UN calls for indictment of Myanmar military leaders

Bangladesh. Thousands of new Rohingya refugee arrivals cross the border

UNHCR/Roger Arnold Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar flee to Bangladesh after facing brutal persecution that UN officials have said may amount to crimes against humanity.

Top military commanders in Myanmar should be investigated and prosecuted for the “gravest” crimes against civilians under international law, including genocide, United Nations-appointed investigators said on Monday.

The development follows the release of a report into the circumstances surrounding the mass exodus of more than 700,000 Rohingya people from Myanmar, beginning in mid-August last year – events previously described by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.

The crimes committed include murder, rape, torture, sexual slavery, persecution and enslavement, according to the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar.

Speaking to journalists in Geneva, the investigators – Marzuki Darusman, Radhika Coomaraswamy and Christopher Sidoti – underlined the horrific and organized nature of the brutality meted out on civilians in Myanmar’s Rakhine state since 2011, as well as Kachin and Shan states.

“The fact-finding Mission has concluded, on reasonable grounds, that the patterns of gross human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law that it is found, amount to the gravest crime under international law,” Mr. Sidoti said.

“These have principally been committed by the military, the Tatmadaw,” he added, referring to Myanmar’s armed forces. “The Mission has concluded that criminal investigation and prosecution is warranted, focusing on the top Tatmadaw generals, in relation to the three categories of crimes under international law; genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.”

Included in the list of alleged perpetrators are Commander-in-Chief Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing and five other commanders.

“In Myanmar, there is a very clear chain of command,” Mr. Sidot explained, and added: “There is no doubt in our minds whatsoever that what we saw happen in Rakhine as a whole, would not have happened without it, firstly, being within the knowledge of the senior military leadership and secondly, under their effective control. And it’s because of the clarity of the chain of command in Myanmar that we have recommended the investigation and prosecution of these six.”

Of well over 800 testimonies gathered, one in particular highlighted the extent of the abuse, that of a survivor who fled to neighbouring Bangladesh. “I was lucky, I was only raped by three men,” she is quoted as saying.

Such was the extent of the horrific violations that Ms. Coomaraswamy – a former UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict – said she was shocked by what she had found.

“The scale, brutality, and systematic nature of rape and violence indicate that they are part of a deliberate strategy to intimidate, terrorize, or punish the civilian population,” she said. “They’re used as a tactic of war that we found include rape, gang rape, sexual slavery, forced nudity and mutilations.”

Before the fact-finding Mission delivers its findings to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council in September, Chairperson Marzuki Darusman highlighted that one of the panel’s key recommendations required the attention of the UN Security Council:

“The Mission called for the situation in Myanmar to be referred to the international criminal court and that, of course, is the task of the Security Council to undertake. And so, the message to the Security Council is of course, ‘Refer Myanmar to the [International Criminal Court].’”

Story published courtesy of the UN

Major outbreaks averted, thousands of lives saved; but Rohingyas continue to be vulnerable: WHO

In the past year concerted efforts by the Bangladesh Government, WHO and health partners have helped save thousands of lives, and prevented and rapidly curtailed deadly disease outbreaks among the nearly one million Rohingya refugees, who despite these efforts remain vulnerable even today with their evolving health needs, and severe funding crunch threatening continuity of life saving health services in their camps.

image1170x530cropped (2).jpg

 Rohingya crisis. Photo credit, UNICEF

“Unprecedented efforts have been made in the last year and in the most challenging conditions. Deadly diseases such as cholera have been prevented, and measles and diphtheria curtailed rapidly with quick roll-out and scale-up of health services and mass vaccination campaigns. It is remarkable that not only has the mortality rate among the Rohingyas remained lower than expected in an emergency of such a scale, it has also reduced significantly in the last six months”, said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia, commending the Government of Bangladesh and health partners’ work on the ground.

The arrival of nearly 700,000 Rohingyas in Cox’s Bazar beginning 25 August 2017 was one of the largest ever population influxes over such a short span of time. Women, children and the elderly arrived with injuries, low immunization coverage, high rates of malnutrition, in need of reproductive health care and psycho-social support, and at risk of deadly disease outbreaks. In response, WHO, with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, coordinated emergency health services provided by the nearly 107 health partners on the ground, to ensure access to essential services for the Rohingyas across the area they settled – in mega and small camps, and many with their host communities.

In the last year, 155 health posts have been established, each catering to around 7700 people. In addition, 60 primary health care facilities covering 20,000 people each, and 11 secondary care facilities being accessed by nearly 115,000 people each have also been established. With generous support from KSrelief, 86 staff has been added to the workforce of the Cox’s Bazar district hospital, the only facility providing referral services to the vulnerable population and the host community.

