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UN fact-finding mission on Myanmar welcomes Amnesty report on Rohingya

Rohingya refugee Suray Khatun, 70, is carried by her son Said-A-Lam, 38, as they enter Kutupalong refugee camp, near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh a day after crossing the Myanmar border, on November 20, 2017. (REUTERS/Susana Vera)
JAKARTA: The UN Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar said Tuesday it welcomes a new Amnesty International (AI) report describing widespread and systematic discrimination against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine state that amounts to apartheid.

The head of the mission, Marzuki Darusman, said the report is helpful to the mission, whose mandate has been extended until September 2018. It was originally scheduled to conclude its work in March 2018, a year after its establishment.

“We only have a year to work, while AI has worked on the report for two years,” Darusman told Arab News.

“We hope to continue meeting with AI to further study its findings. We’re open to receiving information from all parties, even from the Myanmar government,” he said.

“Until now, they (the government) still seem unprepared to meet us, but we’re sure we’ll eventually get the opportunity to talk to them,” he added.

Being barred from entering Myanmar to investigate the situation is not an issue for the mission’s work since it can gather facts from reports produced by UN agencies and human rights watchdogs, Darusman said.

“The Myanmar government can have its own account included in our report if it wants to meet us. Otherwise we’ll just stick to the facts we’ve gathered so far,” he added.

Elise Tilet, a member of the AI team on Myanmar, said what the team found during its investigation is that Rohingya life has been restricted in every aspect by Myanmar authorities since 2012.

“This discrimination is so institutionalized and systematic that we concluded it amounts to the crime of apartheid,” Tilet told Arab News.

“What that means is they’re restricted in their freedom of movement and religion, access to health, education, livelihoods and nationality, and their right to participate in public life.”

She said during her visit to some areas in Rakhine, she met villagers who have been confined to their village since 2012, and the only way they are allowed to leave is by using waterways, and only to go to another Muslim village.

The AI report said Myanmar authorities have imposed a curfew on the Rohingya community that prevents them from gathering to practice their religion, and from seeking medical care. The authorities have also refused since 2016 to issue birth certificates to newborns.

“Crimes against humanity are happening on a daily basis in Rakhine,” Tilet said, adding that systematic discrimination is taking place at all levels of government still tightly controlled by the military.

“What needs to happen now for a solution to the situation in Rakhine is that the Myanmar government must immediately start dismantling this system,” she said.

“It must ensure that economic development in Rakhine benefits all communities, and that perpetrators of crimes against humanity are held to account.”