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Press Release: Burma Must Immediately Allow Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and All Humanitarian Aid Organizations to Resume Full-Scale Operations in Rakhine State

Burma’s President Thein Sein is responsible for denying the Rohingya access to life-saving medical care, food and water, and creating conditions that could lead to genocide.

For Immediate Release June 25, 2014

Media Contact: Jennifer Quigley at (732) 606-7508

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Today, US Campaign for Burma is joining human rights activists around the world in a Global Day of Action to demand Burmese President Thein Sein immediately allow Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and all humanitarian aid organizations to resume full-scale operations without restrictions and provide life-saving aid in Rakhine State.

On today’s Global Day of Action, activists are amplifying their voices through social media to urge the Office of Burma’s President to prevent genocide and reinstate humanitarian aid. Activists are “storming” Presidential Spokesman Ye Htut’s Twitter and Facebook pages using the hashtag #PreventGenocide to highlight the seriousness of the humanitarian crisis and the responsibility the President has to immediately fully restore life-saving humanitarian aid.

A party to the Genocide Convention, the Burmese government has a responsibility to prevent genocide. The Convention’s definition of genocide includes acts that deliberately inflict on a group “conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.” In severely restricting their movement and denying them access to life-saving medical care, food, and water, the government is inflicting conditions calculated to bring about destruction of the Rohingya in whole or in part.

On February 26, President Thein Sein banned Doctors Without Borders (aka Médecins Sans Frontières) (MSF) from operating in Rakhine State. MSF, the state’s largest provider of medical care with 500 staff, served nearly 750,000 vulnerable people. The government’s ban deliberately stripped Rohingya of medical services as part of a wider plan to commit ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya.

The government first banned MSF, and now, several months later, almost 750,000 vulnerable people still have virtually no access to healthcare. Most of the afflicted are Rohingya who live in internment camps, akin to concentration camps, and isolated villages, virtual prisons, without freedom of movement. Within two weeks of the ban, at least 150 Rohingya had died, including more than 20 pregnant women experiencing life-threatening deliveries. These statistics only represent a small microcosm; the actual number of mortalities is likely to be much higher.

On March 27, the already perilous situation for Rohingya communities grew worse when Rakhine mobs began systematically attacking the homes and offices of foreign aid workers in Sittwe, Rakhine State’s capital. Protesters attacked over a dozen humanitarian aid organizations and UN agencies, including the World Food Programme, UNICEF, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Save the Children, International Rescue Committee, and Malteser International. Over 300 aid workers were forced to evacuate, and 1,000 had to stop working for an indeterminate period of time.

Protesters carefully coordinated attacks in order to dismantle aid distribution mechanisms. Warehouses and supplies intended for Rohingya were destroyed. Boats, the only method to reach some isolated camps, particularly in the rainy season, have also been destroyed. Food and water deliveries were cut with only a trickle allowed to resume under protracted government obstacles. Humanitarian aid organizations in Rakhine State are the difference between life and death for the vulnerable Rohingya population. Forced starvation and thousands more preventable deaths are looming. These are the precursors to genocide.

International humanitarian aid organizations and UN agencies operate under principles of medical neutrality and impartiality. These organizations provide care to people in need regardless of their ethnicity, gender, or religious beliefs. In contrast, medical operations run by the Burmese government, whose security forces have directly participated in violence against Rohingya and enforced persecutory policies for decades, may not be following principles of medical neutrality.

Since the government banned MSF, many Rohingya have died of preventable causes. The government continues to provide excuses, delays, and outright refusal in the cases of MSF and Malteser International, regarding the resumption of aid operations. During this time, there has been an alleged sharp increase in reported cases of mistreatment and deaths of Rohingya patients in Rakhine-run clinics. These include many alleged cases of pregnant women and their children being killed in Sittwe General Hospital.

“President Thein Sein must ensure the safe and immediate full-scale restoration of international humanitarian aid organizations operating in Rakhine State,” said USCB Policy Director Rachel Wagley. “President Thein Sein must commit to a zero tolerance policy against violence and protect the Rohingya population from persecution and preventable deaths. Unless these trends are reversed, the Rohingya population will become even more vulnerable to genocide, the precursors of which are already firmly in place.”

The Burmese government must uphold its international legal obligations to prevent genocide and carry out its responsibility to protect Rohingya. To do so, the Burmese government must immediately drop travel restrictions and travel authorization requirements on foreign and domestic aid workers and protect them from attacks, intimidation, and threats. No person in Rakhine State, regardless of ethnicity or religion, should be forbidden access to desperately needed humanitarian care.


Click here to view the press release as a PDF.

Check out the #PreventGenocide HQ here.