At least 20,000 displaced stuck on the border with Bangladesh, says UN Special Rapporteur Prof. Yanghee Lee
UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar, Prof. Yanghee Lee, has said that the number of people killed in the violence since August 25 in Myanmar has crossed 1,000. Excerpts from an interview:
What is the estimated number of people displaced in the ongoing conflict?
On Friday [September 1] I was informed that about 30,000 people had reached Bangladesh and about 20,000 could not. They are stuck between borders [of Bangladesh and Myanmar].
Or, in the river?
Yes, along the river and hills; that makes it 50,000 [displaced]. But now I’m receiving reports [of more being displaced]. It is not easy to verify the numbers.
So it could be more?
Yes. When the October  attacks happened, about 70,000 to 75,000 crossed over to Bangladesh within a period of 2-3 months. Now, within a week at least 50,000 people have been displaced…perhaps the worst situation in Myanmar in a long time.
How many died in the violence?
We know that about 14-15 security force personnel were killed during the August 25 attack. We are also receiving reports from the Government [of Myanmar] that at least 150 Rakhine [community] people were killed. This is difficult to verify.
What about the Rohingya; though you may not be using the term Rohingya?
I call them Rohingyas as they have the right to identify themselves as such. I am getting [a figure] of around thousand and it is taking place in the entire north Rakhine and not [just] in a few villages.
More than a thousand dead?
I would say so. A recent Human Rights Watch video of satellite images indicate that villages are being torched along the 100 km border in Rakhine State. It is hard to believe that only a few have been killed. The Government gave a figure of 50 or 100 insurgents [who] have been killed and we don’t know if they are insurgents or civilians. I am also comparing [casualty figures] with October-November 2016 figures when about a thousand or so people got killed.
How many are children?
We are trying to find out.
The recent Kofi Annan Commission report on the crisis indicated that there is a possibility of “threat posed from potential radicalisation”, a new issue. How big is the threat?
Rakhine State is ripe for radicalisation. If you look at the kind of conditions that they lived in from 2012 with no freedom of movement or access to basic services [and] they lived with decades of discriminatory laws. The young people don’t see any future and in such a situation it is easy to cross the line.
One of the key recommendations of the Commission is to confer citizenship. Is there progress?
We have always emphasised that the 1982 Citizenship Law has to be amended to make sure that those who are living there for generations get their citizenship status as soon as possible….the other thing is that there were plenty of pilot projects [for] citizenship verification. The government says, people do not cooperate but the people are tired of processes, which are very slow. The government needs to speed up the processes.
Regarding the August 25 violence, when members of security forces and alleged Rohingya insurgents were killed, two interpretations surfaced. One, it was planned to suppress the impact of the Annan Commission report published on August 24. The other is that the attack on Rohingyas was planned. There are reports of a series of events which indicate that the attack was meticulously planned…what do you think?
Both interpretations are quite plausible. I would like to refer to something that I said in the past that in Myanmar nothing happens without a detailed master plan.
Before this operation food, water supply and other aid were cut off…is that correct?
That is correct. Everything was stopped recently. No international team was allowed to distribute aid. Media was stopped and the independent international community or UN was not given any access.
We observe for the first time that reports have surfaced of about 10 Hindus being killed and 500 fleeing to Bangladesh and the ethnic Mro community people killed as well. Is the violence spreading and no longer restricted between Buddhists and Muslims?
I do know that some people of the Mro community were killed. Recently we are seeing video clippings of Hindu families, who are now relocated in Cox’s Bazar, saying that their family members [Hindus] were killed.
Will you now say that other communities are being drawn into this conflict?
I hope not.
Regarding Bangladesh’s position, even if they are not keen to allow the Rohingyas to come in officially, they are actually allowing them on the ground.
What do you think about their gesture?
Bangladesh has been providing assistance for the last 20-30 years. The Secretary General has also requested it not to turn these people away. Many Rohingyas would have perished without the support of Bangladesh. It is very generous of them to allow the Rohingyas.
India said they will deport the Rohingyas. The case is being heard in the Supreme Court but how do you interpret India’s position?
My mandate does not allow me to comment on another Government.
Since you discussed Bangladesh, so I thought of asking you about India…
I understand. Right now people are going over to Bangladesh, rather than going to India. So…
In March, in the Security Council, China and Russia blocked a statement on Myanmar which was expected to be critical of the government. Now, that triggers a question. How far can the United Nations move forward to stop such violence?
How effective it [United Nations] is when powerful countries are blocking a move?
I do not have the details of the March session of the Security Council. But I do know that they had held a Security Council meeting a few days ago and that no joint statement could be issued – which is a bit disappointing.