UK urges Myanmar to grant UN access to northern Rakhine
Upon the anniversary of the publication of the Kofi Annan-led Commission recommendations on August 24, the British government has called on Myanmar to provide “unfettered and effective access” for UN agencies to northern Rakhine in order to have “sustainable progress” in resolving “a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented proportions”.
The UK, which is holding the presidency of the UN Security Council this month, is expected to call a session on Myanmar on August 28.
“Today marks the anniversary of the Kofi Annan Commission recommendations for Rakhine. It is tragic that this was so closely followed by the brutal, disproportionate response of the Burmese military to a series of coordinated attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army [ARSA]. We have been clear in our condemnation of both the initial attacks and the appalling military operations that followed, which we have consistently described as ethnic cleansing. Violence will not solve the long-standing issues in Rakhine,” Mark Field, the UK’s Minister for Asia and the Pacific, said in a statement released today.
The British minister also paid tribute to former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, who passed away aged 80 on August 18, in relation to his involvement in Myanmar. “During his life, Kofi Annan was a constant advocate for human rights, international development and the rule of law,” he said. Annan’s vision of long-lasting peace for Myanmar was supported by paying time and energy into ensuring “every community in Rakhine State had a voice in their future”.
“It is through implementing the recommendations outlined in his report we can ensure that Annan’s legacy and commitment to peace in Rakhine are honoured. We continue to believe this sets out the most viable path for resolving a decades-long conflict, ensuring stability and security for all.”
Annan’s Advisory Commission on Rakhine State submitted its final report with 88 recommendations to the government on August 24, 2017. Hours later, ARSA launched attacks on security posts in northern Rakhine, prompting a brutal military crackdown that resulted in an estimated 700,000 Muslims fleeing to Bangladesh.
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the UN Development Programme signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Myanmar government on June 6 concerning the repatriation of Muslim refugees from Bangladesh. The UK’s statement called the tripartite agreement signed “a step in the right direction” but stressed that the agreement “should now be put into action”.
Crucially, “unfettered and effective access” for UN agencies to northern Rakhine State is needed. “Without it, hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people remain without the aid and development assistance they urgently need,” Mr Field said, referring to those Muslim refugees who are now in Bangladesh.
This plea follows a similar call from the UN. A joint statement from the UNHCR and UNDP earlier this month said they had been waiting for the government to approve travel authorisation requests for employees to work in northern Rakhine since June 14. They said “substantial progress is urgently needed” on granting effective access in Rakhine State, ensuring freedom of movement for all communities and addressing the root causes of the crisis. As of August 21, such requests to visit the conflict area have been delayed and authorities have offered access to a limited area, the UN country head Knut Ostby told Reuters.
The British government has led the international response to this crisis, both in terms of humanitarian support and diplomatically. So far, the UK has provided over £129 million (US$166 million) in humanitarian assistance. “We will continue to work towards bringing to justice the perpetrators of human rights violations, including sexual violence, through a transparent, independent and credible process,” Mr Field said.
During her visit to Singapore on August 21, State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said that 81 out of 88 recommendations of the Commission “have been implemented so far”. However, Commission member Laetitia van den Assum told Frontier there was a “total lack of transparency” over which of the recommendations had been carried out and to what extent. “I wish I could tell you which of these recommendations have been completely implemented but we just don’t know … and I don’t think a lot of people know what is really happening,” she was quoted saying.
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