Myanmar Must Protect Civilians in Rakhine, Address Roots of Conflict

We, the undersigned civil society organisations, people’s organisations and individuals, affirm our belief in people’s right to self-identification, and the primacy of dialogue and a politically negotiated settlement in transforming conflicts.

We express our deep anguish and concern with the latest escalation of violence in Rakhine State, Burma/Myanmar and the attacks against unarmed civilians. We condemn the targeting of civilians of any ethnicity and religion, by any armed group, for any reason.

This latest wave of conflict, sparked by attacks on Burma/Myanmar security personnel by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (Arsa) and followed by a heavy-handed response from the Burma/Myanmar military, has led to hundreds of people being killed. Over 600,000 civilians from northern Rakhine state, mostly members of the Rohingya community, have been forced to flee their homes.

We are particularly concerned about the “clearance operations” conducted by the Burma/Myanmar military, during which various independent reports have documented systematic burning of Rohingya villages, sexual violence against Rohingya women, and the opening of fire on unarmed civilians. Those who fled to Bangladesh, especially Hindu and Muslim Rohingya women, are also subjected to discrimination, forced conversion, and even systematic killing and torture.

The conflict’s impact on the civilian population has been multiplied by restrictions on humanitarian access to vulnerable communities. Humanitarian agencies have been forced to suspend all operations including the provision of aid to internally displaced persons and other vulnerable populations in northern Rakhine state since 25 August 2017, due to several factors including the security situation on the ground, government field-visit restrictions and protests by ethnic Rakhine against international aid.

Myanmar media and government-linked social media accounts have contributed to a strong anti-international sentiment in the country fanned by circulation of falsified information including information linking humanitarian agencies and Arsa.

Myanmar nationalists, including those within the government and military as well as those in the host countries in South East Asia and South Asia, have also contributed to an atmosphere of fear and hatred through hate speech, propaganda and inflammatory remarks that dehumanise the Rohingya and increase support for the military’s response.

We believe that aside from the immediate end in hostilities and emergency humanitarian response, we must address the root causes of the issue and bring into focus the structural-legal discrimination against the Rohingya people.

We must also situate the recent violence and abuses within the overall and long-standing patterns of human rights violations against ethnic civilians by the Burma/Myanmar military in other conflict areas in Myanmar that include – but are not limited to – northern Shan and Kachin States. Impunity for abuses against civilians during decades of conflict with ethnic armed organisations has encouraged the Burma/Myanmar military to apply the same tactics in Rakhine state.

There will be no end to the cycles of conflict and displacement in Rakhine state without addressing the main drivers and the roots of this conflict.

Thus, the signatories below call on:

the Burmese/Myanmar military to:

  • cease violence against and abuses of unarmed civilians in Rakhine state and the other conflict areas such as northern Shan and Kachin states;
  • comply with relevant international human rights and humanitarian law standards and norms, particularly with regards to the protection of civilians in conflict, and protection of children, women and minorities;
  • hold accountable those who have committed crimes against civilians;
  • cooperate with the civilian government to allow access to humanitarian groups to assist the entire displaced population, without discrimination based on religion, ethnicity, or citizenship status.

the Burmese civilian government to:

  • publicly call on the Burmese/Myanmar military to protect civilians and abide by international law in its military engagements;
  • hold accountable any soldiers and civilians who have committed crimes in the conduct of military operations;
  • cease circulation of unverified, inflammatory material on social media and condemn hate speech against Rohingya and other ethnic minorities;
  • allow independent monitors including the UN-mandated fact-finding mission and independent media into northern Rakhine state and other areas of Myanmar;
  • allow unconditional access for humanitarian aid/response in Rakhine state and other parts of Myanmar; seek assistance from the international community particularly among co-members of Asean to provide humanitarian relief and protection to displaced people;
  • review and amend the 1982 Citizenship Law to be in line with international norms; end restrictions to citizenship and freedom of movement of the Rohingya people;
  • comply with relevant international human rights and humanitarian law standards and norms, particularly in the protection of civilians in conflict and the protection of children, women and minorities;
  • undertake a process of review and amendment of the 2008 Constitution to bring the military under civilian control and ensure accountability for serious crimes.
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civil society in Burma/Myanmar to:

  • cease circulation of unverified, inflammatory material on social media and condemn hate speech towards the Rohingya and other minorities;
  • promote understanding of human rights and humanitarian law, particularly in the protection of civilians and non-discrimination;
  • call on the government to allow access to independent media and unhindered humanitarian aid;
  • engage the Burma/Myanmar military and government on cessation of hostilities, review of discriminatory legal frameworks, and compliance with international human rights conventions;
  • link efforts with other ethnic and relevant regional and international civil society platforms.

international/regional intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations to:

  • coordinate to monitor developments in Rakhine state and other conflict-affected areas as well as monitor governments’ action on the refugees, mindful of ‘do no harm’ principles;
  • support/impose a global arms embargo and advocate to relevant governments to cease military-to-military engagement and impose targeted sanctions against the Burma/Myanmar army until it ends attacks against civilians;
  • support and cooperate with the UN-mandated fact-finding mission on alleged crimes and human rights violations throughout Burma/Myanmar particularly in northern Rakhine, Shan and Kachin states.

the Association of South East Asian Nation (Asean) and its members states to:

  • prioritise immediate dialogue between Burma/Myanmar and other Asean members on the Rohingya issue with the aim of seeking a sustainable solution to the conflict and addressing the continuous human rights violations against the Rohingya and other minorities in Burma/Myanmar;
  • open borders and pro-actively accept and provide shelter and assistance to fleeing refugees from Rakhine state. Respect the fundamental principle of non-refoulement, in accordance with international law, which forbids a country from returning asylum seekers to their country of origin when they would be likely to face persecution based on race, religion, nationality, and membership of a particular social group or political opinion;
  • send an Asean peace and humanitarian mission to provide humanitarian relief to displaced people in Rakhine state and in Bangladesh;
  • urge the Burmese/Myanmar government to conduct a comprehensive review of its 1982 Citizenship and other discriminatory laws in order to ensure that all should have rights and equal access to citizenship and are not treated unfairly on the grounds of ethnicity, political and religious beliefs;
  • revisit and review Asean Charter principles and current practices and consider embedding prevention norms for internal conflicts;
  • strengthen and mobilize the Asean Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (AIPR) and the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) mandate and mechanisms to tackle the crisis and similar cases.
  • Move towards a collective and decisive approach to regional conflict prevention, in line with its priority theme of “peace and stability.”

Initial signatories:

Organisations

Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict-South East Asia (GPPAC-Sea)
Solidarity for Asean People’s Advocacies (Sapa)
Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID)
Progressive Voice (PV) – Myanmar
Suaram – Malaysia
People’s Empowerment Foundation (PEF) – Thailand
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (Forum-Asia)
Working Group for Peace (WGP) – Cambodia
Alliance for Conflict Transformation (ACT) – Cambodia
Cambodia Civil Society Working on Asian (CCWA)
Cambodian Civil Society Partnership – (CCSP)
IM Centre for Dialogue and Peace-Indonesia
Institut Titian Perdamaian (Peace Building Institute) (ITP) – Indonesia
South East Asian Conflict Studies Network (SEACSN)
Asean Sogie Caucus
Think Centre – Singapore
Samin – Indonesia
Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN)
Centre for Peace Education-Miriam College (CPE) – Philippines
Acehnese Civil Society Task Force (ACSTF) – Indonesia
Asia Democracy Network (ADN)
Altsean-Burma
Aliran

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