The United Kingdom (UK) said that it will continue working for a sustainable resolution to the situation in Rakhine to end the Rohingya crisis, with a countrywide focus on freedom of expression and preventing sexual violence in conflict.
The Rohingya minority continued to fear for their safety, lacking protection against vigilante attacks and theft of property and fled to Bangladesh at an average rate of 1,733 per month, according to the FCO 2018 Annual Human Rights and Democracy Report (AHRR).
The UNHCR estimated that the Rohingya population in Bangladesh increased by a further 14,649 during the period between January and October, according to UK report released recently, reports UNB.
Bangladesh is hosting over 1.2 million Rohingyas, the majority of them entered Bangladesh since August 25, 2017. "Bangladesh showed great generosity in welcoming the Rohingya refugees and conditions in the refugee camps in Cox's Bazar improved in comparison with the start of the crisis in August 2017," the report reads.
However, the report says, risks remained, including that of sexual violence, trafficking, violent crime, abduction, exploitation, and limited access to basic services for men, women and children in the camps. It said challenging conditions and issues relating to their legal status under Bangladeshi law meant that access to justice and security remained limited.
The UK committed an additional £70 million through UN agencies and NGOs, prioritising the protection of rights, including essential documentation, child protection, anti-trafficking measures, case management for survivors of abuse and exploitation, and legal assistance services. The total UK commitment is £129 million.The report mentioned that the human rights situation in Myanmar remained poor in 2018.
In addition to abuses and violations suffered by the Rohingya, human rights violations were committed by the Burmese security forces across the country, including in Shan, Chin, and Kachin states, it said. "Lack of accountability for these crimes remained a concern," said the UK report.
It said widespread gender inequality persisted, with women severely underrepresented in public life. Freedom of expression continued to be restricted, as shown by the sentencing of two Reuters journalists in November, and the arrest of others who have criticised the civilian government or the military. In September, the UN Independent International Fact Finding Mission (FFM) published its report on the situation in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan states.
Drawing on 875 detailed interviews conducted in five countries, the report's recommendations included that senior Burmese military generals should be investigated and prosecuted in an international criminal tribunal for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, reads the report.
The UK provided emergency food, safe water and hygiene for nearly one million people living in refugee camps or host communities in Bangladesh.
The UK continued to urge the Myanmar to implement the Rakhine Advisory Commission's recommendations, which would be a clear and demonstrable step towards improving the human rights situation, said the report. Human rights violations and abuses were also documented in Shan and Kachin states, where decades of conflict between ethnic armed organisations and the military continued to displace thousands. In December, fighting between the Arakan Army and the Burmese military in Rakhine State escalated, displacing upwards of 10,000 people.
A Rakhine nationalist leader was also imprisoned amid civil unrest.The FFM found evidence of soldiers shooting civilians, and of widespread looting and the destruction of homes. Striking similarities were found in operations and conduct across different states, indicating a systematic approach by the military.
Following the release of the FFM report in September, the UK invited the FFM members to brief the UN Security Council in October. The UK played a leading role in the UN General Assembly Third Committee resolution on Burma, expressing concern at the human rights situation.
Through the EU, the UK pushed to maintain pressure on the military by imposing targeted sanctions on 14 individuals. Myanmar took an encouraging step in June, launching a domestic Commission of Inquiry to investigate alleged violations and abuses. However, questions remain over the credibility and transparency of the inquiry's work.
The UK was instrumental in establishing an investigative mechanism through the UN Human Rights Council. This will document, store and analyse evidence of the most serious international crimes and violations of international law, and prepare files to facilitate and expedite possible future criminal proceedings.
Throughout Myanmar, women continued to be heavily underrepresented in decision-making processes. Only 10% of national MPs are women (the second fewest in ASEAN) and only State Counsellor and de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi holds a national ministerial position.
Of the almost 17,000 ward and village administrators across the country, about 100 are women. The UK supported the Girls' National Conference to create 'safe networks' for girls to discuss politics with confidence.
"We launched the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security 2018 to 2022, with Burma as a focus country," said the UK report.
To raise awareness of sexual violence in conflict, the UK invited two filmmakers from Myanmar to attend the international film festival in London in November, which focused on fighting the stigma associated with sexual violence. Within Myanmar, the UK supported Action Aid Myanmar to deliver a project which empowers women to identify their safety needs and raise their concerns with the authorities.
Freedom of expression faced further challenges, it said. During his visit in September, the British Foreign Secretary raised concerns with Aung San Suu Kyi over the trial of two Reuters investigative journalists, who were sentenced to seven years in jail in November for reporting on military violations.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Burma reported in December that there were 35 political prisoners and 292 awaiting trial. The UK also funded projects to support the mental health of former political prisoners.
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