Ongoing and severe human rights violations continue to plague several areas of Myanmar, according to a new report issued by UN Human Rights this month.
Presenting the report at the 45th Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, the High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said that “no concrete measures” have been taken by the Government of Myanmar towards accountability and that national initiatives to address the situation have been “inadequate and fallen short of international standards.”
Conflict continues to intensify in Rakhine and Chin States with increasing clashes between the Myanmar army and the ethnic armed group known as the Arakan Army. An already fragile zone following years of conflict and crisis, civilians continue to pay a heavy price.
In recent years, thousands have fled their homes seeking safety. Today, there are around 860,000 Rohingya refugees in neighbouring Bangladesh, and since 2018, around 200,000 from all communities have been internally displaced in Rakhine and Chin.
The UN Human Rights report details the increasing effects of the armed conflict on the Rakhine, Chin, Mro, Daignet and Rohingya communities. This includes disappearances and extra-judicial killings of civilians; massive civilian displacement; arbitrary arrests, torture and deaths in custody; and the destruction of civilian property. Civilian casualties have also been increasing.
According to the report, while violence affected all communities in Rakhine and Chin, ethnic Rakhine and Rohingya civilians have borne the brunt of the impact of the conflict.
In 2020, at least 500 civilians have reportedly been killed, including women, children and elderly persons.
A “complex and delicate” situation
Addressing the Human Rights Council, Ambassador Kyaw Moe Tun, Permanent Representative of Myanmar, said that the issue of Rakhine poses huge challenges for the Government, describing the situation as very “complex and delicate.”
He said the Government is prioritising finding a sustainable solution, and that ahead of Myanmar’s general elections in November, exerting undue political pressure on the country should be avoided. He asked the international community to “render genuine cooperation, constructive engagement and helping hands” towards Myanmar.
A call for accountability
The Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly have repeatedly called for the Government of Myanmar to be held accountable for human rights violations, a call supported by many in the international community.
“We are watching, and those perpetrating violence should know that evidence is being recorded and preserved,” said Nicholas Koumjian, Head of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM). Koumjian was presenting the second annual report of the IIMM, a body mandated by the Human Rights Council to collect evidence of the most serious international crimes.
Khin Omar, a speaker on the panel and the chairperson of Progressive Voice, a Myanmar human rights organisation, also reiterated the demand for accountability.
“Three years have passed since the genocide of the Rohingya,” said Omar. “Yet there has been no justice or accountability and no sign of their safe return home. Those who remain in Rakhine State continue to endure apartheid-like conditions.”
Omar urged that the international community refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court or establish an ad-hoc tribunal, with the purpose to pursue criminal accountability for genocide against the Rohingya, and crimes against humanity and war crimes against other ethnic minorities.
November elections an “important opportunity”
Bachelet specified that the general elections being held in November would be an “important opportunity for all parties to demonstrate their commitment to democratic norms.” At the same time, she expressed disappointment that the vast majority of Rohingya would not be able to vote, as they have been stripped of this right.
Also expressing alarm at the ongoing crackdowns on human rights defenders, journalists, and critics of the Government and Army, she urged that action be taken now to “properly remedy the serious violations the Rohingya have suffered.”
“Given Myanmar’s stated commitment to democracy, I also encourage the Government to remove the barriers that impede democratic freedoms and undermine the equal enjoyment of human rights by all in Myanmar,” she concluded.