o te la fan?
IV. Myanmar/Burma: Civil society works to increase focus on ongoing abuses facing Rohingya Muslim communities
The situation for ethnic and religious minorities in Rakhine State - particularly Rohingya Muslim communities - remains critical. On 11 June, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Tom᳠Ojea Quintana, issued a statement reiterating the need for the government to address the impunity enabling the systematic and widespread human rights violations committed against the Rohingya and wider Muslim community in Rakhine State, and recalling the state’s obligation to investigate violations and hold perpetrators accountable. Meanwhile, civil society organizations have continued working to increase international focus on the crisis. On 29 May, Refug ee International (RI) published a field report on the humanitarian situation in Rakhine, outlining concerns for the protection of populations and calling on the international community not to ignore them in its rush to normalize relations with Myanmar following the nation’s recent political reforms. ALTSEAN-Burma reported in its June 2013 bulletin that Rohingya communities continue to face abuses, both by the state security sector and by Buddhist attackers, but that no one has been held responsible for the violence. This followed ALTSEAN-Burma’s earlier report - released in May 2013 - on the reigning impunity in the state. Most recently, on 24 June, 76 civil society organizations endorsed a statement expressing concern over the Rohingya’s human rights and humanitarian situation. Among these groups, three ICRtoP members endorsed the statement, including Minority Rights Group International, Human Rights Watch and ALTSEAN-Burma.
1. Myanmar’s Rakhine State – where aid can do harm
3 July 2013
The aid community should proceed carefully to avoid enflaming sectarian tensions in Myanmar’s Rakhine State more than a year after the first wave of inter-communal violence.
“The biggest challenge faced by humanitarian aid groups to operate in contexts of sectarian violence is to be perceived as delivering aid in a biased manner,” said Jeremie Labbe, a senior policy analyst of humanitarian affairs at the UN International Peace Institute (IPI) based in New York.
Since inter-communal fighting broke out between ethnic Rakhines (mostly Buddhist) and Rohingya (predominantly Muslim) in June and October 2012, displacing up to 140,000 people, humanitarian assistance to Rakhine State has totalled more than US$52 million, according to the European Commission’s aid body ECHO. (…)
In recent decades, humanitarian aid has been directed at the Rohingya in western Rakhine State due to systematic state-sanctioned discrimination that has left roughly 800,000 people stateless, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). This focus has engendered hostility among some in the majority Buddhist population (ethnic Rakhines), who felt marginalized and threatened by people they consider to be illegal migrants.
Meanwhile, the separation of Muslim Rohingya in nearly 90 official camps and sites for internally displaced persons (IDPs) risks cementing segregation between the two communities, fears ECHO, which has expressed concern that any housing construction in the camps for the displaced may lead to long-term physical division. (…)
While OCHA encourages humanitarian providers to adopt a “conflict-sensitive” approach to aid distribution, which requires clear communication with communities to explain the basis of aid distribution, past humanitarian interventions in Rakhine State have contributed to an uneasy relationship between aid providers and ethnic Rakhines. (…)
While most aid organizations assist both ethnic Rakhine and Rohingya indiscriminately, the Rohingya have disproportionately suffered the consequences of recent inter-communal strife.
Most of the 3,000 previously displaced ethnic Rakhine people have returned to their places of origin, with support from central and local government, according to ECHO.
“Sticking to the principle of impartiality means that the bulk of aid directed toward the group that suffered the most during the violence and now faces the biggest needs, in case the Muslim Rohingya,” said Labbe.
But it also means that aid risks exacerbating sectarian tension, as well as the insecurity of humanitarian staff working on the ground.
“It is up to aid agencies to redouble efforts to explain and communicate with all segments of the population why aid is distributed in a certain way, and how - in order to mitigate possible negative effects,” said Labbe. (…)
While a conflict-sensitive approach may help avoid mutual hostility between the two communities, ultimately the responsibility for addressing turmoil and promoting peace lies with the government, rights advocates insist. (…)
Experts list poverty, marginalization, and discriminatory laws as root causes for deep-seated grievances, requiring government-driven political recognition and protection of human rights for both groups, for example granting Rohingya Muslims citizenship. (…)
Read full article.
2. Civil society statement: One year after the violence began, civil society organizations deeply concerned by the human rights and humanitarian situation of the stateless Rohingya
24 June 2013
The Rohingya, a stateless minority of Myanmar, have endured decades of abuse, persecution and discrimination. (…)
One year after the violence began, the root causes and on-going humanitarian and human rights concerns remain largely unaddressed. (…)
Despite heavy restrictions and difficulties in accessing the affected and displaced communities, and threats against, and intimidation and arbitrary arrests of humanitarian aid workers and human rights defenders, civil society actors have monitored and documented the situation, provided humanitarian aid to victims of violence, published statements and reports, briefed the international community and repeatedly raised growing concern over the deteriorating situation in Rakhine State and for Muslim communities throughout Myanmar. (…)
The international legal obligations of all countries concerned require them to protect all persons subject to their jurisdictions, regardless of whether they are citizens, stateless persons, asylum seekers or refugees. (...) Myanmar must also answer allegations of crimes against humanity being perpetrated by state actors against the Rohingya. Refugee recipient countries including Bangladesh, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Sri Lanka have also acted in violation of the right to seek and to enjoy asylum and the right to liberty and freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, and in certain instances, the right not to be subjected to refoulement.
The undersigned civil society organizations express deep concern with regard to the human rights and humanitarian abuses that continue to disproportionately affect the Rohingya, jointly speak out on behalf of all victims of violence and abuse, displacement and denial of humanitarian aid in Rakhine State – be they Rohingya, Rakhine or of other ethnic or religious identity; and one year after the violence began, emphatically state that all violence, discrimination and abuse must end now.
To the government of Myanmar, we urge that immediate steps are taken to:
- Facilitate unimpeded humanitarian access to all those affected by conflict regardless of registration status, and take effective action against those who intimidate humanitarian agencies.
- Produce a plan for reconciliation, end movement restrictions, and ensure safe voluntary returns.
- Provide protection to all people living in Rakhine State, end impunity, prosecute all perpetrators of violence and other abuses through a fair judicial system, arrange for immediate release of those who have been arbitrarily detained and provide adequate redress to all victims of violence and injustice.
- Invite the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to establish an office.
- Review the 1982 Citizenship Act and other discriminatory laws and practices to ensure that all persons have equal rights and equal access to citizenship and are not discriminated against on grounds of ethnicity.
To the governments of refugee recipient countries, we urge that immediate steps are taken to:
- Protect all refugees and asylum seekers from Myanmar – and take into account the acute andspecific protection needs of stateless Rohingya.
- Desist from arbitrarily detaining Rohingya refugees and asylum seekers and attempting to return them to Myanmar in violation of the principle of non-refoulement.
To international community, we urge that immediate steps are taken to:
- Insist on protection of minority rights, including the right to nationality, as a pre-requisite to full relations.
- Press the government of Myanmar to present its plans for promoting reconciliation, ending the movement restrictions, and enabling safe voluntary returns in Rakhine State.
- Press the government of Myanmar to act on the recommendations above, including ending impunity and achieving greater accountability and justice. (…)
Read full statement.