The Blog

John Kerry Should Set Timelines and Benchmarks to See Progress on Deteriorating Situation of Rohingya in Burma

US Secretary of State John Kerry arrives in Burma tomorrow. Just days before his visit, more than 100 security forces came to an internally displaced person (IDP) camp for Rohingya in Thandawlee village in Sittwe, the capital of Arakan State in western Burma. They killed one Rohingya, seriously injured two others, and arrested more than 15 people. At the same time, Rohingyas in Buthidaung and Maungdaw, in northern Arakan State, were arrested, threatened and harassed while the government attempted to collect population data. These attacks are all too common, as impunity reigns for violence against Rohingya. As a President of Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, I call on Secretary Kerry to prioritise the situation of the Rohingya during his trip and press for accountability for these crimes.

It has been more than two years since an increase in brutal violence against Rohingya and the situation has not improved. In fact, it is getting much worse. In March of this year, hundreds of aid workers were evacuated after facing attacks from nationalist mobs. The expulsion had devastating consequences; for example, more than 150 Rohingyas and 20 pregnant women died in the two weeks after Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières, or MSF) expelled from Arakan State in March. Many children have died from malnutrition. Although MSF has now been invited back into Arakan State, there are still serious restrictions on aid and movement for the thousands of Rohingya IDPs.

To date, there has been no progress on the resettlement of displaced Rohingya. The children in IDP camps are simply dying from insufficient health care and other essential services. President Obama mentioned that Rohingya should be treated with the same dignity as all other people, but still there was little progress that translated into necessary aid for those in need.

The government of Burma uses six main methods to oppress our Rohingya community: discriminatory laws, incitement of hatred, political disenfranchisement, restricting humanitarian access, stopping economic activity, and using both state and non-state physical violence against Rohingya individuals.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in Burma stated that the widespread and systematic human rights violations in Arakan State may constitute crimes against humanity. The US government should be supporting an international investigation into human rights abuses in Arakan State given the ongoing violence and the urgent needs of Rohingya community members.

If the US government wants to see clear progress on the Rohingya issue in Burma, Secretary Kerry should set clear and measurable timelines and benchmarks for progress, including restoring Rohingya citizenship and lifting restrictions on aid, movement, marriage and education for Rohingya.

In June a senior UN official referred to the humanitarian situation in western Burma's Arakan State as "appalling" upon concluding a four-day visit to the country. Kyung-wha Kang, the UN assistant secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, told reporters that she witnessed "a level of human suffering in IDP [internally displaced persons] camps that I have personally never seen before."

US Secretary of State John Kerry should support an independent international investigation into human rights abuses in Arakan. Rohingyas around the world have been calling for an international investigation since June 2012. We faced a massacre in October 2012 and again January 2014 Anti-Muslim propaganda and hate-speech have increased attacks against Muslims in Burma.

President Thein Sein's previous request to deport all Rohingya from the country has been described as tantamount to ethnic cleansing, and has sent a signal to others in government that they can act with impunity when it comes to violence against Rohingya. An independent international investigation would help end the sense of impunity, establish the truth and make recommendations for action to prevent further violence.

Secretary Kerry should seize the opportunity to change the Burmese government's response to violence against Rohingya. He must put pressure on President Thein Sein to forcefully denounce hate speech against Rohingya, promote appropriate accountability for violence and crimes against Rohingya, allow humanitarian access to all parts of Arakan State, repeal the 1982 Citizenship Law that renders Rohingya stateless, and end the segregation between communities in Arakan State.

A new form of apartheid is being created to segregate us from other people of Burma. Rohingya have been put into camps or isolated villages where life will be so terrible that people will be forced to leave the country, even at great risk to their safety. I call on Secretary Kerry to do everything in his power to stem the tide of oppression and help protect the rights of our Rohingya people.

Tun Khin is President of Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, which is playing a crucial role to provide a vital voice to policy makers around the world for the Rohingya people.