“We have done things that collectively we can be proud of. However, we need to continue to support the health needs of this vulnerable population and remain vigilant against the spread of diseases. This is still a very fragile situation,” said Dr Peter Salama, WHO’s Deputy Director-General for Emergency Preparedness and Response, who recently visited the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar.

Four million doses of vaccines against cholera, polio, measles and rubella and diphtheria and tetanus have been administered to children, adolescents and adults through multiple mass vaccination campaigns, preventing major disease outbreaks and saving thousands of lives. Childhood immunization has been established with 94 sites delivering lifesaving vaccines to children across the Rohingya camps.

WHO helped establish and strengthen disease surveillance to enable early detection and timely response to outbreaks, as the Rohingyas settled in crowded camps with suboptimal water and sanitation conditions, prone to water and vector borne diseases such as cholera, polio, measles, malaria, chikungunya etc. At least 152 health facilities covering 98% of the population are now implementing disease surveillance through the Early Warning Alert and Response System.

Laboratory capacity has been strengthened in Dhaka and established in Cox’s Bazar, while field health facility staff continues to be trained in the use of diagnostics for diseases such as malaria.

Coordinating monsoon contingency plan, preparedness and response for acute watery diarrhea, and diphtheria outbreak, WHO has delivered nearly 175 tons of medicines and supplies and pre-positioned emergency supplies in three locations for the monsoon and cyclone season. WHO has distributed water filters prioritizing health posts and centers and households with pregnant women.

WHO continues to build the capacity of health workers to provide mental health and psychosocial support services to the Rohingya refugees.

Despite these efforts, challenges remain. Floods and landslides in the ongoing monsoon season continue to displace people and affect the functioning of health facilities. The Rohingya population is reluctant to access sexual and reproductive health services, and as a result 70% of births are still taking place outside of health facilities.

The biggest challenge is the need to further scale up services to meet the complex, evolving and long term health needs of this highly vulnerable population amidst a funding shortfall that also threatens to undo the gains and progress made so far.

WHO has appealed for US$ 16.5 million for its continued support to the Rohingya response, which is part of the US$ 113.1 million being sought by all health partners together under the Joint Response Plan until March 2019.

Thanking all partners who have contributed to health response in Cox’s Bazar, Dr Bardan Jang Rana, WHO Representative to Bangladesh, said, “We need generous and continued support of our partners. It is important that the Rohingya people do not suffer anymore. We need to find sustainable ways of meeting their needs for health, water, sanitation, education, and livelihood.”

The article is published courtesy of the WHO

Donors pledge over $344 million in response to Rohingya refugee crisis

The international donor community today announced pledges for more than US$344 million to urgently ramp up the delivery of critical humanitarian assistance to Rohingya refugees and host communities in Bangladesh.


Thousands of new Rohingya refugee arrivals cross the border near Anzuman Para village, Palong Khali, Bangladesh. Photo: UNHCR/Roger Arnold

Funding was also pledged for the humanitarian response inside Myanmar where violence, insecurity and growing humanitarian needs have sent nearly 600,000 Rohingya from the northern Rakhine state into Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh since 25 August. This ongoing exodus is the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world.

“Humanitarian donors have today expressed their solidarity and compassion with the families and communities in need. These very generous pledges must now quickly translate into life-saving relief for the vulnerable refugees and support to host communities who have been stretched to the limit,” said Mark Lowcock, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.

35 pledges were made at the conference in Geneva which was co-organised by the UN Migration Agency (IOM), the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and with Kuwait and the European Union as co-hosts.

“More than 800,000 stateless Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh aspire to a life that meets their immediate needs for food, medicine, water, and shelter. But beyond that, a life that has hope for the future where their identity is recognised, they are free from discrimination, and are able to return safely to their homes in Myanmar. As we come together in solidarity, I want to thank Bangladesh and its refugee hosting communities and the donors for supporting them,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi.

The Government of Bangladesh, local charities and volunteers, the UN and NGOs have been working around the clock in recent weeks to help the stateless refugees who depend on humanitarian assistance for food, water, shelter, health services and other essentials.

