Violence against a Muslim minority in Myanmar is feeding a wider anti-Muslim feeling that poses a serious threat to the country’s economic and political reforms as it emerges from half a century of military rule, according to a UN envoy.
“The situation in Rakhine State has fed a wider anti-Muslim narrative in Myanmar, which is posing one of the most serious threats to the reform process,” Tomas Ojea Quintana, UN special rapporteur on the situation in human rights in Myanmar, said on Thursday. “Rakhine State remains in a situation of profound crisis.”
“The underlying issue of discrimination against Muslim and particularly Rohingya populations remains unaddressed,” he told the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee, which deals with human rights issues. “Allegations of gross violations since the violence erupted last June, including by state security personnel, remains unaddressed.”
More needs to be done by the government to tackle the spread of discriminatory views and to protect vulnerable minority communities.
The government says at least 192 people were killed in June and October 2012 during clashes between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, most of whom Myanmar deem illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, despite roots going back generations.
The clashes led to unrest elsewhere in the country, where other groups of Muslims have been targeted, including Kamans, who are of different ethnicity from Rohingya Muslims.
“In our view the recent dramatic democratic changes in Myanmar were a clear demonstration of the changes of mindset in the government,” a representative of the Myanmar UN mission told the Third Committee.
“At the critical time of democratic transition no country is immune from challenges. Myanmar went through unfortunate communal violence in Rakhine state sparked by a brutal crime. We very much regret loss of life and property caused to both communities,” he said.
The violence in northern Rakhine State, one of Myanmar’s poorest regions that is home to one million mostly stateless Rohingya, has continued this year, with dozens more killed and 140,000 left homeless.
“The president [Thein Sein] has made some commendable public speeches in which he has emphasised the need for trust, respect and compassion between people of different faiths and ethnic groups in Myanmar,” Quintana said.
“However, more needs to be done by the government to tackle the spread of discriminatory views and to protect vulnerable minority communities,” he added.
An estimated 5 percent of Myanmar’s population of about 60 million is Muslim.