Foreign diplomats have called on Myanmar's government to launch a transparent inquiry into human rights violations in the western Rakhine state, home to many Rohingya Muslim minorities.
The diplomats, including those from the European Union and the United Nations and the US, made the request on Friday following a two-day visit to the region, where security forces stand accused of rape, torture, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and burning of homes.
“Given the large numbers of allegations of human rights violations, we urge the government to form an independent and credible investigation committee that can look into the allegations and establish the truth," said Renata Lok-Dessallien, the UN resident and humanitarian coordinator in Myanmar.
EU Ambassador to Myanmar Roland Kobia also confirmed the people’s suffering and called for “human rights to be protected of all communities,… transparency to be ensured and communication, and … access to humanitarian aid.”
He further expressed the international community’s readiness to help find a “long-term solution that addresses … the root causes of the issues” and bring peace to the troubled region.
Rakhine, home to about 1.1 million members of the minority Rohingya Muslim community, has been the scene of communal violence since 2012.
The state was again in the spotlight on October 9, when gunmen attacked three police outposts in the town of Maungdaw near the Bangladeshi border, reportedly leaving nine police officers dead.
Myanmar’s government blamed the incident on a Rohingya group, adding that the assailants made off with dozens of weapons and thousands of rounds of ammunition.
Myanmar's civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi said her government will not place blame for violence in Rakhine before investigators have gathered all the evidence.
According to the UN, Rohingyas are one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. The government denies full citizenship to the community and imposes severe restrictions on their movement, branding them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, even as many trace their lineage in Myanmar back generations.
Many of the Muslims have been killed while tens of thousands have been forced to flee as a result of attacks by Buddhists.
Reporters covering Rakhine violence suppressed
On October 27, The English-language Myanmar Times newspaper carried a report citing multiple gang rapes by soldiers.
Reuters also reported on the abuse allegations and interviewed eight women who said they were raped by government forces.
Days later, Myanmar Times special investigations editor Fiona MacGregor said she was told by the daily's senior management that she was being fired for damaging the paper's reputation by reporting of allegations of rape by soldiers.
"It's extremely concerning and unacceptable that representatives of the democratically elected government would use social media and bullying tactics to suppress stories about important issues like gender-based violence in conflict," MacGregor said.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) further warned that journalists trying to cover the situation in Rakhine faced obstruction and harassment.