Thursday, June 20, 2013

Myanmar: Failure to address discrimination could undermine reforms

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

UN - 19 June 2013 – The United Nations human rights chief today urged Myanmar’s Government to tackle continuing discrimination against ethnic minorities, warning that failure to act could undermine the reform process in the country.

“Myanmar today can act as a source of inspiration by showing how governments can be transformed by a renewed commitment to human rights,” said the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay.

“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.”

Several waves of clashes between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, the first of which occurred in June 2012, have affected hundreds of thousands of families in the country’s western region. Some 140,000 people, mostly Rohingya, remain displaced in Rakhine 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,” Ms. Pillay said. “I believe that the political will is there, but encourage the Government to translate this will into concrete actions.”

The High Commissioner said she hoped that discussions on Myanmar during the session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva earlier this month would further encourage the Government to combat discrimination.

In its latest session, the Council urged the Government to allow humanitarian assistance and aid to reach the people and communities affected, and called on authorities to end impunity for all violations of human rights.

Ms. Pillay noted that her Office (OHCHR) continues to receive reports of widespread and systematic human rights violations against Muslims in Rakhine, including arbitrary detention and torture by security forces, as well as extrajudicial killings and sexual violence.

“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,” Ms. Pillay 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.”

Ms. Pillay also condemned a local order limiting the number of children Rohingya Muslims can have to two, as well as a citizenship law that discriminates against unlisted groups and has left some 800,000 Rohingya stateless.

“This is blatantly discriminatory,” Ms. Pillay said. “This order should be rescinded immediately.”

In addition, she urged for a full investigation into the shooting of three Rohingya women earlier this month. The women were killed as they took part in a peaceful demonstration in Rakhine, 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,” Ms. Pillay added.