Myanmar: UN expert calls for underlying causes of tensions in Rakhine state to be addressed

Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Tomás Ojea Quintana. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

26 October 2012 – Expressing concern about renewed deadly violence, a United Nations independent expert has called for the underlying causes of the tension and conflict between the Buddhist and Muslim communities in Myanmar's Rakhine state to be addressed as a priority.

“It is vital for the Government and all concerned to prevent further violence and to defuse tensions between the two communities,” the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, said in presenting a report on his work to the General Assembly on Thursday.

“Buddhist and Muslim communities continue to suffer from the violence in Rakhine State, so it is imperative that the Government pursues a policy of integration and long-term reconciliation between the two communities,” he added. “This will necessarily involve addressing the underlying causes of the tensions, which includes the endemic discrimination against the Rohingya community.”

In addition to highlighting the importance of keeping human rights on the agenda for Myanmar, the Special Rapporteur's report considers, among other things, the situation in Rakhine state where – according to a news release from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights – violence between communities has left scores dead, over 850 people detained and tens of thousands displaced.

According to media reports, Government officials have said that at least 56 people have been killed and hundreds of homes torched since Sunday in the north of Rakhine state, located in western Myanmar.

In June, serious disturbances – between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims – led to the Government declaring a state of emergency there. The violence reportedly left at least a dozen civilians dead and hundreds of homes destroyed, while internally displacing tens of thousands of people.

On Thursday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the authorities in Myanmar to take action to bring an end to the lawlessness currently affecting the state, with the UN chief's spokesperson describing the most recent outbreak of communal violence in five townships in the state's north as “deeply troubling.”

In his report to the Assembly, Mr. Ojea Quintana emphasizes that human rights should lie at the heart of Myanmar's reform process, driving it forward and keeping it focused on improving the lives of the population, at a time when changes continue to move at a rapid pace and considerable progress has been made.

“Human rights considerations need to shape the process of economic growth, legislative reform and institutional change, while also guiding responses to ongoing serious human rights situations, including in Rakhine and Kachin States,” he said.

The Special Rapporteur welcomed the progress achieved in negotiating ceasefire agreements with ethnic armed groups, but expressed concerns over continuing allegations of human rights violations in conflict-affected ethnic border areas.

“I have received allegations of attacks (in the Kachin State) against civilian populations, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, internal displacement, torture, forced labour and portering, as well as the ongoing use of landmines and the recruitment of child soldiers, by all parties to the conflict,” he noted.

The Special Rapporteur urged Myanmar authorities to address the situation and provide the United Nations and its partners with regular, independent and predictable access to all in need of humanitarian assistance. “The Government should continue to engage ethnic groups in serious dialogue to resolve long-standing and deep-rooted concerns to forge durable political solutions,” he said.

Other matters covered in his report included a renewed call for the release of all remaining prisoners of conscience, a call for a concerted effort to clarify exactly how many remain in detention and steps to ensure the reintegration of released prisoners into society, as well as the creation of a truth commission, amongst other recommendations.

Independent experts, or special rapporteurs like Mr. Ojea Quintana, are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.


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