Thirteen international human rights groups on Friday issued a joint statement backing a United Nations call for an international inquiry commission to investigate rights abuses in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
The statement, endorsed by organizations such as Amnesty International, Fortify Rights, ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, and Burma Campaign UK, cited attacks on minority Rohingya Muslims in three townships in northern Rakhine state where security forces carried out a four-month “clearance operation” following deadly attacks on border guard posts on Oct. 9.
The security sweep displaced nearly 100,000 Rohingya, about 73,000 of whom fled to safety in neighboring Bangladesh where they accused the security forces of extrajudicial killings, torture, rape, and arson.
The organizations said they support calls for the establishment of “a Commission of Inquiry or similar international mechanism to investigate, at a minimum, alleged and apparent serious human rights violations and abuses in Rakhine state, Myanmar.”
The rights groups also said that various commissions set up in Myanmar have failed to address and rectify the current crisis.
Panels set up by the Myanmar army and the Home Affairs Ministry lacked independence and impartiality because they are made up of military officers and high-ranking police, they said.
The groups also criticized the 11-member commission appointed by the Rakhine state parliament for not probing the human rights violations against the Rohingya, about 1.1 million of whom live in Rakhine where they are denied citizenship and other basic rights.
They also blasted the 13-member investigation commission set up by President Htin Kyaw to look into reports of abuse during the recent crackdown for dismissing claims of misconduct by Myanmar security forces.
A government-appointed advisory commission on Rakhine state, led by former U.N. chief Kofi Annan, has not been tasked with investigating human rights abuses in Rakhine, and an earlier commission set up in August 2012 to look into communal violence between Muslims and Buddhists failed to hold anyone accountable, the groups said.
“Given the inability or unwillingness of these commissions to establish facts and hold perpetrators accountable, and the fact that national judicial and law enforcements lack both the independence and technical capacity to deal with such situations, we see no credible or effective alternative to a Commission of Inquiry, or similar international mechanism to address and begin the process of effectively finding and verifying the truth of what has happened, and ensuring justice and accountability for human rights violations and abuses committed,” the letter said.
The Myanmar government has not yet issued a response to the U.N. and the international rights groups.
On release of the joint statement, Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director of New York-based Human Rights Watch, which also signed the letter, said: “The U.N. and its member states need to stand up against the brutal scorched-earth tactics, and the killings and sexual violence that the Burma Army and police have inflicted on Rohingya villagers in northern Rakhine state.”
Lee calls for action
The letter came a day after Yanghee Lee, the U.N. rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, appealed to the U.N. Human Rights Council to form a commission of inquiry—the U.N.’s highest-level probe—to examine abuses in northern Rakhine state, Agence France-Presse reported.
In a report she submitted to the council, Lee urged the body to set up a COI “to investigate the systematic, structural, and institutional discrimination in policy, law and practice, as well long-standing persecution, against the Rohingya and other minorities in Rakhine state,” according to AFP.
Lee wants the commission to examine human rights violations in Rakhine from 2012 to the present.
In January, Lee completed a 12-day mission to Myanmar during which she stopped in villages in Rakhine’s Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships, which were under security lockdown until mid-February, to talk with Muslim leaders and residents.
She was denied access to other areas of the state because for security reasons, she said.
Last month, Lee visited the Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka to discuss the crisis with government officials and visit Rohingya refugee camps in the southeastern part of the country where about 73,000 Rohingya who fled violence in northern Rakhine now live.
Meanwhile, fallout from the security operations continues to affect residents in northern Rakhine.
The State Counselor’s Office said Friday that an official named Marinnu from Kyikanpyin village in Maungdaw was found murdered—the latest in a series of killings of administrators and residents in Maungdaw, one of the locations of the border guard attacks of Oct. 9.
He was taken from his home at about 12 a.m. on Wednesday, and his corpse was found the next day, the announcement said. An investigation is under way.
In January, the bodies of three Muslim villagers were discovered in shallow graves about 500 meters west of Padakah village in Maungdaw after police received an anonymous phone call.
The corpses of another three men were discovered in one week alone in December.
The decapitated body of Shuna Mya, a Muslim from Ngakhura village, was found floating in a river last Dec. 22, a day after he had spoken with reporters on a government-guided visit to the area where some local residents alleged that atrocities had been committed by security forces.
A few days later, a 28-year-old Muslim named Rawphi, who was an administrator in Yedwingyun village and had been preforming administrative duties for security forces, was found dead with knife wounds.
On Dec. 29, the body of a third Muslim man identified as Sirazuhut from Wet Kyein village was found near a creek. The former ward administrator in Badakar village had been working with local authorities on regional development activities.
It is believed that the men were targeted because they were said to have collaborated with authorities as they continue to try to round up Rohingya militants involved in the border guard post attacks.
Reported by Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.