Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Geneva, 30 June 2020
I now present the oral report on the Rohingya people of Myanmar requested by the Council in resolution A/HRC/S-27/1 of December 2017.
Regrettably, I must once again report that the human rights situation for Rohingyas in Rakhine State has not improved, and that conditions for their safe, dignified and sustainable return from Bangladesh are still not in place.
During the Council’s 43rd session, I presented a comprehensive report on the root causes of the violations and abuses suffered by the Rohingyas and other ethnic minorities in Myanmar. The report noted that discrimination and exclusion against these groups have been the hallmark of the laws and policies of Myanmar for over half a century. The ongoing armed conflict in Rakhine, which is affecting all communities, combined with the absence of a conducive environment for a voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return, have further exacerbated the Rohingyas’ vulnerability.
Restrictions on humanitarian access and freedom of movement linked to the COVID-19 pandemic have further exacerbated this situation. While I commend Myanmar for containing the virus to date, I appeal to the Government to respect the Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire, end the intensifying armed conflict in Rakhine State, and address root causes that have prevented Rohingya returns since 2017.
In Rakhine and Chin States, the civilian population, including several minority communities, continue to bear the brunt of an intensifying armed conflict between the military, known as the Tatmadaw, and the Arakan Army. Just this weekend, the Tatmadaw launched a so-called “clearance operation” in the Kyauktan area of Rathedaung township in Rakhine. Residents were told to leave their homes as, “anybody left behind would be considered [Arakan Army]”. Estimates indicate as many as 10,000 residents have already fled as the Tatmadaw advanced and heavy fighting commenced. I call on the Tatmadaw to extend the ceasefire already in place elsewhere in the country to Rakhine and Chin states, and to cease immediately these “clearance operations”.
My Office has been documenting a pattern of serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, including airstrikes, shelling of civilian areas, and the destruction and burning of villages in other areas. Last month, the Tatmadaw reportedly burned large areas of Buthidaung township where Rohingyas lived before 2017. According to eyewitnesses and satellite images, areas where up to a dozen Rohingya villages once stood, lay in ashes.
These villages were not only the homes Rohingya refugees hoped to return to; they also constituted evidence of what happened in 2017. Only five months ago, the International Court of Justice issued an order to prevent the destruction of evidence of allegations of genocide. It is imperative that Myanmar take immediate and urgent measures to cease reckless military operations, and to preserve what remains in those areas.
The Rohingya refugee crisis has effectively become protracted, with no solution in sight. Myanmar’s Government should take immediate steps to address this chronic situation, including by amending the 1982 Citizenship Law and restoring Rohingya citizenship.
Myanmar continues to impose National Verification Cards on the Rohingya – a document which denies their citizenship, leaving them stateless and restricting their access to basic services or free movement. This situation should be resolved prior to this year’s general elections, so that the Rohingyas’ rights to stand for public office and to vote can be restored.
Recently, the Government released hundreds of Rohingya people who had been imprisoned for traveling outside Rakhine. I hope this measure is a step towards restoring their freedom of movement and that more action by the Government to address root causes of discrimination against the Rohingya will be forthcoming.
The COVID-19 pandemic further aggravates the suffering of Rohingya refugees. Reports of dozens of cases in refugee camps in Bangladesh expose the vulnerability of hundreds of thousands of people living in such cramped conditions. I am also seriously concerned about the fate of Rohingya people currently on vessels stranded at sea. I call on all relevant Member States and regional mechanisms to take action to protect these people’s lives.
Regarding investigations and accountability, I note that Myanmar’s national Commission of Enquiry has delivered its report on the 2017 violence to the Government – but its full text is still not public. This commission’s independence, and the credibility of its investigation, have long been in doubt. I urge the Government to publish the report and to cooperate with international accountability mechanisms.
In this context, I note that Myanmar’s President has issued a number of decrees following the International Court of Justice’s provisional measures. It is time, now, to fully translate these decrees into concrete actions. The fighting in Rakhine must end; civilians must be protected; evidence of serious violations must be preserved.
Resolution A/HRC/S-27/1 sought a comprehensive solution to the Rohingya crisis within three years. Two and a half years later, conditions in Rakhine remain bleak. It is time for that situation to change. The international community, including my Office, stands ready to support real efforts to resolve the crisis, ensure sustainable peace and development for all communities and allow Myanmar’s Rohingya to return home in safety and dignity.
Thank you Madam President