Lack of access to Rakhine state ‘unacceptable’: UN

UN humanitarian office chief, Mark Lowcock, briefs journalists on the Rohingya crisis on Friday at the UN Offices in Geneva. (AFP)
Updated 07 October 2017
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Lack of access to Rakhine state ‘unacceptable’: UN

GENEVA: The lack of humanitarian access granted by Myanmar’s government to Rakhine state, where more than half-a-million Rohingya Muslims have fled violence, is “unacceptable,” the UN said Friday while the EU has urged Myanmar to allow refugees to return.
Mark Lowcock, the head of the UN humanitarian office, told reporters in Geneva: “The access we have in northern Rakhine state is unacceptable,”
A small UN team visited the crisis-wracked region in majority Buddhist Myanmar in recent days and described witnessing “unimaginable” suffering.
Myanmar has tightly controlled access to the state since last month when attacks by Rohingya militants prompted an army kickback that has sent 515,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh. Scores of Rohingya villages have been torched.
Lowcock said he believed a “a high level” UN team would be able to visit the area “in the next few days.”
He repeated the UN’s call for the government to allow “unhindered (and) unfettered” access.
“Half a million people do not pick up sticks and flee their country on a whim,” Lowcock added, stressing that the scale of the exodus was evidence of a severe crisis in northern Rakhine.
The UN has “substantial capacity” in Myanmar which can be quickly deployed to northern Rakhine once clearance is granted he added.
A Myanmar official tally says hundreds of people died as violence consumed remote communities, including Rohingya.
Hindus and ethnic Rakhine were also among the dead — allegedly killed by Rohingya militants.
Rights groups say the real death toll is likely to be much higher, especially among the Rohingya, while the UN has labelled army operations as “ethnic cleansing” against the Muslim group.
There may be up to 100,000 more people in northern Rakhine waiting to cross into Bangladesh, according to the International Organization for Migration.

‘Let Rohingya return’
President Donald Tusk on Friday urged Myanmar to adhere to its international rights obligations and allow Rohingya refugees to return after weeks of violence that have forced more than half a million to flee to Bangladesh.
Tusk said Myanmar must give aid workers access to the troubled state of Rakhine, where the Rohingya ethnic minority say the military are burning their villages in a campaign of retribution for attacks on police posts.
He made the comments after talks with Indian leaders in New Delhi, which he said was first in line to respond to the refugee crisis as a neighboring country.
“The EU continues to assume its responsibilities by receiving people in need of protection and by assisting host countries close to the conflict zones,” said Tusk after the talks.
“We addressed the situation in Myanmar and the Rohingya refugee crisis. We want to see de-escalation of tension and the full adherence to international human rights obligations as well as full humanitarian access so the aid can reach those in need.”
The UN says more than half a million Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since an upsurge in violence in Rakhine at the end of August.
Myanmar has tightly controlled aid workers’ access to the state since attacks in August by Rohingya militants which sparked a massive army crackdown.
Refugees interviewed in Bangladesh have accused the military and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists in the state of burning villages and raping and killing Rohingya Muslims, who are regarded as illegal immigrants in Myanmar.
A small UN team visited the crisis-wracked region in majority Buddhist Myanmar in recent days and described “unimaginable” suffering.
Tusk made his comments at the end of the 14th EU-India Summit, at which the two sides also discussed a long delayed trade agreement.
EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the summit had been an “important step in the right direction” toward an agreement, but gave no time frame for progress.
The EU is India’s largest trading partner, accounting for more than 13 percent of the country’s commerce.


Indonesian president urged to ban child marriage

Updated 25 April 2018
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Indonesian president urged to ban child marriage

JAKARTA: Women’s rights activists in Indonesia are pushing President Joko Widodo to issue a presidential regulation that will make child marriage illegal in the country, where its prevalence is one of the highest in world.
They recently submitted their proposed draft of a presidential regulation to Widodo, in lieu of a law to prevent and abolish early marriage.
Naila Rizqi Zakiah, one of the 18 activists invited to meet with him, said they raised three issues: Child marriage, the bill to amend the criminal code, and the bill against sexual violence.
“The first issue the president responded to was child marriage,” Zakiah told Arab News. “We asked him to issue a presidential regulation in lieu of a law to prevent and stop child marriage. We’ve come up with a draft, and we submitted it to him for his perusal.”
She said Widodo responded “positively” to the proposal after they explained to him that child marriage could deny children their basic human rights and hinder national development.
“We submitted this draft because we think rampant child marriage in the country is an emergency situation, while the procedure in Parliament to amend the articles on the minimum age to marry in the marriage law could be lengthy,” Zakiah said.
The Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection has urged Parliament to prioritize amending the 1974 marriage law to raise the minimum age for females to marry to 20 and for males to 22.

 

 The law requires parental permission for those under 21 who want to marry. The minimum legal age for women to marry is 16, and 19 for men.
Parents can request a legal exemption from a religious court to marry children younger than that, with no limit on the minimum age.
Women’s and child rights activists have been advocating to raise the minimum legal age for females to marry to 18, in line with the child protection law that categorizes those under 18 as minors.
“It’s still not the ideal age to get married, but would be the minimum (acceptable),” Maria Ulfa Anshor, a commissioner for the Indonesian Child Protection Commission, told Arab News.
“We’ve been waiting for so long for this move, especially since the risks and dangers of child marriage, such as the high maternal mortality rate, are so real,” she added. “I hope there will be no more child marriage, because the courts give exemptions to do so.”
According to UNICEF, child marriage in Indonesia is rampant, with more than one in six girls, or 340,000, getting married every year before they reach adulthood.
Child marriage is most prevalent among girls who are 16 and 17, but there has been a decline among under-15s.
The debate about banning child marriage resurfaced following media reports of a 14-year-old girl and her 15-year-old boyfriend in South Sulawesi province who sought an exemption from a religious court to get married, which they obtained. They reportedly got married on Monday.

FACTOID

Child Marriage

According to UNICEF, 14 percent of girls in Indonesia are married before the age of 18, while 1 percent marry before the age of 15.