Rakhine CSOs Feel Overlooked in UN Envoy Visit

By Moe Myint 15 May 2019

YANGON—Local civil society groups in Rakhine State have complained of not being given an opportunity to directly present information they have collected about the rights violations allegedly being committed by Myanmar military troops and on the real situation of almost 40,000 displaced villagers to United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator Ursula Muller who recently visited the conflict-torn state.

During a six-day tour which started on May 9, Muller travelled to Shan, Kachin and Rakhine states. Although her visits to Kachin and Shan went smoothly, she was denied access to internally displaced person (IDP) camps in northern Rakhine on Monday, with authorities saying it was in the interest of her own safety.

At the end of her Myanmar trip, she issued a wrap-up statement which said the Kachin IDPs situation is still challenging and that Rohingya IDPs in Sittwe are facing a severe lack of freedom of movement, access to healthcare and education.

Sittwe-based Wun Lark Foundation’s U Khaing Kaung San said that instead of having a meeting with Muller, the country director from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) collected information from six civil society groups on Sunday, promising to pass the information on to Muller.

The Rakhine Ethnic Congress (REC), which extensively documents information about the displaced, reported to the UNOCHA that aid shipments are sometimes blocked by members the military and authorities occasionally do not allow local charity groups or international relief agencies into the conflict-affected areas, apart from partially allowing the World Food Program (WFP) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

On Monday, Muller tweeted a photo accompanied by brief information stating that she had a meeting with the Rakhine Coordination Group (RCG) which works on the coordination of humanitarian, development and peace-building actors. Rakhine civil society organizations (CSOs), however, pointed out that none of the participants at the meeting were local CSO representatives, but rather those from international relief agencies.

For a better understanding of the recent humanitarian crisis and rights violations in Rakhine, U Khaing Kaung San said, the UN envoy should have listened to representatives from grassroots groups who have been closely monitoring and documenting the rights abuses. It’s unclear whether the UN envoy chose to meet with the selected groups herself or if local authorities had made the arrangement.

U Khaing Kaung San criticized the government’s denying the envoy of access to the whole of Rakhine, saying she should have been allowed to visit the thousands of displaced villagers sheltering in urban centers like Mrauk-U.

“There is no armed-engagement in downtown Mrauk-U. Why did they block her? The government probably wants to hide the real situation of the IDPs in northern Rakhine.  If she was able to learn about the situation with her own eyes then she could figure out the reality,” said U Khaing Kaung San.

During her visit to Rakhine, the envoy personally inspected the Rohingya camps situated on the outskirts of the state capital of Sittwe. The Rohingya in these camps were driven from their homes by sectarian violence in 2012 and today live without access to many basic services. Since the violence, Sittwe has become a divided city, with its Buddhist Arakanese and Rohingya Muslim communities increasingly segregated.

On Tuesday, Muller tweeted a short video clip in which she spoke over footage of Basara Rohingya IDP camp, saying “they want to go home, so we have to do really everything to have conditions that enable them to go back and restart their lives.”

“After seven years of displacement, the conditions in camps have deteriorated and are simply unacceptable,” she said.

She stated in her visit-end speech that she is seriously concerned about the upsurge in violence between the Arakan Army and the Myanmar military, which has displaced over 30,000 people in the last six months. She also urged both State and non-State actors to uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and allow access for relief. She called for the continued support of the United Nations and for its international partners to scale up the response.

Nearly 40,000 IDPs in northern Rakhine have been sheltering in community halls, monasteries, and government schools or with temporary tents in paddy fields belonging to host communities. The REC’s Ko Zaw Zaw Tun said if the government or international relief agencies ignore the need to implement proper shelter for IDPs, the people face grave dangers as the monsoon season approaches.

Until this month, IDPs have been mainly relying on food supplied by local civil society groups though some of their aid shipments have been blocked by the military.

In late April, Rakhine State Chief Minister U Nyi Pu requested US$21 million for aid project for the IDPs from the Union government which is to be used to house approximately 33,000 IDPs in six townships. A decision on the proposal has not yet been reached by authorities in Naypyitaw as of this week.

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