29th September 2017- The UN’s human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein has declared the situation in Rakhine as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” and human rights groups have criticised the United Nations Security Council for its inaction, with suggestions blocked by China and Russia despite direct appeals from Secretary- General and former UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres. In Thursday’s briefing to the security council, Mr. Guterres said “The situation has spiralled into the world’s fastest developing refugee emergency, a humanitarian and human rights nightmare.”
The UN Chief in his direct address to the security council warned that the crisis is a breeding ground for radicalisation, criminals and trafficking, and risks creating more internal tension, asking for intervention by the security council in this humanitarian conflict, something which no UN secretary general has done in 28 years.
While the current crisis erupted on 25 August which has resulted in over 501,000 refugees fleeing to Bangladesh and other surrounding countries, the Rohingya people have suffered decades of discrimination and persecution by the majority Buddhist population in Myanmar. The deep resentment of the majority population against the Rohingya is rooted in Buddhist nationalism and the fear of a threat to national sovereignty and the future of Myanmar as a Buddhist majority nation. This hatred and alienation of the Muslim community has resulted in the denial of citizenship to the Rohingya people despite their presence in the country for hundreds of years.
The eruption in August after an attack on police posts in Myanmar’s Rakhine State by an insurgent Rohingya group has prompted the Burmese military to launch “clearance operations” against the rebels, which set off waves of violence and destruction that has left hundreds dead, villages burned and the mass flight of Rohingya to neighbouring countries, often in perilous conditions across dangerous waters. The Burmese authorities insist that these operations ended on 5 September, however news reports, satellite images and recent news reports have confirmed that the systematic targeting of Rohingya Muslims continues to this very day. Yesterday, (Thursday 28 September) reports of a boat capsizing resulted in 15 dead and more families missing just off the coast of Bangladesh. Witnesses and survivors said that capsized only meters from the coast in rough waters and high winds. Women, children, the elderly and the disabled are among the most vulnerable groups forced to flee from the violence, some that witnessed family members being murdered in front of their eyes. UNICEF has reported an outstanding number of unaccompanied children fleeing into Bangladesh after their parents have been shot and killed by uniformed officers.
During the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly, NGO’s pushed to make the Rohingya crisis the ‘story of the assembly’, but it was often overshadowed by other issues, such as President Donald Trump. Testimonials were presented that pointed to excessive violence and serious violations of human rights including indiscriminate firing of weapons, the use of landmines against civilians and sexual violence.
With this evidence, repeated appeals have been made to Aung San Suu Kyi, the head of Myanmar’s government and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. However, it is not sure how much influence she can wield over the strong militaristic public opinion. After weeks of silence over the issue, Suu Kyi finally delivered a controversial speech in which she stated her government did not “fear international scrutiny” over its handling of the violence in the Rakhine state. However, her reluctance to address the situation or the government’s role in it has received a large amount of criticism from the global community.
It is imperative that Myanmar takes responsibility for its actions and that immediate steps to address the situation are taken by both the country itself and the UN General Assembly and Security Council following the cessation of the 72nd Assembly. Speaking at the assembly, a coalition of concerned NGO’s stated, “As more evidence emerges, it is clear that the atrocities committed by Myanmar state security forces amount to crimes against humanity, The United Nations and its member states need to take urgent action.” All concerned UN member states should also consider bilateral, multilateral, and regional actions they can take to place added pressure on the Myanmar government,” the coalition said. “, we call on all states to immediately suspend military assistance and cooperation with Myanmar”.