Military Threatens Rohingya Villagers amid the Visit of UN Human Rights Rapporteur
By Anwar M.S.
January 14, 2017
By Rohingya Eye and Rohingya Mirror
January 14, 2017
Maungdaw — The Myanmar military have threatened and ordered the Rohingya villagers in northern Maungdaw to refrain from meeting Ms. Yanghee Lee, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar, who is currently on a four-day visit in the violence-hit Arakan State, it has been reported.
The locals in Northern Maungdaw desperately willing meet the U.N. Human Rights Rapporteur also express fears of more physical and sexual violence by the military after she leaves the region as a military commander has threatened the locals with reprisals in case of meeting with her.
“The commander of the Battalion 551 in Northern Maungdaw summoned the administrator of ‘Oo Shye Kyar’ village and warned him to not let any of his villagers meet with any outsider (referring to Ms. Yanghee Lee) in the absence of his knowledge/permission and ordered him (The village administrator) to ask other village administrators in the region to do the same. He said failures to follow his order would result in significant punishments” said U Aye Myint, a human rights activist based in Maungdaw.
During the time of Tomas Quintana, the former UN Special Rapporteur to Myanmar and predecessor of Ms. Yang, the Myanmar military and other security forces in Arakan used similar same terror tactics to suppress the voices of the victims of the state-sponsored violence back in 2012.
Ms. Yanghee Lee arrived in Sittwe (Akyab) on Friday evening (Jan 13) and met the Rohingya elders in Quarter and this (Jan 14 morning), she visited Koetankauk and Shilhali villages in Rathedaung Township, where she visited the Koetankauk BGP post and met with local villagers and displaced people (IDP) and also with some local Rakhines in the region.
This afternoon, she left Rathedaung for northern Maungdaw and after that, she is due to visit Buthidaung Prison on January 15.
In Northern Maungdaw, she is set to visit the Rohingya villages — such as Kyikanpyin, Wapeik, Kyet Yoe Pyin and Ywa Ma etc — that have come under indiscriminate attacks of the Myanmar military since October 2016 and ‘Shwe Baho’ monastery in Maungdaw.
After visiting ‘Shwe Zedi’ monastery and the Sittwe Prison tomorrow (on January 16), she will conclude her visit to observe human rights situation in Arakan State.
Ms. Yanghee Lee is on a 12-day visit to Myanmar to assess human rights situation in the country. Earlier, she visited the war-torn Kachin state, where Burmese military have been waging wars with Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and assaulting civilians for years. She will submit the reports of her assessments on human rights situation in Myanmar to UN Human Rights Assembly in March, 2017.
Update: in Koetankauk and Shilhali in Rathedaung, Ms. Yanghee Lee only selectively met with some Rohingya women. No male members of the Rohingya community were not able to approach her.
However, the local Rohingyas are pretty confident that she got some true accounts from the women of the atrocity crimes by the Myanmar armed forces against the Rohingya community.
Displaced Rakhine Muslim women share their shocking stories
Bangladesh mounts pressure on Myanmar to take back their nationals
Rohingya women reveal the horrors — reprisals, rape and burning people and houses. Star file photo
Keeping themselves confined to a tiny room with no light inside, two young Rakhine Muslim women were struggling to get rid of the trauma and forget the brutality they had gone through.
They remained speechless for minutes seeing the presence of a newsman at Kutupalong refugee camp in Ukhia. Later, they revealed the horrors — reprisals, rape and burning people and houses.
“We’re asked to get undressed and look up at the sun…we were left naked and with no food and water before being gang-raped (by Myanmar forces),” Hosne Ara (not her real name), a 25-year-old Myanmar national, told UNB narrating the horrible torture perpetrated on her and her relatives.
Hosne Ara, hailing from Kyari Parang village from Myanmar side, said her husband Sona Miah and her son Ibrahim got confined to their house when Myanmar forces put their house on fire.
“I was caught by several soldiers. The soldiers had previously gathered women of the village and took all of them to nearby paddy fields where they were all raped one after another,” she recalled avoiding the eye contact.
Nur Sufia, another 20-year-old woman, sitting beside Hosne Ara, was also sharing a similar sad story.
“On December 10, soldiers came to my house and burned it down. I managed to escape with my two kids — Mohammed Selim, 4, and 18-month-old Noor Kayes,” Sufia told UNB.
She said four soldiers caught her and raped her before shooting the kids in their heads. “My husband and two brothers were burned in the fire.”
Though a commission probing violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State denied security forces had abused Rohingya, anyone can see totally a different picture while talking to the new arrivals from Myanmar here in Bangladesh.
Around 65,000 people fled Myanmar and entered Bangladesh since October 9 last and the influx is still on, according to officials at the Foreign Ministry.
