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21 Dec, 2016

UN Human Rights Chief blasts Myanmar’s “callous” approach to northern Rakhine

GENEVA (16 December 2016) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein today warned the Government of Myanmar that its “short-sighted, counterproductive, even callous” approach to handling the crisis in northern Rakhine – including its failure to allow independent monitors access to the worst affected areas – could have grave long-term repercussions for the country and the region.

“The repeated dismissal of the claims of serious human rights violations as fabrications, coupled with the failure to allow our independent monitors access to the worst affected areas in northern Rakhine, is highly insulting to the victims and an abdication of the Government’s obligations under international human rights law,” Zeid said.

The High Commissioner said he was deeply disappointed that the UN Human Rights Office’s persistent request for access had still not been approved, particularly given the alarming allegations of human rights violations – including killings, rapes and the burning of Rohingya homes – that are reported to the Office on a daily basis.

“If the authorities have nothing to hide, then why is there such reluctance to grant us access? Given the continued failure to grant us access, we can only fear the worst.”

He urged the Government to reflect on the best path towards a durable resolution to the long-standing grievances of the different communities in northern Rakhine.*

“Myanmar’s handling of northern Rakhine is a lesson in how to make a bad situation worse. I urge the authorities to step back and consider the long-term implications of its security operations in northern Rakhine on the peace, stability and development of Myanmar,” he said.

“I unequivocally condemn the attacks on border police posts on October 9 by armed assailants, as well as the killing of a senior army officer on November 12. These are serious crimes for which the individual perpetrators and their masterminds must be brought to account with full respect of their right to due process. But accounts we have received suggest that security forces may have imposed collective punishment on an entire community, with reprisals against already vulnerable Rohingya Muslims continuing more than two months after the border post attacks, causing some 27,000 people to flee across the border into Bangladesh. This is clearly the wrong approach.”

“Sadly, the world today is full of examples where States have responded to security breaches with heavy-handed military responses, with little or no regard for the root causes. The results have been catastrophic, with mass displacement, the nurturing of violent extremism, and everybody ultimately losing,” Zeid said.

“I appeal to the Government of Myanmar to choose a different path – one where political and military leaders join forces to ensure people from the various communities that the State will work to ensure their rights and needs are protected, that it hears the grievances and will work with the affected communities to address them, that where there are claims of human rights violations, these will be independently investigated and that the perpetrators – no matter who they are – will be held accountable.”

The High Commissioner emphasised that the UN Human Rights Office stands ready to advise the Government and to provide training and assistance in improving the human rights situation for all the people of Myanmar. He noted the Government’s establishment of an investigative commission, but stressed the need for independent external actors to be granted unconditional, unfettered access to the region.

“I appeal to the Government of Myanmar to accept the outstretched hands of the international community offering to help resolve the increasingly dangerous and untenable situation in northern Rakhine, which is already spilling over into the wider region,” he said.

* To read the report by the UN Human Rights Office in June this year on the situation of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session32/Pages/ListReports.aspx#sthash.MkqLBSVp.dpuf . The report was mandated by the UN Human Rights Council. 

– See more at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=21042&LangID=E#sthash.S7NkqNiB.dpuf