Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan visits Myanmar amidst emerging allegations of torture, ethnic cleansing of Rohingya minority
Former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, while traveling in Myanmar this week, expressed his concerns over the emerging reports of human rights abuses perpetrated by the Burmese military against the Rohingya Muslim minority in the country. Mr. Annan, with the support of Myanmar’s government, heads the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State which “aims to propose concrete measures for improving the welfare of all people” in the region. Mr. Annan emphasized that the protection of all civilians must be ensured at all times and that security operations in Rakhine State must allow for humanitarian access to civilians.
State Counsellor Daw Aung Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and the de facto leader of Myanmar’s government since April of this year, has come under scrutiny in recent weeks for her perceived silence on the issue of the Rohingya, who have allegedly been subject to torture and extrajudicial executions at the hands of Myanmar’s military following an armed uprising in October which is estimated to have killed over a dozen police and military personnel. Counsellor Suu Kyi denies allegations that Myanmar’s recent actions constitute ethnic cleansing despite the fact that Myanmar has refused to include the Rohingya in its most recent census and will not acknowledge the Rohingya Muslims as an official ethnic group amongst the country’s 135 official minorities.
Independent journalists have been banned from investigating allegations of ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya Muslim minority communities in Rakhine State. The Burmese military has denied these allegations, despite footage obtained by news syndicates, which include images of burned villages and charred bodies. An estimated 30,000 Rohingya people have been displace, including many that have fled to neighboring Bangladesh and Thailand.
Source for above photo: Reuters via BBC News
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Catch up on developments in…
Central African Republic:
On Monday, the UN announced the completion of an internal investigation into alleged sexual abuse crimes committed by Burundian and Gabonese peacekeepers during their deployment in CAR. The UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) interviewed more than a hundred individuals, including minors, who identified a total of 41 alleged perpetrators. The UN shared the report with the governments of both countries and urged them to ensure accountability for those responsible.
Democratic Republic of Congo:
The United Nations Security Council has appealed for the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo to expedite the process of updating its voter registry in order to conduct free and fair elections as it navigates the current uncertain political situation in the country. The statement also called on officials to exercise restraint and to respect the rights of citizens to peacefully protest. The remarks aimed to prevent further violence in the politically destabilized country following the clashes between protesters and government officials on 19-20 September during which several protesters were killed.
The battle for Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, has stalled dramatically as government and US-led coalition forces face ISIL fighters who will not surrender. The Sunni terror group has used a myriad of tactics, including deadly car bombs and suicide attacks, to deter advances by Iraqi forces, who now say that the battle will last until as late as next summer.
As fighting in Mosul continues to move west of the city, Shia paramilitary organizations barred from entering Mosul city limits, such as the Popular Mobilisation Units (PMU), are likely to take on a greater operational role. Human rights groups such as Amnesty International have expressed concern over the involvement of the PMU, now an authorized corps of the Iraqi military, due to previous abuses committed in Fallujah earlier this year, which saw at least 1,300 men and boys of a Sunni tribe go missing. Reports have emerged of torture and executions as over 600 people remain missing.
The US-led coalition assisting Iraqi government forces stated on Wednesday that it had targeted a hospital complex in Mosul. The coalition, known as code name Operation Inherent Resolve, released a statement describing the strike on the medical complex, which is believed to have been an operational base for ISIL fighters within the city. It is unclear if there were patients in the hospital or if any civilian casualties were sustained as a result of the strike.
Nearly 70,000 civilians have fled Mosul since the operation to retake the city began on 17 October. UN humanitarian staff have continued to provide aid to refugees, including hygiene kits, kerosene heaters, and sheets.
A spokesman for pro-government forces announced on Monday that ISIL has officially been ousted from the coastal city of Sirte. The following day, the Libyan forces declared victory and celebrated an end to the fighting that has been raging in the area for the past six months. The Sunni terror group had previously controlled a 150-mile coastal stretch of the area since 2014 that was used as a logistics hub to supply fighters with weapons and to travel to nearby countries such as Tunisia.
