Thai authorities threaten to return family of Arakan Army commander to Myanmar where they face persecution 

(BANGKOK, December 6, 2019)—The Government of Thailand should prevent the forced return of ethnic-Rakhine woman Hnin Zar Phyu and her two children to Myanmar, where they face likely persecution as the family of Arakan Army commander Tun Myat Naing, Fortify Rights said today. The family is currently being held in Thai custody in Chiang Rai Province.

“If this family is returned, there’s a serious risk Hnin Zar Phyu will be arbitrarily arrested and detained in Myanmar,” said Matthew Smith, Chief Executive Officer of Fortify Rights. “Returning Hnin Zar Phyu and her children to Myanmar raises serious protection concerns.” 

Earlier this year, the Myanmar authorities arrested Aung Myat Kyaw, the brother of Tun Myat Naing, after Singaporean authorities returned him to Myanmar. Myanmar authorities charged Aung Myat Kyaw and seven other ethnic-Rakhine men in August 2019 under the country’s counter-terrorism law, according to media reports.

The Myanmar military and Arakan Army have engaged in armed conflict in Rakhine State since 2015, and Arakan Army leaders and their family members face arrest and persecution by the Myanmar authorities. 

Thai immigration authorities arrested Hnin Zar Phyu, 38, her eleven-year-old daughter, and infant son in Chiang Mai on December 4. Earlier today, the authorities transported the family via helicopter from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai Province.

Under customary international law, the principle of non-refoulement prohibits states from returning any person on its territory or under its jurisdiction to a country where they may face persecution. 

Clashes between the Myanmar military and Arakan Army have displaced more than 60,000 civilians in seven townships of Rakhine State since January 2019. Fortify Rights documented how civilians, including children, were killed and injured during the conflict, and how the Myanmar Army forced ethnic-Rakhine civilians to dig graves and carry supplies under the threat of death. The United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar documented in their final report that “forced labour, torture and ill-treatment” are “prominent features” of the Myanmar military’s conflict with the Arakan Army, constituting “violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, including war crimes.”

This week, UNICEF reported that 143 children were killed or injured in armed conflict in Myanmar this year. 

“Myanmar has violated the rights of Rakhine civilians for years,” said Matthew Smith. “Thailand has a duty to protect Hnin Zar Phyu and her children from persecution. She’s done nothing wrong in Myanmar or Thailand.”

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