We are discussing the crisis in Myanmar in this Chamber for the first time in 2018. It is now five months since the start of the violence that has forced 688,000 Rohingya across the border. And the outflow of people continues, although at a lower rate. As of 5 February, between 1,000 and 1,200 people were reportedly waiting on a beach in Maungdaw planning to leave for Bangladesh. Since the last briefing by Under-Secretary-General Feltman on 12 December 2017, the General Assembly adopted resolution A/RES/72/248 on the human rights situation in Myanmar by vote.
The Secretary-General has laid out three priorities that provide an important framework for assessing the situation. Regrettably, while there has been certain progress, not all have been implemented thus far.
First, the need to end violence and improve the security situation. Although large-scale acts of violence have subsided, concerns about threats and intimidation against the remaining Rohingya population from Bamar and Rakhine communities, as well as from militia and security forces in Rakhine State, persist. Bamar-Rakhine tensions remain high, further fueled by incidents such as a clash between the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) and the military on 7 January. Or the incident in Mrauk-U on 16 January, in which police shot and killed seven Rakhine nationalist protestors, and later imprisoned two noted Rakhine leaders. We remain concerned about the protection of future returnees.
On 14 November 2017, the Government of Myanmar reportedly transmitted to the Bangladesh authorities a list of 1,300 of what it calls suspected “terrorists” and asked for their extradition. The Government also published in the official newspaper the names and photos of hundreds of suspected “terrorists”. These steps have raised questions about due process, and possible intimidation of potential returnees.
Second, the immediate granting of humanitarian access in the affected areas of Rakhine. Such access continues to be severely curtailed. The majority of humanitarian organizations that previously worked in Rakhine are simply not allowed to enter the area. A handful of organizations are given travel authorizations but in a short-term and unpredictable manner that impedes the systematic delivery of assistance. The UN does not have sufficient access to make a meaningful assessment of the humanitarian or human rights situation. Thus, there is little sense of whether the full range of humanitarian needs of the population are being met or about the state of protection of the human rights of all people of the region.
Third, voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return of refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) to their places of origin or choice. Let me acknowledge the fact that the Governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar had signed a Memorandum of Understanding and established a Joint Working Group which reached agreement (on 16 January) on a number of issues to facilitate the return process. It is also important to note that Myanmar had made progress in its logistical preparations to receive returning refugees.
On the issues related to repatriation, I will defer to the High Commissioner Grandi to provide more details on these issues.
The Secretary-General has underlined the importance of implementing the recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission as a key element of creating conditions for a safe and dignified return. The Government has taken some high-level steps to advance this process, including convening an Advisory Board led by Dr. Surakiart Sathirathai with distinguished national and international participants. At the end of its mission, the Board offered preliminary recommendations to the Implementation Committee, including: the inclusion of the UN at an early stage, soonest full humanitarian access, wider media access, and the formation of an independent fact-finding commission. In this context, I wish to reiterate that we urge the Government to cooperate with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and all UN human rights mechanisms, in particular the Fact-Finding Mission mandated by the Human Rights Council and with the Special Rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar. It is important that the work of UN human rights mechanisms not be undermined by other mechanisms.
As suggested by the final report of the Rakhine Advisory Commission, we urge the Government to take a leadership role in promoting inter-communal cohesion, create an environment conducive for dialogue, foster values of tolerance and respect for basic human rights between Rakhine and Rohingya communities, and to accelerate and align the citizenship verification process in alignment with international standards and treaties.
Overall, addressing the root causes is fundamental to ensuring a durable, genuine solution to this crisis. We have consistently said the problem is statelessness. This must be addressed.
In line with the Council’s Presidential Statement of 6 November 2017, Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten concluded her first official visit to Myanmar from 14 to 17 December 2017, to address reports of conflict-related sexual violence. In her consultations, she advocated for the swift adoption of a Joint Communiqué of the Government of Myanmar and the United Nations on the prevention and response to conflict-related sexual violence, in accordance with Security Council resolution 2106 (2013).
While we discuss Rakhine, we also take this opportunity to note other developments in Myanmar, in particular the ongoing fighting, as well as peacemaking efforts between the Government and diverse Ethnic Armed Organizations.
We are concerned that fighting in Kachin and northern Shan states has escalated in recent months. This has cast a shadow on peace negotiations, and provoked a number of serious human rights and humanitarian concerns. Such concerns include the situation in Tanai, Kachin, where many civilians have been killed or injured, and as many as 5,000 civilians are reportedly unable to leave the area where fighting is ongoing. And as in Rakhine State, the Government has severely restricted humanitarian access in many of the most critical areas. The UN is therefore unable to verify the numbers of people affected.
On a more positive note, two Ethnic Armed Organizations, the New Mon State Party (NMSP) and the Lahu Democratic Union (LDU) signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) in Nay Pyi Taw today. The signing is the first of its kind for the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) government and brings the total number of ethnic armed groups that have signed the NCA to ten out of sixteen.
Finally, let me address the unfortunate arrest of two Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. The Secretary-General has called in clear terms for the release of the journalists and urged the authorities to respect the right to freedom of expression and information. Allow me to reiterate those calls here today. The ability to exercise the right to freedom of expression and information is a barometer for respect for human rights more broadly. Reuters has now published the story these journalists were working on, a deeply disturbing account of the execution of ten Rohingya men in Inn Din village (Maungdaw) in northern Rakhine State. The Associated Press has also published a report of five mass graves in Gudar Pyin village in Buthidaung. These and other shocking reports of grave abuses demand our attention and action, for the sake of lasting peace and justice.
View this original briefing HERE.