Friday, February 25, 2011

Myanmar : Human rights abuses burden region with exodus of refugees

UN - Human rights violations in Myanmar are burdening other countries in the region, with an influx of refuges fleeing a host of abuses from forced labour and land confiscation to arbitrary detention and sexual violence, a United Nations expert warned today.

“There is clearly an extra-territorial dimension,” the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tom├ís Ojea Quintana, said in Kuala Lumpur at the end of an eight-day fact-finding mission to Malaysia, one of the affected countries with some 84,800 registered refugees and asylum-seekers and a large number still unregistered. “Despite the promise of the transition in Myanmar, the human rights situation remains grave.”

Other countries in the region also host a considerable number of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants from Myanmar.

“Countries in the region have a particular interest in persuading the Government of Myanmar to take necessary measures for the improvement of its human rights situation,” Mr. Quintana added. “These measures are an urgent matter for the new Government, and the international community should ensure that Myanmar fulfils this responsibility.”

Mr. Quintana met with a wide range of individuals who had fled Myanmar to Malaysia, the organizations that serve these communities, and different ethnic groups, particularly the Chin and Rohingya communities.

“I talked to many people who had recently left Myanmar fleeing forced labour, land and property confiscation, arbitrary taxation, religious and ethnic discrimination, arbitrary detention, as well as sexual and gender-based violence,” he said.

These included a man who left Chin State after 15 years of portering and forced labour for the military; a prominent Chin woman religious leader coerced to read a statement at a televised event denying restrictions on religious freedom despite her own views; and a young man who left Northern Rakhine State after he was denied the necessary travel permit to attend university and was arrested for trying to bypass the restrictions.

Another young man left Shan State after years of forced labour, when the military confiscated his family’s farm and his brother was arrested and subsequently killed; he himself was also arrested but managed to escape.

Mr. Quintana will present his latest report to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council next month.

When a new president and vice-presidents of Myanmar were elected earlier this month by the newly-convened parliament, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had voiced hope that the move would lead to the formation of a more inclusive civilian government broadly representative of all parties “relevant to national reconciliation and more responsive to the aspirations of the people.”