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Myanmar bars UN from investigating Rohingya atrocities in Rakhine

Sydney Morning Herald - September 20, 2017

Lindsay Murdoch, Bangkok Myanmar has reiterated its ban on United Nations' investigators entering the violence-wracked Rakhine state despite Aung San Suu Kyi earlier declaring her country's readiness to be "scrutinised by the international community".

Marzuki Darusman, head of the fact-finding mission backed by Australia, told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva that his investigators needed "full and unfettered" access to Myanmar.

"There is a grave humanitarian crisis underway that requires urgent attention," said Mr Darusman, an Indonesian lawyer and human rights campaigner. "It is important for us to see with our own eyes the sites of these alleged violations."

But only hours after Myanmar's de facto leader made the comments in a televised speech, her country's representative on the council, Htin Lynn, reasserted his government's "position of disassociating" from the investigation, saying Myamnar authorities were targeting "terrorists" to restore peace, law and order.

"We continue to believe that instituting such a mission is not a helpful course of action in solving the already-intricate Rakhine issue," Mr Lynn said.

In March the Turnbull Government co-sponsored a resolution to set up the investigation into atrocities against Rohingya Muslims, including mass rapes, torture and slaughter including of children.
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The crisis dramatically worsened three weeks ago when Myanmar security forces launched a sweeping offensive against Rohingya villagers in response to Muslim insurgent attacks on about 30 police posts.

The UN has described the latest attacks on Rohingya as "textbook ethnic cleansing" as 420,000 of them fled Rakhine to camps and squatter settlements on the Bangladesh border, creating Asia's worst humanitarian crisis in decades.

Survivors and human rights groups have documented Myanmar security forces and Buddhist vigilante mobs shooting Rohingya civilians as they fled, as well as witness accountants of rapes and torching of more than 1000 villages.

Mr Darusman's team was charged with investigating what a UN report in February said amounted to a "calculated policy of terror" under the guise of a military lockdown of Rohingya villages months earlier.

The report described how soldiers raped women, stomped on the stomach of a woman in labour and slit the throat of an eight-month-old baby when he started crying.

In his comments to the Human Rights Council, Mr Darusman said investigators who started their work in August have arrived in Bangladesh to verify reports of the latest violence.

"What they have come up with reflects in general the reporting of the international media so far," he said, adding "we continue to hold hope that our access to the country at one point will be resolved."

Ms Suu Kyi's speech on Tuesday was aimed at rebutting international condemnation of the military's offensive, including from fellow Nobel laureates.

She condemned "all human rights abuses" in the state and said that her government was ready to allow Rohingya to return from Bangladesh.

But the speech stoked further international condemnation. Amnesty International said Ms Suu Kyi was "burying her head in the sand".

French President Emmanuel Macron told world leaders at the UN in New York that the "military operation must stop, humanitarian access must be guaranteed and the rule of law restored in the face of what we know is ethnic cleansing".

UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres joined the outcry, demanding Myanmar authorities bring an end to the crisis. "They must also address the grievances of the Rohingya, whose status has been left unresolved for far too long."

Myanmar refuses to recognise more than 1 million Rohingya as citizens and denies them other basic rights. They consider them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, but historians say the ethnic minority has lived in Myanmar since the 12th century.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who has held talks on the crisis on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York, has called on Myanmar authorities to protect civilians and for unfettered access to be granted to humanitarian workers.

But human rights groups have called on Australia to take tougher action, including cutting defence ties with the military, which includes training.

The UK government this week suspended financial and other aid to the military "in the light of the ongoing violence... and our deep concern about the human rights abuses that are taking place", the BBC reported.

Source: http://www.smh.com.au/world/myanmar-bars-un-from-investigating-rohingya-atrocities-in-rakhine-20170920-gyl0i7.html.

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