Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, on Friday expressed serious concern about reports of human rights violations by security forces in Myanmar's Rakhine state, where clashes between Buddhist and Muslim communities reportedly killed at least 78 people and displaced thousands last month.
"We have been receiving a stream of reports from independent sources alleging discriminatory and arbitrary responses by security forces, and even their instigation of and involvement in clashes," Pillay said in a news release.
"Reports indicate that the initial swift response of the authorities to the communal violence may have turned into a crackdown targeting Muslims, in particular members of the Rohingya [Muslim] community," she added.
According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the violence between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine was triggered after an ethnic Rakhine woman was raped and murdered on May 28. Later, 10 Muslims were killed by an unidentified mob on June 3.
Pillay on Friday called for a prompt and independent investigation into the incidents. She also noted that the crisis reflects the long-standing and systemic discrimination against the Rohingya Muslim community, who are not recognized by the Government and remain stateless.
"The Government has a responsibility to prevent and punish violent acts, irrespective of which ethnic or religious group is responsible, without discrimination and in accordance with the rule of law," Pillay said.
She also called on national leaders to speak out against discrimination, the exclusion of minorities as well as racist attitudes and urged them to support equal rights for all in Myanmar. She stressed that the United Nations was making a sincere effort to assist and protect all communities in Rakhine state.
"Prejudice and violence against members of ethnic and religious minorities run the risk of dividing the country in its commendable national reconciliation efforts, undermine national solidarity, and upset prospects of peace-building," she said.
Incidentally, Tomas Ojea Quintana, a Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, is due to visit the country next week, and his mission will include a visit to Rakhine state.
Although Pillay welcomed the Special Rapporteur's visit, she noted that "while he will be able to make an initial assessment during his one-day visit, this is no substitute for a fully-fledged independent investigation."
Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not United Nations staff, nor are they paid for their work.
According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), an estimated 80,000 people have been displaced in and around the towns of Sittwe and Maungdaw by the violence, with most of them living in camps or with host families in surrounding villages.
by RTT Staff Writer
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