“Impunity And Human Rights Cannot Coexist”: When Is The Truce?

Francesca Mele
Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar to escape violence in 2017
Source: Ashique Rushdi, USAID (Scandasia)

Impunity and human rights cannot coexist”. These are the words of Thomas Andrews, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, used to describe the mounting perilous situation in a particular state of the southeast Asian country, Rakhine. 

Clashes in Rakhine between the Arakan Army (AA), the largest armed group that seeks independence for Rakhine and defined as a terrorist group by the Myanmar government, and Myanmar military corps called Tatmadaw, have raised ever-increasing concerns about the infringement of fundamental human rights. After the brutal clearance operations of 2017, the mostly Muslim Rohingya were forced to flee to Bangladesh. In recent months, because of an escalation of hostilities, the UN urges, once again, the parties to respect international humanitarian law and to protect civilians. In fact, according to the Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights:

There was a significant increase in incidents of airstrikes by fighter jets, and helicopter and heavy artillery attacks, and in ground battles in more densely populated civilian areas”. 

(A/HRC/45/5)

Moreover, 

During the first five months of 2020, at least 137 civilians were reportedly killed and 386 wounded, including women, children, and elderly persons.

The attacks targeted schools, religious sites, and civilian homes. On top of this, the Arakan Army has allegedly committed human rights violations, including laying of landmines in civilian areas. The number of internally displaced persons has increased, due to COVID-19 and added factors such as lack of resources and the deterioration of living conditions, Rohingya have become even more dependent on humanitarian aid.

The Arakan Army’s military training school is located close to Nan Sam Ran Creek near Laiza in Kachin State. These photos from 2014 depict the life of Arakanese soldiers at the military training school.
Source: The Irrawaddy

The last attack was registered on 3rd September, which seriously damaged the villages of Hpa Yar Phaung and Taung Pauk where many homes were burned and civilians forced to flee. The UN Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator, Mr. Ola Almgren, on 8th September said in a statement on the impact of conflict in western Myanmar, addressed the parties 

“To allow humanitarian access to the areas affected, and to heed the Secretary-General’s call for a global cease-fire to enable efforts to prevent and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic”. 

In conclusion, the OHCHR report reiterates concerns about general impunity for human rights violations, which should be not only brought before a court but also be accompanied by transitional justice processes. 

  • How can the vicious circle of aids and dependence be stopped?
  • Thinking about the relationship between ethnicity and conflict, can a conflict carry on for years based only on this factor?
  • What should be the role of transitional justice in a case of alleged genocide?

Suggested readings

alJazeera, Rakhine: Where the military is more feared than the coronavirus

UN Myanmar, Statement on the Impact of Conflict in Western Myanmar

UN News, Myanmar: Mounting child death toll during Rakhine village assaults must end, urges rights expert

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