UN Rapporteur Takes Hard Line on Aid Agencies Expulsion from Burma

Burma’s Muslim Rohingya minority are faced with an increasingly desperate situation after aid organizations were ejected from the country in March, charged by the government with exhibiting “favoritism” towards the minority group and away from the Buddhist majority.

Now, the Burmese government has said it will protect and work with the recently ejected aid workers, after strong language from the United Nations and other foreign officials, condemning the expulsion. “Recent developments in Rakhine state are the latest in a long history of discrimination and persecution against the Rohingya community which could amount to crimes against humanity,” said Burma U.N. Special Rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana in a statement, according to the Voice of America.

Quintana, who has monitored the human rights situation in Burma for six years under the auspices of the UN, called the aid workers efforts “life saving” and demanded that they be allowed to return immediately.

The Special Rapporteur’s strong language appears to have worked: on April 9th, according to Voice of America, the Burmese government issued a statement reaffirming it’s commitment to working with and protecting foreign aid. Officials also vowed to catch the “ringleaders” of the March riots that drove out aid workers in the first place, ostensibly after an aid worker allegedly mishandled a Buddhist flag.

Indisputably, outside assistance is sorely needed in Rakhine state. Around 140,000 Rohingya have been pushed into refugee camps in the city of Sittwe, while around 700,000 more are estimated to reside in the countryside, far from human rights assistance. 

Quintana’s request that the UN and other aid organizations be permitted to return to the area is the latest in a series of humanitarian-minded requests – some of which have gone notably unanswered by the Burmese government. UN Human Rights chief Navi Pillay called for a “full investigation” into January attacks on Rohingya in Rakhine state in January, thought to have resulted in the deaths of around 40 Muslims.  Quintana echoed Pillay’s request, criticizing the slow government response to the allegations of killings.

But nothing has been done to confirm or deny the massacre, while the Burmese government continues to deny that anything of the sort took place.

The riots directed at the international aid workers, and Quintanas’ response exemplify the tense relationship between the swiftly normalizing Burmese government and the country’s new influx of foreign aid and business people.

Although Burma may be making its way out of the stasis of its modern history, its leadership must figure out how reconcile the nation’s increasingly tense interethnic relations with international humans rights standards. Much work remains to be done.