The United Nations food aid agency has withdrawn a critical report revealing starvation among the Rohingya Muslim population after the Myanmar government demanded it be shelved.
The July report by the World Food Programme (WFP) said more than 80,000 under-fives in majority-Muslim areas of Rakhine State were “wasting”, meaning they were suffering potentially rapid weight loss.
The document has since been replaced with a statement saying Nay Pyi Taw and the WFP were “collaborating on a revised version”.
That process would involve “representatives from various ministries, and will respond to the need for a common approach” in compliance with the “WFP’s future cooperation with the government”.
The report should not be quoted in any way, the UN statement demanded.
By disowning the report, the United Nations will face further criticism that it did too little to defend the rights of 1.1 million Rohingya in a violent crackdown that has been compared to the Rwandan genocide of 1994.
On August 25 Rohingya insurgents allegedly attacked security forces along the Bangladesh border sparking a crackdown that forced more than 500,000 Muslims across the frontier. The refugees have detailed mass killings and rape by the military. The authorities deny the allegations.
The UN’s most senior representative in the country, Renata Lok-Dessallien, will leave at the end of October amid claims that she suppressed another report, which criticised the UN’s strategy, and also attempted to silence public advocacy over Rohingya persecution.
The WFP said its report was taken offline “following a request by the government to conduct a joint review”.
It said the “WFP stands by its original assessment, which was conducted jointly with local authorities in Rakhine State … However, WFP recognises that in a dynamic and evolving situation, it is important to coordinate closely with all partners, including the government.”
Al Jazeera reported that the government has successfully gagged coverage of the treatment of the Rohingya in the domestic media. It said it found six journalists who claimed they faced harassment, including death threats, for refusing to repeat the military authorities’ reports from Rakhine.
“You feel more cramped, you feel trapped, when you’re writing the news before it’s published,” said one unnamed domestic reporter.
“You have this fear what would be the public response, will they be swearing at me again online. This is directly affecting the journalists’ work,” the broadcaster reported him saying.
Myanmar’s media continues to repeat the government implausible claim that the Rohingya have been burning down their own homes.
Displaced Rohingya in Bangladesh. Picture credit: YouTube