U.N. envoy warns of deepening ethnic divisions in Myanmar

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 26, 2014 2:28 PM

By Paul Mooney

YANGON (Reuters) - A senior U.N. official on Saturday warned of a growing polarization between Buddhist and Muslim communities in Myanmar and said the living conditions in camps housing displaced Muslims were deplorable.

Yanghee Lee, Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, held a news conference at the end of a 10-day visit to the country and called on the government to tackle the recurring issue of inter-communal violence.

Lee's itinerary included camps in the western state of Rakhine housing some 140,000 stateless Muslim Rohingya.

She also visited the northern state of Kachin, where more than 100,000 people have been displaced since fighting between ethnic minority rebels and the government erupted in June 2011, ending a 17-year ceasefire.

Lee said of the camps around the area of Sittwe in Rakhine state: "The situation is deplorable. Many have remained in the camps for two years and I do not believe that there is adequate access to basic services."

In June, another senior U.N. official, Kyung-Wha Kang, said that in the camps in Rakhine state she had witnessed a level of human suffering that she had never seen before.

Lee, on her first trip to Myanmar since being appointed to her role last month, also visited Mandalay, the country's second largest city, where violence between Buddhists and Muslims left two people dead earlier this month.

She said that recurring inter-communal violence revealed "deep divisions and a growing polarization between Muslim and Buddhist communities".


Lee described a lack of health clinics and adequate access to health services, which she said was worrisome in the wake of the departure earlier this year of a number of international NGOs that had provided crucial health services.

In February, Myanmar expelled the main aid group providing health to more than half a million Rohingya in Rakhine state - Medecins Sans Frontieres-Holland - after the group said it had treated people believed to have been victims of violence in southern Maungdaw township, near the Bangladesh border.

In March, NGO and U.N. offices in Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine, were attacked by Buddhists angered by rumors that a foreign staffer for another group, Malteser International, had desecrated a Buddhist flag. This led to the withdrawal of aid groups providing healthcare for 140,000 Rohingya displaced by Buddhist-Muslim violence since 2012.

Lee said: “With the departure of INGOs providing critical health services and the operation of humanitarian organizations not yet at full capacity after the attacks in Sittwe in March, health provision still falls far short of needs.”

She said that she had received disturbing reports of people dying in camps due to the lack of emergency medical assistance.

She added that Muslims continued to face systematic discrimination, including restrictions on freedom of movement, restricted access to land, food, water, education and health care, and restrictions on marriages and birth registration.

Lee said she had received allegations of violations against the Muslim population in Rakhine, including arbitrary arrests, torture, death in detention, the denial of fair trials, rape and sexual violence.

“I believe these allegations are serious and merit investigation, with perpetrators held to account,” she said.

(Editing by Stephen Powell)