Myanmar delaying crucial decisions on Muslim tensions: U.N. expert

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 25, 2012 5:03 PM
Myanmar delaying crucial decisions on Muslim tensions: U.N. expert

By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The government of Myanmar is delaying crucial decisions on ways to reduce tensions in volatile regions, a U.N. investigator said on Thursday, as sectarian violence raged for a fifth day between Rohingya Muslims and Buddhists in western Myanmar.

Hundreds of homes burned and gunfire rang out in Rakhine State on Thursday as security forces struggled to stem Myanmar's worst communal unrest since clashes in June killed more than 80 people and displaced at least 75,000 people.

Tomas Ojea Quintana, the U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar, which is also known as Burma, told reporters that the country's new government had made substantial progress with democratic reforms.

"At the same time, we see that they are not at this point taking the proper decisions toward a real solution," he said about the Rohingya problem. "I don't see a real analysis of the situation."

Quintana said a special committee set up by Myanmar's president to look at the causes of the tensions in the west had been expected to produce a report next month but that appeared to have been delayed.

"So again we see that those decisions that are needed to be taken immediately to control the situation, to start addressing the root causes of the problem, are not being taken," he said.

The latest violence in Rakhine has spread to several towns, including commercially important Kyaukpyu, where a multi-billion-dollar China-Myanmar pipeline starts. Quintana described the situation there as "critical."

The violence is one of the biggest tests yet of a reformist government that has vowed to forge unity in one of Asia's most ethnically diverse countries.

He said the government must find a way to end the discrimination against the Rohingya Muslims.

"I believe that the government must address the underlying causes of the tension and conflict between Buddhist and Muslim communities there, including the impact of deep-rooted prejudice and discriminatory practices based on ethnicity and religion.

"In this respect I urge the government to take measures to address the endemic discrimination against the Rohingya community and ensure respect for their human rights, which should include a review of the 1982 Citizenship Act," he said.


Rohingyas are officially stateless. Buddhist-majority Myanmar's government regards the estimated 800,000 Rohingyas in the country as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and denies them citizenship. Bangladesh has refused to grant Rohingyas refugee status since 1992.

Quintana said he was concerned about public demonstrations against Rohingyas, calling these a "dangerous" development.

On Thursday, the United States, which has been lifting sanctions on Myanmar as relations improve with its reformist government, said it was deeply concerned about the violence and urged all parties to show restraint and halt attacks immediately.

President Thein Sein's government has negotiated ceasefires with most ethnic rebel groups that have fought for autonomy for half a century but has done little to address the Rohingya problem and encourage Muslim-Buddhist reconciliation.

Quintana welcomed the government's ceasefire deals with ethnic groups but voiced "ongoing concerns over continuing allegations of human rights violations conflict-affected ethnic border areas."

"This includes Kachin State, where I have received allegations of attacks against civilian populations, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, internal displacement, torture, ongoing use of land mines, the recruitment of child soldiers as well as forced labor," he said.

He added that the violations in Kachin were being committed by all parties to the conflict.

Quintana also urged the government to ensure the United Nations has access to all conflict-torn areas of Myanmar.

He appealed to the government to free a U.N. staff member and several employees of international non-governmental organizations who have been in detention for months in connection with violence in Rakhine earlier this year.

"I again call for their immediate release," he said.

In his annual report to the U.N. General Assembly's human rights committee, Quintana called for the release of all remaining political prisoners in Myanmar.

(Reporting By Louis Charbonneau; Editing by David Brunnstrom)