Distinction in travel journalism
Is independent travel journalism important to you?
Click here to keep it independent

19 Jun, 2013

Myanmar Must Tackle Discrimination Against Minorities – UN Human Rights Chief


GENEVA (19 June 2013) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Wednesday urged the government of Myanmar to devote urgent attention to tackling the continuing discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities in the country, warning that failure to act could undermine the reform process.

“Myanmar today can act as a source of inspiration by showing how governments can be transformed by a renewed commitment to human rights,” the High Commissioner said. “However, the ongoing human rights violations against the Rohingya community in Rakhine State, and the spread of anti-Muslim sentiment across the State and beyond, is threatening the reform process and requires focused attention from the Government.”

Some 140,000 people, mostly Rohingya, remain displaced in Rakhine State following violence between Buddhist and Muslim communities last year, and tens of thousands of others have fled by boat.

In March, anti-Muslim violence spread to Meiktila in Mandalay region, leaving 43 people dead and more than 1,500 buildings destroyed, according to government figures. Last month in Lashio Township, Shan State, anti-Muslim violence displaced some 1,400 people and destroyed property, including a mosque and an Islamic boarding school.

“The President of Myanmar has made some important statements on the need to end discrimination and violence and foster mutual respect and tolerance between people of different faiths and ethnicities,” the High Commissioner said. “I believe that the political will is there, but encourage the Government to translate this will into concrete actions.”

The High Commissioner expressed her hope that discussions on Myanmar during the recent session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva would further encourage the government to combat discrimination.

Expressing its deep concern at the gross violations of human rights against Muslims in Myanmar, including against the Rohingya, the Council urged the government to allow humanitarian assistance and aid to reach the people and communities affected. It also called on the Government to end impunity for all violations of human rights.

Investigating and ensuring accountability for human rights violations was a basic obligation that the Government must fulfil, Pillay said. “My Office continues to receive credible and consistent reports of widespread and systematic human rights violations being committed against the Rohingya and other Muslims in Rakhine State, including by the security forces,” she said.

The High Commissioner said her staff had received credible allegations of arbitrary arrest and detention, the practice of torture in places of detention and denial of due process rights, as well as extrajudicial killings and sexual violence, including rape.

“Furthermore, I am concerned that those involved in mob violence against Muslim communities in Meiktila, Lashio and elsewhere are not being held to account, which sends out a message that violence directed against Muslim communities in Myanmar is somehow acceptable or justified,” she said.

“The Government must urgently pursue legal and institutional reforms, including reforming local orders and national laws that discriminate along lines of ethnicity and religion,” the High Commissioner said.

In May, it was announced that a local order would be revived that limits Rohingya Muslims in the townships of Buthidaung and Maungdaw in Rakhine State to having a maximum of two children. “This is blatantly discriminatory,” Pillay said. “This order should be rescinded immediately.”

Myanmar’s 1982 Citizenship Law has also been widely criticized for discriminating against unlisted minority groups, including the Rohingya. Some 800,000 Rohingya have been left stateless and increasingly vulnerable to a range of human rights violations.

“Institutional reforms also involve providing human rights training for military, security and police personnel, including with regard to appropriate use of force in dealing with peaceful protests,” the High Commissioner said, urging a full investigation into the shooting dead of three Rohingya women earlier this month. The women were killed as they took part in a peaceful demonstration in Rakhine State, when police allegedly fired into a crowd of demonstrators in Pa Rein village, Mrauk-U Township.

“My Office is ready to support the Government’s progressive reforms and to assist in addressing all forms of discrimination and other human rights challenges. I therefore hope to see quick progress in the establishment of an OHCHR Country Office in Myanmar with a full mandate,” Pillay said.

Negotiations on a ‘Host Country Agreement’ have been continuing since 18 November 2012 when the Government first invited the High Commissioner to establish an office in the country.