The Myanmar government is building new homes to resettle internally displaced Muslims who have been living in temporary camps in three areas of Rakhine state since they were uprooted by communal violence with Buddhists six years ago, a state official said Monday.
Rohingya and Kaman Muslim IDPs have been living in camps in Sittwe district and in Kyauktaw and Myebon townships since 2012, when waves of clashes in the ethnically and religiously divided state left more than 200 people dead and displaced about 140,000 Muslims.
For more than 80 families living in Nidin camp in Kyauktaw, new houses are being built near the entrance of the village and other land is being prepared for construction, Aung Thurein, director of the Rakhine State Advisory Commission’s Recommendations Implementation Committee, told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
New dwellings for IDPs from two other two camps will also be built near their existing camps, he said.
The Myanmar government committee was created in September 2017 to implement the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, a group led by former U.N. chief Kofi Annan that proposed ways to solve sectarian tensions between Muslims and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists in the state, although it did not evaluate possible human rights violations.
The commission’s report called for the closure of IDP camps and for reviews of Myanmar’s 1982 Citizenship Law, which prevents the Rohingya from becoming citizens, and an end to restrictions on Rohingya to prevent further violence in the region.
Plans are also in the pipeline to resettle IDPs living in Kyauktalone camp in Kyaukpyu in new homes, but they are in a very early stage where authorities are still looking for suitable land on which to build, Aung Thurein said.
“Discussions for Thetkaepin camp in Sittwe have ended, but no work has started there yet,” he said.
At the Taungbaw camp in Myebon, officials have begun the construction of new houses and have compensated previous residents of the land for using their property for the project, he said.
Authorities are holding discussions about new housing with supervisors and residents of Kaung Doke Khar No. 1 and No. 2 camps in Sittwe district, he said.
“It’s difficult to give a deadline when the work will be completed, but it is already under way and we’ll try to finish as soon as possible,” Aung Thurein said.
As of early 2017, an estimated 121,000 people displaced by the 2012 crisis remained in 36 camps or camp-like settings with the majority housed in Sittwe (16 camps), Pauktaw (four camps), Rathedaung three camps) and Myebon (two camps) townships, according to the Sittwe Camp Profiling Report issued in 2017 by the Danish Refugee Council and U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR).
A year ago, the Rakhine state government said it was closing three IDP camps that house Kaman Muslims, ethnic Rakhine people, and Rohingya Muslims, as recommended by the Annan advisory commission.
Family of five repatriated
The announcement comes a day after Myanmar said it had repatriated a family of Rohingya from a refugee camp in Bangladesh, the first five refugees living in Bangladesh to return voluntarily to Rakhine state following a crackdown that left thousands dead and drove nearly 700,000 across the border.
But Mohammad Abdul Kalam, Bangladesh’s refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, and the UNHCR both disputed the claim, pointing out that neither one were involved in the repatriation, with the former telling Reuters news agency that the announcement was “propaganda.”
The family, who was living in the Konarpara area of a no-man’s land between the two countries, reentered Myanmar territory and was taken to one of the government’s repatriation reception centers, he said.
A Myanmar government spokesman denied that the news was propaganda and told Reuters the family had decided to come back on its own.
Win Myat Aye, Myanmar’s minister of social welfare, reform, and resettlement who is overseeing refugee returns, visited Bangladesh last week where he met with a few dozen Rohingya who live in sprawling refugee camps in the southeastern part of the country, and told them repatriation is a government priority.
Though Myanmar intended to begin repatriating the Rohingya in late January, the program was beset by delays, with Myanmar officials saying that many refugees had failed to correctly complete application forms.
Some of the refugees and rights groups have presented convincing testimony and evidence of atrocities, including killings, rape, and arson, carried out by Myanmar army soldiers against the Rohingya in three townships in northern Rakhine state following an attack on police outposts by a Muslim militant group on Aug. 25.
The government and army have largely denied the accusations and have defended their actions in the region as a counterinsurgency operation.
The U.N. and the United States have said the violence amounts to ethnic cleansing, and Yanghee Lee, the U.N.’s human rights rapporteur for Myanmar, has said the crackdown bears the “hallmarks of genocide.”
On Monday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for the first time included Myanmar’s armed forces in an annual report to the Security Council of parties that have committed sexual violence in armed conflict.
“The widespread threat and use of sexual violence was integral to this strategy, serving to humiliate, terrorize and collectively punish the Rohingya community, as a calculated tool to force them to flee their homelands and prevent their return,” he said in the report.
New York-based Human Rights Watch has issued reports on widespread sexual violence against Rohingya girls and women during the late-2017 crackdown, as well as during another one that followed smaller-scale attacks by the same Muslim militant group on border guard stations in northern Rakhine in October 2016. That campaign of violence drove about 90,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh.
“Myanmar’s military has long been implicated in the country’s ongoing ethnic armed conflicts, and the secretary-general’s report notes that security force abuses against women and girls have also taken place in fighting in Kachin and Shan states,” wrote Shayna Bauchner, coordinator of HRW’s Asia division, in a statement issued Monday.
About 60 percent of the Rohingya women and girls who fled to Bangladesh since August face “severe challenges” such as inadequate access to sexual and reproductive health care, psychological trauma, and the risk of trafficking and sexual exploitation.
A week ago, a prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the Netherlands, asked the tribunal’s judges to rule on whether the body can exercise jurisdiction over the alleged deportation of the Rohingya people from Myanmar to Bangladesh.
She raised the jurisdiction issue because Bangladesh is a member of the ICC, while Myanmar is not.
Two days later, an ICC judge issued a decision that the prosecutor’s request for a ruling on jurisdiction over the Rohingya deportation met existing criteria and assigned the request to a pre-trial chamber.
The Myanmar government said the extension of jurisdiction is not in line with the ICC Charter and other international statutes to which the country is not a party.
The pre-trial chamber will hold a hearing on the issue during which Myanmar and other interested parties can state their views on the question of jurisdiction for the international crime of deportation.
Reported by Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.