Thursday, March 19, 2015

UN asks Myanmar to end discriminating minorities

UNITED NATIONS - The United Nations Special Reporter on the human rights situation in Myanmar Wednesday warned against categorizing Rohingya Muslims as “illegal aliens” and called for addressing the continuing discrimination against the country’s minorities. Click here to see the full report below:

“During my last visit in January 2015, I witnessed how dire the situation has remained in Rakhine state,” Ms Yanghee Lee said during the presentation of her first report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The conditions in Muslim IDP [internally displaced persons] camps are abysmal and I received heart-breaking testimonies from Rohingya people telling me they had only two options: stay and die or leave by boat,” she said.

Ms Lee, the expert, cautioned against any provision in the Rakhine Action Plan that would classify Rohingyas as ‘illegal aliens’ and subject them to possible prolonged internment in camps or removal from the territory.

The expiry at the end of this month of the temporary white cards held by many Rohingyas as identity documentation “further increases their vulnerability,” she said The expert called on the country’s authorities to address ongoing challenges to the democratic reform process “before they undermine the success achieved so far.”  “I was very disturbed by reports on 10 March that excessive and disproportionate force had been used against students and other civilians and that 127 people were subsequently arrested,” she said.

Ms. Lee welcomed the release of some detainees but also called for the immediate release of all the others. Further, Ms. Lee drew attention to the pressure on human rights defenders, including prosecutions under outdated defamation and national security laws, which have a “chilling effect on civil society activities.”

“I am concerned journalists are still being interrogated and arrested, and that 10 journalists were imprisoned in 2014. This needs to stop if Myanmar wants to create a meaningful democratic space,” Ms. Lee said in a press statement.

While noting that economic development had benefited some in the country, the expert urged the Government to ensure that “others are not left out” and called for “a human rights-based approach to development programmes.”  Ms. Lee also expressed concern over the alarming escalation of fighting in the Kokang region, where over 100 civilians are reported to have died and tens of thousands have been displaced.  “Even during a state of emergency, the Government has an obligation to strictly uphold fundamental human rights,” she reiterated.

More needs to be done to address the underlying issues at the heart of the conflicts, including discrimination against ethnic minorities. Four bills currently before Parliament risk increasing tension, she emphasised.
Here is another news clip on the fate of 800,000 Rohingyas inside Myanmar:

The fate of an estimated 800,000 Rohingya Muslims is uncertain as their temporary residence permit expires by the end of this month, the UN's special envoy for Myanmar warned today.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, said, "There are about 800,000 (white card holders) Rohingya. But by the end of this month if it (white cards) expires and they have to turn it in and enter another process by May, it is very troubling because there has been no significant plan or portrayed in any reports that I have seen of what this entire process will mean and how it will affect the white card holders".
According to the 1982 Citizenship Law, the white card - a temporary residence permit- is one of the many colour-coded cards used by the government to signify the status of a resident of Myanmar.
Though the white card holders were allowed to vote in 2010 and 2012, however, a notification from President Thein Sein's office recently said the cards would expire on March 31.
White cards holders will now be required to hand them over to the authorities by May 31 and apply for citizenship.
The decision came after a huge controversy which followed after the Myanmar president granted white card holders the right to vote in a referendum on constitutional amendments.
The decision was met with much uproar from nationalist Buddhist monks.
"Although some of the Rohingya have been living for generations but since they could not prove their status when the 1982 Citizenship
Law came into effect (they got a white card)," Lee noted.

In Myanmar, more than 80 per cent of the population are Buddhists and about four to five per cent are Muslims.

"Among the Muslims, whereas the Kamans are considered an ethnic group, the Rohingya are not, according to the 2008 constitutional reforms. There are many, many implications of this on their political participation," said Lee.

Speaking of the abysmal conditions in the volatile Rakhine state, Lee said, "I have stressed on numerous occasions that Rakhine Buddhist community's grievances should be fully heard and understood. But that does not mean the Rohingya should be overlooked".

In her first report to the UNHRC since her appointment in June 2014, Lee states, "Both government and Rakhine Buddhist representatives explained that the term Rohingya has no historical or legal basis and that to validate the Rohingya as an ethnic group could allow a claim of indigenous status and corresponding rights under the Constitution".

"The government has therefore insisted that persons identifying as Rohingya be classified as Bengali, which links their ethnic origins to Bangladesh," it states.

Lee said in that though Myanmar has made advances, there are "worrying signs of backtracking" on human rights.

India had supported Myanmar at the UNHRC during the presentation of the report, saying "Democratic institutions in any country take time to acquire deep roots".

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