The United Nations special envoy to Myanmar met with representatives from Muslim, ethnic Rakhine Buddhist, and Hindu communities in Maungdaw township on Monday during her second tour of troubled Rakhine state since her appointment in April.
Christine Schraner Burgener is working with the government on how the U.N. can help with the return and resettlement of Rohingya Muslims who fled a brutal crackdown by security forces in 2017 following deadly attacks on police outposts by a Rohingya militant group.
The violence also displaced ethnic Rakhines and Hindus, a group of whom were killed by the militants and dumped in mass graves.
About 720,000 Rohingya fled from the northern Rakhine townships of Maungdaw, Buthidaung, and Rathedaung, across the border to Bangladesh where they have been living in sprawling displacement camps.
Maungdaw residents asked Burgener to urge the U.N. to help Myanmar and Bangladesh fight against the terrorists who attacked the region.
Rights groups and U.N. human rights officials have called for commanders responsible for atrocities committed against the Rohingya during the crackdown to be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court (ICC). The U.N. Human Rights Council voted in September to prepare for criminal indictments regarding the atrocities in Myanmar.
They also previously called on the international community to establish mechanisms to respond to ethnic cleansing and potential genocide in Myanmar under the responsibility to protect guidelines that address atrocity crimes.
Maungdaw resident Zaw Win, who met with Burgener, voiced doubt that her visit would have much impact on his ethnic Rakhine community.
“We have met with many U.N. officials, [so] this is not new for us,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service.
“Whenever we meet them, our voices disappear, and only the Bengalis’ voices are mentioned” in news reports, he said, using a derogatory term for the Rohingya, who are considered illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and are systematically discriminated against in Myanmar.
“It’s normal, so we don’t expect anything from U.N. officials’ visits,” he added.
But Kyaw Aye, an official at Nidin Muslim internally displaced persons (IDP) camp in in Mrauk-U district’s Kyauktaw township, disagreed.
“I think it was effective to meet her and tell her about our situation in the camp,” he said.
Myanmar is in the process of closing down IDP camps in Rakhine’s Sittwe district and in Kyauktaw and Myebon townships, where mostly Rohingya were housed following waves of clashes in the ethnically and religiously divided state in 2012 that left more than 200 people dead and displaced about 140,000 Muslims.
Authorities shuttered the Nidin camp in August and resettled its roughly 600 Rohingya residents in new homes in Nidin village.
‘We are so sorry’
Ni Maul, a local Hindu community leader, said that international organizations have largely ignored the Hindu community in northern Rakhine, which suffered violence at the hands of Muslim militants.
The same day that militant Rohingya attacked police outposts in Rakhine in August 2017, they also detained nearly 100 people from several Hindu villages in the Kha Maung Seik village tract, killed most of them, and dumped their corpses in mass graves. The militants also forced the young Hindu women to convert to Islam and took them to a Muslim refugee camp in neighboring Bangladesh.
“Many Hindus have been killed,” Ni Maul said. “Many international organizations have visited us and asked us about our experiences; then they just said, ‘Oh, we are so sorry.’”
“But they didn’t say a word about what they would do to ensure we got justice,” he said. “The international community always listens to Bengalis and only talks about them. They say nothing about what happened to Hindus and present nothing on the news about Hindus — only about Bengalis.”
International human rights groups have in fact condemned the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) for its attacks on Myanmar guard posts and Hindu villages, while pointing out that Myanmar security forces backed by ethnic Rakhine villagers committed widespread atrocities against Rohingya civilians, including indiscriminate killings, rape, torture, and arson, during the crackdown that came in response to the ARSA attacks.
In the meantime, the U.N. refugee and development agencies are continuing to conduct field assessments and surveys in northern Rakhine to facilitate the return and reintegration of Rohingya refugees.
Myanmar and Bangladesh signed an agreement in November 2017 for the repatriation of some of the hundreds of thousands refugees who fled Rakhine, though the program has not yet begun in earnest on a mass scale.
On Tuesday, Burgener will meet in Yangon with the four-member independent inquiry commission set up by Myanmar in July to investigate human rights violations in Rakhine state.
Afterwards, she will travel to northern Myanmar’s Kachin state and meet with the state's Chief Minister Khet Aung and the commander of the Northern Military Headquarters. Burgener will also visit IDP camps where roughly 100,000 civilians displaced by civil war are living.
Reported by Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.