NGO: UNHCR Myanmar rep has 'work cut out for her'

Executive director for Fortify Rights says Rohingya now face heightened abuse under pretext of counterinsurgency.

NGO: UNHCR Myanmar rep has 'work cut out for her'

World Bulletin/News Desk

The week after hundreds of Rakhine Buddhists gathered at Sittwe airport to protest a visit by the United Nations Human Rights Rapporteur on Myanmar, local NGOs say that Arakan Muslims (Rohingya) are facing heightened abuse in the state.

"It is important to emphasize that abuses against Rohingya are by design and the authorities are largely getting away with it,” Matthew Smith, executive director for Fortify Rights told Anadolu Agency on Monday.

He said that Yanghee Lee's "mandate is particularly essential in Rakhine State and we are finding that Arakan now faced heightened abuse under the pretext of counterinsurgency."

Lee is currently visiting Rakhine as part of a 10-day trip to assess the human rights situation. She has also met with civil society groups in Yangon and is expected to visit Northern Shan State.

“I will review the situation in the camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) and in isolated locations in the Rakhine State to assess if there has been improvement in the critical conditions I came across on my first visit to Myanmar in July 2014,” Lee said in a statement before her visit.

An estimated 150,000 people - the majority Arakan - have been displaced since violence broke out in the region in 2012. Many Arakan are living in crowded camps without access to healthcare and education, while thousands more are fleeing the state on dangerous boat journeys because of the dire situation.

According to The Irrawaddy, a Myanmar district court will this week pass down a verdict on 20 Muslims accused of links to terrorism - accusations of counterinsurgency adding to Arakan problems. 

Khin Moe Moe, a lawyer for 12 of the detained, told The Irrawaddy last week that they face prison sentences of 14-20 years under the country's Emergency Provisions Act related to possession of weapons and undermining the country's security.

“I tried my best to prove these people are innocent, but I do not know the viewpoint of the court, she told the English-language news magazine. "But then, we do not know how much independence the judge has to decide the case.”

Much of Myanmar’s predominately Buddhist population - as well as the government - views Arakan as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, refusing to use the term "Arakan" and instead referring to them as "Bengalis" to further enforce the view that they are illegal immigrants from their neighbor.

“We protest against her trip because we cannot accept her reports to the U.N. Human Rights Council,” one protestor Nyo Aye has said, according to local media reports.

Many Buddhists in Myanmar - particularly Rakhine - believe that Lee, as well as her predecessor Thomas Quintana who visited the state in 2013, are biased in favor of the Arakan population.

Lee is also expected to visit Northern Shan State, close to ongoing conflict between the government and Kachin forces. Smith told AA that she has an important role to play there also.

“There have been more than a quarter million internally-displaced persons since President Thein Sein took office and we are still seeing avoidable deprivations in basic aid, particularly to the Arakan and Kachin," he said.

"The Special Rapporteur has made it clear she stands alongside Myanmar’s human right defenders and we applaud her for that. "

He added that ongoing abuses by the Myanmar Army are continuing and that the military still operates with complete impunity.

“Ms. Lee has her work cut out for her,” he is quoted as saying on the Fortify Rights Facebook account. 

“She’s already demonstrated a willingness to carry out her mandate carefully and in the interest of Myanmar’s people. We look forward to positive outcomes from her interventions.”

Fortify Rights is a non-profit human rights organization based in Southeast Asia and registered in Switzerland and the United States.

Last Mod: 12 Ocak 2015, 21:28
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