Myanmar sends aid workers to jail

A UNHCR aid worker in Myanmar. Three aid workers were sentenced to prison in Myanmar after being detained since June, including one from the U.N. refugee agency. Photo by: U.N. Photo / UNHCR / CC BY-NC-ND

Three aid workers were sentenced to prison in Myanmar after being detained since June, their charges never publically aired. The United Nations, which was not allowed a representative in the courtroom, has not been given access to the workers, or information about the charges or sentences.

The United Nations has decided to withhold the identities of the workers, who received their sentences Aug. 24 in a courtroom in Maundaw, in Myanmar’s northwestern Rakhine state. One works for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, another for a UNHCR-affiliated nongovernmental organization and the third for the World Food Program. All three are Myanmar nationals.

The three were among 12 aid workers detained in June by Rakhine officials following violent clashes in the area.

In an email sent to Devex, U.N. national information officer in Myanmar Aye Win confirmed that two U.N. aid workers and one from a partner NGO were sentenced at the District Court, but that he hasn’t received “official clarification of the sentences or the charges.” Win adds that the United Nations has requested information on the charges and access to the imprisoned staff.

Robin Lodge, WFP Pakistan head of public information and resource mobilization, meanwhile told Devex that the U.N. food agency has not received “official information from the authorities,” adding that, “as far as we are concerned, our staff member is still in detention.”

Weekly Eleven, an independent newspaper in Myanmar, reported that the aid workers belonged to the local Rohingya Muslim community. It claims they were charged with promoting hatred between Buddhists and Muslims, and participating in arson attacks, and that they received sentences ranging from two to six years.

Rakhine has long been the site of tension between the Rohingya Muslims and the Buddhist majority, and violence led to the death of at least 80 in June. The approximately 800,000 Rohingya, whom Myanmar does not recognize as citizens, have reportedly been gravely abused and persecuted.

UNHCR head António Guterres requested more details about the charges during a trip to Southeast Asia in July, but was denied. The United Nations has been unable to meet with the aid workers since they were detained, although several were released Aug. 23.

Jenny Lei Ravelo contributed reporting.

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About the author

  • Jennnews21

    Jennifer Brookland

    Jennifer Brookland is a Devex global development reporter based in Washington, DC. She has worked as a humanitarian reporter for the United Nations and as an investigative journalist for News21. Jennifer holds a bachelor's in foreign service from Georgetown University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University and in international law and diplomacy from the Fletcher School. She also served for four years as an Air Force officer.