Friday, 29 March 2013

News Release: Religious violence in Myanmar, the consequences of Government inaction in tackling prejudice and discrimination – UN expert

1:25 PM (11 hours ago)

Religious violence in Myanmar, the consequences of Government inaction in
tackling prejudice and discrimination – UN expert

GENEVA (28 March 2013) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human
rights situation in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, today expressed serious
concerns over the spread of violence between Muslim and Buddhist
communities in Myanmar and urged bold steps by the Government to counteract
this 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.
This includes stemming campaigns of discrimination and hate speech which
are fuelling racist and, in particular, anti-Muslim feeling in the country.
And it involves holding to account those responsible for acts of violence
and destruction against religious and ethnic minorities,” the Special
Rapporteur said.

“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,” he added.

Last week saw violence between Muslim and Buddhist communities in Mandalay
region in central Myanmar that left 12,000 persons displaced and
unconfirmed numbers dead.  Subsequently, a curfew and state of emergency
has been imposed in four townships in Mandalay region. There are reports of
violence spreading to Bago and Yangon.  In June and October last year,
inter-communal violence in Rakhine State, Northwest Myanmar, left 120,000
internally displaced and, according to Government figures, nearly 200 dead.

Mr. Ojea Quintana welcomed calls from Government leaders, including the
President’s televised address to the nation earlier today, for compassion,
tolerance, understanding and empathy amongst people of all faiths in
Myanmar. He also notes the President’s warning to “political opportunists”
and “religious extremists” not to misuse religion to incite hatred.
However, he believes State authorities need to do much more. This includes
addressing allegations that some State officials, including local
politicians and administrators, have been encouraging discriminatory views
and inciting hatred.

The Rapporteur also expressed concern about religious leaders or their
supporters publicly spreading hate speech, including through social media.
“I have seen worrying footage of religious leaders, including Buddhist
monks, seemingly advocating religious intolerance. The Government must
clearly distance itself from such incitement to hatred, and instruct its
officials to do likewise.  Although Myanmar is a majority Buddhist country,
the Government must promote tolerance of all faiths and religions.”
Furthermore, journalists attempting to cover the violence in Mandalay have
reportedly been attacked and threatened by armed mobs, and the Rapporteur
highlighted the obligation of the State authorities to protect journalists.

While noting the President’s statement that the security forces will be
used to protect the life, liberty and security of the people, the
Rapporteur warned against a heavy-handed approach that sees strong military
action as the only way to restore public order, and urged a more holistic
approach to address the root causes of inter-communal tensions.

In addition, Mr. Ojea Quintana revealed, “I have received reports of State
involvement in some of the acts of violence, and of instances where the
military, police and other civilian law enforcement forces have been
standing by while atrocities have been committed before their very eyes,
including by well organised ultra-nationalist Buddhist mobs. This may
indicate direct involvement by some sections of the State or implicit
collusion and support for such actions.”  Other allegations received by the
Special Rapporteur have indicated that the military and police may be
arbitrarily detaining people based on religious and ethnic profiling.

“Tackling discrimination is fundamental to establishing the rule of law,
and impunity for acts of violence and discrimination must no longer be
tolerated,” he said. “The military and police must now be held to account
for human rights violations committed against ethnic and religious

While acknowledging the strong stance taken by the President’s Office, the
Rapporteur called on other institutions such as Parliament, the Supreme
Court and the National Human Rights Commission to play their role in
protecting constitutionally guaranteed rights, including freedom of
religion. He also emphasised the role of civil society and political
parties in tackling prejudice and discrimination against ethnic and
religious minorities, and praised the work of 88 Generation leaders such as
Min Ko Naing, who had travelled to Meikhtila following the violence and
worked to ease tensions and promote understanding.

In the Special Rapporteur’s latest report to the 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.

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