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Myanmar: UN official concerned over rights violations in Rakhine state

Two men sit under the the remnants of their homes in Sittwe, the provincial capital of Myanmar's western Rakhine State.
IRIN/Khine Thurein
Two men sit under the the remnants of their homes in Sittwe, the provincial capital of Myanmar's western Rakhine State.

Myanmar: UN official concerned over rights violations in Rakhine state

A United Nations senior official today expressed serious concern about reports of human rights violations committed by security forces in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, after clashes between its Buddhist and Muslim communities reportedly killed at least 78 people and displaced thousands last month.

“We have been receiving a stream of reports from independent sources alleging discriminatory and arbitrary responses by security forces, and even their instigation of and involvement in clashes,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said in a news release.

“Reports indicate that the initial swift response of the authorities to the communal violence may have turned into a crackdown targeting Muslims, in particular members of the Rohingya [Muslim] community,” she added.

According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the violence between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in the state, located in the country’s west, was triggered when an ethnic Rakhine woman was raped and murdered on 28 May. This was followed by the killing of 10 Muslims by an unidentified mob on 3 June.

Ms. Pillay called for a prompt, independent investigation, noting that the crisis reflects the long-standing and systemic discrimination against the Rohingya Muslim community, who are not recognized by the Government and remain stateless.

“The Government has a responsibility to prevent and punish violent acts, irrespective of which ethnic or religious group is responsible, without discrimination and in accordance with the rule of law,” Ms. Pillay said.

She also called on national leaders to speak out against discrimination, the exclusion of minorities and racist attitudes, and in support of equal rights for all in Myanmar. She also stressed that the UN was making an effort to assist and protect all communities in Rakhine state.

“Prejudice and violence against members of ethnic and religious minorities run the risk of dividing the country in its commendable national reconciliation efforts, undermine national solidarity, and upset prospects of peace-building,” Ms. Pillay said.

Meanwhile, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today said it is delivering aid to the more than 30,000 people that were affected by the violence.

“As we speak, additional tents are being airlifted from the Republic of Korea to meet urgent shelter needs on the ground,” a UNHCR spokesperson, Andrej Mahecic, told reporters in Geneva.

Mr. Mahecic said that many people had their houses destroyed, and would only go back if they could get help building new homes, while displaced Muslims have told the refugee agency that they would like to go home but fear for their safety.

According to UNHCR, an estimated 80,000 people are displaced in and around the towns of Sittwe and Maungdaw, with most of them living in camps or with host families in surrounding villages.

The Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana, is due to visit the country next week, and his mission there will include a visit to Rakhine state. Ms. Pillay welcomed the Special Rapporteur’s visit, but noted that “while he will be able to make an initial assessment during his one-day visit, this is no substitute for a fully-fledged independent investigation.”

Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Geneva-based 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 United Nations staff, nor are they paid for their work.