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Myanmar: UN expert expresses alarm at escalating conflict, calls for civilian protection

January 18th, 2019  •  Author:   UN Human Rights Council  •  5 minute read

GENEVA (18 January 2019) – The UN’s human rights expert on Myanmar expressed alarm at the escalating violence in northern and central Rakhine State and Chin State, and called on all sides to exercise restraints in use of force and to ensure the protection of civilians.

Since November 2018 the Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw, and Arakan Army (AA), an ethnic armed organisation, have been engaged in heavy fighting, resulting in deaths and injuries to civilians. At least 5,000 people have been displaced from their homes.

“Both sides must take precautions and ensure the protection of civilians,” said Yanghee Lee, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.

She condemned an attack by the AA on the four Border Guard Police posts on 4 January 2019, and expressed concern at the Tatmadaw’s disproportionate response to the attack. “It is unacceptable for the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army to conduct hostilities in a manner that impact civilians,” Lee said.

Following the 4 January AA attack, the Tatmadaw deployed a large number of troops to the region. Reports say heavy weapons and artillery, as well as helicopters, have been used in civilian areas, leading to civilian deaths and injuries.

“What is happening in Rakhine reminds me of the tactics used by the Tatmadaw against ethnic populations for decades,” the Special Rapporteur said. “All the people of Rakhine State, including the Rakhine, Mro, Daignet, Hindu and Rohingya, have suffered enough.”


On 10 January, the Rakhine State government sent a letter to the UN and international humanitarian agencies instructing them all, with the exception of the World Food Program and the International Committee of the Red Cross, to suspend their activities in the five townships in northern Rakhine that are affected by the conflict, Ponnagyun, Kyauktaw, Rathedaung, Buthidaung and Maungdaw.

“It is vital that assistance is able to reach those who have fled violence, and the Government must immediately reverse its decision not to allow access to all humanitarian organisations,” Lee said. “I remind the Government and the Tatmadaw that blocking humanitarian access is a serious violation of international humanitarian law.”

She said that even before the Government’s recent order, access to the region for humanitarian organisations was limited, and even less so for media and independent monitors. “I call on the Government to allow full and unfettered access to the region to allow a free flow of information in the interest of the public,” Lee said.

“I am also seriously concerned about the dangerous rhetoric being used by the Government. The ethnic Rakhine population must not be demonized and targeted by the military on suspicion of association with the AA. Equally, this conflict must not be used by the Tatmadaw as a means to further its ongoing campaign of violence against the Rohingya population remaining in Rakhine state.”

So far, 15 people have been arrested, apparently on suspicion of links to the AA, including seven young people who were detained for bringing supplies to displaced people at a monastery. Reports say two of the 15 people remain in detention, including a village administrator, and that they have been charged under the Unlawful Associations Act.

“This conflict risks exacerbating divisions among communities in an already fractured state, further complicating the complex situation that exists in the country,” the Special Rapporteur said. “The Government should prioritise the safety and well-being of all the people of Rakhine State and work towards peace around Myanmar.”


Yanghee Lee(Republic of Korea) was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2014 as the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar. She is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity. Ms. Lee served as member and chairperson of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2003-2011). She is currently a professor at Sungkyunwan University, Seoul, and serves on the Advisory Committee of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea. Ms. Lee is the founding President of International Child Rights Center._

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the _Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work._

_UN Human Rights, country page: _Myanmar

For more information and media requests please contact: Georgia Drake (+41-22928 9780 or +41-79444 3993 / _[email protected]).

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts: Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / [email protected])

View this press release HERE.