The United Nation’s Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Burma Tomas Quintana travelled to western Burma’s Arakan state yesterday, where he visited internally displaced person (IDP) camps and met with an incarcerated Muslim community leader.
According to a local who is taking shelter in the camp in Myebon that houses around 4,000 Muslims, camp residents spoke with the envoy about the trauma that was inflicted upon their communities during the ethno-religious riots that erupted in June and October last year.
The deadly riots displaced tens of thousands of residents and left a disproportionate amount of Muslim villages in ruins.
The displaced residents asked Mr Quintana to help push for the relocation of their current camp to a safer location.
“We are afraid to remain in this area – we have nowhere left to run if the riots breakout again,” said the local, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “We have lost our homes – twice – and all of the villagers have expressed their wish to be relocated to a safer area.”
He said the camp’s residents signed a petition last November, during a visit from government authorities who were asking those at the camp whether they wanted to resettle in their former villages or elsewhere.
“We signed the petition to have us relocated in either Sittwe or elsewhere in mainland Burma for the safety of our lives,” said the local, adding that the refugees also pressed for further food, medical and security assistance.
“As of now, we are only surviving on food rations provided by the World Food Programme and there are a lot of difficulties with health care.”
Arakan State’s Border Affairs Minister Colonel Htein Linn and Attorney General Hla Thein accompanied Quintana during the trip, but they did not attend his meeting with the displaced residents in the camps.
From Myebon town, the Special Rapporteur travelled to Sittwe to visit another camp and met with a Muslim elder who is imprisoned in the state capital’s prison.
However, before the team arrived in the Arakan state capital, a local Rohingya translator and activist Aung Win was briefly detained by the police. Aung Win was allegedly aiming to meet with Quintana during his visit to Sittwe.
According to local police, Aung Win was released on Tuesday evening.
In Sittwe, Quintana met with community leader Tun Aung, a Muslim man who is currently detained in Sittwe prison after being sentenced to 11 years in November during a trial that the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) called “patently unfair”.
According to AHRC, Tun Aung is in poor health and is not receiving adequate medical treatment.
Quintana was set to visit Insein Prison in Rangoon earlier today along with representatives from the country’s political parties, UN groups and civil society organisations.
The UN envoy will travel to Naypyidaw tomorrow to meet with government officials and representatives from the commissions tasked with investigating the Arakan riots and the assaut on protestors at Latpadaung copper mine last November.
He also will visit IDP camps in Kachin state before heading out of the country on 16 February.
Quintana will present a briefing on human rights in Burma at a UN Human Rights Council session in March.