A United Nations envoy to Myanmar called on the government on Thursday to launch an independent investigation of alleged human rights abuses in the northwestern township of Maungdaw that followed last month’s deadly border guard attacks and other violent clashes.
Security forces that swept the area in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state after the initial attacks on Oct. 9 have been accused of arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial killings, arson, and rape as they forcibly searched villages where Rohingya Muslims live. They also cut off access to aid workers and journalists.
“Because of the allegations of abuses during the security operations that many of you are aware of, we have also discussed and stressed the importance of an independent, credible investigation,” Renata Lok-Dessallien, the U.N.’s resident and humanitarian coordinator and the United Nations Development Programme’s resident representative in Myanmar, said during a press conference in Rakhine’s capital Sittwe.
“We have urged that the government pull together an independent, credible investigation team quickly and send the team into the area to address these allegations,” she said.
Lok-Dessallien and several foreign ambassadors to Myanmar conducted a two-day visit to Maungdaw to survey the situation on the ground and talk to residents and security forces.
On Wednesday, they visited one of the three border guard stations that assailants had raided along with Rohingya villages in Maungdaw and Rathedaung townships where the outpost attacks occurred.
They also met with members of the Rakhine state parliament to exchange views on the situation and discuss assistance for Muslim refugees, she said.
The mission repeated its condemnation of the Oct. 9 attacks and expressed its condolences for the loss of life, she said. Close to 40 soldiers and attackers have been killed in the raids and subsequent violence, and up to 15,000 people from Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine communities have been forced to flee their homes.
The members of the mission visited villages from which residents had fled three weeks ago and where some rapes allegedly had occurred, but did not speak to any victims, Lok-Dessallien said.
“Or mission was not [able] to look into these issues, and it would have been irresponsible of us to even try,” she said, adding that trauma specialists would have to be brought in to talk to those who have said they were raped by security forces.
Some residents began to return to two of the villages when they saw the mission there, she said.
“We could see that having been out three weeks, there were clear humanitarian needs,” Lok-Dessallien said.
The mission has urged the government to provide humanitarian support to the returning residents and allow the resumption of international humanitarian aid to the affected areas, which security forces have suspended since Oct. 9, she said.
The Myanmar government has agreed to allow aid deliveries the area and let international observers monitor whether food and other necessities are reaching residents, she said
The mission also called on the government to handle the situation according to the rule of law.
“We have urged that and appreciate the fact that the government has stated that the response will be according to the rule of law and that international principles will be followed in this response,” Lok-Dessallien said.
State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto leader, said on Oct. 12 that the country will deal with the situation fairly and according to legal principles.
She repeated this again on Thursday during an official visit to Japan, adding that the “problem in Rakhine state is extremely delicate and care is needed in responding,” Reuters reported.
“We all know that underneath this incident are many items of concern and it’s now more important than ever for the government to promote lasting solutions to the interlocking challenges that face Rakhine state at this moment,” Lok-Dessallien said. “So, we’ve urged that these root causes and underlying issues be addressed as soon as possible.”
The violence is the worst to hit Rakhine since 2012 when communal violence between ethnic Rakhine people and the Rohingya left more than 200 dead and tens of thousands homeless.
The Rohingya, who bore the brunt of the attacks, were later forced to live in refugee camps in Rakhine, where about 120,000 currently remain, while thousands of others have fled persecution in the Buddhist-dominated country on rickety boats to other Southeast Asian countries in recent years.
The Myanmar government considers the Rohingya to be illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh and denies them basic rights, freedom of movement, and access to social services and education.
Reported by Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Kyaw Aung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.