27 October 2017
Dhaka / Bangladesh, 27 October 2017 (Issued as received) – Three United Nations human rights experts concluded their first fact finding mission in Bangladesh today “deeply disturbed” by accounts of killings, torture, rape, arson and aerial attacks reportedly perpetrated against the Rohingya community in Myanmar.
More than 600,000 Rohingya, a Muslim minority in Myanmar, have fled to Bangladesh since 25 August, when Myanmar forces began the so-called “clearance operations” following alleged armed attacks on security posts. More than half that number are children. Although the total number of deaths is unknown, it may turn out to be extremely high.
The UN Human Rights Council appointed the Fact-Finding Mission last March to “establish the facts and circumstances of alleged human rights violations by military and security forces, and abuses, in Myanmar, in particular in Rakhine State”. If the Mission concludes that there have been violations, it will seek to ensure full accountability for perpetrators and justice for the victims.
“We are deeply disturbed at the end of this visit,” said Marzuki Darusman, former Indonesian Attorney-General and human rights campaigner, who chairs the Fact Finding Mission. “We have heard many accounts from people from many different villages across northern Rakhine state. They point to a consistent, methodical pattern of actions resulting in gross human rights violations affecting hundreds of thousands of people.”
Expert Radhika Coomaraswamy, former Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict, said the misery and despair she witnessed in the camps had left her “shaken and angry. The accounts of sexual violence that I heard from victims are some of the most horrendous I have heard in my long experience in dealing with this issue in many crisis situations,” she said. “One could see the trauma in the eyes of the women I interviewed. When proven, this kind of abuse must never be allowed to go unpunished.”
While in Bangladesh, the experts interviewed Rohingya victims in the Kutapalong, Nayapara and Balukhali camps and held consultations with government officials, diplomats and NGOs. In addition teams of human rights officers, dispatched by the Fact Finding Mission, have been in Bangladesh for many weeks conducting comprehensive interviews with those who fled from Rakhine State.
The Mission has applied to the Myanmar Government for access to Myanmar. It seeks the views of the Government and the military on what has happened and why, and wishes to conduct inquires inside Rakhine State itself. However, access to the country has not yet been granted, without which it becomes more difficult – though not impossible – to establish the facts. For example, whether the armed attacks on military posts actually occurred, as the Government claims, can only be established when the Government presents the information that has led it to draw this conclusion.
The third expert, Christopher Sidoti, an Australian international human rights specialist, said the visit to Bangladesh also focused on the future of the Rohingyas. The United Nations and many Governments have called for their return to Myanmar. “They must be allowed to return home,” Mr Sidoti said. “But any repatriation must be voluntary and can only take place after the establishment of effective mechanisms to ensure their safety and protection. That may require the placement of international human rights monitors in Rakhine State.”
The data derived from all interviews, alongside other information sources, will be subjected to a meticulous verification process and legal analysis before being submitted as part of the Fact-Finding Mission’s final report. The Mission is required to submit an interim report to the Human Rights Council in March 2018 and a final report in September 2018 to the Council and to the General Assembly.
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