Statement of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar By Tomás Ojea Quintana

I am concerned, however, at the allegations I have received of serious human rights violations committed as part of measures to restore law and order.  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.  While I am in no position to be able to verify these allegations at this point in time, they are of grave concern. It is therefore 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.  Therefore, I join the calls of others for an independent and credible investigation into these allegations of human rights violations as a matter of urgency.  And I offer my assistance in this regard.

Further, while the Government is clearly trying to respond to the immediate humanitarian needs and has a medium-term plan for the resettlement for those displaced, attention must be paid to the development of a longer-term strategy for rehabilitation and reconciliation – one that is based on integration and not separation of the two communities.  This strategy should be anchored in ensuring that the fundamental rights of all are respected and address the underlying causes of the violence.  I am extremely concerned about the deep-seated animosity and distrust which exists between the communities in Rakhine State.  The situation will only further deteriorate unless brave steps are taken by the Government.

In this respect, I have, throughout my mandate, consistently highlighted concerns regarding systematic discrimination against the Rohingya community.  Such concerns include the denial of citizenship or legal status to Rohingyas, restrictions on their freedom of movement, marriage restrictions, and other discriminatory policies.  I hope that steps will be taken to address these issues, including a review of the 1982 Citizenship Act to ensure that it is in line with international human rights standards.

During my mission, I interviewed six United Nations staff members, in Insein and Buthidaung prisons, who have been detained in connection with the events in Rakhine State.  I have also received information that a number of staff of international non-governmental organizations have been similarly detained.  Based on my interviews, I have serious concerns about the treatment of these individuals during detention.  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. I have also received information that the lawyer I met has received threats to deter him from representing one of the United Nations staff.   I call on the authorities to guarantee that the individuals I met do not face reprisals and to ensure their protection and that of their families at this time.

Finally, I remain of the opinion that addressing grievances from decades of human rights violations is crucial for democratic transition and national reconciliation.  Acknowledging the suffering of victims and allowing them to heal will help to prevent future violations from occurring.

To conclude, as reforms deepen in Myanmar, my mandate can help to highlight the importance of placing human rights standards and principles at the very heart of this process.  Take, for instance, the flood of foreign investment that is beginning to enter the country.  Adopting a human rights-based approach ensures that the principles of participation, non-discrimination, transparency, accountability and the rule of law guide this process.  With this guiding framework of human rights, investments will serve to create a more fair and just society, in which the human rights of the people of Myanmar are fulfilled.   The time to firmly embed a human rights-based approach in economic and social development is now.
More generally, I believe that human rights should not fall off the agenda, and human rights concepts and principles need to be at the forefront of the entire reform process, driving it forward and keeping it focused on addressing the needs and aspirations of the people of Myanmar.  It is my responsibility, as Special Rapporteur, to continue to emphasize this point.
I want to again thank the Government of Myanmar for its invitation and cooperation.  I look forward to another visit to the country before my next report to the Human Rights Council in 2013.  And I reaffirm my willingness to work constructively and cooperatively with Myanmar to improve the human rights situation of its people.

ENDS But to read in full, in detail go to Statement of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar By Tomás Ojea Quintana, 4 August 2012, Yangon International Airport, Myanmar

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