APEC/ASEAN: Prioritize Rohingya Crisis

(New York) – World leaders meeting for summits in Asia on November 10-14, 2017, should address Burma’s Rohingya crisis and the deteriorating human rights situations in Vietnam, the Philippines, and Cambodia, Human Rights Watch said today.

Heads of government from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), including the United States, China, Japan, Russia, Canada, Australia, and Mexico, will be meeting in Da Nang, Vietnam, on November 10. Leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will be meeting in Manila, Philippines, on November 12, along with associated ASEAN side-summits with the US, European Union, Japan, and South Korea, among others. Most of these leaders will then attend the annual East Asia Summit in Angeles, north of Manila, on November 13-14.

Since August 25, the Burmese military has carried out a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhine State. Security forces have committed massacresrape, looting, and mass burnings of homes and property, causing the flight of more than 600,000 Rohingya refugees to Bangladesh. Human Rights Watch has determined that the atrocities amount to crimes against humanity. The campaign has led several countries to suspend military engagement with Burma and reimpose targeted sanctions and travel restrictions on high-level military leaders. Tougher measures are needed to press Burma to end the abuses, acknowledge rampant rights violations, ensure the safety of the internally displaced, and give access to independent fact-finders.

“The Rohingya crisis is among the worst human rights catastrophes in Asia in years and demands concerted global action,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “World leaders shouldn’t return home from these summits without agreeing to targeted sanctions to pressure Burma to end its abuses and allow in independent observers and aid groups.”

The United Nations Security Council should impose an arms embargo and targeted economic sanctions and travel bans on military officials implicated in atrocities. While the Security Council has not passed a resolution condemning the abuses, on November 6 it issued a Presidential Statement expressing concerns about the violence and calling on Burma to cooperate with UN bodies responsible for investigating the abuses. The Security Council should now take more meaningful action, but in the meantime concerned governments, especially those in Asia, can take coordinated bilateral or multilateral actions to impose targeted sanctions and travel bans.

Leaders at the Asia summits should jointly call on the Burmese government to allow access to northern Rakhine State by the UN fact-finding mission created by the Human Rights Council in 2016, as well as other UN human rights and humanitarian staff. UN Secretary-General António Guterres will be attending parts of the ASEAN and related summits in the Philippines, and UN General Assembly members are currently debating a resolution on Burma to be adopted later this year.

Leaders gathering in Asia should also be discussing the creation of judicial mechanisms to hold perpetrators of abuses in Burma accountable, including via the General Assembly and Human Rights Council. The Security Council should refer the situation in Burma to the International Criminal Court.

“The International Criminal Court was created precisely to deal with crimes against humanity like those being committed in Burma,” Adams said. “Members of the Security Council attending the Asia summits should be discussing referring the situation in Burma to The Hague.”

The plight of displaced Rohingya should also be addressed at the Asia summits. Leaders should be clear that their governments will oppose plans for displaced Rohingya that do not meet core international standards prohibiting forced returns, or returns that would result in further abuses. A discussion of the key issues can be found in Human Rights Watch’s “Ten Principles for Protecting Refugees and Internally Displaced People Arising from Burma’s Rohingya Crisis.”

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