Friday, 23 August 2013

Myanmar Moving Forward, But Must Stem Religious Hatred

"Myanmar Is Moving Forward In Many Areas, But Must
Stem the Spread of Incitement of Religious Hatred," Says
UN Expert

2013) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human
rights situation in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, said the
country is moving forward in many areas "which has brought
positive changes to the human rights situation, and has the
potential to bring further improvements." However, he
warned about remaining critical challenges, including the
historical need of reconciliation with ethnic groups and the
spread of incitement of hatred against religious minority

"The initiatives being implemented at the
highest levels by the Government to stop more fighting in
the country needs to be accompanied, in parallel, with
measures at the grassroots level to also engage local and
rural communities in the process of peacebuilding and
reconciliation," Mr. Ojea Quintana said* at the end of his
8th official visit to the country that took him to Rakhine
State, Chin State, Kachin State and Shan State, and
Meikhtila in Mandalay Region.

The UN independent expert
called for more space to be opened up for "all voices to
be heard, particularly the voices of women, including in the
peace negotiations, so communities have trust and belief
that this process will lead to a better future."

also called on the Government to fulfill its obligations in
stemming the spread of incitement of religious hatred
directed against minority communities, through strong public
messaging, the establishment of the rule of law, and
policing in line with international human rights standards.

The Rapporteur welcomed increasing space for civil
society, including the recent commemoration of the 1988
pro-democracy protests: "The past is unavoidable and will
always come up in a country that has suffered decades of
conflict and oppression," he stressed. "The Government
together with civil society has to build on this progress
towards addressing the past through mechanisms to establish
the truth and bring reconciliation."

He also drew
attention to the fact that Myanmar still has prisoners of
conscience, some of whom he met during his visit to the
Insein prison in Yangon, and other detention centres in
Rakhine State. "They should be released immediately and
unconditionally," he reiterated.
Thein Sein has announced that by the end of the year all
remaining political prisoners will have been released,"
the expert said. "The Presidential statement should be
accompanied by the respect of every person in Myanmar to
freely express and demonstrate their opinions."

Kachin State

Mr. Ojea Quintana
welcomed the recent agreement signed by the state's
authorities and the Kachin Independence Organisation,
especially regarding the relief, rehabilitation and
resettlement of internally displaced persons (IDPs).
 However, he expressed concern over its implementation.

"The information I have received about these areas is
extremely concerning, particularly with regard to food
security," he said, noting that UN humanitarian agencies
had only been provided with access to non-government
controlled areas once between July 2012 and July 2013.

The independent expert also noted the lack of
consultation with internally displaced communities on their
return. "Any initiative to return IDPs to their places of
origin has to be done with the free, prior and informed
consent of the ethnic communities concerned, and also
involve consultation with humanitarian agencies working in
the State, including UN agencies," he stressed.

Chin State

"I went to Mindat and
Kanpalet, and noted that restrictions on Christians have
eased notably in 2013, though there remain some shortcomings
in terms of bureaucratic obstacles towards opening spaces
for Christian worship," the Special Rapporteur said, while
stressing that in the Na Ta La schools, equal access for
both Buddhists and Christians needs to be ensured.

expert noted that Chin State has serious levels of
underdevelopment. "With the country opening up,
development will come, but it is important that this process
occurs in a participatory, transparent, accountable and
equal manner," he said. "The process of development and
the exploitation natural resources there should benefit the
Chin communities, who have suffered from neglect from the
central government over the years."

Meiktila in
Mandalay Region

In Meiktila, the Special
Rapporteur's planned visit to an IDP camp had to be
cancelled after a group of protestors aggressively
confronted him: "My car was descended upon by a crowd of
around 200 people who proceeded to punch and kick the
windows and doors while shouting abuse."

In March,
following weeks of incitement of religious hatred within the
community, violence targeting the Muslim community erupted
in Meiktila, leaving over 10,000 persons displaced. "The
fear that I felt during this incident, being left totally
unprotected by the nearby police, gave me an insight into
the fear residents would have felt during the violence last
March, as police allegedly stood by as angry mobs beat,
stabbed and burned to death some 43 people."

The expert
highlighted the role of the state in preventing such
incidents from spiraling out of control: "I must highlight
the obligation of the police to act immediately to control
violent mobs running riot in communities, and protect all
people regardless of their religion or ethnicity; something
it seems they have not done during the violence in

After meeting with residents who
witnessed the scenes last March, he stressed, "The
violence in Meiktila has highlighted to me the dangers of
the spread of incitement of religious hatred in Myanmar, and
the deadly environment that this can create. The central and
state government has an obligation to address these worrying

Rakhine State

Ojea Quintana noted that the state and central government
are working well with the international community to address
urgent humanitarian needs of both Rakhine Buddhists and the
Muslim communities.

"However," he said, "my
overriding concern is that the separation and segregation of
communities in Rakhine State is becoming increasingly
permanent, making the restoration of trust difficult. This
continues to have a particularly negative impact on the
Muslim community.

"The severe restrictions on freedom
of movement in Muslim IDP camps and villages remain in
place," he said. "This has serious consequences for
fundamental human rights, including access to healthcare,
education, as well as access to livelihoods."

"Furthermore, there continues to be cases of
humanitarian workers facing intimidation by local groups
when attempting to provide healthcare to the camps, which
compounds the problem of access to healthcare," the expert
During his ten-day visit, the Special
Rapporteur met in Naypyitaw and Yangon with Government
officials, members of Parliament and the judiciary, the
National Human Rights Commission, and civil society.

(*) Check the full end-of-mission


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