Myanmar must tackle discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities
GENEVA (19 June 2013) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay
urged the government of Myanmar to devote urgent attention to
tackling the continuing discrimination against ethnic and religious
minorities in the country, warning that failure to act could undermine the
“Myanmar today can act as a source of inspiration by showing how
governments can be transformed by a renewed commitment to human rights,”
the High Commissioner said.
“However, the ongoing human rights violations against the Rohingya
community in Rakhine State, and the spread of anti-Muslim sentiment across
the State and beyond, is threatening the reform process and requires
focused attention from the Government,” she added.
Some 140,000 people, mostly Rohingya, remain displaced in Rakhine State
following violence between Buddhist and Muslim communities last year, and
tens of thousands of others have fled by boat.
In March, anti-Muslim violence spread to Meiktila in Mandalay region,
leaving 43 people dead and more than 1,500 buildings destroyed, according
to government figures. Last month in Lashio Township, Shan State,
anti-Muslim violence displaced some 1,400 people and destroyed property,
including a mosque and an Islamic boarding school.
“The President of Myanmar has made some important statements on the need to
end discrimination and violence and foster mutual respect and tolerance
between people of different faiths and ethnicities,” the High Commissioner
said. “I believe that the political will is there, but encourage the
Government to translate this will into concrete actions.”
The High Commissioner expressed her hope that discussions on Myanmar during
the recent session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva would further
encourage the government to combat discrimination.
Expressing its deep concern at the gross violations of human rights against
Muslims in Myanmar, including against the Rohingya, the Council urged the
government to allow humanitarian assistance and aid to reach the people and
communities affected. It also called on the Government to end impunity for
all violations of human rights.
Investigating and ensuring accountability for human rights violations was a
basic obligation that the Government must fulfil, Pillay said. “My Office
continues to receive credible and consistent reports of widespread and
systematic human rights violations being committed against the Rohingya and
other Muslims in Rakhine State, including by the security forces,” she
The High Commissioner said her staff had received credible allegations of
arbitrary arrest and detention, the practice of torture in places of
detention and denial of due process rights, as well as extrajudicial
killings and sexual violence, including rape.
“Furthermore, I am concerned that those involved in mob violence against
Muslim communities in Meiktila, Lashio and elsewhere are not being held to
account, which sends out a message that violence directed against Muslim
communities in Myanmar is somehow acceptable or justified,” she said.
“The Government must urgently pursue legal and institutional reforms,
including reforming local orders and national laws that discriminate along
lines of ethnicity and religion,” the High Commissioner said.
In May, it was announced that a local order would be revived that limits
Rohingya Muslims in the townships of Buthidaung and Maungdaw in Rakhine
State to having a maximum of two children.
“This is blatantly discriminatory,” Pillay said. “This order should be
Myanmar’s 1982 Citizenship Law has also been widely criticized for
discriminating against unlisted minority groups, including the Rohingya.
Some 800,000 Rohingya have been left stateless and increasingly vulnerable
to a range of human rights violations.
“Institutional reforms also involve providing human rights training for
military, security and police personnel, including with regard to
appropriate use of force in dealing with peaceful protests,” the High
Commissioner said, urging a full investigation into the shooting dead of
three Rohingya women earlier this month. The women were killed as they took
part in a peaceful demonstration in Rakhine State, when police allegedly
fired into a crowd of demonstrators in Pa Rein village, Mrauk-U Township.
“My Office is ready to support the Government’s progressive reforms and to
assist in addressing all forms of discrimination and other human rights
challenges. I therefore hope to see quick progress in the establishment of
an OHCHR Country Office in Myanmar with a full mandate,” Pillay said.
Negotiations on a ‘Host Country Agreement’ have been continuing since 18
November 2012 when the Government first invited the High Commissioner to
establish an office in the country.