Independent UN human rights experts have voiced grave concern over the killing and displacement of civilians in north-west Myanmar due the intensifying conflict between the military and Arakan Army rebels, amid an information blackout in some parts of Rakhine and Chin states.
“Civilians, including children, continue to bear the brunt of this escalating conflict,” said the UN rights experts, adding that “we are especially fearful for them as violence has increased in the areas where an internet shutdown was recently re-imposed.”
In a joint statement, the experts said since the beginning of February, the Myanmar Government had imposed restrictions, including a three-month suspension of mobile internet services, in Muslim-majority Rakhine state and in Chin state.
Further, credible reports showed that fighting and possible use of heavy weapons have multiplied near ethnic Rakhine and Rohingya villages.
“We are gravely concerned that children are being killed and injured, and that reports suggest weapons are being used indiscriminately, and precautions are not being taken to protect civilians and civilian objects such as schools and monasteries, in violation of international humanitarian law,” the experts said.
On the one hand, civilians continue to experience severe difficulties in moving around the conflict-affected area, particularly for those in need of assistance.
Meanwhile, heavy restrictions on humanitarian access in Rakhine state remain and access for the media and human rights monitors is extremely limited.
“We call on all parties to the conflict to abide by international humanitarian law and international human rights law and protect civilians at all times,” said the experts.
The internet shutdown has severely impacted the human rights of over a million people in Rakhine state, including their rights to safety, security, health, education, food, shelter, livelihood, freedom of expression, information, participation, association and assembly.
The UN rights experts urged the Government to lift its restrictions and grant immediate access to the media, humanitarian organizations and human rights monitors.
“The blanket suspension of mobile internet cannot be justified and must end immediately,” they said.
The Rohingya primarily reside in Rakhine state in northern Myanmar, a majority Buddhist country.
More than 700,000 Rohingyas from northern Rakhine fled into neighbouring Bangladesh following a military crackdown in August 2017 during which numerous alleged human rights abuses were committed.
Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation.
The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.
The experts issuing this statement were: Yanghee Lee, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and Fernand de Varennes, Special Rapporteur on minority issues.
Even the Covid pandemic which has affected Myanmar has not stopped fighting between Myanmar army Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army.
Recently, seven civilians were killed when caught in a crossfire near Paletwa.