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Govt vows action if ‘clear evidence of abuses’ uncovered in Arakan

A man, who said he was arrested by the Burmese Army and then released, shows scars on his hands at a Rohingya village outside Maungdaw in Arakan State on 27 October 2016. (Photo: Reuters)

Following the release last week of a damning UN report that alleged Burmese security forces had carried out a “calculated policy of terror” against Rohingya Muslims in Arakan State over recent months, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has vowed that “where there is clear evidence of abuses and violations, the government will take necessary measures.”

“The government of Myanmar considers the allegations contained in the report very serious in nature and is also deeply concerned about the report,” according to a statement from the ministry released on Wednesday.

It followed the publication on Friday of a UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) report that documented testimonies from Rohingya alleging rape, murder and other grave abuses committed by security forces in northern Arakan State, where an ongoing crackdown has led nearly 70,000 Rohingya to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh. The UN report was based on the accounts of more than 200 of these refugees.

Attacks on border police posts in northern Arakan State on 9 October prompted security forces to launch “area clearance operations” in search of the perpetrators, whom the government has identified as Islamic militants.

“The Myanmar security forces have been instructed to act within the parameters of rule of law in compliance with human rights refraining from use of excessive force,” read the foreign ministry statement.

A growing body of evidence suggests otherwise, however, with the OHCHR report just the latest, and most comprehensive, account of alleged rights abuses by soldiers and police officers in northern Arakan State.

The foreign ministry statement said an existing investigative commission chaired by Vice President Myint Swe would conduct a probe into the UN report’s findings. That response is not likely to satisfy critics of the government’s response to the 9 October attacks, with the UN special adviser on the prevention of genocide this week saying the Myint Swe-led commission undertaking a new investigation was “not a credible option.”

The commission was due to release a report on the 9 October attacks and their aftermath on 31 January, but that deadline was extended indefinitely “so that a thorough report could be prepared after necessary investigations,” the foreign ministry said on Wednesday. An interim report released in early January said the commission did not find sufficient evidence to corroborate allegations of serious human rights abuses, an assessment that was widely criticised by rights advocates.

“There has to be at the very least a [international] Commission of Inquiry to further investigate these allegations, and clearly even prior to that there has to be an end to the violence,” Zeid bin Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein, the head of OHCHR, said in a video posted to his office’s Twitter account for Asia on Wednesday.

“It seems to have little bearing to the counter-insurgency, which the government holds up as the policy and the reason for why these operations are in place, because attacking civilians and villagers who have little to do with the initial alleged cause is suggestive of something else,” he added.

Zeid said a Commission of Inquiry — “if not more” — was necessary, and raised the possibility of the situation in northern Arakan State being referred to the International Criminal Court.