Burma has blocked around one million people from the Internet in the Western Balkan conflict region of Rakhine and the neighboring state of Chin. Observers fear that the military is already committing human rights abuses in the blackout.
In Rakhine, about two years ago, soldiers began their brutal campaign against Rohingya Muslims, United Nations commission of inquiry called it a genocide.
The UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Burma, Yanghee Lee, warned that the measure could have a serious impact on the human rights situation. “I worry about the civilians who are cut off and have no way of communicating with people inside and outside the area,” said in a statement.
According to her information, the Burmese military is already carrying out “clearance operations” in the area. Under this euphemism, two years ago, the military had systematically murdered, raped and expelled Rohingya.
More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled across the border into Bangladesh. All would now know that eviction operations could be “a cover” “to carry out brutal human rights violations on the civilian population,” Lee said.
She further said : “We should not forget that it is the same security forces that have still not been held accountable for the atrocities committed to the Rohingya less than two years ago.” The UN rapporteur pointed out that international organizations and journalists have no access to the region.
During the night on Tuesday, a group of about 20 human rights organizations called for an immediate lifting of the Internet blockade. It applies since Friday, according to the Telenor telecommunications company and affects eight municipal districts in Rakhine and a district in the neighboring state of Chin.
The main reason for the blockade is less likely to be the Rohingya issue than the military conflict between the Burmese army and a rebel organization called the Arakan Army.
This rebel army mostly consists of members of the Rakhine Buddhist population, an ethnic group that represents the majority of the population in the state of the same name, but sees itself as a disadvantaged minority on the national level.
Under the name of Arakan, at present Rakhine was once a thriving kingdom. The insurgents want to build on this tradition with their independence aspirations.
The roughly ten-year-old conflict between the military and the Arakan Army had for many years mainly concentrated on the Kachin state in northern Burma, bordered by China.
For some time, the fighting has also flared up in Rakhine. Tens of thousands of people had to flee since November 2018.
A spokesman for the Post and Telecommunications authority justified the Internet blockade with the “emergency situation” in the area. The Internet has contributed to the deterioration of the situation. Therefore, it was temporarily suspended.
“It will be turned back on when stability is restored,” the spokesman said. He did not name a time frame. The measure is not only criticized by human rights activists. “The freedom of speech through access to telecommunications should be respected for humanitarian reasons, especially in times of conflict,” Telenor Telecommunications Corporation wrote. It is one of four providers in the region affected by the blockade.