22 August 2013 A United Nations independent expert today urged greater inclusion of women and other minority voices in the peace efforts in Myanmar and called on the Government to fulfil its obligations in stemming the spread of incitement of religious hatred directed against minority communities.
Wrapping up his eighth visit to the South-East Asian country, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, stressed that Myanmar had made positive improvement in its human rights situation, and has the potential for further progress
But at the same time, he stressed that the historical need of reconciliation with ethnic groups and the spread of incitement of hatred against religious minority groups are among remaining critical challenges.
“The initiatives being implemented at the highest levels by the Government to stop more fighting in the country needs to be accompanied, in parallel, with measures at the grassroots level to also engage local and rural communities in the process of peacebuilding and reconciliation,” Mr. Ojea Quintana said.
He commended the Government for increasing space for civil society, including the recent commemoration of the 1988 pro-democracy protests but urged more space to be opened up for “all voices to be heard” so communities have trust and belief that this process will lead to a better future.
“The past is unavoidable and will always come up in a country that has suffered decades of conflict and oppression,” he stressed. “The Government, together with civil society has to build on this progress towards addressing the past through mechanisms to establish the truth and bring reconciliation.”
Mr. Ojea Quintana also called on the Government to stem the spread of incitement of religious hatred directed against minority communities through strong public messaging, the establishment of the rule of law, and policing in line with international human rights standards.
He expressed concern over the continued separation and segregation of communities in Rakhine State adding that it was becoming increasingly permanent and impacting negatively on the Muslim community.
Any attempt by the Special Rapporteur to visit Meiktila, where violence in March targeting the Muslim community left over 10,000 people displaced and led to 43 people killed, was cut short after this entourage was roughed up by demonstrators.
“Around 200 people descended over my car. They punched and kicked the windows and doors and [were] shouting abuses,” Mr. Ojea Quintana told UN Radio. “My concern is that the police nearby, stood by without really stopping these people and intervening. The incident which took place in Meiktila was very serious, but I already discussed [it] with the Government and I hope in the near future this will not happen again.”
During his 10-day visit, the Special Rapporteur also visited Chin State, Kachin State and Shan State, and Meikhtila in Mandalay Region.
He also noted that Myanmar still has prisoners of conscience, some of whom he met during his visit to the Insein prison in Yangon, and other detention centres in Rakhine State.
“They should be released immediately and unconditionally,” Mr. Ojea Quintana reiterated.
President Thein Sein granted amnesty in July to 73 prisoners of conscience, as part of a series of reforms initiated two years ago following the establishment of a new Government. He has announced that by the end of the year all remaining political prisoners will have been released.
Special rapporteurs 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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