A UN human rights expert on Wednesday called for an investigation of alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Myanmar’s Rakhine and Chin States.

In a statement issued from Geneva, UN Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee said the world is battling with COVID-19 while the Myanmar military continues to escalate its assaults in the country’s western Rakhine state and targeting the civilian population. 

“The Tatmadaw [Myanmar military] is systematically violating the most fundamental principles of international humanitarian law and human rights. Its conduct against the civilian population of Rakhine and Chin States may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity,” said Lee, who is concluding her tenure as UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.

She called for an accountability to end the conflict and said the military continues to operate with impunity. 

“For decades, its tactics have intentionally maximised civilian suffering; we all know what they [Myanmar army] did to the Rohingya in 2017, now they are targeting all civilians in the conflict area including people from Rakhine, Rohingya, Mro, Daignet and Chin communities being killed in recent months,” the UN expert said. 

Their alleged crimes must be investigated in accordance with international standards, with perpetrators being held accountable.” Lee added.

An armed conflict has raged in Rakhine and Chin States since December 2018 between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army — a predominantly Buddhist ethnic group — but in recent weeks the military has ramped up attacks against civilians, according to UN Human Rights expert.

Lee accused the Myanmar military of preventing some of the injured from accessing urgent medical care following its recent attacks targeting the civilian areas in Rakhine and neighboring Chin State.

“In one artillery attack on 13 April, the Tatmadaw killed eight civilians, including at least two children, when it targeted Kyauk Seik village, in Ponnagyun township, with artillery from its nearby Battalion 550 base,” she said.

On April 20, a UN vehicle carrying swabs from patients to be tested for coronavirus came under gunfire in Rakhine and the driver was killed.

Earlier on March 22, the military burnt down up to 700 homes in Tin Ma village in Kyauktaw and disappeared 10 men.

“One man was found shot dead and decapitated bodies were later located in a nearby river,” She said, adding the military has disappeared, arrested, tortured or killed dozens of men.

No mobile network 

According to the UN special rapporteur, despite a mobile internet shutdown since June 2019, the recent terrorism charges against journalists are creating fear and hampering reporting.

“I have also received information about ethnic Rakhine journalists who have gone into hiding in fear of arrest as they work for news outlets that have reported on the conflict. I repeat my call to fully lift the mobile internet shutdown and to allow the media to operate freely in order to report on these critical issues,” she said.

Lee urged the UN to step up its efforts to protect civilians in Rakhine and Chin and to “ensure there is not another systemic failure like in 2017.”

Persecuted people

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 to 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. 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 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 and 113,000 others vandalized, it added.

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