The UN and partners have launched a response plan for six months (Sept 2017 – Feb 2018) to meet the needs of a combined 1.2 million newly arrived and existing refugees and their Bangladeshi hosts. The appeal requests $434 million, and pledges made today will increase the funding level of this plan. A preliminary list of pledges announced today is available here

“Today’s pledges from the international community will help rebuild Rohingya refugees’ lives. Without these vital funds, humanitarians would not be able to continue providing protection and life-saving aid to one of the most vulnerable groups in the world. While we are thankful, I hope that the end of this conference does not mean the end of new funding commitments. We have not reached our target and each percentage point we are under means thousands without food, healthcare and shelter,” said William Lacy Swing, UN Migration Director General.

Conference participants stressed that the international community must help bring a peaceful solution to the plight of the Rohingya and ensure conditions that will allow for their eventual voluntary return in safety and dignity. The origins and the solutions to the crisis lie in Myanmar.

“The mere convening of this humanitarian conference is a message of hope sent to the Rohingya refugees and their host communities in the friendly Republic of Bangladesh, reaffirming that the international community stands by them and supports them in their humanitarian plight. The State of Kuwait is always willing to take any initiative that is likely to alleviate humanitarian crises that strike affected populations, and to support humanitarian programmes in line with all efforts exerted at an international scale to assist the Rohingya refugees,” said Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of the State of Kuwait, His Excellency Mr. Khaled Al-Jarallah.

“Today, we stand united for the right cause,” said EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Christos Stylianides. “The cause of stateless people who have suffered for too long: the Rohingya. The Rohingya deserve nothing less than every other human being in the world. They deserve a future. We have a moral duty to give these people hope.”

Statement from the UN Migration Agency Director General William Lacy Swing on Pledging Conference for the Rohingya Refugee Crisis


Geneva – Thank you very much Mr. Chairman. Good morning excellencies, distinguished participants, ladies and gentleman.

Having just returned from Bangladesh this weekend, I have three very distinct impressions that I would like to share with you as urgent for our consideration.

First of all, the sheer speed, size and scope of the Rohingya refugee crisis that has occurred over the last nearly two months has resulted in a shocking humanitarian emergency that is, I believe, unparalleled in this region and in many parts of the world. You have heard the statistics and it is almost trite to repeat them, but we now have approaching  900,000 people being cared for by the Bangladesh Government, people and local communities at great cost to the country,  and being done in a very professional way. The situation therefore requires an unparalleled response on the part of all of us.


Soaked to the skin a Rohingya mother tries to protect her child with her drenched scarf, as it pelted down with rain yesterday (19/10). They were among the 6,900 Rohingya refugees who arrived in Cox’s Bazar from no man’s land. Photo: UN Migration Agency/Timothy Wolfer 2017

Second, as a consequence, Bangladesh Prime Minister, her Government, the people, and numerous local host communities, despite their laudable generosity, and UN agencies, ICRC, NGOs and other partners, despite a massive scaling up of our staff and resources,  we are now faced with the challenge of enormous proportions that requires an enormous response over the foreseeable future. To be quite frank, everything is a priority. If you had to look at the top priorities, however, it would probably be above all else shelter – building shelter for 900,000 people, 600,000 of whom have arrived in the last two months – protection, including proper registration, food security, basic health services and water and basic sanitation facilities.

Third point, we are grateful to all of you today for this very strong turnout, and I hope that we are here today to commit ourselves to stay the course in support of the incredibly resilient Rohingya  refugees. We must in parallel also, however, urge world leaders to engage a political process that will allow these Rohingya refugees to return home voluntarily and to do so in conditions of safety, security, dignity and social cohesion, and we should insist with Myanmar officials that these conditions are met.

Now, we all know that there are no durable humanitarian solutions to political crises and political problems. The Rohingya refugee situation clearly represents a humanitarian situation that currently cries out the loudest for our help but we also note that we are in fierce competition for resources that are very scarce, including resources for those, who are stretched from Africa to South-Asia in armed conflict. So, we need to give our attention specifically today to making sure that the Rohingya refugees are not somehow lost in this arc of suffering across this area of the world. We need to move quickly to ensure sustainable life-saving assistance to the refugee population in Bangladesh, to help the Government, the people and particularly the numerous host communities in Cox’s Bazar, whose resources are already under considerable strain. Simultaneously,  we must also urge international leaders to support the peaceful resolution of this decade long crisis in Myanmar and insist that the Myanmar authorities create conditions of safety, security and dignity in Rakhine state to one of the world’s most persecuted populations.

Now, we have a road map, the Advisory Commission on Rakhine state that was established by the Office of the State Council and the Kofi Anan Foundation. The recommendations have been accepted by all authorities, this is the way forward to peaceful co-existence in Rakhine state, and we need to insist that we start implementing these right away, step by step, starting with the first step, which is to allow humanitarians to resume their work in the northern part of Rakhine state.

