A United Nations envoy on Friday urged Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi to visit two townships in northern Rakhine state where the international organization says security forces may have committed human rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims.
Vijay Nambiar, the U.N. secretary-general's special advisor on Myanmar, issued a statement on Friday emphasizing the international body’s concerns about the situation in the state where government army soldiers conducted security sweeps following deadly attacks on three border guard posts on Oct. 9.
The soldiers have been accused of killing civilians, raping women, and setting homes ablaze in Rohingya villages in Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships.
The violence has killed nearly 90 people and forced more than 20,000 Rohingya to flee their homes and try to cross the border into neighboring Bangladesh.
“Meanwhile, people of all communities in Myanmar must jointly oppose the violence, disunity and division that are being instigated by a small group of criminal elements in the region,” Nambiar said in the statement.
“I also appeal to Daw Suu to visit Maungdaw and Buthidaung and reassure the civilian population there that they will be protected,” he said.
“I call upon Daw [honorific] Aung San Suu Kyi to reflect on the situation and, as she has done on so many occasions, to listen to her ‘inner voice’ and speak directly to the people of Myanmar, asking them to rise above their ethnic, religious and other differences and to advance human dignity, harmony and mutual cooperation between all communities,” he said.
The Myanmar government has not yet responded to the statement.
The call was echoed on Friday by the diplomatic missions of 14 Western nations, including the United States, in a joint statement regarding their concern about the crisis in Rakhine and urging Myanmar authorities to allow a resumption of humanitarian access to the area.
“This assistance is desperately needed to address serious humanitarian needs but also to begin to restore the confidence and hope that are essential to a restoration of peace and stability,” the statement said.
“Full and unfettered access is essential for humanitarian agencies to conduct a comprehensive assessment of current humanitarian needs in support of the government’s humanitarian response,” he said.
Security operations still in place
Meanwhile, security forces continue to prevent international humanitarian groups and independent journalists from entering northern Rakhine state to evaluate the abuse allegations.
The U.N. has called soldiers and border police to respect human rights and the rule of law, and for authorities to allow international humanitarian access to the areas under lockdown.
In early November, Renata Lok-Dessallien, the U.N.’s resident and humanitarian coordinator in Myanmar, and several foreign ambassadors conducted a two-day visit to Maungdaw to survey the situation on the ground and talk to residents and security forces.
She called on the government to launch an independent investigation of alleged human rights abuses there.
“After the November visit by nine local ambassadors and the U.N. resident and humanitarian coordinator to several of the affected areas, various U.N. agencies have voiced concerns at the deteriorating human rights situation in the state,” Nambiar said.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who holds the positions of state counselor and foreign affairs minister in the majority-Buddhist country, formed a Rakhine Advisory Commission just over three months ago to review conflict resolution, humanitarian assistance, and development issues in the impoverished and divided state.
Members of the commission, chaired by former U.N. chief Kofi Annan, wrapped up a visit last weekend to Maungdaw and Buthidaung where they observed the situation on the ground.
Following the visit, Annan said the commission remains “deeply concerned about reports of alleged human rights abuses,” and he called for unobstructed humanitarian and media access in northern Rakhine.
A statement in late November by a U.N. official about Myanmar carrying out “ethnic cleansing” of Rohingya Muslims, along with growing international criticism of the government’s handling of the crisis, prompted President Htin Kyaw on Nov. 3 to form an investigative commission to examine the situation that led to the border guard station attacks and subsequent violence, as well as to verify allegations of rights abuses during security operations.
“Though the appointment of the national investigation commission by the government has raised some questions relating to its composition and mandate, I hope it will conduct its work in a credible and independent manner so as to build confidence among the local population in the affected area as well as reassure the people of Myanmar and the wider international community,” Nambiar said.
He also said authorities must reassure local residents they will be protected and must allow those who have fled or been displaced to return to their homes.
“Senior government leaders need to send a strong message underlining their determination to protect all residents regardless of their ethnicity, religion, gender or status,” Nambiar said. “In this volatile situation, it is everyone’s responsibility to handle allegations and rumors with great care.”
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Kyaw Min Htun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.