Amnesty Calls for Arakan Investigation

By Colin Hinshelwood 19 June 2012

Burma’s authorities should ensure full and unfettered humanitarian access to displaced people, and conduct an independent and impartial investigation into recent communal violence, Amnesty International said in a statement on Tuesday.

The London-based rights group’s statement echoes remarks made by the UN Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for Burma Vijay Nambiar who visited Arakan State last week. While Nambiar noted the Burmese government’s “sensitive” response to the recent deadly clashes between Arakanese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Arakan State, he called for “a full, impartial and credible investigation” of the disturbances to be conducted urgently, as well as to ensure that the rule of law is enforced in a transparent manner.

“The basic humanitarian needs of these people must be met immediately, as many still lack adequate food, water, shelter, and medical attention,” the Amnesty statement said. “The Myanmar authorities should allow local and international aid agencies full and unhindered access to all displaced persons—including an estimated 1,500 persons illegally denied refuge across the border last week by Bangladesh.”

The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, has also expressed its deep concern over the welfare of people fleeing violence in Arakan State. It said that it recognizes that for years, Bangladesh has been bearing the brunt of the forced displacement caused by earlier crises in Burma.

Amnesty International accused Burmese security forces of participating in the violence in Arakan State, saying that, in addition to sectarian gangs, state security forces had also committed human rights abuses, citing incidents in Maungdaw and Buthidaung.

Amnesty also called for “decades of systemic discrimination against ethnic minority Rohingyas” to be addressed.

“Myanmar authorities must grant Rohingyas the citizenship to which they have right and rescind all discriminatory policies and practices against them,” the statement said.

Amnesty International emphasized that “restoring the pre-violence status quo is not sufficient … as systemic discrimination against the Rohingya characterizes decades of state policy in Myanmar. Tens of thousands of Rohingyas were forcibly displaced by security forces in 1991-1992. Despite being a state party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Myanmar continues to deny Rohingya children the right to a nationality. Refused citizenship under the 1982 Citizenship Act, the ethnic and religious minority is restricted to various degrees in their rights to study, work, travel, marry, practice their religion, and receive health services.”

The rights group also appeared to take a swing at Ko Ko Gyi of the 88 Generation Students group, saying that “recent statements by former political prisoners in Myanmar … further contributes to prejudice against the Rohingya.”

Last week, Ko Ko Gyi said that the Rohingya could not be considered an ethnic group of Burma, an opinion voiced by a great number of the majority Burmans in the country.

Even Aung San Suu Kyi has not been able to sidestep the issue. While in Norway to belatedly accept her Nobel Peace Prize on Monday she responded to a reporter’s question on the issue of whether ethnic Rohingya should be regarded as Burmese by saying, “I do not know.”

She added that some people claim that many who call themselves Rohingyas are actually more recent immigrants from Bangladesh. The trouble, she said, is that there are no clear-cut rules regarding who qualifies as a citizen.