Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) [official website] Melissa Fleming on Friday reported that 10 UN staff and aid workers have been arrested in the northwestern Rakhine state of Myanmar [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] and three of them are facing unknown criminal charges. All of the three charged [Reuters report] are Myanmar nationals working for the UNHCR while four of the 10 arrested are working for Doctors Without Borders or Medecins Sans Frontieres [advocacy websites]. It was reported that UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres [official profile] tried, while on a five-day trip to Southeast Asia [press release], to persuade the local authorities to release the UN staff members without success. The spokeswoman for UNHCR declined to give further comments. The area where the 10 UN workers were arrested has been subject to continued violence between the Rohingya Muslim minority [BBC backgrounder] and majority Buddhists, resulting in at least 80 deaths.
During the five-day visit which included visits to Thailand and Myanmar, Guterres told [mission briefing] Myanmar President Thein Sein [BBC profile; official website, in Burmese] and other officials that the UN body will support the countries' attempt to build peace between the two religious groups, especially in the southeastern and western parts of the nation. He also noted that the UNCHR will continue its humanitarian assistance to both groups without discrimination. The violence in Myanmar has become an international concern. In June, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] urged [JURIST report] the Chinese government to provide basic food and shelter needs to refugees from Myanmar after finding refugee abuse. Earlier in June, HRW also called on [JURIST report] Bangladesh to open its borders to Myanmar refugees a day after it demanded Myanmar ensure the safety of communities in the Arakan State subject to the violence between Arakan Buddhists and ethnic Rohingya Muslims. In March, HRW reported [JURIST report] that violence and rights abuses continue in Myanmar's northern state of Kachin due to the conflict between Myanmar's armed forces and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) [BBC backgrounder]. During the same month, Tomas Ojea Quintana [official profile], the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar urged [JURIST report] the country to ensure the protection of human rights. In November, Human rights group Partners Relief and Development [advocacy website] issued [JURIST report] a report [text, PDF, graphic content] which alleged that the army may be committing war crimes including torture and forced labor against ethnic communities in Kachin state.