CSOs Face Challenges Documenting Human Rights Violations in Rakhine State

By Network Media Group
Sunday, October 18, 2020

Civil society organizations highlighted the challenges they face documenting human rights abuses in Rakhine State during fighting between Tatmadaw and Arakan Army (AA) and, at the same time, government restrictions to prevent outbreaks during the pandemic.

Zaw Zaw Tun, working with the Rakhine Ethnics Congress (REC), told NMG that even before the pandemic they faced “security challenges” because of the conflict. “After the COVID-19 outbreak, we have to pay close attention to this disease,” he said, because they could be asymptotic and cause outbreaks within the internally displaced persons (IDPs) populations they’re supposed to help.

Mandated travel restrictions are preventing members of his team from reaching IDP camps, Zaw Zaw Tun said, and this led to a two-month delay releasing their report on human rights abuses in the area.

“Our activities stopped because we weren’t able to do our job. When the second wave hit Sittwe in August, we couldn’t work until mid-September. And we couldn’t launch our monthly report on human rights.” With the travel restrictions and Internet services in parts of Rakhine State reduced to 2G, REC has struggled to verify information.

Their report finally came out in October.

Since early October, the Burma Army has clashed with AA multiple times in Rathedaung Township, resulting in the displacement of over 2,000 villagers. Shells struck villages, CSOs say, and civilians were arrested and tortured. Without access to displacement camps, IDPs are not receiving the support they need from CSOs and lack food and shelter.

In northern Shan State, CSOs also find it difficult reaching IDPs.

Lway Poe Kamae Cho, joint secretary-one of Ta’ang Women’s Organization, told NMG that civilians face the threat of the virus, as well as human rights violations during the fighting. But under the current travel restrictions, civilians don’t have freedom of movement, she explained, while “soldiers can travel wherever they want.”

“When the Burma Army goes to a village, they commit human rights abuses. But we can’t travel to these villages to document these human rights abuses,” she said. Lack of cellular connectivity in remote and rural areas poses further challenges.

Fighting between the Burma Army and Restoration Council of Shan State/Shan State Army (RCSS/SSA) in Kyaukme Township in October has displaced over 3,500 villagers.

The United Nationalities Alliance (UNA) issued a statement calling on the government to take full responsibility for the human rights abuses and the plight of IDPs.