The United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide today voiced deep concern at reports of increased violence between Muslim and Buddhist communities in Myanmar, and called on leaders to promote respect for diversity and peaceful coexistence.
Last week President Thein Sein reportedly declared a state of emergency and imposed martial law in four central townships after several days of unrest between Buddhists and Muslims, including in Meiktila where at least 30 people were killed.
“The recent episode of violence in Meiktila in central Myanmar raises concerns that sectarian violence is spreading to other parts of the country,” stated Special Adviser Adama Dieng. “In the context of last year’s violence between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state, there is a considerable risk of further violence if measures are not put in place to prevent this escalation.”
Mr. Dieng said these measures must address not only the immediate consequences of the current violence but also the root causes of the problem. “Failing to do so can have serious future consequences which the international community has solemnly promised to prevent,” he stated.
“The Government of Myanmar must clearly demonstrate that it is serious about holding accountable those responsible for the past and present violence, regardless of their religious or ethnic affiliations,” he urged. “The Government must also take measures to protect populations still at risk.”
Noting that the State has the primary responsibility to protect its population, the Special Adviser called on the Government of Myanmar to address this situation as a matter of urgency, develop a comprehensive national strategy that upholds international human rights standards and promotes reconciliation and tolerance among Buddhist and Muslim communities in the country.
“I call upon all religious leaders, local leaders and the communities themselves, to promote a culture of respect for diversity and peaceful coexistence that is fundamental in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society such as the one in Myanmar,” stated Mr. Dieng
“As a country that has positively surprised the international community with its recent transformation towards democracy, Myanmar needs to demonstrate that the rule of law will prevail and that all those living within its borders are and will be protected from violence and discrimination, particularly on the basis of religion or ethnicity.”
Meanwhile, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar, wrapped up a five-day visit to the country at the invitation of its Government, during which he spoke with families in Meiktila and met with leaders of different communities.
During the visit, a public meeting was held with leaders from the Buddhist, Christian and Muslim communities, and representatives of affected families to discuss measures to resolve tensions.
Mr. Nambiar said that fostering communal harmony was the responsibility of all sections of society and that religious leaders and other community leaders must publicly call on their followers to shun all violence, respect the law and promote peace.
He also expressed Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s “strong sympathy and support” to the affected communities, as well as the UN’s readiness to continue meeting their relief and rehabilitation needs.