Myanmar telecom blackout may be cover for gross human rights violations: UN
Published: 10:24 AM, 27 June 2019 Updated: 10:28 AM, 27 June 2019
United Nations special rapporteur Yanghee Lee warned that Myanmar's army may be committing gross human rights violations under cover of a mobile phone blackout in nine conflict areas townships of Rakhine and Chin States of the Southeast Asian country.
The entire region had been blacked out, with no media access and serious restrictions on humanitarian organisations, said Lee, an independent expert who reports to the UN Human Rights Council on human rights in Myanmar.
“I fear for all civilians there, cut off and without the necessary means to communicate with people inside and outside the area,” she said in a statement.
"I am told that the Tatmadaw (Myanmar's army) is now conducting a 'clearance operation', which we all know by now can be a cover for committing gross human rights violations against the civilian population."
In Rakhine, Myanmar’s security forces are currently fighting the Arakan Army, a group that recruits from the mainly Buddhist ethnic Rakhine population and is battling for greater autonomy for the state.
According to recent reports, over the last six months, both parties to the conflict have committed violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.
On Thursday, the Ministry of Transport and Communications said that internet services were being used to coordinate illegal activities and ordered all mobile network providers under the Telecommunications Law of 2013, to temporarily cut mobile internet services.
Citing credible reports from a few days earlier, the Special Rapporteur asserted that the Myanmar army, had conducted helicopter attacks in Minbya Township in central Rakhine, and that the following day, the Arakan Army - a rebel insurgent group in the state - fired on a navy ship in Sittwe, killing and injuring several soldiers.
“I am told that the Tatmadaw is now conducting a ‘clearance operation’, which we all know by now, can be a cover for committing gross human rights violations against the civilian population”, the UN expert said.
The conflict between the Arakan Army and the Tatmadaw has been ongoing since late 2018, with civilians bearing the brunt of the violence.
Throughout this time, over 35,000 civilians have been displaced and dozens of civilians, including children, have been killed and injured by both indiscriminate and targeted attacks. Others, mainly ethnic Rakhine men, have died while in the military’s custody.
“We must not forget that these are the same security forces that have so far avoided accountability for the atrocities committed against the Rohingya in Rakhine State less than two years ago”, reminded the UN envoy.
Ms. Lee called on the Government to reverse its decision and remove the mobile internet ban, saying: “The restrictions on the media and humanitarian organizations must be lifted immediately.”
“Both parties to the conflict must ensure that civilians and civilian objects are protected at all times and uphold international humanitarian law”, she concluded.
Around 740,000 of the stateless group were driven into Bangladesh in a 2017 army crackdown.
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