UN Details ‘Disturbing’ New Atrocities against Myanmar’s Rohingya

The U.N.’s human rights office says that tens of thousands have been forcibly displaced in what one expert described as a “hate-driven unnatural disaster.”

The United Nations says that it has received “frightening and disturbing” reports from Rakhine State in western Myanmar, where Muslim Rohingya communities have once again come under attack.

In a press briefing in Geneva on Friday, Elizabeth Throssell, spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said that her office had received reports of widespread burning of homes and the displacement of tens of thousands of civilians, mostly Muslim Rohingyas, in Buthidaung and Maungdaw, Rakhine State’s two northernmost townships.

“Some of the most serious allegations concern incidents of killing of Rohingya civilians and the burning of their property,” Throssell said, putting the number of displaced civilians in the two townships in the “tens of thousands.” She added that an estimated 45,000 Rohingya “have reportedly fled to an area on the Naf River near the border with Bangladesh, seeking protection.”

Reports of arson attacks and the mass displacement of civilians, mostly Rohingyas, emerged in mid-May, after the Arakan Army (AA), an ethnic Rakhine armed group that has been locked in a fierce struggle with the military in Rakhine State since November, captured Buthidaung town.

She said that information gathered in testimony from victims, eyewitnesses, satellite images, and online video and pictures over the last week indicate that the town “has been largely burned.”

“We have received information indicating that the burning started on 17 May, two days after the military had retreated from the town and the Arakan Army claimed to have taken full control,” she said.

These reports bear a close resemblance to the massive “clearance operation” that the Myanmar military launched against Rohingya villages in August 2017. The campaign, which led to the expulsion of more than 740,000 people from Buthidaung and Maungdaw townships into Bangladesh, has been described by both the United States government and the United Nations as an act of genocide.

While OHCHR said that it was “corroborating information received about who is responsible” for the burning of Buthidaung, Rohingya eyewitness reports cited by the U.N. and other sources suggest that it is not the military, but the AA, that has been behind the recent attacks.

Throssell reported that “at least four cases of beheadings by the Arakan Army had been confirmed, as well as multiple enforced disappearances of individuals.” She said that other Rohingya survivors “spoke of being blocked from leaving [Buthidaung] by the Arakan Army, thus having to choose more perilous exit routes. The Arakan Army had reportedly abused the survivors and taken money from them.” The AA has denied any involvement in the attacks on Rohingya.

While the balance of evidence so far points to AA responsibility, the military is hardly blameless. Over the past few months, the junta has sought to conscript Rohingya, the very group that it sought to extirpate from Myanmar, in order to stave off its rapid loss of territory to the AA. In so doing, it has likely hoped to capitalize on the sectarian tensions between the Rakhine and Rohingya communities – something that was widely predicted to worsen these tensions.

As the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) noted in its latest conflict update, as many as 5,000 Rohingya could now be fighting for the regime in Rakhine. Unsurprisingly, IISS noted, the AA “has reacted with inflammatory rhetoric and violence directed at the Rohingya.”

There is a depressing familiarity to the unfolding crisis in western Myanmar. The OHCHR statement came a day after Tom Andrews, the U.N. special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, called for urgent action to resolve the situation in western Myanmar – exactly the sort of action that was not forthcoming in 2017.

“Once again,” he said in a statement, “the world seems to be failing a desperate people in their hour of peril while a hate-driven unnatural disaster unfolds in real time in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.”

Original article

Photo: A Myanmar police officer stands on a road as they provide security at a checkpoint in Buthidaung, Rakhine State, western Myanmar on 28 May 2017. Source: AP Photo.

Myanmar: Urgent international action crucial to save lives of thousands of Rohingya in Rakhine State says UN expert

23 May 2024

GENEVA (23 May 2024) – Thousands of innocent lives will be lost if the international community fails to respond to ominous signs of another Rohingya bloodbath in Rakhine State, a UN expert said today.

“Once again, the world seems to be failing a desperate people in their hour of peril while a hate-driven unnatural disaster unfolds in real time in Myanmar’s Rakhine State,” said Tom Andrews, the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar.

“While the military-imposed internet shutdown makes it challenging to get information from Northern Rakhine, alarming and credible reports of killings, enforced disappearances, and widespread arson are emerging,” Andrews said.

Satellite imagery reveals the burning of large parts of the Buthidaung town, with reports that tens of thousands of Rohingya are being displaced.

“Information that has already emerged from northern Rakhine State more than warrants an immediate emergency response by the international community,” the Special Rapporteur said.

“With multiple armed groups actors operating in Rakhine, including the Myanmar military, the Arakan Army, and Rohingya groups, including the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, I call on all to adhere to international humanitarian law and take all steps to protect innocent civilian lives, regardless of religion or ethnicity. Mechanisms to provide emergency humanitarian aid must be immediately established and all parties must support the robust infusion of aid into Rakhine,” the expert said.

“While an investigation must ultimately uncover the truth and justice must be pursued to hold those responsible fully accountable, the military’s role is clear in fostering toxic conditions in Rakhine State, from propaganda fueling ethnic tensions to the forced recruitment of young Rohingya men into the junta’s military.”

Andrews recalled that by opening its border in 2017, Bangladesh saved the lives of untold numbers of Rohingya who fled in the face of genocidal attacks.

“Once again, Bangladesh’s generosity may be their only hope as large groups of Rohingya are forcibly displaced and move towards the border. I urgently appeal to the Government of Bangladesh to reverse its closed border policy and demonstrate their humanitarian support for the Rohingya once again,” he said.

The Special Rapporteur warned however that Bangladesh does not have the capacity to meet the demands of this crisis without the emergency intervention and support of the international community. Rations cuts, inadequate infrastructure, spiraling violence, and reported forced recruitment by Rohingya militant groups have threatened the lives and wellbeing of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. He urged all States to provide an emergency infusion of funds to help rescue and support desperate families fleeing conflict and address the current conditions in the camps.

“The choice of these States to either step up or step away from this horror could literally be a matter of life and death for countless Rohingya,” Andrews said.

Mr. Thomas Andrews (United States of America) is the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar. A former member of the US Congress from Maine, Andrews is a Robina Senior Human Rights Fellow at Yale Law School and an Associate of Harvard University’s Asia Center. He has worked with the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and parliamentarians, NGOs and political parties in Cambodia, Indonesia, Algeria, Croatia, Serbia, Ukraine and Yemen. He has been a consultant for the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma and the Euro-Burma Network and has run advocacy NGOs including Win Without War and United to End Genocide.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Comprising the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, Special Procedures is the general name of the Council`s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, country page – Myanmar

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