Refugees International is calling for immediate, full, and unfettered access for humanitarian assistance and for an independent international investigation into severe human rights abuses in northern Rakhine State in Myanmar. The international community must continue to engage the Government of Myanmar and push for the protection of the most vulnerable people in Rakhine State, including both Rohingya Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists and ultimately hold the Myanmar government accountable for its failure to do so. And countries to which Rohingya are fleeing or have fled, like Bangladesh and Malaysia, must accept and provide adequate protections to asylum-seekers.
It has been 10 weeks since many parts of Rakhine State have received any aid, leaving tens of thousands of vulnerable people without much needed food and medicine. The security crackdown following the attack purportedly by Rohingya militants on October 9 has been marked by numerous troubling reports and minimal access to outside observers. UN officials, including the highest ranking advisers on human rights and the prevention of genocide, have warned that recent actions against the Rohingya may amount to crimes against humanity. Numerous serious human rights violations continue to be reported, including rape, extra-judicial killings, burning of villages, and indiscriminate use of helicopter gunships on Rohingya villagers. An independent international investigation is needed both into the perpetrators of the attacks on police and into the reported abuses by Myanmar authorities.
Members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have raised concerns and offered support, including in a meeting of foreign ministers in Myanmar, but there remains much that ASEAN members can do to better protect Rohingya asylum-seekers in their own countries. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced by the violence and ensuing crackdown in Myanmar, including more than 30,000 Rohingya estimated by the United Nations to have fled across the border to Bangladesh. The Government of Bangladesh has closed its borders and pushed back Rohingya refugees in violation of international law of non-refoulement. The risk of a broader mass exodus also remains. In May 2015, thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants and asylum-seekers were trapped at sea for weeks as regional governments deliberated what to do. As detailed in Refugees International’s November 2016 report, Still Adrift: Failure to Protect Rohingya in Malaysia and Thailand, little has changed which would suggest a future response to another mass exodus by sea would be much different. And while the ability of regional governments to protect Rohingya within Myanmar is limited, there remain tens of thousands of Rohingya asylum-seekers in Malaysia and Thailand who previously fled and are not receiving adequate protections.
ASEAN governments must not only engage Myanmar but also accept and protect asylum-seekers in line with international humanitarian law. The United States and other countries with influence in Myanmar must engage and pressure Myanmar’s leaders to address the situation in Rakhine State, including by allowing in international observers. Ultimately, the Government of Myanmar must take action to protect its most vulnerable or be held accountable for failing to do so.