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As Monsoon Season Comes, Will the U.N. Be On Time for the Rohingya?

A worsening refugee crisis in Myanmar with a rapidly approaching monsoon season creates urgent need for action by the Security Council.

Swedish Ambassador Olof Skoog with Special UN Envoy to Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener of Switzerland (Photo VNY)

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees have been fleeing Myanmar (Burma) for Bangladesh because of the nations' military campaign of violence against them. Yet precarious safety is seeming temporary due to potential dangers from the incoming monsoon season.

Myanmar refugees are facing a rapidly perilous situation as the monsoon season approaches Southeast Asia.

The Rohingya, a Muslim minority in Myanmar, have been under attack since August 25, 2017 when the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), an insurgent group, attacked security forces. In response to the attack, Myanmar military forces launched a campaign of violence against the Rohingya. Jarring tales of rape, arson, and murder committed by the Myanmar military account for the 700,000 Rohingya refugees who have fled to Bangladesh.

Bangladesh is welcoming the hundreds of thousands of refugees they are receiving from Myanmar, however the impending monsoon season is now threatening their safety. The monsoon rains place the lives of refugees housed in camps along hills in danger as floods and mudslides increase. Reports from the Inter Sector Coordination Group reveal one child has died from the heavy rains and 30 more have been injured. The group predicts that more than 200,000 people are living in areas prone to mudslides and flooding.

Rohyngya in Myanmar escaping to Bangladesh (Photo: UNHCR/Roger Arnold)

Recent reports claim the campaign against the Rohingya following the August attack was actually premeditated. Prior to the August ARSA attack, the group committed a similar attack in October 2016 ending in nine police dead. After the October attack, Myanmar military officials launched a similar campaign of violence against the Ruhingya that forced tens of thousands to flee. The report by Bangkok-based Fortify Rights claimed a failure of the international community to act after the October attack allowed Myanmar officials to take “preparatory actions” for genocide and crimes against humanity highlighted under the U.N.’s Framework for Analysis of Atrocity Crimes.

During a recent United Nations Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein challenged a senior diplomat from Myanmar after claims that the nation is “committed to the defense of human rights.” The High Commissioner in response asked: “In my four years as High Commissioner I have heard many preposterous claims. That claim is almost in its own category of absurdity. Have you no shame, sir, have you no shame? We are not fools.”

Myanmar representatives continue denying that the country has committed any human rights violations, insisting that the military campaigns are only in reaction to Rohingya attacks. Mr. al-Hussein has condemned the attacks, saying they are textbook cases of ethnic cleansing and possibly even genocide.

On Monday July 23rd, the United Nations held a closed Security Council meeting on Myanmar and other matters. This meeting welcomed Special Envoy to Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener of Switzerland for the first time as she briefed the council after her visit to the nation.

During a press stakeout prior to the meeting, Dutch Deputy Ambassador Lise Gregoire-van Haaren commented on the trial that has just begun in Myanmar against two Reuters reporters Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo after being accused of obtaining secret documents. She remarked: “We are very concerned about the detention. We also expressed that in the margins of the Security Council visit when we went there earlier this year. We feel very strongly about freedom of the press. We don’t think that a free country can do without free press and we think the safety for journalists including the ending of impunity, support for free and independent press, and the right access to information are essential in a free country.”

La Voce asked Swedish Security Council President Olof Skoog (video above) who was also at the stakeout about why the meeting was closed rather than open. His response further endorsed the meeting’s closed status: “I think the public is very much aware of the situation both in Bangladesh among the refugees, but also in Myanmar where the issues are. So sometimes I think it’s just useful for the council to get together to try to find united purpose and to communicate in a unified way to the outside world, including to the authorities in Myanmar. Sometimes that work is better prepared in closed consultations and I think that’s maybe where we are right now. We have discussed with the next presidency, the United Kingdom, about a sequence of things and events that will happen, and next time I believe we will have an open briefing. It’s also useful for the special envoy [of Myanmar] as she does her first appearance, that she can come and speak her mind and react and respond and ask questions to council members. Sometimes the discussion inside consultations becomes a bit more interactive so I think that’s where we are right now.”

His response contrasted that of Dutch Ambassador Gregoire-van Haaren, as she expressed enthusiasm for an open Security Council meeting of the topic: “I think it’s very important to keep the dialogue open in any possible way. I think that cosulations like these are important to make sure that we are building on the consensus within the council. And it’s also important to show the world how we think about that, so I think you need a bit of both.”

At the end of the Security Council consultation, Special Envoy to Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener, along with Ambassador Skoog, spoke to the journalists. Below the video.

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