UN Security Council Criticizes Violence in Myanmar's Northern Rakhine State

Some observers in Myanmar say the statement by the international body is nothing new.

The UN Security Council holds a meeting to discuss the violence in Myanmar's northern Rakhine state, at the United Nations in New York, Sept. 28, 2017.

The United Nations Security Council fell short of passing a resolution condemning the violence in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine and instead issued a statement after acquiescing to strong objections by China, drawing mixed reactions from observers in Myanmar.

On Monday, the Security Council issued a statement calling on the Myanmar government to end the use of excessive military force and intercommunal violence that has devastated the Rohingya Muslim community in northern Rakhine during recent military crackdowns.

The army began the brutal campaigns in response to deadly attacks by the Muslim militant group the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) and stands accused of carrying out atrocities against the Rohingya which the U.N and human rights agencies say are tantamount to crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing.

“The Security Council further expresses grave concern over reports of human rights violations and abuses in Rakhine state, including by the Myanmar security forces, in particular against persons belonging to the Rohingya community, including those involving the systematic use of force and intimidation, killing of men, women, and children, sexual violence, and including the destruction and burning of homes and property,” said the statement issued by Sebastiano Cardi of Italy, the current president of the Security Council.

The most recent crackdown following an ARSA attack on Aug. 25 drove more than 600,000 Rohingya across the border to Bangladesh where they live in crowded displacement camps and have limited access to food and drinking water.

The statement also called for access for humanitarian aid workers in Rakhine, the return of the Rohingya to Myanmar, and the full implementation of recommendations by an Advisory Commission on Rakhine State chaired by former U.N. chief Kofi Annan.

“The Security Council expresses further grave concern over accounts of intercommunal violence and calls upon the government of Myanmar to take all necessary measures to counter incitement to violence or hatred and restore peace and intercommunal harmony through dialogue, a comprehensive reconciliation process and by respecting the rule of law,” the statement said.

The presidential statement becomes part of the formal record of the council, but it lacks the legal clout of a Security Council resolution.

The Security Council also stressed the need for the protection of human rights without discrimination, including freedom of movement, access to basic services, and equal access to full citizenship for the Rohingya, and transparent investigations into allegations of human rights violations.

“The announcement made by the U.N. seems to be a reflection of what the Myanmar government is currently doing,” said Nyan Win, spokesman of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party.

The government signed agreements with Bangladesh in October to increase security cooperation and set up border liaison offices to deal with the exodus of Rohingya who are to be returned, though the two sides have not yet fully agreed on the repatriation terms.

In response to the U.N.’s statement, Nyo Ohn Myint of the government-affiliated Myanmar Peace Center (MPC) in Yangon, said the issuance of the statement indicated that the international community has a balanced view of the situation in Rakhine, given China’s objection to stronger measures.

“It [the international community] has expected too much from Myanmar and has pressured Myanmar repeatedly when it hasn’t seen what it expected to see [in northern Rakhine],” he said.

“I also think China really knows Myanmar’s situation, and that’s why it has tried to protect Myanmar from further pressure from the international community,” he said.

Nothing new

Oo Hla Saw, a lawmaker from the Arakan National Party, which represents the interests of ethnic Rakhine people in Rakhine state, said the U.N.’s statement yielded nothing new in terms of the international community’s view of the Rakhine crisis.

“After ARSA’s attacks in Rakhine state, the U.N. and related organizations, such as the European Union, the U.S., and the international media didn’t have any good things to say about Myanmar,” he said.

“I don’t see the U.N. Security Council’s statement as anything new,” he said.

Oo Hla Saw also said there will be two different views on Myanmar within the U.N. and around the world because China has shown its support for the country.

“What I think is that the U.N. will put pressure on Myanmar in the future, and China will object when it believes that the U.N.’s decisions are too harsh on Myanmar.”

With regard to the U.N.’s statement, Aye Lwin, chief convener for the Islamic Center of Myanmar and a member of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, said Myanmar must abide by the body’s recommendations.

“We will stand by the commission’s policy,” he said. “We have to be positive because we can’t replace one mistake with another mistake.”

The commission’s final report, which Annan submitted to the Myanmar government in August just before the terrorist attack in northern Rakhine, proposed ways to solve sectarian tensions between Muslims and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists in the divided state, although it did not evaluate possible human rights violations.

It called for reviews of the country’s Citizenship Law, which prevents the Rohingya from becoming Myanmar citizens, and an end to restrictions on the Rohingya to prevent further violence in the beleaguered region.

The commission, appointed by State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi in August 2016, advised the government to take concrete steps to end enforced segregation of ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, allow unfettered humanitarian access in Rakhine, address the statelessness of the Rohingya, hold accountable those who violate human rights, and end restrictions on the Rohingya’s freedom of movement.

Though the government has appointed a committee to oversee the implementation of most of the recommendations, it has kept out a U.N.-appointed fact-finding mission from independently examining reports of atrocities in northern Rakhine.

Reported by Khin Khin Ei for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.