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Australia criticised for not pushing Rohingya atrocities investigation

Rohingya Muslim men stand at U Shey Kya village outside Maugndaw in Rakhine state, Myanmar October 27, 2016. Picture taken October 27, 2016. Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun

By Frenalyn Untalan
March 15, 2017

Human rights groups condemn Australia for not backing an international investigation into atrocities against Rohingya Muslims. The administration of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull supposedly refused to support the enquiry despite a motion passed in the Senate that urges the country to call for a United Nations commission of inquiry.

In its statement to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the Australian government is calling Myanmar to perform its own investigation with international assistance. "We encourage Myanmar to continue its cooperation with relevant international human rights mechanisms," it said.

Emily Howie, director of advocacy and research at Australia's Human Rights Law Centre, called the wording of Australia's statement "hopelessly weak.” She added that its position is a "real shame and sits uneasily with the serious concern showed by the Senate across all parties, including the government.”

Howie believes that if the country continues to act in such way by the time it sits on the council, its decisions would result to real human consequences. Thousands of victims would continue to suffer crimes against humanity without an attempt to save them.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, commented that Australia was demoted to a corner as United States, European Union and even Bangladesh pushed for international investigation. "Australia's human rights policy has literally been at sea for so long with refugee boats that Canberra seems to now instinctively adopt the preferred policy of rights violating Asian nations," he said.

Last month, Australian senators passed a Greens motion to declare the religious and ethnic equality of its people, including Rohingya. The motion, proposed by Scott Ludlam, argues that the government has to consider backing a UN commission of inquiry into abuses in the Buddhist-majority country. Ludlam described what is currently happening in Rohingya as "devastating".

Sydney Morning Herald notes that since October, nearly 80,000 Rohingya fled Rakhine for refugee camps at the Bangladesh border. Myanmar's military then launched a crackdown after a police post that took the lives of nine policemen. Rohingya is being denied basic rights, such as citizenship. In 2001, Rohingya was attacked by Arakanese mobs and destroyed their mosques and schools.

The UN Human Rights Council is expected to cast their votes later his month on the human rights situation in Myanmar. Establishing a UN inquiry into "gross human rights violations by the military and security forces" in Rakhine is one of the draft resolutions being negotiated.

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