The UN warned on Wednesday that Nigeria’s enduring counterinsurgency efforts against the Islamic extremist terror group, Boko Haram, could be the “largest crisis in Africa.” Efforts by the Nigerian military freed more than 5,200 people in the month of November. However, that number signifies Boko Haram’s capability to capture and control large swathes of highly populated areas. Perhaps the most major consequence of the conflict is widespread hunger, which the UN estimates will result in nearly 75,000 children at risk of death within only “a few months.”
On Sunday, a spokesperson for the SPLM-IO said that the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the main international organization involved in mediation efforts in South Sudan, has supported the continuation of the civil war in the country by accepting the replacement of Riek Machar with Taban Deng Gai as the country’s First Vice President. The spokesperson stressed that peace will not come as long as the parties fail to address the root causes of the conflict, including the dismissal of Machar.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) announced on Friday that the food crisis in South Sudan is expected to worsen significantly next year. At least 3.5 million people are currently facing severe food shortages and, in the latest WFP report, this number is expected to rise to 4.6 million in spring 2017 unless humanitarian aid is heightened.
Late last week, a UN team of human rights investigators said rape is being used as a tool for ethnic cleansing in South Sudan. The investigators also added that sexual violence has increased in the country and that a survey has found that 70 percent of women in the capital, Juba, have experienced sexual assault at some point since the start of the civil war. The team called for an inquiry into the claims to collect evidence to hold the perpetrators accountable.
Three employees from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) were abducted by unidentified gunmen on Sunday in the unstable Darfur region of Sudan. The UNHCR employees, one Sudanese and two Nepalese, were taken from the West Darfur state capital of Geneina by automobile to an undisclosed location. This is not the first case of UN employee abductions in the region, which has been unstable since ethnically charged uprisings began in 2003. Sudan has requested that UN peacekeepers, who have been deployed in Darfur since 2007, leave the country.
Russia and China exercised their veto power on Monday to block a UN Security Council resolution proposed by Egypt that would initiate a seven-day humanitarian ceasefire in Aleppo between Syrian President Assad’s pro-government forces and rebel-opposition groups. Russia has openly criticized the vote on the resolution for not following the standard protocol of allowing Council members at least 24 hours to review the resolution as well as the fact that the resolution failed to account for ongoing talks with the US Secretary of State John Kerry.
The aforementioned veto comes amidst significant advances by Syrian government forces into rebel-held areas of the besieged city. Tuesday saw Syrian government forces, backed by Russian airstrikes, retake the Old City neighborhood of Aleppo, considered a major loss to rebel opposition groups fighting against the Assad regime. Government forces are said to now control at least three-quarters of formerly rebel-held areas. The US and Russia are reportedly in negotiations for a deal that would allow remaining rebels to safely evacuate the city.
UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson expressed his deep concern regarding the reports of Saudi Arabia’s use of UK-made weapons, including cluster bombs, against Yemen. However, Johnson added that he did not believe the UK’s sale of arms to Saudi Arabia constitutes war crimes and will not suspend the arms sales. The UN released a report earlier this year stating that incidents in Yemen are in violation of international humanitarian law.
The Joint Group to Assess Incidents, an investigative body set up by the Saudi-led coalition, said on Tuesday that the attack on a Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) hospital in Yemen was a mistake. The Joint Group has called on the coalition to apologize for the strike and stated that the families of the victims need to be given proper assistance. Other incidents that the coalition have been blamed for, according to the investigative body, are considered legitimate operations where the coalition targeted fighters. The investigation was initially set up as several rights groups said the attacks on civilians and civilian buildings may amount to war crimes.
What else is new?
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) will be holding an event entitled “Burma at the Brink: Religious Freedom Violations Threaten Its Future.” The event will be held on Tuesday, 13 December from 3:00pm-4:30pm at the National Press Club (529 14th St. NW, Washington, DC). The event will feature opening remarks from USCIRF commissioners and feature the following speakers: Rachel Fleming, independent human rights research and activist, and author of Hidden Plight: Christian Minorities in Burma, Susan Hayward, Director – Religion and Inclusive Societies at the United States Institute of Peace, and Tina Mufford, Senior Policy Analyst – U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom