Myanmar Must Prioritize Protection of Civilians in Rakhine State, Address the Roots of the Conflict

We, the undersigned civil society organisations, people’s organisations and individuals, affirm our belief in peoples’ right to self-identification, and the primacy of dialogue and a politically-negotiated settlement in transforming conflicts.

We express our deep anguish and concern with the latest escalation of violence in Rakhine State, Burma/Myanmar, and the attacks against unarmed civilians. We condemn the targeting of civilians of any ethnicity and religion, by any armed group, for any reason. This latest wave of conflict, which has festered for decades and been perpetrated by the Burma/Myanmar military (Tatmadaw) on the Rohingya population, was lately spawned by the Tatmadaw’s heavy-handed response to a recent attack by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on border guard and police outposts. The aftermath of the ferocious Myanmar/Burma military action has led to hundreds of innocent civilian people being killed and hundreds of thousands displaced. Over 600,000 civilians from northern Rakhine State, mostly members of the Rohingya community, have been forced to flee their homes. We are particularly concerned about the “clearance operations” conducted by the Burma/Myanmar military, during which various independent reports have documented systematic burning of Rohingya villages, sexual violence against Rohingya women, and opening fire on unarmed civilians.

The conflict’s impact on the civilian population has been multiplied by restrictions on humanitarian access to vulnerable communities. In 25 August 2017, humanitarian agencies were forced to suspend all operations in northern Rakhine State, including provision of aid to internally displaced persons (IDPs) and other vulnerable populations due to several factors including the security situation on the ground, government field-visit restrictions and protests by ethnic Rakhine against international aid. While some aid workers have reportedly been allowed access to Rakhine, the overall approval process remains cumbersome. Myanmar media and government-linked social media accounts have contributed to a strong anti-international sentiment in the country fanned by circulation of falsified information including information linking humanitarian agencies and the ARSA. Myanmar nationalists, including those within the government and military as well as those in the host countries in Southeast and South Asia, have also contributed to an atmosphere of fear and hatred through hate speech, propaganda and inflammatory remarks that dehumanize the Rohingya and increase support for the military’s response.

We believe that aside from the immediate end in hostilities and emergency humanitarian response, we must address the root causes of the issue and bring into focus the structural-legal discrimination against the Rohingya people. We must also situate the recent violence and abuses within the overall and long-standing patterns of human rights violations against ethnic civilians by the Burma/Myanmar military in other conflict areas in Myanmar that includes – but not limited to – northern Shan and Kachin States. Impunity for abuses against civilians during decades of conflict with ethnic armed organizations has encouraged the Burma/Myanmar military to apply the same tactics in Rakhine State.

There will be no end to the cycles of conflict and displacement in Rakhine State without addressing the main drivers and the roots of this conflict.

Thus, the below signatories call on the:

Burma/Myanmar Military to:

  • Cease violence against and abuses of unarmed civilians in Rakhine State and the other conflict areas such as northern Shan and Kachin States.
  • Comply with relevant international human rights and humanitarian law standards and norms, particularly with regards to the protection of civilians in conflict, and protection of children, women and minorities.
  • Hold accountable those who have committed crimes against civilians.
  • Cooperate with the civilian government to allow access for humanitarian groups to assist the entire displaced population, without discrimination based on religion, ethnicity, or citizenship status.

Burma/Myanmar Civilian Government to:

  • Publicly call on the Burma/Myanmar military to protect civilians and abide by international law in its military engagements.
  • Hold accountable any soldiers and civilians who have committed crimes in the conduct of military operations.
  • Cease circulation of unverified, inflammatory material on social media and condemn hate speech against Rohingya and other ethnic minorities.
  • Allow independent monitors including the UN-mandated Fact Finding Mission and independent media into northern Rakhine State and other areas of Myanmar.
  • Allow unconditional access for humanitarian aid/response in Rakhine State and other parts of Myanmar. Seek assistance from the international community particularly among co-members of ASEAN to provide humanitarian relief and protection to displaced people.
  • Review and amend the 1982 Citizenship Law to be in line with international norms; end restrictions to citizenship and freedom of movement of the Rohingya people.
  • Comply with relevant international human rights and humanitarian law standards and norms, particularly in regards to the protection of civilians in conflict, and protection of children, women and minorities.
  • Undertake a process of review and amendment of the 2008 Constitution in order to bring the military under civilian control and ensure accountability for serious crimes.

Civil Society in Burma/Myanmar to:

  • Cease circulation of unverified, inflammatory material on social media and condemn hate speech towards the Rohingya and other minorities.
  • Promote understanding of human rights and humanitarian law, particularly in regards to protection of civilians and non-discrimination.
  • Call on the government to allow access to independent media and unhindered humanitarian aid.
  • Engage the Burma/Myanmar military and government on cessation of hostilities, review of discriminatory legal frameworks, and compliance with international human rights conventions.
  • Link efforts with other ethnic and relevant regional and international civil society platforms.

International/regional intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations to:

  • Coordinate to monitor developments in Rakhine State and other conflict-affected areas, as well as monitor governments’ action on the refugees, mindful of ‘Do No Harm’ principles.
  • Support/impose a global arms embargo and advocate to relevant governments to cease military-to-military engagement and impose targeted sanctions against the Burma/Myanmar Army, until it ends attacks against civilians.
  • Support and cooperate with the UN-mandated Fact Finding Mission on alleged crimes and human rights violations throughout Burma/Myanmar particularly in northern Rakhine, Shan and Kachin States.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nation (ASEAN) and its members states to:

  • Prioritize immediate dialogue between Burma/Myanmar and other ASEAN members on Rohingya issue with the aim to seek a sustainable solution to the conflict and to address the continuous human rights violations against the Rohingya and other minorities in Burma/Myanmar.
  • Open borders and pro-actively accept and provide shelter and assistance to fleeing refugees from Rakhine State.
  • Respect the fundamental principle of non-refoulement, in accordance with international law, which forbids a country from returning asylum seekers to their country of origin when they would be likely to face persecution based on race, religion, nationality, and from membership of a particular social group or political opinion.
  • Send an ASEAN peace and humanitarian mission to provide humanitarian relief to displaced persons in Rakhine State and in Bangladesh.
  • Urge the Burma/Myanmar government to conduct a comprehensive review of its 1982 Citizenship and other discriminatory laws in order to ensure that all persons should have rights and equal access to citizenship and are not treated unfairly on grounds of ethnicity, political and religious beliefs
  • Revisit and review ASEAN Charter principles and current practices and consider embedding prevention norms for internal conflicts.
  • Strengthen and mobilize ASEAN Institute for Peace and Reconciliation (AIPR) and ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) mandate and mechanisms to tackle the crisis, and similar cases.
  • Move towards a collective and decisive approach to regional conflict prevention, in line with its priority theme on “peace and stability.”

Initial Signatories:

Organisations

  1. Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC)
  2. Solidarity for ASEAN Peoples’ Advocacies (SAPA)
  3. Initiatives for International Dialogue (IID) / GPPAC Southeast Asia, Philippines
  4. Progressive Voice (PV), Myanmar/Burma
  5. SUARAM, Malaysia
  6. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  7. Working Group for Peace (WGP), Cambodia
  8. Alliance for Conflict Transformation (ACT), Cambodia
  9. Cambodia Civil Society Working on Asian (CCWA)
  10. Cambodian Civil Society Partnership (CCSP)
  11. IM Centre for Dialogue and Peace-Indonesia
  12. Institut Titian Perdamaian (Peace Building Institute) (ITP), Indonesia
  13. People’s Empowerment Foundation, Thailand
  14. Southeast Asian Conflict Studies Network (SEACSN)
  15. ASEAN SOGIE Caucus
  16. Think Centre, Singapore
  17. SAMIN, Indonesia
  18. Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN)
  19. Center for Peace Education-Miriam College (CPE), Philippines
  20. Acehnese Civil Society Task Force (ACSTF), Indonesia
  21. Asia Democracy Network (ADN)
  22. ALTSEAN-Burma
  23. International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development (INFID), Indonesia
  24. Pusat KOMAS, Malaysia
  25. Islamic Renaissance Front, Malaysia
  26. MARUAH, Singapore
  27. Vietnamese Women for Human Rights (VNWHR)
  28. Arakan Watch
  29. Rohingya Arakanese Refugee Committee (RARC), Malaysia
  30. Rohingya Youth Development Forum (RYFF), Arakan-Burma
  31. Rohingya Academy
  32. Destination Justice, Cambodia
  33. Coalition for Integrity and Social Accountability, Cambodia
  34. Cambodian Youth Network (CYN), Cambodia
  35. Centre for Development Resources
  36. KontraS, Indonesia
  37. Swedish Burma Committee (SBC)
  38. GZO Peace Institute, Philippines
  39. Burmese Relief Center, Japan
  40. Free Burma Campaign, South Africa
  41. Info Birmanie, France
  42. International Campaign for the Rohingya
  43. Karen Community of Canada
  44. Rhiza Collective
  45. The Arakan Project
  46. Coalition of Cambodia Farmer Community
  47. Vietnam Committee on Human Rights
  48. Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organization Malaysia (MERHROM), Malaysia
  49. Empowering Singaporeans, Singapore
  50. ReturnOurCPF, Singapore
  51. Asia Pacific Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (APR2P)
  52. Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP)
  53. Women Health, Philippines
  54. Migrants Rights Council, India
  55. Pambansang Koalisyon ng Kababaihan sa Kanayunan (PKKK/NRWC), Philippines
  56. Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA), Philippines
  57. RIGHTS Network, Philippines
  58. Vietnam Coalition Against Torture
  59. Buhay Na May Dignidad Para Sa Lahat (DIGNIDAD)/Life of Dignity For All, Philippines
  60. Action Aid International
  61. Network for Transformative Social Protection (NTSP)
  62. SYNERGY (Social Harmony Organization), Myanmar/Burma
  63. Khmer Kampuchea Krom for Human Rights and Development Association (KKKHRDA), Cambodia
  64. ASEAN Youth Forum
  65. Boat People SOS
  66. Burma Human Rights Network
  67. Burma-Initiative
  68. Stiftung Asienhaus
  69. Acehnese Women’s Education Foundation
  70. Women Peace Network-Arakan
  71. Sustainability and Participation thru Education and Lifelong Learning (SPELL), Philippines
  72. Centre for Community Development and Social Work (Codes Vietnam)
  73. Center for Community Development and Education (CCDE)
  74. Europe solidaire sans frontières (ESSF), France
  75. Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF), New Delhi, India
  76. Tampadipa Institute, Myanmar/Burma
  77. Mrinal Gore Interactive Centre for Social Justice and Peace, India
  78. Partido Manggagawa, Philippines
  79. National Garments Workers Federation, Bangladesh
  80. Migrant CARE, Indonesia
  81. Mindanao Peoples’ Peace Movement (MPPM), Philippines
  82. Pakistan Kissan Rabita Committee, Pakistan
  83. National Garments Workers Federation, Bangladesh
  84. Focus on the Global South
  85. Stop the War Coalition, Philippines
  86. New Trade Union Initiative, India
  87. Bangladesh Krishok Federation, Bangladesh
  88. Philippinenbüro e.V., Germany
  89. Network of Young Democratic Asians (NOYDA)
  90. People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD), South Korea
  91. PeaceMOMO, South Korea
  92. Green Formosa Front, Taiwan
  93. Genocide Watch, United States
  94. Alliance for Peacebuilding, United States
  95. International Refugee Rights Initiative (IRRI)
  96. World Federalist Movement-Institute for Global Policy (WFM-IGP)
  97. Permanent Peace Movement (PPM), Lebanon
  98. Middle East and North Africa Partnership for Preventing of Armed Conflict (MENAPPAC)
  99. femLINKpacific / GPPAC Pacific, Fiji
  100. Vanuatu Human Rights Coalition, Vanuatu
  101. Coordinadora Regional de Investigaciones Económicas y Sociales (CRIES) / GPPAC Latin America and the Carribean, Argentina
  102. International Center on Conflict and Negotiation (ICCN) / GPPAC South Caucuses, Georgia
  103. Foundation for Tolerance International (FTI) / GPPAC Central Asia, Kyrgyztan
  104. GPPAC Eastern Europe
  105. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
  106. Igarapé Institute, Brazil
  107. United Nations Association of the United Kingdom (UNA-UK), UK
  108. Nansen Dialogue Centre, Serbia
  109. Center for Media Studies and Peacebuilding (CEMESP), Liberia
  110. U.S. Campaign for Burma
  111. Freedom House
  112. United Nations Association of Sweden
  113. Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies
  114. Minority Rights Group International

Individuals

  1. Sushil Pyakurel, Former Commissioner National Human Rights Commission , Nepal
  2. Andrew Khoo, Advocate and Solicitor, Malaysia
  3. Prof. Walden Bello, Philippines
  4. Wensislaus Fatubun, Papuan Film-maker, Human Right Defender and Lobbyist in Geneva
  5. A. S. M. Enamul Hoque, Independent Consultant (development, public health and humanitarian service) and human rights activist, Bangladesh
  6. Huynh Thuc Vy, chairwoman of Vietnamese Women for Human Rights (VNWHR), Vietnam
  7. Bruce Van Voorhis, United States
  8. Masjaliza Hamzah, Human rights activist, Malaysia
  9. Marina Mahathir, Writer, Malaysia
  10. Dayang Karna Bahidjan, Development Worker and Muslim woman, Mindanao-Philippines
  11. Andrew Paul, MA Candidate, York University, Toronto, Canada
  12. Ging Cristobal, Philippines
  13. Han Hui Hui, Singaporean Human Rights Defender, Singapore
  14. Anabelle Vitacion, Philippines
  15. Naomi Fontanos, Philippines
  16. Tuan Q. Nguyen, USA
  17. Tabrani Yunis, Director of Center for Community Development and Education (CCDE)-Aceh, Indonesia
  18. Tabrani Yunis, Indonesia
  19. Dorothy Guerrero, Philippines
  20. Oksana Chelysheva, member of Union of Journalists of Finland
  21. Prof. Kamal Mitra Chenoy, India
  22. Prof. Anuradha Chenoy, India
  23. William Nicholas Gomes, Human Rights Defender and Freelance Journalist, UK
  24. Thin New Soe, Burma/Myanmar
  25. Aresenio Pereira da Silva, Timor Leste
  26. Susanne Sutthisunsanee, Thailand
  27. Dr. Eduardo Tadem, Philippines
  28. Prof. Gamini Keerawella, Regional Centre for Strategic Studies, Sri Lanka
  29. Dr. Jehan Perera, National Peace Council of Sri Lanka
  30. Michael Y. M. KAU, Ph.D., Senior Fellow, Taiwan Foundation for Democracy (TFD), Taiwan
  31. Mohammad Reza Eslami, Iran
  32. Harriet Atim, Uganda
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