Monday, June 17, 2019

United Nations says it suffered 'systematic failure' dealing with Burma's Rohingya crisis

Rohingya Muslim men with their hands bound in Myanmar in 2017 Credit: Reuters 
Reuters News Agency
There was a "systemic failure" of the United Nations in dealing with the situation in Burma ahead of a deadly 2017 military crackdown because it did not have a unified strategy and lacked Security Council support, according to an internal report.

The crackdown drove more than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh. UN investigators have said the operation was executed with "genocidal intent" and included mass killings, gang rapes and widespread arson.

Burma denies widespread wrongdoing and says the military campaign across hundreds of villages in northern Rakhine was in response to attacks by Rohingya insurgents.

"Without question serious errors were committed and opportunities were lost in the UN system following a fragmented strategy rather than a common plan of action," wrote former Guatemalan foreign minister and UN ambassador Gert Rosenthal in a 34-page internal review, seen by Reuters.

"The overall responsibility was of a collective character; in other words, it truly can be characterised as a systemic failure of the United Nations," wrote Rosenthal, who was appointed by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres earlier this year to look at UN involvement in Myanmar from 2010 to 2018.

Rohingya refugee crisis | Key facts

  • * In August 2017, violence erupted in Rakhine State in Myanmar, targeting the                 Rohingya people, a stateless Muslim minority
  • *  More than half a million people fled to Bangladesh, triggering one of the fastest             growing humanitarian crises in the world
  • *  More than half the refugees are children
  • *  Around 200,000 Rohingya refugees had already fled to Bangladesh before the current crisis
  • *  There have been outbreaks of measles and diphtheria in the camps and women are      at risk of sexual assault and trafficking 
He said senior UN officials in New York could not agree on whether to take a more robust public approach with Burma, also known as Myanmar, or pursue quiet diplomacy and that conflicting reports on the situation were also sent to UN headquarters from the field.

The United Nations struggled to balance supporting the Burmese government with development and humanitarian assistance, while also calling out the authorities over accusations of human rights violations, Rosenthal concluded.

"The United Nations system ... has been relatively impotent to effectively work with the authorities of Myanmar to reverse the negative trends in the area of human rights and consolidate the positive trends in other areas," he said.

At a glance | Myanmar’s Rohingya people

Who are the Rohingya?

The Rohingya are a Muslim minority group in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, concentrated in the western state of Rakhine. Northern Rakhine state is one of the most remote, poorest, and densely populated areas of the country.
There are about 1.33 million Rohingya, according to the Immigration Ministry.

What are their lives like?

The Myanmar government regards the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from the Indian subcontinent and refuses to grant them citizenship status, effectively making them stateless. They cannot travel, get married or seek medical treatment without official permission. Rights groups say the Rohingya also face persecution, forced labour, land confiscation and limited access to education.

Why have they been in the news in recent years?

Bouts of communal violence in 2012 killed at least 192 people and uprooted some 146,000 people from their homes. Most of the displaced were Rohingya.
In the past three years, 120,000 have tried to leave the country by boat, attempting to get to neighbouring countries including Muslim-majority Malaysia and Indonesia.
"The United Nations' collective membership, represented by the Security Council, bears part of that responsibility, by not providing enough support to the secretariat when such backing was and continues to be essential," Rosenthal wrote.

The 15-member Security Council, which visited Rakhine state last year, has been deadlocked with Burmese allies China and Russia pitted against western states over how to deal with the situation.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Rosenthal's report was due to be sent to all 193 UN members states on Monday and would then be posted publicly online.

"Its conclusions and observations have been fully accepted by the Secretary-General, and he will work very closely with the senior leadership to make sure they're implemented," he said.

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