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UN expert warns of threat from escalating communal violence in Myanmar

The Rohingya, an ethnic, linguistic and religious minority in Myanmar.
IRIN/David Swanson
The Rohingya, an ethnic, linguistic and religious minority in Myanmar.

UN expert warns of threat from escalating communal violence in Myanmar

A United Nations independent human rights expert today warned that escalating violence among communities in Myanmar’s Rakhine state represents a serious threat to the country’s future.

“The underlying tensions that stem from discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities pose a threat to Myanmar’s democratic transition and stability. I urge all sides to exercise restraint, respect the law and refrain from violence,” the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, said in a news release.

“The Government should also address these concerns alongside its efforts to make progress on other human rights issues,” he added.

The violence in Rakhine state – between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims – has left at least a dozen civilians dead and hundreds of homes destroyed since last Friday, according to media reports. The violence led to the Government declaring a state of emergency in the state this past weekend.

“It is critical that the Government intensify its efforts to defuse tension and restore security to prevent the violence from spreading further,” Mr. Ojea Quintana said, adding that the authorities should lift the state of emergency as soon as order is restored.

Having consistently stressed the need for the authorities to take significant steps to address long standing issues of deprivation of citizenship, freedom of movement and other fundamental rights, the Special Rapporteur noted that discrimination against the Muslim community, particularly the Rohingyas in northern Rakhine state, is the root cause of these communal conflicts.

“Policing action should be carried out impartially, in line with human rights standards, and with respect for the principles of legality, proportionality and non-discrimination,” the Special Rapporteur said, in relation to Myanmar President Thein Sein’s message calling on various segments of society to jointly maintain peace and stability.

He added that, in his view, this obligation also extends to all state security forces on the ground who are charged with the restoration of order; and responsible media reporting is also needed to prevent violence from escalating.

The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar, is in the South-East Asian country at the moment.

Yesterday, he met with President Thein and they discussed the state of emergency and the need for the Government “to continue to handle the situation transparently and with respect for human rights and the rule of law, consistent with President Thein Sein’s recent statement in order that the cycle of violence is broken and the broader reform process not adversely affected,” according to a UN spokesperson.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has called on Bangladesh to keep its borders open in light of the violence in Rakhine state, following media reports quoting a statement of the Bangladeshi Border Guard force that it had turned away a number of boats carrying people from Myanmar.