So with that, I will stop here and look forward to our time together today.

Thank you very much.

UN Migration Chief Ends Visit to Bangladesh as Bleak Picture Emerges of Rohingya Settlements

Yesterday (19/10) over 6,900 Rohingya refugees who were stranded in dire conditions in no-man’s land at Anjuman Para on Bangladesh’s side of the border, were moved by the Bangladesh military to several makeshift settlements in the Ukhia and Teknaf sub-districts of Cox’s Bazar. Some 800,000 Rohingyas are now living in the settlements, 589,000 of whom have arrived since August 25th.


Soaked to the skin a Rohingya mother tries to protect her child with her drenched scarf, as it pelted down with rain yesterday (19/10). They were among the 6,900 Rohingya refugees who arrived in Cox’s Bazar from no man’s land. Photo: UN Migration Agency/Timothy Wolfer 2017

Also yesterday, IOM Director General William Lacy Swing concluded a three-day visit to Bangladesh and thanked the government for its continued willingness to open the country’s borders to hundreds of thousands of desperate Rohingya refugees fleeing Myanmar.

During Ambassador Swing’s meetings with high level officials, the Bangladesh Government reconfirmed its commitment to allow Rohingya seeking protection from violence in Myanmar to continue entering the country. It also confirmed its willingness to consider additional options for the settlement of the new arrivals, including the creation of more manageable, smaller camps to alleviate public health and security concerns.

On Thursday, men, women and children continued to pour into the settlements where IOM and its humanitarian partners are on the ground providing lifesaving assistance. They walked in long lines – exhausted, hungry and muddied after days of walking from villages in Myanmar’s North Rakhine State to Anjuman Para.  Men carried tired children and old people in baskets on shoulder poles, together with whatever meagre possessions they had salvaged from their homes. Children carried younger siblings on their backs and women trudged through the mud with infants in their arms under the rain.

The entrances to the Kutupalong refugee camp and makeshift settlement are a surging sea of humanity. Most families have nothing. The lucky ones have managed to bring some clothes, pots and pans, the odd water carrier.

One family arrived with their three daughters, but told IOM staff they had to leave their two sons behind to come later with neighbours. Another family said they had to leave their two young sons with neighbours, as they would not have been able to carry the boys, given the fact that their mother was ill and needed her husband’s help to walk.
Mohammed Hanun said he trekked for 11 days before reaching no man’s land in Anjuman Para. He waited there for three days without any food, before finally reaching Kutupalong yesterday.

These new arrivals bring the total Rohingya population of Cox’s Bazar settlements to around 800,000. IOM’s latest Needs and Population Monitoring Report, published on Wednesday, estimated that over half of the 582,000 new arrivals who were there by mid-week are women and girls. The report identified a total of 28 collective sites and 99 locations in host communities between 30 September – 9 October 2017.

The report noted that of the total population, 33,542 (4 per cent) were registered and living in two UNHCR refugee camps. The remaining 96 per cent (761,116) were living in makeshift settlements, spontaneous sites and host communities.

Based on sampling techniques across the sites, the assessment identified lactating mothers (9.2 per cent) and pregnant woman (4.9 per cent) as the two highest number of vulnerable groups within the population. An estimated 3.6 per cent of the total number of households were female-headed and 2.2 per cent headed by elderly persons.

Lifesaving services delivered by IOM and its partner agencies include clean water and sanitation, shelter, food security, healthcare, education and psychosocial support for the most vulnerable individuals, many of whom are suffering from acute mental trauma or are survivors of sexual violence.

Since late August, IOM has scaled up quickly – shelter has been provided to 379,000 individuals, while 47,000 health consultations have been provided. IOM has contributed 200 staff to assist in a Ministry of Health-led Oral Cholera Vaccine (OCV) campaign that has reached 679,000 people. Some 678,000 litres of water have been distributed, along with over 11,000 dignity kits. IOM staffing has also been boosted with 443 staff and community volunteers in country.

Earlier this month, the UN launched a Joint Response Plan, in order to sustain and enhance the large humanitarian effort already under way. The plan requires USD 434 million to meet the life-saving needs of all Rohingya refugees and their host communities – together an estimated 1.2 million people – for the difficult months to come.

IOM’s funding requirements within this plan amount to USD 120 million. A pledging conference for the crisis organized by IOM, UNOCHA and UNHCR, and co-hosted by the European Union and Kuwait, will take place in Geneva on Monday (23/10). The conference will provide governments from around the world an opportunity to show their solidarity and share the burden and responsibility for the Rohingya refugees.