The United Nations Rights Agency on Friday asked Myanmar to restore internet in Rohingya-dominated areas of Rakhine and Chin provinces.

In a statement from its Bangkok office, the UNHCR asked Myanmar to end the internet shutdown that has been imposed for a year in Rakhine and Chin.

The UN agency warned the unprecedented internet blackout is now also endangering the lives of vulnerable civilians facing the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ministry of Transport and Telecommunications of Myanmar had ordered companies to sever internet data services in nine townships on June 20, 2019, claiming the “move was a national security measure,” the statement said.

Fighting between the military and the Arakan Army, a predominantly Buddhist ethnic rebel group, has killed hundreds of civilians and displaced thousands more since last year, it added.

“Disruption of internet services disproportionately impacts those who rely on timely, credible information to protect their lives and access humanitarian assistance,” said James Rodehaver, a senior UN human rights official in the South-East Asia regional office.

The volatile region is also home to several other minority communities, including the Rohingya who have suffered systematic persecution for decades at the hands of Buddhist-majority authorities in Myanmar.

“All communities have suffered as a result of the current violence and the internet shutdown,” the UN agency said.

“If the intention of the shutdown was to increase security, it does not seem to have had that effect for the civilian population,” said Rodehaver.

The UN Human Rights Agency also urged Myanmar military forces and the Arakan Army to heed the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s call for a global cease-fire and to ensure the protection of civilians.

“Restrictions imposed by authorities on humanitarian access in conflict-affected areas since at least January 2019 should be lifted as well,” the statement added.

“Vulnerable communities are being deprived of potentially life-saving public health information during an unprecedented global pandemic and intensifying violence,” Rodehaver added. “It is critical to restore online access now.”

– Persecuted community

The Rohingya, described by the UN as the world’s most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.

According to Amnesty International, more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly women and children, have fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community in August 2017, pushing the number of persecuted people in Bangladesh above 1.2 million.

Since Aug. 25, 2017, nearly 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed by Myanmar’s state forces, according to a report by the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA).

More than 34,000 Rohingya were also thrown into fires, while over 114,000 others were beaten, said the OIDA report, titled Forced Migration of Rohingya: The Untold Experience.

Some 18,000 Rohingya women and girls were raped by Myanmar’s army and police and over 115,000 Rohingya homes were burned down while 113,000 others vandalized, it added.

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