UUSC Applauds Ambassador Haley’s Call for Truth in Burma

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley did the right thing yesterday by publicly calling on the government of Burma (Myanmar) to allow access to the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) fact-finding mission. We applaud Ambassador Haley’s statement and urge her to continue to use the United States’ position as a member of the UNHRC to call for the truth.

Since violent clashes in 2012, the Burmese government has confined more than 120,000 Rohingya, an ethnic Muslim minority, to more than 40 internally displaced persons camps where they are forced to rely on international food and medical aid to survive. The situation escalated late last year when the Burmese military launched a counterinsurgency campaign resulting in indiscriminate killings, mass rape, and destroyed at least 1,500 Rohingya homes, mosques, and other Muslim-owned structures. Aid workers, journalists, and independent human rights monitors have been barred from the area.

In March the UNHRC passed a resolution to “establish facts and circumstances of the alleged recent human rights violations by military and security forces, and abuses, in Myanmar, in particular in Rakhine State.”

Now the government of Burma, under the leadership of Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, is denying access to the mission in an effort to shield the military from accountability. It is bitterly ironic that the very leader who won a Nobel Peace Prize for her human rights advocacy, which included calling for international investigations in Burma, is now blocking access to truth and transparency in the country.

The response of Suu Kyi and her government begs the question – “What is the government and military of Burma trying to hide?” It makes this mission even more important. Ambassador Haley must continue her strong, public stand for the truth to be revealed in Burma and for the victims of relentless human rights violations at the hands of the military.

We applaud Ambassador Haley for supporting those under relentless siege in Burma. This type of diplomacy, along with U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce and the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission’s ongoing support for human rights in Burma is the type of leadership needed in this moment.

Crimes Against Humanity Escalate in Burma

[March 9, 2017: This post was updated to reflect accurate numbers of people killed, from 86 to 1,000].

Rohingya Muslims, an ethnic and religious minority population in Burma (Myanmar), are one of the most persecuted groups in the world and are currently facing extreme violence at the hands of the Burmese military.

In northern Rakhine State, on October 9, 2016, militants attacked three police outposts, armed with mostly sticks and knives, killing nine police. This triggered retaliatory attacks by the Burmese military that have included killing of civilians, including children and babies, mass rape, and a scorched-earth practice that has destroyed over 1,400 homes, mosques, and other Rohingya-owned structures. The military has claimed that this is simply a “clearance operation” against terrorists, but it has indiscriminately and disproportionately harmed large numbers of civilians. The horror is compounded by the fact that the military has barred journalists and independent human rights monitors from the area and have restricted humanitarian aid – including food and healthcare – to people living in the IDP camps.

Map of Burma (Myanmar), Rakhine State highlighted in red.Rohingya activists and the international community have argued that these most recent atrocities are part of a long-standing campaign against the Rohingya that has been called “crimes against humanity,” “ethnic cleansing,” and even “genocide.” Indeed, the International State Crime Initiative has documented the process of genocide unfolding in Rakhine State.

Since October, attacks have included state-sanctioned violence such as:

There are also reports of security forces restricting humanitarian aid, including from the World Food Program, from Rohingya IDP camps where there are no other sources of food. An estimated 3,000 children in these areas already suffer from severe acute malnutrition and will likely die without this support.

In light of this violence, 66,000 people have fled across the border to Bangladesh, where they continue to face inhumane treatment. There have been reports of refugees shot, beaten, and robbed while trying to cross the border. Those who make it often find themselves in the cramped makeshift homes of earlier refugees or struggle to survive on the roads and in the woods with no shelter.

UUSC is working directly with our grassroots partners on the ground in Burma, as well as Rohingya leaders and other allied groups who are documenting the atrocities, calling for an independent investigation into the human rights abuses and providing food and aid to those in desperate need. In early February, UUSC staff joined a broad coalition of human rights organizations in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to discuss a joint international strategy to respond to the situation. We are now jointly calling for the U.N. Human Rights Council to pass a resolution to mandate a Commission of Inquiry comprising international experts to examine all human rights violations, establish facts, and assess alleged crimes under international law in Rakhine State against Rohingya Muslims and other Muslims as well as Rakhine Buddhists.