COX’S BAZAR (Bangladesh): Children as young as 10 are among hundreds of Rohingya Muslims detained on charges of consorting with insurgents, according to a police document seen by Reuters that sheds new light on Myanmar’s security campaign in the country’s northwest.
Thirteen juveniles are among more than 400 people arrested since Oct 9, when insurgents attacked three police border posts in northern Rakhine State near the frontier with Bangladesh, the March 7 dated document shows.
Police said some of the children had confessed to working with insurgents and that they were being detained away from adult suspects.
A government spokesman confirmed children were detained in the operation, but said authorities had followed the law.
He said he knew of only five juveniles currently being held.
Myanmar’s leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who took power almost a year ago, is under international pressure over alleged abuses including killings, gang rapes and mass detentions against the stateless Rohingya, about 1.1 million of whom are prevented from travelling freely and accessing basic services in Myanmar.
The government has released few details about the hundreds detained in the Rakhine operation or the charges they face.
The document seen by Reuters lists 423 people held under the colonial-era Unlawful Associations Act. All appear from their names to be male. Their average age is 34, but the youngest is 10 and the oldest 75.
Two police captains in Maungdaw, the district at the centre of the violence, confirmed the veracity of the 11-page document.
“We police have to arrest those related with the attackers, children or not, but the court will decide if they are guilty, we cannot decide,” said Capt Than Shwe.
Myanmar has ratified international conventions that require additional protections for children accused of crimes.
Reuters was unable to establish whether all those provisions, such as whether they have been able to communicate with their families or have legal representation, were being followed.
All 13 juveniles below the age of 18 were sent to be detained outside of prison at a Border Guard Police (BGP) facility in the town of Buthidaung, and were not shackled, said the second police captain, who did not want to be identified.
“Some of the children already confessed that they are involved with the attackers group during interrogation,” the police captain said. They were not beaten during questioning, he said.
Domestic law says children aged between seven and 12 are only criminally responsible if mature enough to understand the consequences of their actions.
Two listed detainees are under 12, while two more are 13.
Zaw Htay, director-general of Suu Kyi’s office, said he was only aware of five children currently detained at the Buthidaung BGP camp.
Authorities were under strict orders not to violate detainees’ rights, Zaw Htay said, adding: “We will not forgive anyone who does.”
Cases had been opened against all 423 people on the list under the Unlawful Associations Act, said the second police captain.
“We suspect that these people joined the attackers’ training or supported them with funding, or they cooperated during the attacks or were involved in the attacks,” he said. — Reuters