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Jakarta Post

Southeast Asian MPs urge Myanmar Army, insurgents to protect civilians in Rakhine

  • Apriza Pinandita
    Apriza Pinandita

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Fri, March 20, 2020   /   07:16 pm
Southeast Asian MPs urge Myanmar Army, insurgents to protect civilians in Rakhine Rohingya refugees wait for the distribution of food organized by the Bangladesh army at the Balukhali refugee camp near Gumdhum on Sept. 25, 2017. (AFP/Dominique Faget)

Southeast Asian lawmakers urged Myanmar's military, the Tatmadaw, and the insurgent group Arakan Army (AA) to protect civilians from an ongoing fight between the two factions in the country’s Rakhine and Chin states on Thursday.

The lawmakers demanded that both parties end all violations of human rights and humanitarian laws and allow aid to be delivered to those in need.

The calls came amid a surge in violence since early February that has resulted in civilian injuries and deaths. Over the weekend, media reports said at least 21 villagers were killed and dozens of others were injured during a Tatmadaw aerial attack on villages in the Chin state’s Paletwa township.

Three civilians were reportedly killed last week and 30 others injured when Myanmar’s military launched attacks on two Rakhine townships in response to an AA ambush. 

“Haven’t the people of the Rakhine state suffered enough? Recent years have brought nothing but pain and violence to the communities there,” said Maria Chin Abdullah, a Malaysian member of parliament (MP) and a member of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR).

“Civilians are not a target. Both the Tatmadaw and the AA must immediately and strictly comply with international humanitarian and human rights law and ensure that local residents are protected."

Read also: ASEAN urges Myanmar to ensure security in Rakhine

Human rights abuses committed by both factions escalated in January of last year and have been well-documented, APHR said.

Amnesty International reported last year that the “overwhelming majority” of human rights abuses were being committed by the Tatmadaw, including indiscriminate firing in civilian areas, killing and injuring villagers, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture, forced labor and property damage.

The human rights watchdog also found that the AA, a mainly Buddhist group claiming to fight for the rights of the ethnic Rakhine, had committed abuses ranging from abductions to arbitrary deprivation of liberty. 

“Let’s not forget that it was only a few years ago that Tatmadaw soldiers committed unspeakable atrocities against the Rohingya in Rakhine State. Today, those same troops are still committing abuses with total impunity, in part because they have never been held accountable for their actions,” said Abdullah.

"The Tatmadaw's conduct on the ground in Rakhine shows it has no fear of being held accountable in Myanmar for its abuses. It is yet another illustration that what is needed is international accountability, and the referral of the situation of Myanmar as a whole to the ICC," she went on to say. 

On top of the violence, communities in the Rakhine state are living under one of the world’s longest-running telecommunications shutdowns, which has been enforced in one form or another since June of last year.

Read also: Myanmar partially lifts internet shutdown in conflict-torn Rakhine, Chin states

The communication blackout puts people who are already in a dangerous situation at even more risk, as their access to livelihoods and basic information is limited, the APHR stated. It also obstructs the work of human rights watchdogs, journalists and aid organizations.

In February, the APHR joined dozens of organizations in calling on the Myanmar government to immediately lift the shutdowns. 

“Not only are people in the Rakhine state targeted by the violence, unable to communicate among themselves and the outside world, but they are also restricted in accessing necessary humanitarian aid,” said Kunthida Rungruengkiat, former Thai MP and APHR member. 

According to a report from the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, about 58,000 people have been displaced by the armed conflict in Rakhine. There are also reports of both parties arbitrarily restricting humanitarian aid.

"All parties, as well as authorities, must immediately allow unfettered humanitarian access to those in need in all areas affected by the violence, as well as access to the media and human rights monitors," Kunthida said. (asp)