Nur Mohammad, who arrived in Bangladesh 20 years back from Myanmar, told UNB that people are still crossing the border secretly and taking shelter in Bangladesh.
“Those who arrived here are unwilling to go back to Myanmar fearing further attacks. The international community needs to put genuine pressure on Myanmar so that peace and stability are restored in Rakhine State,” he said.
It is very difficult to digest the stories being unfolded from the victims who took shelter in Bangladesh side, Nur added.
Arafat Ara, another victim, said the Na’f River has lot of stories to tell. “Through this river, I have been able to arrive here. Journeys of many people to Bangladesh for shelter ended halfway,” said the 25-year-old Rakhine Muslim woman who took a boat journey through the Na’f river with her five children.
Describing tortures on Rohingya people by Myanmar forces, Dudu Miah, a community leader in Leda unregistered refugee camp, told UNB that the United Nations needs to deploy peacekeepers there to restore peace.
“We had full support for Aung San Suu Kyi in the past. Now she is not talking about Muslims. We’ve no hope right now,” he said adding that Rohingya people will get back to their homeland if their rights are protected.
Bangladesh has already clearly conveyed Myanmar side to take back all Myanmar nationals — documented, undocumented and new arrivals – as soon as possible.
Bangladesh has also proposed a coordinated and holistic approach to stop marginalisation of Rakhine Muslims, restore peace and stability in Rakhine State ensuring their livelihoods so that Myanmar nationals living in Bangladesh feel encouraged to return home.
As part of mounting international pressure on Myanmar, the member states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) will come together in Kuala Lumpur on January 19 to discuss possible remedies to the situation of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar.
This is going to be an ‘extraordinary’ meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers where Bangladesh will place its position on overall situation apart from the latest developments on the Rohingya issue.
Myanmar’s special envoy and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Kyaw Tin who arrived here on Tuesday evening, discussed bilateral issues with special focus on Rohingya crisis during his meetings with Bangladesh.
Sharing the outcomes of the meetings, Foreign Minister AH Mahmood Ali on Thursday said Bangladesh is ‘quite evidently’ heading towards the next step to have a permanent solution to Rohingya issue. “Surely, they’ll have to take back their (Myanmar) nationals (documented, undocumented and new arrivals).”
Bangladesh has also proposed forming a proper body to verify the citizenship of Myanmar nationals and Rakhine Muslims who took shelter here.
Both Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed to quickly sign two under-discussion MoUs on security dialogue and cooperation; and border liaison office to boost security cooperation between the two countries.
Bangladesh thinks Chittagong and Cox’s Bazar are extremely important and tourism development activities and stability are being hampered there due to recent arrivals from Myanmar and over 3 lakh undocumented Myanmar nationals.
Bangladesh also placed a demand for bringing back normalcy in Rakhine State so that Myanmar nationals staying in Bangladesh can go back to their home safely and with dignitary.
Hundreds of Rohingya have been detained as part of the ongoing security operation in northern Rakhine State, Myanmar. To date, no official information about where the individuals are being held or what they are accused of has been made public. All are at risk of torture and other ill-treatment and of being subjected to unfair trials.
Myanmar authorities have, according to a governmental Investigation Commission, arrested and “taken legal action” against 485 people since 9 October 2016. Among them are village leaders, business owners, religious leaders and Arabic teachers as well as ordinary villagers. In some instances, men failed to return after being summoned to security force headquarters, while others were arrested by state security forces during village sweeps to find suspected assailants and stolen weapons. Relatives have told Amnesty International they do not know where their loved ones are being detained, what they have been charged with or whether they have access to any lawyer. The absence of any information about these detainees for several months raises concerns that they could be victims of enforced disappearance.
Testimonies collected by Amnesty International reveal that some arrests have been accompanied or followed by torture and other ill-treatment. In October, two young Rohingya men from northern Maungdaw Township were beaten by state security forces for 30 minutes before being taken away. In November, soldiers and police officers beat a man from Kyet Yoe Pyin village with rods to get him to disclose the location of suspected militants. A video posted online in December also showed police beat a Rohingya boy during a security sweep. According to state media six people have died in custody since 9 October, including Kalim Ullah, a 58-year-old former UN worker, who died three days after being arrested in Ridar village on 14 October.
Those who speak out about human rights violations in Rakhine State also risk arbitrary arrest and other reprisals.
Please write immediately in English, Burmese or your own language urging the Myanmar authorities to:
– Immediately disclose the fate and whereabouts of all individuals detained during these security operations and ensure that they are treated humanely, allowed effective, prompt and regular access to their family, lawyers of their own choosing and adequate medical care;
– Immediately release all detainees unless they are promptly charged with an internationally recognizable offence. In such cases, ensure all trials meet international standards of fairness, without recourse to the death penalty, and all detainees are transferred to recognized places of detention;
– Undertake independent, impartial and effective investigations into deaths in custody and allegations of torture or other ill-treatment by the security forces. Those suspected to be responsible – including those with command responsibility – should be brought to justice in trials which meet international standards of fairness, without recourse to the death penalty.
Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country.
On 9 October 2016 several hundred men, believed to be part of a militant group comprised primarily of individuals from the Rohingya ethnic group, attacked border police outposts in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State, killing six border police and seizing weapons and ammunition. Security forces responded by launching a major security operation, conducting “clearance operations” and sealing the area, effectively barring humanitarian organizations, media and independent human rights monitors from entering.
Since then, Amnesty International has documented a litany of human rights violations against the Rohingya community in northern Rakhine State committed by the security forces – in particular the military. These include unlawful killings and random firing on civilians, arbitrary arrests, torture and other ill-treatment, rape and other crimes of sexual violence, mass destruction of Rohingya buildings, looting of property, and arbitrary confiscation of important identity documents. For further information see Amnesty International report: “We are at breaking point” – Rohingya: Persecuted in Myanmar, neglected in Bangladesh (Index: ASA 16/5362/2016), available at: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/asa16/5362/2016/en/
International law and standards prohibit the arbitrary deprivation of liberty and contain a number of safeguards ensuring detainees’ rights to due process and to freedom from torture and other ill-treatment. Among them are: the right to notify family or another third person; the right to legal counsel; the right to medical assistance; the right to be brought promptly before a judge and to challenge the lawfulness of detention; the right to silence and not to incriminate oneself. Denial of the right to communicate with the outside world – that is, holding a person in incommunicado detention – clearly breaches these standards. The UN General Assembly has repeatedly stated that “prolonged incommunicado detention or detention in secret places can facilitate the perpetration of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and can in itself constitute a form of such treatment.”
On 1 December 2016, President U Htin Kyaw announced the establishment of the Investigation Commission to probe the attacks on 9 October, and 12 and 13 November 2016, and alleged human rights abuses. The Commission is scheduled to report to the President by 31 January 2017; however, given that its membership includes high ranking former and current military and government personnel, Amnesty International does not consider the Commission capable of carrying out an independent, credible investigation.
The Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic minority who live mainly in Rakhine State which borders Bangladesh. They have faced decades of persecution at the hands of the Myanmar authorities, however their situation has significantly deteriorated since waves of violence between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Muslims (mainly Rohingya) swept through Rakhine State in 2012 leading to scores of deaths, mass displacement and the destruction of property. Rohingya’s right to freedom of movement is severely restricted, which impacts their ability to access education and healthcare, to practice their religion and access livelihood opportunities.
Name: Kalim Ullah, Rohingyas detained during security operations
As a responsible Government, you don’t just go around hollering ‘genocide.’ You say that acts of genocide may have occurred and they need to be investigated.
David Rawson, United States Ambassador to Rwanda1
The Rohingya in Myanmar have by all accounts – save for those of the Myanmar government and military – been on the receiving end since at least 2012 of consistent, widespread, presumably organized, and arguably sanctioned acts of violence amounting to crimes against humanity. Take your pick of alleged crimes: persecution, rape, murder, forcible transfer, deportation, extermination, arbitrary detention and imprisonment, and arguably, apartheid. The full treatment.
Ethnic cleansing with tinges of genocidal acts seems to be the obvious goal, or more ominously put, the desired solution: to expel and, if necessary, eradicate the Rohingya Muslims from the Rakhine state of Myanmar. Meanwhile, the international community and those most expected to speak loudly and repeatedly contently wait, naively or apathetically, for the criminal acts against the Rohingya to dissipate, for their plight to be resolved. Wishful thinking based in part on willful blindness.
Current events show that the Myanmar government and military not only lack the political and moral will to act responsibly, but that they are also comfortable with accepting the commission of purported “acts of genocide” against the Rohingya. Appallingly, the storm of intolerance and indifference that has already stripped the Rohingya of their human dignity, the enjoyment of their inalienable rights, their property, their places of worship, their freedom, and, in far too unacceptable numbers, their lives, is brewing and picking up steam. Time is against the Rohingya. Time to face the ugly and inconvenient facts.
Before I discuss the ongoing events, a few words about the Rohingya in Myanmar.
