Myanmar army chief denies systematic persecution of Rohingya

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing cast doubt on U.N. estimates that some 730,000 Rohingya had fled to Bangladesh. (File/AFP)
Updated 15 February 2019
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Myanmar army chief denies systematic persecution of Rohingya

  • "Criticism without any certain proof hurts the nation's dignity," Min Aung Hlaing said
  • Myanmar has consistently denied the accusations of murder, rape and other abuses by its forces

TOKYO: Myanmar's army chief, who is facing international calls that he be prosecuted for genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority, has denied any systematic army persecution and said such accusations were an insult to his country's honour.
In his first detailed interview since the Myanmar military launched a crackdown in 2017, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing cast doubt on U.N. estimates that some 730,000 Rohingya had fled to Bangladesh, and on their accounts of abuses by his forces, saying the refugees had been told what to say.
"Criticism without any certain proof hurts the nation's dignity," Min Aung Hlaing told Japan's Asahi Shimbun daily in an interview published on Friday.
Myanmar forces launched their offensive in Rakhine State in 2017 in response to a series of attacks by Rohingya insurgents on security posts near the Bangladesh border.
A U.N. fact-finding mission last year said the military campaign, which refugees say included mass killings and rape, was orchestrated with "genocidal intent" and recommended charging Min Aung Hlaing and five other generals with the "gravest crimes under international law".
A U.N. rights investigator said last month that Min Aung Hlaing and others should be held accountable for genocide against the Rohingya and doing so was necessary before refugees could return.
Myanmar has consistently denied the accusations of murder, rape and other abuses by its forces though Min Aung Hlaing acknowledged that "a number of security men may have been involved".
Min Aung Hlaing, in the interview on Thursday in the Myanmar capital, Naypyitaw, raised questions not only about the number of people who had fled, but also about their motives.
"It's possible to think that the reasons they moved to Bangladesh were things like living with relatives or fleeing to a third country," he said.
"All of them are saying the same thing, which I believe somebody told them to say."
The Rohingya have faced discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar for generations.
They are generally regarded as illegal immigrants from South Asia and few of them have Myanmar citizenship.
Many have sought better lives elsewhere in Asia while occasional military crackdowns over the decades have sent waves of people fleeing to Bangladesh.
The U.N. Human Rights Council in September voted to set up an "ongoing independent mechanism" for Myanmar that would collect, consolidate, and preserve evidence of crimes that could be used in any eventual court case.
Myanmar has said it "absolutely rejects" that the International Criminal Court (ICC) has jurisdiction to rule on its actions, a point Min Aung Hlaing repeated in the interview.
Myanmar is not a party to the Rome Statute that established the Hague-based court.
"We will not accept any instructions that threaten Myanmar's sovereignty," he said.


UN gives Myanmar aid cut warning over Rohingya camp closures

Updated 18 June 2019
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UN gives Myanmar aid cut warning over Rohingya camp closures

  • Myanmar has closed several camps holding around 9,000 Rohingya
  • They have not been allowed to return to their former homes and remain dependent on handouts

YANGON: The UN has warned it will pare back aid to thousands of Rohingya Muslims left destitute as Myanmar’s government closes camps in Rakhine state, over fears its continued support “risks entrenching segregation.”
Aid agencies are facing an increasingly sharp dilemma in the region as they balance relief for desperate communities with leverage over the government.
The majority of Myanmar’s Rohingya were driven into Bangladesh by a 2017 army crackdown, but around 400,000 remain inside conflict-battered Rakhine.
Those include nearly 130,000 held since 2012 in squalid camps, currently supported by UN agencies and humanitarian groups.
As part of its strategy to address the crisis, Myanmar has closed several camps holding around 9,000 Rohingya.
But they have not been allowed to return to their former homes and remain dependent on handouts. Instead, they are being settled in new accommodation close to the former camps.
That has sparked fears aid agencies are effectively being used to prop-up a policy that fails to address the fundamental needs of the Rohingya, including housing, work, food and security.
The camp closure plan “risks entrenching segregation,” UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar Knut Ostby wrote to the government in a leaked letter, dated 6 June and seen by AFP.
The letter, also written on behalf of aid groups, warned support “beyond life-saving assistance” at the closed sites would in future be linked to “tangible” progress made on “the fundamental issue of freedom of movement.”
“Life-saving” support includes food, health and water, but site planning, shelter construction and education facilities could be phased out, aid agency sources told AFP.
The UN has faced criticism for a slow response to violence against the Rohingya, which escalated after 2012 riots between Muslim Rohingyas and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists.
A UN report released Monday admitted “systemic failures” in its handling of the build-up to the Rohingya crisis.
Limited access to Rakhine’s camps makes independent reporting on conditions difficult.
But AFP has reviewed recent interviews conducted in five camps by an NGO requesting anonymity to protect its work.
“If I build a house, it can be seized arbitrarily,” one Rohingya man said.
“I have no right to the land and I can also be arrested at any time.”
An aid worker called the remaining 23 sites in Rakhine little more than “concentration camps.”
On condition of anonymity, she spoke of the “complicity” humanitarian staff feel for perpetuating the segregation.
Amnesty International has described Rakhine as an “apartheid state.”
All aid must be “heavily conditioned,” researcher Laura Haigh said, warning donors that building infrastructure could make them complicit in crimes against humanity.
The government defended the camp closures, telling AFP it would continue working with the UN and NGOs on the issue.
Any former camp resident holding a National Verification Card (NVC) will be able to “move freely within their township” and access “education, health facilities and livelihood activities,” the social welfare ministry said.
Most Rohingya refuse to apply for the card believing they should already be treated as full citizens.
Those interviewed said the few to have caved had no more rights than anyone else.
They were also forced to designate themselves as “Bengali,” a term implying they are from Bangladesh.
“They are just trying to dominate us and make us illegal through different ways,” one Rohingya man said.