UNITED NATIONS human rights officials last week left a Bangladeshi refugee camp “deeply disturbed” by accounts of alleged abuses by the Tatmadaw army of Burma (Myanmar).
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) reports at least 607,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Burma into Cox’s Bazar in neighbouring Bangladesh since Aug 25, when militants launched attacks on Burmese security forces sparking so-called “clearing operations” across the Rakhine.
Three prominent officials from the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) visited Cox’s Bazar where Unicef says 61 percent of the refugees are children, many of whom are suffering from malnutrition.
Bangladesh’s social services department has identified and registered 22,484 orphaned children. In a statement, the FFM described hearing accounts of killings, rape, torture, arson and aerial attacks by Burma’s army.
“We are deeply disturbed at the end of this visit,” said Marzuki Darusman, chairman of the FFM and Indonesia’s former attorney-general in a statement.
“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.”
Former Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict Radhika Coomaraswamy described feeling “shaken and angry” after visiting the camps which are now housing more than 800,000 refugees from Burma.
“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.”
Established by the UN Human Rights Council in March, the FFM has to date been denied access to Burma by the government of de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Its foreign ministry has been instructed not to grant visas to members of the FFM.
The body’s mandate is to “establish the facts and circumstances of alleged recent human rights violations by military and security forces and abuses in Myanmar, in particular in Rakhine State.”
In September, Burmese State Counsellor Suu Kyi professed that “Myanmar does not fear international scrutiny” and repeatedly invited “friends” who “wish Myanmar well” to visit the country and help its process of democratisation and peacebuilding.
She has previously said, however, that the UN’s decision to establish the independent FFM was not “in keeping with what is actually happening on the ground.”
Australian human rights specialist Christopher Sidoti said that Rohingya refugees should be allowed to return home but that “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.”