s first wave of so-called clearance operations targeting the teenager’s village of Khadi Bil in Myanmar’s Maungdaw township. The military action in October 2016 followed deadly insurgent attacks on border guard posts in Myanmar’s troubled Rakhine state.
“I heard that the military came and entered the house and grabbed her and stole her property,” said Rejina, 65, now living in the Kutipalong camp in Bangladesh.
“They checked the house and grabbed whatever they wanted. If they found any young women, they took them away. Lots of women were raped,” Rejina said.
Severe after-effects
While thousands of female refugees might appear to be coping with conditions in the border camps, many survivors of alleged sexual violence by Myanmar security forces suffer from severe depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Accounts gathered by rights groups support the accusations of widespread rape by the Myanmar army on the Rohingya population.
Pramila Patten, the U.N. special representative on sexual violence in conflict, interviewed survivors in Bangladesh in November and said, “I heard the most heartbreaking and horrific accounts of sexual atrocities, reportedly committed in cold blood out of a lethal hatred for these people, solely on the basis of their ethnicity and religion. The wounds are extremely raw, dozens of women and girls dissolving to tears when recounting acts of unmitigated brutality.”
Access to therapy and treatment is lacking as more pressing issues like food supplies and adequate shelter take precedence in the 10 camps. Lack of communication adds to the dilemma, as efforts to get the word out to women in need prove difficult.
“Many women also lost their husbands, so you have many female-headed households,” said Jessica Olney, regional spokeswoman for the Center for Social Integrity.
“Women are still needing to figure out how services work and how to access them, and they don’t necessarily have experience advocating for them, so they are going without and that puts them in a vulnerable position,” Olney said.
To aid in treatment, NGOs like the International Organization for Migration are building women’s safe areas where they can receive psychosocial support from medical professionals.
Safe place to talk
“In these centers, it’s safe and secure and there are only other women there and they can talk about the things that are important to them,” said Fiona MacGregor, IOM communications officer.
“It’s an opportunity to hear what their needs are and find ways of reacting to that,” MacGregor said.
“These are also people who come from very small villages, and suddenly they are finding themselves in a place where there are more than 800,000 people living in the camps,” she said.
In addition to previous traumas, many of the new arrivals face the added risk of human trafficking as criminal networks prey on those seeking work.
“One thing we identified as a particular risk in the camps here is trafficking,” MacGregor said. “Women and girls are particularly vulnerable, and we’re hearing about traffickers approaching women and tricking them or persuading them to go for what they think are safe jobs somewhere else and they are ending up in situations of real exploitation.” She said some wind up “in the sex industry, or we are hearing about girls and women being promised domestic work and find they’re in different situations.”
More than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims have left Rakhine state since August 25, after insurgents attacked security forces and prompted a brutal military crackdown that has been described as ethnic cleansing. Since then, the IOM has provided 2,500 people with psychological first aid, but if stories gathered by rights groups are accurate, the refugees face a long road to recovery.
Myanmar’s government has repeatedly rejected claims that atrocities, including rape and extrajudicial killings, are occurring in northern Rakhine, the epicenter of the violence.
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Aung San Suu Kyi ‘avoided’ discussion of Rohingya rape during UN meeting

Myanmar state counsellor refused to engage in substantive talks about alleged violence against the Muslim minority, says envoy
Aung San Suu Kyi avoided discussing reports of Rohingya women and girls being raped by Myanmar troops and police when she met a senior UN official, according to an internal memo seen by the Guardian.
Pramila Patten, the special envoy on sexual violence in conflict, travelled to the country for a four-day visit in mid-December to raise the crisis with government officials.

But she said Aung San Suu Kyi, a state counsellor in the Myanmar government, refused to engage in “any substantive discussion” of reports that soldiers, border guard police and Rakhine Buddhist militias carried out “widespread and systematic” sexual violence in northern Rakhine state.
“The meeting with the state counsellor was a cordial courtesy call of
approximately 45 minutes that was, unfortunately, not substantive in nature,” she wrote in a letter sent to UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres last week.
More than 655,000 Rohingya, members of a persecuted and stateless Muslim minority, have fled to Bangladeshi refugee camps since violence began in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state in August. Médecins Sans Frontières believes at least 6,700 Rohingya were killed during “clearance operations” ostensibly targeting militants, while many survivors say women and girls were gang-raped.
Instead of discussing the claims directly, Patten said Aung San Suu Kyi informed her she would enjoy “a number of good meetings” with senior Myanmar officials.
During these meetings, she was told by representatives of the military and civilian government that reports of atrocities were “exaggerated and fabricated by the international community”.
“Moreover, a belief was expressed that those who fled did so due to an affiliation with terrorist groups, and did so to evade law enforcement,” she wrote.
Myanmar’s army has cleared itself of any wrongdoing in an internal investigation dubbed a “whitewash” by human rights groups.
While in the country, Patten met the man who headed that investigation, Lt-Gen Aye Win, who explained their methodology.
“The military investigation, which consisted of armed men in uniform ‘interrogating’ civilians in large group settings, often on camera, and then presenting rations to communities following their testimony and cooperation, clearly occurred under coercive circumstances, where the incentive structure was not to lodge complaints,” Patten wrote.
“Accordingly, over 800 interviews yielded zero reports of sexual or other violence against civilians by the armed and security forces,” she said.
Patten also expressed concerns about plans to send Rohingya who have fled back to Myanmar, citing the “prevailing climate of impunity” in the country.
Bangladesh and Myanmar have agreed to the “speedy” repatriation of Rohingya, scheduled to start by the end of January.
But many Rohingya say they will not return voluntarily until they are given citizenship as well as guarantees that they will be safe and not put into internment camps. Tens of thousands have been living in such camps elsewhere in Rakhine state since violence in 2012.
Skye Wheeler, the researcher for Human Rights Watch who investigated the sexual violence allegations, said Myanmar was denying a “terrible truth”.
“The lack of acknowledgement or care the Myanmar authorities including Aung San Suu Kyi have shown for Rohingya women and girls who have been brutally raped by Myanmar soldiers as part of their ethnic cleansing campaign is almost as shocking as the horrific crimes themselves,” she told the Guardian.
“It’s like a second attack, to endure a vicious gang rape and then to be ignored, as if you don’t matter at all, to have that terrible truth denied.”
The Myanmar government was contacted for comment.
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UN General Assembly calls on Myanmar to stop military campaign against Rohingya Muslims

The United Nations General Assembly has called on Myanmar to halt its military campaign against Rohingya Muslims.
On Sunday, a resolution forwarded by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) was adopted by a vote of 122 to 10 with 24 abstentions.
It calls for Myanmar to grant aid workers access and to give Rohingya Muslims full citizenship rights.
The resolution also calls on UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to assign a special envoy to the country.
China, Russia, Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines, Vietnam, Myanmar, Belarus, Syria and Zimbabwe voted against the resolution.
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Backed by Myanmar’s government and Buddhist majority, the military launched yet another heavy-handed crackdown against the Muslim minority in Rakhine State on August 25, using a number of armed attacks on military posts as the pretext.
Over that past three months, government troops, apart from raping, have been committing killings, making arbitrary arrests, and carrying out mass arson attacks to destroy houses in predominantly-Rohingya villages in Rakhine.
Only in its first month, the clampdown, called by the UN and prominent rights group an “ethnic cleansing campaign,” killed some 6,700 Rohingya Muslims, including more than 700 children, according to Doctors Without Borders.
More than 655,000 Rohingya Muslims have so far fled the predominantly-Buddhist Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh since then.
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Pressed by lawmakers, US mulls more sanctions on Myanmar

The State Department said Friday the U.S. is considering further actions against those responsible for “ethnic cleansing” of Rohingya Muslims, after a Myanmar general was blacklisted and Democratic lawmakers called for more military officers to face sanctions.
Rep. Eliot Engel, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, contended that Myanmar authorities were committing genocide in Rakhine State. He said it was “stunning” that the Trump administration has only designated one person from Myanmar over the bloody crackdown that caused a refugee exodus to Bangladesh.
The United States imposed sanctions on Maung Maung Soe, who until last month was chief of the Myanmar army’s Western command responsible for security operations in Rakhine. He was among 13 people worldwide punished Thursday under human rights legislation.
Katina Adams, a State Department spokeswoman for East Asia, said Friday the U.S. is continuing to consider options under U.S. and international law “to help ensure that those responsible for ethnic cleansing and other atrocities face appropriate consequences.”
The crackdown has forced 650,000 of the minority Muslims to flee the majority-Buddhist nation, casting a shadow over its transition to democracy after decades of direct military rule. That has soured relations with Washington, which in the past five years had been rolling back economic sanctions to support Myanmar’s political change.
“With 6,000 dead and thousands more raped, beaten and displaced, it is clear Maung Maung Soe has not acted alone,” said Rep. Joe Crowley of New York. “The other military officials involved in the ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya must be sanctioned for their roles in this genocide. The United States has a moral obligation to act.”
Engel has put forward legislation to impose targeted sanctions and visa restrictions on those responsible for the crackdown. He called Friday for sanctions against the Bureau of Special Operations in the capital, Naypyidaw, including the military commander in chief, Min Aung Hlaing; the field commanders of three divisions under Maung Maung Soe’s command in Rakhine State; and military commanders in northern Kachin and Shan states accused of “flagrant abuses of civilians.”
Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon also supports more sanctions. He said by barring a U.N. human rights investigator from the country, the government was trying “to cover up and make invisible a campaign of mass atrocities.”
Myanmar denies allegations of human rights violations, saying its security forces have not targeted civilians and were responding to attacks by Rohingya militants in August.
The aid group Doctors Without Borders estimates at least 6,700 Rohingya civilians were killed in the first month of the crackdown.
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