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

22 Jun, 2016

Myanmar must address ‘serious’ human rights violations against minorities – UN rights chief

United Nations, 20 June 2016, UN News Centre – Issuing a new report on the situation of minorities in Myanmar, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has urged the Government to take concrete steps to end the “systemic discrimination” and ongoing human rights violations against minority communities, particularly the Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state.

The report requested by the UN Human Rights Council in July 2015, documents a wide range of rights violations, including arbitrary deprivation of nationality, severe restrictions on freedom of movement, threats to life and security, denial of rights to health and education, forced labour, sexual violence, and limitations to political rights. It also notes that for those formally charged, fair trial guarantees are often not respected.

The report also raises the possibility that the pattern of violations against the Rohingya may amount to crimes against humanity.

An assessment team talks to displaced people in Pauktaw camp in rural Rakhine, Myanmar, where more than 20,000 Rohingya live. Photo: OCHA/Kirsten Mildren

An assessment team talks to displaced people in Pauktaw camp in rural Rakhine, Myanmar, where more than 20,000 Rohingya live. Photo: OCHA/Kirsten Mildren

Among the report’s findings is that in northern Rakhine state, ‘arbitrary arrest and detention of Rohingya remains widespread. Arrests are often carried out without grounds, formal processing or charges, until release is secured by payment of a bribe. For those formally charged, fair trial guarantees are often not respected.’

Rakhine has one of the lowest literacy rates in the country, and non-citizens, including Rohingya, are excluded from studying certain professions including medicine, economics and engineering. Some 30,000 Muslim children in IDP camps depend on temporary learning spaces supported by humanitarian organizations. “The consequences of lost years of education are devastating for future livelihood opportunities and the ability of Rohingya and Kaman youth to contribute to Myanmar’s development,” the report states.

According to a news release issued by the his Office (OHCHR), Mr. Zeid said Myanmar’s new Government had inherited the situation where laws and policies are in place that are designed to deny fundamental rights to the minorities and where impunity for serious violations has encouraged further violence against them.

Noting that it will “not be easy to reverse such entrenched discrimination,” he urged the Government to accord priority to halt ongoing violations and prevent further ones taking place.

Mr. Zeid further noted the signing of a nationwide ceasefire agreement last year as both a significant step and also a starting point. He called on the authorities to initiate a comprehensive programme of legal and policy measures to address the scope and pattern of violations against such communities. Acknowledging the complexity of the situation, he added: “We stand ready to support the Government of Myanmar in ensuring a successful transition to a society based firmly on the rule of law and the protection of human rights for all.”

The report outlines human rights violations and abuses against other minorities, including in the context of armed conflict. These include deliberate targeting of and indiscriminate attacks against civilians, use of child soldiers, forced labour, sexual and gender-based violence, violations of housing, land and property rights, and restrictions on freedom of religion or belief.

It also calls for a comprehensive inquiry into the situation of minorities in Myanmar, and independent investigations into all alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, including those committed by law enforcement officers.

The report also notes that Government has taken some initial steps, including creating a Ministry of Ethnic Affairs, proposing a national peace conference, and establishing a central committee on the implementation of peace, stability and development of Rakhine state.