April 8, 2014
I’m still here in Yangon as the humanitarian crisis in Rakhine continues to unfold with minimal activities being undertaken by international organizations. There have been a flurry of meetings between international humanitarian organizations and the government of Myanmar, but none have resulted in any final agreements that would permit the humanitarian response to resume for hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people in Rakhine.
To make matters worse, the Buddhist New Year celebration, Thingyan, as its called here in Myanmar, begins this weekend and will continue for a week. The government shuts down for two weeks! So if no agreements are reached before Friday it’s unlikely any agreements will be reached in the next couple of weeks. I’m told everything practically shuts down around Myanmar with the exception of lots of water throwing, lots of loud music and partying and a lot of drinking. It should be interesting to observe the behavior of people during this holiday as the Myanmar government has been quick to criticize the behavior of the humanitarian community saying we don’t respect local customs and we drink too much.
I’ve found myself wondering how they must interpret a foreigner sitting with a glass of beer or wine. Do they think that every time a foreigner sits with a drink they intend to get drunk? This I wonder because I’ve regularly seen pairs or small groups of Myanmar men at restaurants order a bottle of whiskey (and sometimes two) and devour it. I sit there and ask myself, “How can they do that to their livers?” I’ve also sat a dinners with government ministers where the amount of alcohol being consumed is quite extraordinary. And who foots the bill at the end of the night? Take a guess…
Anyway, I would like to share more of my thoughts on this crisis and my observations of how I believe it’s being handled by the international community, but I just don’t have the time right now in the midst of all of this work. I’ve pasted a statement from the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar. I hope you’ll take the time to read it. I think it’s important for people to know what’s unfolding in Rakhine State. The United States government (namely, Barack Obama!) decided to lift sanctions on Myanmar in light of its democratic reforms and improved human rights record. From where I sit I don’t see too much democratic reform and human rights improvement. Read this short statement and judge for yourself.
GENEVA (7 April 2014) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, today pressed the alarm bell on the further deterioration of the human rights situation in Rakhine State.
“Recent developments in Rakhine State are the latest in a long history of discrimination and persecution against the Rohingya community which could amount to crimes against humanity.” He warned that the evacuation of aid workers, following the recent attacks on UN and NGO premises in Sittwe, “will only increase the vulnerability of this community”.
“These workers were in Rakhine State providing essential life-saving support, including health services, water and food to internally displaced persons, isolated villages, and other affected communities,” he explained. “The withdrawal of these workers will have severe consequences on the enjoyment of fundamental human rights, including the right to life.”
Water availability could reach critical levels within a week in some displacement camps, particularly in Pauktaw. The impact on healthcare will be particularly severe for the 140,000 people still in such camps in Rakhine State and the 700,000 vulnerable people outside the camps.
Mr. Ojea Quintana noted the Government’s commitment last week to ensure the safety and protection of UN and other international agencies’ personnel, and underlined the need for the prompt return of all humanitarian staff so that their life-saving work can resume with all communities.
Prior to these latest developments, in his latest report* to the UN Human Rights Council in March the Special Rapporteur reported that, taking into consideration the information and allegations he had received throughout his six years on the mandate, crimes against humanity may have been committed in Rakhine State.
National census – further concerns
The Special Rapporteur also expressed concern about the ongoing census in Myanmar: “The Government’s decision against self-identification of the Rohingya for the census is not in compliance with international human rights standards,” he stressed.
Self-identification for the Rohingya has been at the root of some protests in the past in Rakhine State that led to violence and human rights violations and abuses for which there is yet to be accountability. “The ongoing census risks this cycle repeating itself,” the expert said.
“Self-identification should constitute a pillar of the collection of ethnically disaggregated data. It is related to respect for the rights of individuals to assert their own identity,” Mr. Ojea Quintana stated. “To deny self-identification is therefore a violation of human rights.”
During his latest mission to the country last February, the Special Rapporteur heard from a range of ethnic groups that the ethnic categories included in the census did not reflect how they identified themselves.
“It is not only in Rakhine State that people object to the ethnic categories included in the census,” he noted. “It became clear during my discussions with communities in Kachin State that the Government has approached the census without sufficient or meaningful consultation with all affected communities.”
Mr. Ojea Quintana’s views on the census and calls for the prompt return of all humanitarian staff are shared by the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Chaloka Beyani; the Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Rita Izsák; the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, Anand Grover; the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai; and the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, Mutuma Ruteere.
(*) Report can be accessed here: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session25/Pages/ListReports.aspx
The United Nations human rights experts are part of what it is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights, is the general name of the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Human Rights Council that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world.
They are charged by the Human Rights Council to monitor, report and advise on human rights issues. Currently, there are 37 thematic mandates and 14 mandates related to countries and territories, with 72 mandate holders. In March 2014, three new mandates were added. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. Learn more:http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/Pages/Welcomepage.aspx
For more information log on to:
Human rights in Myanmar: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/CountriesMandates/MM/Pages/SRMyanmar.aspx
Minority issues: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Minorities/IExpert/Pages/IEminorityissuesIndex.aspx
Freedom of association: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/AssemblyAssociation/Pages/SRFreedomAssemblyAssociationIndex.aspx
UN Human Rights, country page – Myanmar: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/MMIndex.aspx