Myanmar: Fears For The Safety Of Rohingya Detainees Increase After Child Dies In Custody

At least one child, who was arrested in November 2016 by Myanmar government forces during “clearance operations” among the Rohingya ethnic minority in Rakhine state, has officially been confirmed dead. This death has raised concerns over serious human rights violations in the reclusive country.

Myanmar government authorities announced that Mammud Rawphi, estimated at being between 13 to 15 years old, died in February “while being treated for a stomach condition.” Mammud had been held at Border Guard Police Camp 3 since his arrest in November last year, said Amnesty International. According to Myanmar’s State Counsellor’s Office, five children are currently being imprisoned at this camp as they await trials. Credible sources report that at least six other children are being detained at the Buthidaung prison. With that said, there are also concerns over children being tried as adults and being subjected to ill-treatment. Myanmar is a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which means that they have a legal obligation to ensure the adequate treatment of children who are detained.

Reuters reported that Myanmar military forces have arrested hundreds of people, including children as young as 10, in the northern Rakhine state near the border with Bangladesh, since October 2016, when a large group of suspected Rohingya Muslim insurgents attacked three border police posts, which resulted in the death of nine police officers and theft of weapons and ammunition. Immediately after the attack, according to Amnesty International and The International Crisis Group, Harakat Al-Yaqin (Faith Movement), a group led by the Rohingya in Saudi Arabia, released online videos in which they claimed responsibility and called on Rohingya to fight against the Myanmar government.

As a result, Myanmar armed forces responded with massacres that bordered on genocide. Amnesty International documented random arrests, torture, sexual violence, the killing of civilians, which included children, destruction, and the looting of property. The area was sealed off and access was blocked for humanitarian aid, human rights monitors, and journalists. Despite the government’s claims that their actions were lawful and justified, evidence suggests that there were systematic human rights violations. With that said, while a large group of Rohingya fighters participated in the attacks in October 2016, most Rohingya were not involved.

To provide some background information, the Rohingya are a Muslim ethnic minority of about 1 million, and mainly populate the Rakhine state in the Northwest of Myanmar and near the border with Bangladesh. The As reported by The Guardian, the Rohingya have been persecuted for decades by the government and nationalist Buddhists, despite living in the country for many generations. Rather than recognizing the Rohingya as one of the country’s ethnic minorities, Myanmar treats them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, where they are not welcome either.

According to The Guardian, Myanmar’s State Counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her non-violent struggle for democracy, has been criticized in an open letter to the UN Security Council for her role in the military’s “grossly disproportionate” response to the October attacks. The letter, which was signed by a group of activists and fellow Nobel laureates, said the following:“It would be one thing to round up suspects, interrogate them and put them on trial. It is quite another to unleash helicopter gunships on thousands of ordinary civilians and to rape women and throw babies into a fire.”

With that in mind, it is arguable that Aung San Suu Kyi should honour her peace prize by showing political and moral responsibility. For Myanmar to get ahead on the path to democracy and reform, it is crucial that Aung San Suu Kyi does the following: 1) put an end to the total impunity of the armed forces and their human rights violations, 2) commit to an independent and transparent investigation into the matter, and 3) make sure that Myanmar’s minorities have the same rights as other citizens, such as by ensuring that they are able to live in peace and with dignity, without fear of discrimination and violence.