NEW YORK CITY: The independent UN expert tasked with investigating the situation in Myanmar has called on the international community to “do a lot more” to protect the vulnerable Rohingya population in the country’s Rakhine State.
Tom Andrews, whose official title is UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, warned that “not to do so is to risk seeing another 2017.”
This referred to the brutal persecution of the Rohingya that began with a military crackdown on their community about six years ago, during which thousands were killed and more than a million were ultimately forced to flee to other countries.
Tom Andrews warned that the same forces who committed “those genocidal attacks” are now in control of the country and “their priority is not the human rights of the Rohingya people.”
Rohingya Muslims have suffered decades of violence, discrimination and persecution in Myanmar but the largest exodus began on Aug. 25, 2017, after Myanmar’s military launched brutal operations targeting them in northern Rakhine State.
Amnesty International said the subsequent wave of violence resulted in grave crimes under international law. The junta torched entire villages and forced more 700,000 people, half of them children, to flee to Bangladesh, where almost 1 million Rohingya now live in crowded refugee camps at Cox’s Bazar.
Andrews, who had just returned from a fact-finding trip and presented to the UN in New York his report on the situation in the South Asian country, told Arab News that more than 600,000 Rohingya continue to live in Rakhine State, 130,000 of them in makeshift internment camps.
“Even those who are living in the villages, those villages are surrounded,” he said. “The people are prisoners in their own home villages. They have virtually no rights whatsoever. It’s very, very oppressive to be living under these conditions.”
700,000 Number of people who fled Myanmar after government soldiers torched entire villages
600,000 Number of Rohingya who continue to live in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, 130,000 of them in makeshift internment camps.
1 million Number of Rohingya now living in crowded refugee camps at Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar.
2,900 Number of people who have died since the Myanmar military ousted the democratically elected government
The special rapporteur said the frustration and anger among the Rohingya community at the lack of accountability for the atrocities that have been committed against them “is pervasive.”
“Many would argue that the lack of accountability for the genocide that occurred in 2016 and 2017 was not lost on the military leaders that committed (the February 2021) coup,” said Andrews.
“You know: If you could get away with one, why not get away with another? If the international community is not willing to bring justice to bear in one, perhaps they’ll just forget about what happens as a result of the coup.
“So, failure to bring accountability is not only tragic, and an injustice for the people who suffer, but it’s an injustice and a tragedy for those who will suffer at the hands of the very same forces who are receiving the message that the international community simply doesn’t care.”
A human rights organization and a group of people from Myanmar this month filed a criminal complaint in Germany seeking punishment of Myanmar’s generals for the genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity that they allege were committed during the crackdown on the Rohingya minority in 2017 and after the military coup in 2021.
Meanwhile, International Criminal Court Prosecutor Karim Ahmad Khan has said that an investigation being conducted by his office into the crimes against the Rohingya will be a priority during his tenure.
Andrews lamented the fact that such legal mechanisms are “slow and cumbersome, and they are no comfort to the people who have lost loved ones in the most horrific of ways.” He called on the international community to do the “very least” it can and fully support them.
“We need to create the kind of pressure on those who are responsible for these tragedies, namely the SAC (the State Administration Council that currently rules Myanmar), so that they understand that there’s a price to pay (and) that what they’re doing now is not sustainable — and unless and until they receive that message from the international community, impunity will continue to reign,” he said.
In his report to the Human Rights Council, published on the eve of the second anniversary of the military coup in Myanmar that ousted Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government, Andrews described the coup as “illegal” and the military’s claim to be the country’s legitimate government as “illegitimate.”
He called for nations that support human rights to recognize the National Unity Government, the main underground group coordinating resistance to the military rule, as the legitimate representatives of the people of Myanmar. It was formed by elected politicians prevented from taking their seats when the military seized power.
Andrews said UN member states “have an important responsibility and role to play in determining whether Myanmar’s military junta will succeed in achieving its goal of being accepted as legitimate and gaining control of a nation in revolt.”
He described the situation in Myanmar as “the forgotten war” and accused the international community of failing to properly address the crisis and “the junta’s systematic crimes against humanity and war crimes.”
Since the military came to power, he said at least 2,900 people, and probably many more, have died, 17,500 people are political prisoners and at least 38,000 homes, clinics and schools have been burned to the ground.
In addition, a total of 1.1 million people have been displaced, more than 4 million children do not have access to formal education, and 17.6 million people are expected to need humanitarian aid this year, up from 1 million before the coup.
Andrews, a former US congressman, said a new, coordinated global response to the crisis is crucial.
He added in his report that the military’s hold on the country “is weakening” and his investigation found international sanctions have made it difficult for the junta to move and access the funds it needs to maintain its operations.
But “the problem is that the sanctions are not coordinated,” he added.
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