End discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities: UN rights chief to Burma
GENEVA (20 June 2013) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Wednesday urged the government of Burma 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 reform process.
“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.
The UN rights chief’s harsh statement followed the highly inflammatory rhetoric from some radical Buddhist clerics who called for a ban against intermarriage between Buddhist women and non-Buddhist religious minorities in Burma.
“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.
Navi Pillay said the Burmese Government must translate thier policy rhetorics into concrete actions.
Rights groups have long accused the Burmese government of ‘institutionalized’ racial and religious discrimination, which they say are embedded in Burma’s legal and institutional structures.
According to the Chin Human Rights Organization, despite many reforms that have been introduced in the last two years, the Burmese government under President Thein Sein continues to use the Ministry of Religious Affairs and the military-dominated Ministry for Border Affairs to openly discriminate against ethnic and religious minorities such as Christians and Muslims.
This view was echoed by the UN rights chief saying, “The Government must urgently pursue legal and institutional reforms, including reforming local orders and national laws that discriminate along lines of ethnicity and religion.”
Expressing its deep concern at the gross violations of human rights against Muslims in Burma, the UN Human Rights Council also recently seperately called on the Burmese 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 said.
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.
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 rescinded immediately.”
Among the most controversial legislation in existence in Burma is the 1982 Citizenship Law, which rights groups say is inherently discriminatory against minority groups such as the Rohingyas.
The Burmese government and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Office have been in discussion to establish the UN rights body in the country since November 2012, but the final agreement has not been reached, much to the disappointment of many rights groups who want to see it established as soon as possible.
“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.