A SURGE in the deadly violence in Myanmar has forced tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims to flee in less than one week, a migration agency said.
The movement began after the Southeast Asian nation’s government launched “clearance operations” following attacks on security posts on Aug 25 by an armed group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, which left almost 110 dead.
Security forces have since reportedly burned villages and conducted attacks on Rohingya Muslims. According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), an estimated 18,500 have since crossed into Bangladesh from Myanmar’s Rakhine state and thousands more are trapped in the no-man’s land in between the two countries.
Some have reportedly fled by crossing the bordering Naf river, where Bangladeshi border guards have already pulled out the bodies of up to 20 Rohingya Muslims.
“I utterly condemn the violent attacks on security personnel, which have led to the loss of many lives and the displacement of thousands of people,” said United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein. But he highlighted the need for government forces to employ a proportionate response.
“Unfortunately, what we feared appears to be occurring. Decades of persistent and systematic human rights violations, including the very violent security responses to the attacks since October 2016, have almost certainly contributed to the nurturing of violent extremism, with everyone ultimately losing.”
In October last year, Myanmar’s military conducted a counterinsurgency operation after Rohingya militants attacked border posts, forcing almost 90,000 to flee.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said attacks against Rohingya civilians during those operations may “very likely” amount to crimes against humanity.
Myanmar authorities, however, have repeatedly denied the allegations.
The government has long disputed the Rohingya’s status as Myanmar citizens and has restricted their movement and excluded them from social services, rendering the majority of the group stateless and impoverished.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees previously described the Rohingya as one of the most “excluded, persecuted, and vulnerable communities in the world”.
Geneva Centre for Human Rights chairman Dr Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim urged the government to prevent human rights violations from being inflicted on the civilian population in the current escalation of military conflict.
“The disturbing testimonies of the Rohingya fleeing Myanmar confirm that serious human rights violations are being carried out against the civilian population. The world society cannot turn a blind eye to the disturbing situation in Myanmar. The Geneva Centre appeals for an immediate end to the persecution of the Rohingya,” Al Qassim said.
In response to the violence, the UN Security Council held a closed door discussion.
Though no formal statement was made, British ambassador to the UN Matthew Rycroft called on all parties to de-escalate and to look to the long term during a press conference.
Rycroft said the council still supported Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Myanmar’s state counsellor.
“We look to her to set the right tone and to find the compromises and the de-escalation necessary in order to resolve the conflict for the good of all the people in Myanmar.”
Fresh violence erupted just two days after a long-awaited report investigating the situation in Rakhine state by the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State.
“Tensions remain high and they risk becoming worse. Violence will not bring lasting solutions to the acute problems that afflict Rakhine state,” said commission chairman Kofi Annan.
“Nevertheless, the status quo cannot continue.”
Among the recommendations in the 63-page report is for Myanmar’s government to revisit its citizenship law, grant freedom of movement to Rohingya and invest in the socio-economic development of Rakhine.
Annan warned that failure to implement its recommendations would only lead to another cycle of violence and radicalisation that will further deepen chronic poverty in the state.
Zeid similarly called on the Myanmar government to follow the recommendations to “address, rather than sacrifice human rights concerns in the interests of maintaining peace and order”.
IOM director-general William Swing called for more international support for civilians fleeing into Bangladesh.
The South Asian nation has already been hosting an estimated 500,000 Rohingya for more than three decades.
Swing appealed to Bangladesh to either admit people fleeing violence, many of whom are women, children and the elderly, or facilitate better access for humanitarian aid to reach them.
He also called on Myanmar authorities in Rakhine to facilitate the work of humanitarian agencies and provide unfettered humanitarian access to help stabilise the situation and reduce the number of people trying to flee the country.
However, the office of Suu Kyi has accused international organisations of helping “terrorists”, prompting fears for the safety of aid workers and continued violence.
“I am extremely concerned that the unsupported allegations against international aid organisations place their staff in danger and may make it impossible for them to deliver essential aid,” Zeid said.
“Such statements are irresponsible and only serve to increase fears and the potential for further violence.” IPS