|Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana. UN Photo/Pierre-Michel Virot|
The UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, on Friday issued a statement from Geneva expressing his “serious concerns” about the spread of violence between Muslim and Buddhist communities in Myanmar and urged the Thein Sein government to take “bold steps” to counteract what he called a “frightening trend”.
“The Government must take immediate action to stop the violence from spreading to other parts of the country and undermining the reform process,” Quintana said. “This includes stemming campaigns of discrimination and hate speech which are fuelling racist and, in particular, anti-Muslim feeling in the country.”
The UN envoy was undoubtedly referring to the emergence of Buddhist extremists, in many cases led by monks, who stand accused of masterminding the violence. A group calling itself “969”, which appears to be spearheaded by a Buddhist monk named Wirathu, has inundated social media with anti-Muslim vitriol and called for a boycott of all Muslim businesses.
“The warning signs have been there since the communal violence in Rakhine State last June, and the Government has simply not done enough to address the spread of discrimination and prejudice against Muslim communities across the country, and to tackle the organised and coordinated mobs that are inciting hatred and violently attacking Muslim communities,” Quintana said.
He called for Myanmar’s authorities to hold to account those responsible for acts of violence and destruction against religious and ethnic minorities.
Quintana also alluded to allegations that some State officials, including local politicians and administrators, have been encouraging discriminatory views and inciting hatred.
“The Government must clearly distance itself from such incitement to hatred, and instruct its officials to do likewise,” the UN envoy said. “Although Myanmar is a majority Buddhist country, the Government must promote tolerance of all faiths and religions.”
Quintana went on to say that he had received reports that the military, police and other civilian law enforcement forces had stood by “while atrocities have been committed before their very eyes, including by well organised ultra-nationalist Buddhist mobs.”
He called for Myanmar to also hold to account those military and police officers who were responsible for tolerating attacks against Muslims.
Quintana praised the work of 88 Generation leaders, such as Min Ko Naing, who had travelled to Meiktila following the violence and worked to ease tensions and promote understanding.
In the Special Rapporteur’s latest report to the UN Human Rights Council earlier this month, he warned that the crisis in Rakhine State could spread to other parts of the country, and issued a number of recommendations to the Government aimed at addressing the widespread discrimination and prejudice against ethnic and religious minority groups in Myanmar, including lifting restrictions on discriminatory practices against Muslim communities, and reviewing the functions of the border security forces.