The UN has called on Myanmar to immediately release Rohingya children who are being detained in Buthidaung prison.
Hundreds of Muslim Rohingya villagers were arrested and imprisoned following months of counterinsurgency “clearance operations” in northern Rakhine State launched last October. The UN Children’s Fund has compiled a list of around a dozen minors who are currently among those detained in the prison.
“There are some children who are detained in Buthidaung prison, so those are the cases that we’re raising,” Justin Forsyth, UNICEF deputy executive director, said at the end of a brief trip to Myanmar on April 9.
“Any child that’s detained is an issue for us,” he added.
Mr Forsyth said that the issue has been raised with the State Counsellor’s Office.
He added that the government must also address the long-standing discrimination against the Rohingya in Rakhine State.
“The reality is if they don’t address these issues, particularly for Rohingya communities, then it will come back to haunt them, which is partly what has happened,” he said.
State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and the Tatmadaw chief both recognize “that there’s an issue” with the detention of the children, but neither made a firm commitment for an immediate release, Mr Forsyth said.
A recent UN report concluded that security forces could be guilty of potential “crimes against humanity” following interviews with Rohingya who had fled to Bangladesh. The flash poll of 220 interviewees revealed alarming atrocities, including reports of babies thrown into fire, extrajudicial killings and mass rape. Journalists and foreign aid workers have been restricted from accessing the operations area.
UN special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee said some 450 people were being held in Buthidaung prison when she visited in January, most without access to lawyers or visits from their families.
The UN Human Rights Council has agreed to send a mission to Myanmar to probe the allegations of abuses. Myanmar has rejected the most heinous of the accusations, and insists it will not cooperate with the UN inquiry.
“I don’t think there’s ethnic cleansing going on. I think ethnic cleansing is too strong an expression to use for what is happening,” Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said in a rare interview last week when she talked with the BBC.
In the same interview, she added, “I’m just a politician. I’m not quite like Margaret Thatcher… but on the other hand, I’m no Mother Teresa either.”
Edited by Laignee Barron