Northern Rakhine state (the name commonly given to the townships of Maungdaw and Buthidaung) is located in the west of Myanmar, bordering Bangladesh. It is populated mainly by the Rohingya, but also by other ethnic minorities such as the Rakhine Buddhist. The Rohingya have faced decades of repression and discrimination. The Myanmar government does not recognize them as one of the ethnic groups of the country. Instead, the Rohingya are regarded as mere refugees from Bangladesh.2 The 1982 Citizenship Law effectively denies the Rohingya the possibility of acquiring Myanmar nationality.3Being stateless, they lack legal protection by the government, which results in severe restrictions on their movement, impacting their ability to access healthcare, education, and livelihood opportunities.4
In 2012, religious and ethnic tensions between the Rohingya Muslims and the Rakhine Buddhists escalated into widespread rioting. Since then, ongoing conflicts have forced the Rohingya to flee, though they are often rejected (equally unwanted) by neighboring Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand.5
The situation in northern Rakhine state has deteriorated significantly since 9 October 2016 when unknown assailants attacked three police outposts in northern Rakhine state, killing nine Border Guard police officers and seizing weapons and ammunition. The authorities responded by initiating a major security operation, conducting sweeps of the area to find the perpetrators.6
The United Nations (“UN”) Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that since early November 2016 almost 27,000 people have fled across the border from northern Rakhine state into Bangladesh.7Government officials in Myanmar have repeatedly denied reports of human rights violations by security forces. Conversely, journalists and NGOs describe the actions of the state forces in the region as ethnic cleansing and genocide, and have reported murders, mass rape and beatings, burning villages, and other human rights violations amounting to crimes against humanity.8
Shockingly, our Buddhist brothers and sisters in Burma have lost the virtue of Buddhism.9
Most recently, a video surfaced showing officers beating members of the Muslim Rohingya during a security operation. This appears to have gotten the attention of the international community. The selfie-style video showed the brutality of officers kicking and beating civilians and the impunity they feel. And as the saying goes, the evidence never lies. Finally, the government had to confront what it has known and neglected, if not outright encouraged. The government’s past failures to acknowledge, condemn, and act against this cycle of violence has nurtured a culture of impunity.
In the recent Interim Report of the Investigation Commission on Maungtaw, the Investigation Commission established by the government to investigate the attacks on 9 October 2016 dismissed the allegations of genocide: “[T]he increasing population of Mawlawi, mosques and religious edifices are proof that there were no cases of genocide and religious persecution in the region.”10
Characterizing crimes as genocide is often over the top, hyperbolic. Whenever there are large-scale atrocities, the knee-jerk reaction is to claim that genocide is occurring. And then there is the reverse action by some governments: best not to come out and claim that genocide is occurring – even when rather obvious – for fear that action (boots on the ground) may need to be taken to halt it. We saw this in the case of Rwanda. Better to punt and claim that only “acts of genocide” are taking place, a policy articulated by the Bill Clinton administration.11 Message to those who were perishing or about to: help will be on its way if the situation intensifies to genocide. Comforting. Years later Clinton would get teary-eyed as he admitted his failure to act in the face of overwhelming evidence of what was happening in Rwanda.12
What are acts of genocide? It is like saying that a woman is alittle pregnant. It may make for clever diplomatic speak, but it is just a vacuous phrase. Look beyond the phrase. Where a group (Rohingya Muslims) is being targeted as such, and the intent – as deduced from the actions taken – is at a minimum to maim, permanently expel from Myanmar, and kill them, because of who they are as members of that group (Rohingya Muslims), are there not sufficient hallmarks of genocide (or at the very least traces of extermination) present to merit immediate condemnation and action at the national and international level?13
The Lady speaketh not
What of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate and State Counsellor, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi?14 Silence.
Should not the residents of Myanmar, the Rohingya, and the international community, expect more than her purposeful silence, her occasional drab demur, or her belated request for an international commission? As the de facto head of state,15 and having promoted herself as the doyenne of human rights activists in Myanmar,16 one would think that she would be front and center in condemning these cruel, inhumane, and, yes, genocidal acts.
Is Aung San Suu Kyi’s position so tenuous that she would suffer politically were she to speak out against this systematic violence against the Rohingya? Is she afraid of any backlash from the military, the police, and those who support, incite, and carry out the physical acts of violence? Is she just being pragmatic – as any politician of her position should be?
Aung San Suu Kyi’s deafening silence and lame rationalizations give aid and comfort to the perpetrators. Some argue that she needs a bit more time and space. Take, for instance, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s most recent statement. Selected to the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, he made the following remarks: “I think there are tensions, there has been fighting, but I wouldn’t put it the way some have done…. [The international community should give Aung San Suu Kyi’s government] a bit of time, space and patience.”17Tensions? Is Annan serious?
How much more time and how much more space does Aung San Suu Kyi need? If she can use the bully pulpit to garner votes for her party to win the elections, she can certainly use the bully pulpit to condemn these ongoing acts of crimes against humanity and genocide against the Rohingya.
But is it really a matter of having more time and space, or is it about clinging to and coveting more power? Aung San Suu Kyi may wish to recall and reflect upon her own thoughts on power and the fear of losing it – which seems to be the case with The Lady.
It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.18