This week’s update focuses on Burma and South Sudan. In Burma, violations of human rights have been deemed “serious” and noted to be targeted at Rohingya Muslims. What is more, after the murder of legal adviser Ko Ni, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi’s intentions are under fire once again. In South Sudan, humanitarian activities had to be suspended after an outbreak of violence in the Malakal state.
The OHCHR issued a flash report on 3rd February detailing ‘serious human rights violations’ by Burma’s security forces in the area of Maungdaw in the northern Rakhine state. The report is based on more than 220 interviews with refugees residing in Bangladesh, as access to the region itself by the UN Human Rights Office has been denied by the Government of Burma. The report focussed on violence that has occurred since October 9, in an attempt to determine the extent of violence.
Out of 204 interviews which have been described as ‘in-depth’: 65% reported killings, 43% reported rape, and 47% reported killing of a family member. Such killings included murders of children in knife attacks, the brutality of which makes for grim reading in the report. All of the violations described targeted Rohingya Muslims. The level of violence since October 9 was described as ‘unprecedented’. The report reinforces the statement made by the High Commissioner in June 2016 that there was a ‘very likely commission of crimes against humanity’.
Moreover, Ko Ni, the legal adviser to State Counsellor and de facto head of government Aung San Suu Kyi, was shot outside an airport on 30th January 2017, having just returned from Indonesia where he had discussed improved inter-faith relationships. Although the exact intentions behind this attack remain unknown, Al Jazeera points to his Islamic beliefs. The attack promoted a response from Yanghee Lee, the UN’s special rapporteur for Burma, who described him as the ‘most prominent and respected Muslim lawyer of Burma’. An article by Human Rights Watch described him as ‘one of the few remaining Muslims with the stature to influence the NLD (National League for Democracy)’.
Ko Ni raised the concerns of the marginalized Islamic community, through social media and other means. An article by the New York Times suggests that he was working to amend the 2008 constitution in order to strip the military of its extensive political powers. Such a move could potentially mark the end to persecution of the Rohingya, as the military exploits their vast constitutional power in order to commit human rights abuses against this group.
Such an obvious political assassination is rare in Burma, fuelling concerns about rising tensions which are extending beyond the Rohingya. Also, State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi failed to attend Ko Ni’s funeral, provoking criticism that she is condoning the murder, particularly if the attack turns out to be politically motivated, as has been highly suspected to date.
The UN migration agency (IOM) was forced to suspend humanitarian activities on Tuesday 31st January, due to the violence in the Upper Nile region of the state, in and around the Malakal state. The IOM’s South Sudan Chief of Minister stated that ‘civilians will undoubtedly suffer as sporadic fighting makes it more difficult for aid workers to deliver services’. The IOM had been registering people to receive supplies, when an outbreak of violence between the government and opposition forces forced them to flee: between 2000-3000 had been waiting in line.
The UN Mission in South Sudan issued a statement expressing concern and promised to continue their presence of peacekeeping forces. They reiterated to call “to immediately cease hostilities and fully implement the peace agreement”. This was directed at the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) and the SPLA in Opposition.
In other news, there have been discussions concerning a trusteeship in the region in the New York Times. The plan would involve a trusteeship in the form of a transitional government, although this has been refuted by some, such as James Solomon Padiet, a lecturer at Juba University, who is set against an international takeover. The latter view seems to be more likely to occur following the statement from Uganda on 3rd February that they would be opposed to a trusteeship emerging. In response to the New York Times opinion pieces which floated the idea, Ugandan Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Oryem spoke on record to denounce the plan, describing it as a ‘colonial mentality’.
Sophie Burke is part of the STAND UK’s Education Taskforce and her areas of expertise are Burma and South Sudan. She is an undergraduate studying Politics and International Relations at Cambridge and loves to travel.