Sunday May 19, 2013
UN Envoy Concerned on Arakan Rights AbusesShudeepto Ariquzzaman Special to Salem-News.com
The UN envoy said that he met many of the 120,000 internally displaced people during his visit to Sittwe, Myaybon and Pauk Taw. He expressed concern at the lack of medical care in the Muslim camps.
(DHAKA, Bangladesh) - The United Nations has raised concerns on Saturday that the unrest in Arakan could derail the entire reform process in Myanmar.
“Rakhine (Arakan) State is going through a profound crisis that threatens to spread to other parts of the country and has the potential to undermine the entire reform process in Myanmar”, said Tomas Ojea Quintana, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Burma. The envoy was speaking to reporters at the Yangon airport following his five day visit to Myanmar. This happens to be Quintana’s seventh visit to the country since he was appointed to this position in March 2008.
2012 has seen the worst violence in Arakan in decades as riots flared up between Rakhine Buddhists backed by local authorities and Rohingya Muslims resulting in the deaths of thousands and mass displacements. Though both sides have been affected, the brunt of the violence has been borne by the Muslims who are a minority in the Arakan. Currently the entire province is segregated along ethnic lines where Muslims and Buddhists no longer reside in each other’s neighbourhoods.
The UN envoy said that he met many of the 120,000 internally displaced people during his visit to Sittwe, Myaybon and Pauk Taw. He expressed concern at the lack of medical care in the Muslim camps. “In Taung Paw camp in Myaybon Township, I met a woman in dire need of medical attention due to a severe case of gangrene in her foot,” said Quintana. “This kind of suffering in the camps is unacceptable and I urge the central and state authorities to ensure that adequate medical care is provided to all camps,” he said.
The UN envoy said that the dire conditions in the Muslim refugee camps were not due to shortage of resources, but rather the lack of a safe passage of humanitarian assistance to these camps. “Currently, local and international medical staff are unable to provide medical care to some of the Muslim camps due to the threats and harassment they face from local Rakhine Buddhist communities,” he said.
Expressing concern on the freedom of movement for the Muslim refugees, Quintana referred to the refugee camps as “more like a prison than a camp.” He said that although the central government has assured him that the refugees would soon be free to return home, he has learnt from stakeholders in the Arakan province, that this is not a realistic option in the near future. He predicted that in the coming monsoon season, the camps will be flooded, worsening the conditions of refugees.
Buddhists and Muslims reside in separate refugee camps in Arakan province. According to international observers, while basic living conditions are maintained by the authorities for the Rakhine refugee camps, the situation in the Muslim refugee camps is appalling.
Regarding relationship between the Buddhists and Muslims, Quintano said, “Fear, distrust, hatred and anger remain high between the communities. To address this requires education, responsible local journalism, as well as mutually respectful dialogue between community leaders.” He said that local authorities were doing little to reconcile differences between the two hostile communities and bring perpetuators of the riots to justice.
“To help inform this dialogue, the facts of what has happened need to be established and those responsible for human rights violations held to account,” said Quintana. Additionally, the UN envoy urged the government to revise the 1982 Citizenship Act that deprives the Rohingya Muslims of citizenship in Myanmar. “All persons in Myanmar must have equal access to citizenship and not discriminated in such access on grounds of ethnicity or religion,” he said.
The UN special envoy met imprisoned Rohingya leader Dr. Tun Aung at Sittwe prison where he discussed the role he can play in bridging the difference between the two communities if he is released. Terming Dr. Aung a prisoner of conscience, he called for his immediate and unconditional release. He also urged the release of imprisoned leaders Aung Naing, Saw Francis, Tun Oo, Win Myint, and Zaw Moe.
He also met sister of Myo Myint Swe, who died following torture during interrogation while in police custody, and the wife of Mr. Phyo Wai Aung, who also suffered torture during police interrogation and passed away last January only five months after his release following the envoy’s previous visit.
The UN envoy seemed alarmed at torture and death in custody throughout the Arakan and Myanmar. In particular he mentioned Buttidaung prison in northern Arakan where many prisoners have been tortured to death. At least 68 Muslim prisoners are confirmed to have died in custody.
During his address to journalists at the Yangon airport, Quintana also spoke of the ongoing conflict in the Kachin state. He expressed concern about the ongoing practice of arbitrary arrest and torture carried out by the military. He expressed shock at the dire conditions prevalent in Kachin state during his visit, the result of heavy fighting that has displaced tens of thousands since a 17-year ceasefire between the army and rebel Kachin Independence Army (KIA) broke down in June 2011. The envoy said a large military presence in Kachin has meant that “serious human rights violations” continue.
The UN envoy mentioned meeting with Aung Saan Suu Kyi and other leaders of the democracy movement.
While praising the government for improving the overall human rights situation in the country, Quintana said that serious human rights shortcomings remain unaddressed. Analysts say that that UN Special RapporteuronHuman Rights in Burma Tomas Ojea Quintana has the difficult responsibility of monitoring events without directly challenging the legitimacy of the government.
Special thanks to Bangla Times
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