The Government of Myanmar has been engaged in a series of military campaigns against minorities. The most notable is their continued persecution of the Rohingya which has been described by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, as seeming like “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. At the same time the Myanmar Military has continued its six year long campaign against Christian minorities in the Kachin and Shan region. In all cases, the military campaign are hallmarked by religious persecution; arbitrary arrest, murder and rape as a weapon of war against civilian populations.
In light of the UN Security Council’s failure to agree on a resolution regarding Myanmar’s campaign against the Rohingya, it is imperative that the EU Ministers take concrete actions when they meet on Monday November 13th to ensure that human rights violations are not normalised in the country and do not spread further throughout the country and to guarantee all perpetrators are held to account. These messages should also be repeated to the government of Myanmar when EU Heads of State meet those of Asian countries at the ASEM summit on 21-22 November in Naypyidaw.
While EU Ministers included positive steps when they met on 16 October, far greater commitments are needed in response to the gross human rights violations. The EU can impose stricter sanctions and must champion the recent UN Security Council Presidential Statement from 6 November, which made clear that the situation on the ground would be reviewed within 30 days. In order to secure the much urgently needed progress on the ground as set out now by both the UN Security Council, and the Foreign Affairs Council, the EU should call for transparent investigations into allegations of human rights abuses and violations and to allow for unhindered access for international humanitarian organisations to all parts of Myanmar. The events that transpired in Rakhine State since August 25th of this year have alarmed the international community, yet the response and reaction has been underwhelming. The UN has the ability to lead the way to change this response, working in tandem with the EU, including the role of European members of the UN Security Council.
Rakhine State – Persecution of the Indigenous Rohingya
At the time of writing, more than half of the Rohingya population has been displaced into Bangladesh by the Myanmar Military’s campaign. Those remaining have been left to starve with severe and intentional aid cuts while under attack by proxy vigilantes. Among those displaced are 4,000 unaccompanied children and 2,000 children are facing severe acute malnutrition. Of the over 600,000 displaced many are considered extremely vulnerable and reports have already emerged of women and girls trafficked into prostitution. There is reasonable fear others will be trafficked into forced labor as well as they attempt to escape and survive. The vast number of refugees themselves are so overwhelming that aid agencies are struggling to accommodate the needs of all of them, while reports of cholera outbreaks are becoming more common. Bangladesh has had to establish an entirely new region for to house all of them, and the cost to the international community has been enormous. The world is now facing a humanitarian disaster, which might have been prevented through addressing concerns regarding the Burmese Military sooner. These acts cannot be tolerated by any civilized country and any underwhelming response will effectively normalize them.
There is a very real risk that the violence will not simply end with the Rohingya, but will continue elsewhere in the country, as anti-Muslim propaganda and ultra-nationalism continue in concert with discriminatory policies countrywide. What is often seen as an isolated social problem in Rakhine State is in fact part of a countrywide pattern based on discriminatory laws and propaganda that will not end if not addressed.
These concerns have precedent; anti-Muslim riots have resulted in several deaths and mass displacement in the past five years, with a recent incident just this past summer resulting in Muslim properties being attacked. On top of this, policies restricting the movement of Muslims have increased significantly in the south of the country. Similarly, there has been an increase in scrutiny and discriminatory practices against Burmese Muslims registering their citizenship, which has restricted movement and education and resulted in the detention of Muslims for moving through the country as would be legal for any Buddhist resident. The xenophobia and Islamophobia which has caused so much devastation and death in Rakhine State is not limited to the region, but is growing throughout the country in a systematic and orchestrated way, which will only worsen if not addressed.
Shan & Kachin States – Persecution of Christian Minorities
The conflict in Kachin and Shan States continues unabated. For six years the civilian population has been subject to arbitrary arrests, murder, rape, pillaging and an orchestrated campaign of blocking food and medicine to civilians displaced in territory considered to be under control of rebel forces. The world has done far too little as school teachers were murdered, children were forced to serve as porters, Christian pastors were arbitrarily detained and rape has been used as a weapon of war.
While the most recent meeting of the EU Ministers included positive steps, far greater action is needed in response to the gross human rights violations throughout Myanmar. Burma Human Rights Network makes the following recommendations:
Executive Director of the Burma Human Rights Network (BHRN)
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