UN Special Rapporteur calls for conflict accountabilty in Burma/Myanmar
(WNN) YANGON/GENEVA: As progress in Burma/Myanmar is beginning in politics and civil society, the region continues to grapple with serious human rights abuse across ethnic, racial and religious lines.
United Nations Special Rapporteur Tomás Ojea Quintana, who visited Myanmar from 30 July to 4 August, returned to the United Nations in Geneva recently with deep concern that “key human rights needs” in the country are not being met. The situation in the Rakhine state for indigenous people is deteriorating, as well as the stateless Rohingya community which advocacy agencies say now number beyond 800,000 plus. The detention of U.N. staff members, as well as the detention of prisoners of conscience in Myanmar is also bringing the attention of the international human rights community to accountability with the government of Myanmar.
Violence between Rohingya Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists continues to escalate in the region. Imprisonment of prisoners of conscience, as well as the imprisonment of United Nations workers, has brought increased tension to communications between stakeholders inside Myanmar.
“I visited burned Rakhine villages and observed the construction of new shelters. In addition, my team and I visited camps for internally displaced persons for both Rakhine Buddhist and Muslim communities in Sittwe and Maungdaw. I also interviewed five United Nations staff in Buthidaung Prison who have been detained in connection with the events in Rakhine State, and met a lawyer who was considering representing one of the staff,” outlined Ojea Quintana after his return from the region.
Sharing that the region is in a “state of urgency,” the U.N. Special Rapporteur outlined what he witnessed during his trip to the region.
“The human rights situation in Rakhine State is serious – I witnessed the widespread suffering of people who have lost their homes and livelihoods as a result of the violence and express my sympathy to the victims from both communities,” outlined Ojea Quintana. “These include the excessive use of force by security and police personnel, arbitrary arrest and detention, killings, the denial of due process guarantees and the use of torture in places of detention,” he added.
Asking for accountability for acts that have stemmed from deep rooted discrimination, Ojea Quentana expressed the need for the region to follow “human rights principles.”
Although there is little reliable data on the regions ethnic minorities, ethnic discrimination in Burma/Myanmar has existed for decades in a region that has over 100 ethnic groups and 135 official government recognized ‘national races.’ To date the government of Myanmar continues to deny any ethnic recognition of the Rohingya, who live in the Rakhine region under conditions of statelessness due to the official denial of citizenship under Burma’s 1982 citizenship laws.
“It is of fundamental importance to clearly establish what has happened in Rakhine state and to ensure accountability. Reconciliation will not be possible without this, and exaggerations and distortions will fill the vacuum to further fuel distrust and tensions between communities,” he said. “…as a result of ongoing conflict, particularly in Kachin State, I continue to receive allegations of serious human rights violations committed, including attacks against civilian populations, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, internal displacement, and torture. Furthermore, I received allegations of the use of landmines, the recruitment of child soldiers, as well as forced labour and portering committed by all parties to the conflict,” outlined Ojea Quintana.
Interviewing United Nations staff members who have been detained in Insein and Buthidaung prisons following the most recent events in the Rakhine region, Special Rapporteur Ojea Quintana also met prisoners of conscience at Insein Prison and called for the release of all remaining prisoners of conscience without conditions or delay. Worry about the treatment of prisoners under detention continues though. Other staff members from international NGO – Non-governmental Organizations have also been recently arrested and detained.
Addressing recent responses by Myramar’s government, Ojea Quintana did thank the President of Myanmar for releasing a number of other prisoners of conscience, including Phyo Wai Aung who was released during the Special Rapporteur’s visit, but concerns for those still in prison remain.
“Based on my interviews, I have serious concerns about the treatment of these individuals during detention,” he said. “I am of the view that the charges against them are unfounded and that their due process rights have been denied. This is reminiscent of the experiences of prisoners of conscience whom I interviewed in Insein Prison. I therefore call for the immediate release of these individuals and a review of their cases.”
During his visit, Ojea Quintana met a number of high-level Government officials, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the Vice-Speaker of the Pyithu Hluttaw (lower house) and members of several parliamentary committees, the National Human Rights Commission, local authorities in Rakhine State, and civil society. He also met with 1991 Nobel Peace Laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi who is also current Chair for the NLD – National League for Democracy party in Myanmar.
One week ago Laureate Suu Kyi was appointed to head the ”Rule of Law and Tranquility Committee” in Myanmar’s parliament to help with the committee to oversee the rule of law in efforts to achieve peace through human rights monitoring. The party platform of the NLD has a goal to seek peace in the region despite decades of suffering under extended conflict.
Mr. Tomás Ojea Quintana, of Argentina, was appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council in May 2008. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any government or organization; works without salary or financial compensation; and serves in his individual capacity. This was his sixth official visit to Myanmar.
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