HUMAN Rights Watch has urged the Burmese (Myanmar) government to lift its blockade on humanitarian aid for ethnic Rohingyans in the northern Rakhine State.
The rights group on Friday said government security operations have cut off assistance to tens of thousands of people and forced many to flee their homes.
Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director had also urged the United Nations and donor governments to publicly call on the Burmese government to ensure aid organisations can reach those in need.
“Recent violence in northern Rakhine State has led the army to deny access to aid agencies that provide essential health care and food to people at grave risk,” he said in a statement.
“The Rohingya and others have been especially vulnerable since the ethnic cleansing campaign in 2012, and many rely on humanitarian aid to survive.”
The UN had previously expressed concern at violent attacks by unidentified individuals and groups against border guards and security forces on Oct 9 in three areas of Northern Rakhine that became deadly.
Armed men attacked three police outposts in Maungdaw township near the border with Bangladesh, killing nine police officers and seizing weapons.
The President’s Office blamed a previously unknown Rohingya group called Aqa Mul Mujahidin for the attacks, though other officials have said it is unclear who was responsible, the HRW said.
Five members of the security forces have also been killed in a fresh round of violence, forcing government security forces to declare the area an “operation zone” to sweep for attackers. According to senior members of the government, security forces have killed 30 people.
However, HRW said reporting is heavily reliant on government sources as journalists have been denied access.
Rohingya activists have alleged that government forces have committed serious abuses during the current operations, including summary executions and the burning of villages.
A World Food Programme (WFP) partnerships officer said authorities have blocked all aid deliveries to Maungdaw township since Oct 9 and aid agencies have not been able to conduct a needs assessment.
“We have asked [for access] from township level to Union level,” he said.
“The official explanation [for being denied access] is that security operations are ongoing.”
Broad and open-ended restrictions are not permissible under international law, HRW, although authorities may restrict freedom of movement for specific security reasons for a limited period of time.
Under the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, HRW said all authorities “shall grant and facilitate the free passage of humanitarian assistance and grant persons engaged in the provision of such assistance rapid and unimpeded access to the internally displaced.”
HRW said over 50,000 people remain without food aid in Maungdaw. The government, however, has recently permitted the resumption of food assistance to 37,000 people in Buthiduang township.
“The blocking of aid will also severely impact nutritional programs and mobile health clinics that serviced the area,” the group said, quoting aid workers.
“With freedom of movement restricted, ill or wounded people cannot access the main hospital in Maungdaw.”
Some 3,000 ethnic Rakhine people have been displaced from the violence and as many as 15,000 Rohingya, but the lack of access prevents an accurate count.
Longstanding discrimination by the Buddhist majority against Muslim Rohingya in Rakhine exploded into bloody violence in 2012. More than 100,000 people, mostly Rohingyas, are still in displacement camps.
“The Burmese government has a responsibility to search for and arrest those who attacked the border posts,” Adams said.
“But it is required to do so in a manner that respects human rights, ensures that the area’s people get the aid they need, and allows journalists and rights monitors into the area.”