Written by Published in Rohingya Issues

About 140,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) living in flimsy tents or makeshift housing are seen as particularly vulnerable to cyclone Mahasen, which was gathering strength in the Bay of Bengal.

Camp for displaced Rohingyas in Myebon in Rakhine State.(PHOTO: UNIC)
Camp for displaced Rohingyas in Myebon in Rakhine State.(PHOTO: UNIC)
The cyclone is expected to make landfall somewhere near the Myanmar-Bangladesh border on Thursday morning, according to Myanmar's Department of Meteorology and Hydrology.

It said Mahasen, which was packing winds of up to about 100 kilometres (60 miles) per hour, was likely to intensify into a "severe cyclonic storm" within the next 24 hours, warning ships to be on alert.

The IDPs at particular risk are mostly stateless Rohingya Muslims uprooted by two outbreaks of deadly religious violence since June last year.

"There are people still living in temporary tents. Now we are moving as many of those IDPs as we can to the stronger permanent shelters," Myo Thant, a spokesman for the Rakhine state government, told AFP by telephone.

He said he was unsure of the capacity of the shelters—which are located in the state capital Sittwe—but acknowledged that there were not enough to accommodate all of the displaced people.

"The rest will be sent to stay with relatives in villages, and to nearby school buildings," he added.

Local radio issued warnings of the approaching cyclone while loudspeakers relayed messages to people in villages in Rakhine, one of Myanmar's poorest and most remote states.

The alerts revived memories of cyclone Nargis, which devastated Myanmar's Irrawaddy Delta in May 2008, killing about 140,000 people.

The UN's disaster assessment agency said preparations were under way to provide shelter for up to 13,000 displaced people in Sittwe, voicing "particular concern" for IDPs living in "poorly constructed camps."

"Many of the camps are located in low-lying coastal areas susceptible to tidal surge," it warned.

Myanmar views its population of roughly 800,000 Rohingya as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and denies them citizenship.

New York-based Human Rights Watch last month accused Myanmar of "a campaign of ethnic cleansing" against the Rohingya, citing evidence of mass graves and forced displacement affecting tens of thousands.

Thousands of Rohingya have fled the Buddhist-Muslim violence on rickety boats, mostly believed to be heading for Malaysia.

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Written by Published in Rohingya Issues

UN Special Rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana talks to Yangon media as he leaves a press briefing on the situation in Rakhine State on Monday, July 30, 2012. Photo: AFP
UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar Tomás Ojea Quintana on Wednesday expressed concern at the Rakhine Commission’s lack of recommendations to address impunity and ensure investigations into “credible allegations of widespread and systematic human rights violations targeting the Muslim community in Rakhine State.”

He did, however, welcome “some forward-thinking recommendations” by the Investigation Commission, which submitted its report earlier this week into communal violence between Rakhine Buddhists and members of the Muslim Rohingya community in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State last year which left at least 200 dead and 140,000 homeless.

“There are important recommendations on addressing the dire humanitarian situation in the Muslim camps for internally displaced people (IDP), including overcrowding, access to clean water and sanitation, the risk of disease, food security and child malnutrition, as well as on improving access to education and livelihoods,” he said.

“However, in implementing them, I urge the authorities, as a matter of urgency, to ease the harsh and disproportionate restrictions on the freedom of movement of Muslim populations in the IDP camps and also in Muslim residential areas, such as Aung Mingala in Sittwe and across northern Rakhine State, while also providing adequate security,” the senior UN representative said.

Quintana famously quipped that, during a visit to a Rohingya IDP camp in Myebon, it “felt more like a prison than an IDP camp.”

The Special Rapporteur praised the reports’ recommendations on building communication, trust and understanding between different religious and ethnic communities in Rakhine State, including through community and interfaith dialogues, and through the use of public service broadcasting.

“The recommendation to establish a Task Force composed of moderate leaders from both communities is just the kind of mechanism that is needed to ensure systematic dialogue between communities, which could play an essential role in rebuilding trust and finding solutions at the local level,” he said. “Dr. Tun Aung is one such leader who I hope to see released from Sittwe Prison soon and appointed to this Task Force.”

Quintana expressed concern that the current policy of segregation will become a permanent arrangement, and stressed the need for the Myanmar government to plan for integrated communities as homes are rebuilt and people are resettled.

In the UN statement, he said he was encouraged by the Commission’s recommendations to address the issue of statelessness in Rakhine State, in accordance with international norms. However, he noted, this would involve amending the 1982 Citizenship Act to ensure that all persons in Myanmar have equal access to citizenship and are not discriminated against on grounds of ethnicity:

Quintana said he was also encouraged that the recommendations highlighted the importance of the police, military and border security force (Nasaka) carrying out their duties in accordance with the law, particularly in view of the report’s recommendation that their presence in Rakhine State should be doubled.

However, he said he remains concerned about how accountability will be ensured in practice, in view of the impunity for the human rights violations that continue to occur in Rakhine State.

“I have received credible allegations that widespread and systematic human rights violations by state officials targeted against the Rohingya and wider Muslim populations have occurred and are continuing in Rakhine State,” he said. “These involve the most serious of allegations, including extrajudicial killings, rape and sexual violence, arbitrary detention and torture and ill-treatment in detention, deaths in detention, and denial of due process and fair trial rights.

“The Government has an obligation under international law to investigate these allegations effectively, promptly, thoroughly and impartially and, where appropriate, to take action against those responsible, in accordance with domestic and international law,” he said. “This is an obligation that the Government cannot renege on.”

For more background:
  1. Double security forces in Rakhine, says Commission 
  2. Rakhine report delayed; two Muslims sacked from commission 
  3. Rohingyas not ‘illegal immigrants’ in Myanmar, say Nobel laureates
Written by Published in Rohingya Issues

The Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) will provide 640 tents to the displaced victims of violence in Rakhine State, according to project director Kay Thi Khaing.   

“On May 1, we will go and give the tents to the refugees in townships including Kyaukphyu, Sittwe and Myebon,” she said. “These are materials that the refugees urgently need.” 

Johannes G. Ten Feld, the UNHCR representative in Myanmar, explained that KOICA’s donation of US$260,000 worth of tents to the refugees is part of a UNHCR initiative.

Soe Win, a Kyaukphyu local, said that the new tents are arriving just in time for monsoon season. “During the monsoon, water will leak into tents and strong winds cause damage. The weather can affect the refugees’ health.”

Korean government agency KOICA said it donated tents and tarpaulin to the refugees in Rakhine State last July for the first time. It said in a statement that it has now donated $510,000 worth of materials.

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Written by Published in Rohingya Issues

This picture taken on October 13, 2012, shows a policeman sitting behind a barbed wire fence blocking the entrance into the Aung Mingalar quarter, which has turned into a ghetto after violence wracked the city of Sittwe, the capital of Burma's western Rakhine State. Photo: AFP Myanmar should urgently help tens of thousands of Muslims displaced by deadly religious unrest in the western state of Rakhine and flood the area with troops to stem further conflict, a report said Monday.

A commission set up by the government in response to waves of fighting that left around 200 dead in Rakhine last year said the "temporary separation" of Buddhist and Muslim communities should continue in the state, where 140,000 people remain homeless.

"While keeping the two communities apart is not a long-term solution, it must be enforced at least until the overt emotions subside," the commission said in recommendations published almost a year after the first outbreak of violence in June 2012.

Last week watchdog Human Rights Watch accused the quasi-civilian government and security forces of being involved in the "ethnic cleansing" of Rohingyas—a claim rejected by the government.

Monday's official report said soldiers and police should be held accountable for any illegal actions, but also recommended doubling the security presence in the region "to control and prevent further violence".

Rakhine state remains deeply divided following major eruptions of unrest in June and October that saw mobs go on deadly rampages through villages and torch thousands of homes, mainly those of Rohingya Muslims.

Overcrowding, poor sanitation and malnutrition were said to be of critical concern particularly in camps for Rohingya whom the report referred to as "Bengalis".

Myanmar views its population of roughly 800,000 Rohingya as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants.

"It is extremely urgent to provide the Bengali [internally displaced persons] with access to safe and secure temporary shelters prior to the monsoon season," the commission said, adding that 15 percent of food needs and 90 percent of housing needs remain unmet in the state.

Thousands of Rohingya have fled Myanmar since June on rickety boats, mostly believed to be heading for Malaysia after Bangladesh refused them entry.

Rohingya—considered by the United Nations to be one of the world's most persecuted minorities—have been rendered effectively stateless in Myanmar with few rights and scant access to public services.

The commission said Myanmar should "immediately" resolve their citizenship status "in a transparent and accountable manner" and recognise the basic human rights of those deemed stateless as part of longer-term measures.

Other recommendations included regulating religious schools "that teach extremism", banning hate speech and training security forces in crowd control.

It also said authorities should encourage family planning in Rohingya communities to limit population growth that has fuelled Buddhist fears in Rakhine, although such measures should not be mandatory.

HRW deputy Asia director Phil Robertson welcomed calls for more aid for the camps, but said the official report should have addressed allegations of authorities' involvement in ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

"Doubling the number of security forces in (Rakhine) state without first ensuring implementation of reforms to end those forces' impunity is a potential disaster," he said.

HRW last week said Myanmar officials, community leaders and Buddhist monks organised and encouraged mobs, backed by state security forces, to conduct coordinated attacks on Muslim villages in October in Rakhine.

It said "impunity" for those instigating the violence had helped encourage extremists in central Myanmar, where anti-Muslim violence exploded in March and left at least 43 dead.

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Written by Published in Rohingya Issues

A massive fire engulfs a town in Kyaukphyu Township in Rakhine State, pictured on Oct. 24, 2012. Photo: Thein Hlaing / Mizzima
The spokesperson for the 27-member investigative commission set up to probe last year’s communal strife in Rakhine State told Mizzima that, in compiling the report, commission members looked to find solutions to the violence between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims.

“We mainly concentrated in the report on why the conflict arose, on how to solve the problems that led to the conflicts, and on what the government has to do,” said Dr. Kyaw Yin Hlaing.

The report—over 100 pages in length—was submitted to President Thein Sein on April 22. It’s expected that its detailed contents will be explained and clarified at an April 29 press conference.

The report was some eight months in the making. It had been scheduled for a late March submission. However, according to commission member Daw Than Than Nu, continuing strife elsewhere in Myanmar caused a delay.

The report comes amidst the furor generated by the publication of a report titled “All You Can Do is Pray” by US-based Human Rights Watch. That document accused the government of complicity in what it said was a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya community.

Daw Than Than Nu, however, told Mizzima she thought the conflict was generated by economic issues and over-population, rather than by ethno-religious flashpoints.

The Myanmar government says some 140 civilians were killed in the violence that began in June 2012 with nearly 100,000 made homeless. Muslim groups and international NGOs put those figures much higher.

For more background:
  1. Myanmar accused of ‘ethnic cleansing’ by HRW
  2. Myanmar civic groups slam HRW report
  3. Up to 4,600 homes destroyed in latest Rakhine unrest