Rohingya refugee crisis: UN 'suppressed' Rakhine report
12:00 AM, October 06, 2017 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:23 AM, October 06, 2017

UN 'suppressed' Rakhine report

The document warned in May the global body was 'ill-prepared' to deal with impending Rohingya crisis, writes the Guardian

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The United Nations “suppressed” its own report that criticised its strategy in Myanmar and warned that the global body was ill-prepared to deal with the imminent Rohingya crisis, the Guardian reported yesterday.

The review, submitted by a consultant in May, offered a highly critical analysis of the UN's approach and said there should be “no silence on human rights”.

The report, which was commissioned by the UN itself, predicted a “serious deterioration” in the six months following its submission and called on the UN to come up with “serious contingency planning,” said the Guardian report headlined “Rohingya crisis: UN 'suppressed' report predicting its shortcomings in Myanmar”.

“It is recommended that, as a matter of urgency, UN headquarters identifies ways to improve overall coherence in the UN's system approach,” wrote Richard Horsey, an independent analyst who authored the report.

He also warned that the Myanmar security forces would be “heavy-handed and indiscriminate” in dealing with the Rohingya, a Muslim minority in the Buddhist-majority Myanmar.

The prediction proved true within three months, when Rohingya militants attacked dozens of security outposts on 25 August, prompting a massive military crackdown.

In the last one month, over half a million Rohingya fled to Bangladesh amid allegations of massacres by Myanmar's armed forces and Rohingya insurgents.

Ever since the refugee crisis began, the UN has been at the forefront of the response, delivering aid and making strong statements condemning the Myanmar authorities.

Worried by the scale of violence and the refugee influx, the UN secretary general in an unprecedented move penned a letter to the UN Security Council, expressing his concern.

“The international community must undertake concerted efforts to prevent any further escalation and to seek a holistic solution,” António Guterres said, a call he repeated several times since. 

The UNHCR denounced Myanmar's campaign against Rohingya, saying it was “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” while French President Emmanuel Macron went further to describe it as “genocide”. 

The UN report, titled The Role of the United Nations in Rakhine state, was commissioned by Renata Lok-Dessallien, the UN resident coordinator in Myanmar.

She held the same UN post in Bangladesh during 2007-2010.

'DISAPPEARED OFF THE AGENDA'

In the 28-page report, Horsey made 16 recommendations.

The UN was urged to ensure that the human rights up front initiative, a strategy introduced by former secretary general Ban Ki-moon to prevent mass atrocities, was fully implemented. Horsey said the initiative should “be at the core of how the UN operates”, adding that there should be “no silence on human rights and protection concerns”.

But sources within the UN and humanitarian community claimed the recommendations were ignored and the report was suppressed, according to the Guardian report.

One source told the British newspaper that the report was “spiked” and not circulated among UN and aid agencies “because Renata didn't like the analysis”.

“It was given to Renata and she didn't distribute it further because she wasn't happy with it,” said another well-placed source.

Sources in Myanmar said the report was “mentioned at meetings on two occasions” before it “disappeared off the agenda”. No one was able to access the document afterwards.

A BBC report on September 28 also revealed how the UN leadership in Myanmar tried to stop the Rohingya rights issue being raised with the government.

Sources in Myanmar's aid community told the BBC that at high-level UN meetings in Myanmar any question of asking the Burmese authorities to respect the Rohingyas' human rights became almost impossible.

Renata, a Canadian, also isolated staff who tried to warn that ethnic cleansing might be on the way, according to the BBC report.

Talking to the Guardian, Horsey, the author of the UN report, said, “The UN knew, or should have known, that the status quo in Rakhine was likely to evolve into a major crisis.”

But he added that the severity of the criticism directed at Renata Lok-Dessallien was unwarranted.

“It may be true that the resident coordinator could have done some things differently or better, [but] primary responsibility for any UN failings lies with its headquarters over the last several years.

“They did not have a coherent or well-coordinated approach to Myanmar, and especially Rakhine, and did not provide the required political support and guidance to their in-country team.”

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said: “The UN is going to have to acknowledge their significant share of blame in letting this situation descend this far, this fast.”

'CAN'T TAKE EVERYBODY'

But even as human rights groups document an ethnic cleansing of Rohingya, the country's National Security Adviser Thaung Tun told a closed-door audience in New York that he did not see evidence of war crimes committed by its military, according to The Daily Beast. 

He indicated at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) that the Rohingya refugees who fled the country may not want to return to their homes anyway.

The government of Myanmar, “headed by Aung San Suu Kyi, has indicated that we know it's a problem, we're willing to resolve it, we're happy to receive back people who want to come into their homes,” Tun said on Tuesday afternoon.

But “we can't take just everybody,” Tun continued. “They must want to come back.”

On October 2, Myanmar formally proposed taking back the Rohingyas sheltered in Bangladesh but offered no specifics on the repatriation process or the timetable.

Tun was initially supposed to speak before an open audience at the Council. But on Monday, his hosts abruptly announced that the planned address would occur without press access.

But The Daily Beast still managed to obtain audio of Tun's talk.

Derek Mitchell of Albright Stonebridge Group, who advises American businesses on investing in Myanmar, moderated the discussion.

'WILL TAKE ACTION'

In his remarks, Thaung Tun suggested the most significant problem were the conditions in the Bangladeshi refugee camps that are now home to more than half a million Rohingyas fleeing the Burmese military.

“In the immediate time right now, we recognise that we need to alleviate the suffering of people in these camps,” he said. “It is not humane. We need to help them. So on our side, we have been using scarce funds to provide aid and assistance.”

After his opening remarks, Thaung Tun began fielding questions.

“We have your evidence,” Minky Worden, Human Rights Watch's director of global initiatives, said. “I'm here to actually share some of that with you.”

Over the past several weeks, the Amnesty International and the HRW have already released ample evidence showing that the Myanmar army deliberately burned Rohingya villages and shoot people at random. 

Worden then asked when human rights groups would have access to Rakhine State.

“I will be happy to see the allegations,” Thaung Tun replied.

“We will take action,” he added. “Give us the evidence, we will take action. And we are going to be very transparent.”

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