UN Envoy Tells Myanmar’s Rakhine State Not to Ignore Rohingya Plight

myanmar-rakhine-state-un-protest-jan8-2014.jpg Protesters display banners ahead of the arrival of UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar Yanghee Lee in western Rakhine state, Jan. 8, 2015.

The U.N.’s human rights envoy for Myanmar asked the authorities in volatile Rakhine state on Friday not to ignore the plight of minority Rohingya Muslims during a visit to the state dominated by protests by majority Rakhine Buddhists angry over what they consider to be U.N. bias in favor of the persecuted group.

Yanghee Lee visited refugee camps housing the Rohingya who fled deadly communal violence and met with lawmakers and community leaders in Myebon township of Rakhine state’s capital Sittwe.

Lee was greeted on arrival in Rakhine on Thursday by hundreds of chanting and placard-waving protesters.

On Friday, during her visit to the refugee camps, she also faced protesting Buddhist monks and others with posters calling for the U.N. to be impartial and saying that they could not accept the term “Rohingya.”

Officials and the people in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar refer to Rohingyas as “Bengalis” because they believe them to be illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh, even though they have lived in Myanmar for decades.

The U.N. contends that officials in Rakhine state violate the rights of the minority group which numbers about 1 million.

“She [Lee] said that we shouldn’t ignore the refugees who have lost their human rights,” Aung Win, a lawmaker from the state’s dominant Rakhine National Party, told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

“She said that she wants local Rakhine ethnics to live together with those Muslims peacefully and let them work freely by forgiving them with patience.”

Local residents told Lee that it would take some time before the Muslim Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine could live together harmoniously, he said.

They also told her it would be impossible for the two groups to live together as long as the Muslim community requested that the Rakhine people recognized them as “Rohingya,” a name rejected by the local population, he said.

Rakhine Action Plan

Lee’s agenda includes meetings with the chief minister of Rakhine state to discuss peace and rule of law developments, including the Rakhine Action Plan, and community leaders about intercommunal tensions and efforts towards reconciliation, according to a statement issued by the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland.

The government’s Rakhine Action Plan to develop the state requires Rohingya to meet stringent verification requirements for citizenship.

Under the policy, Rohingya must supply proof of a six-decade residency to qualify for naturalized citizenship—a second-class citizenship with fewer rights than full citizenship that would classify them as “Bengali” rather than Rohingya, indicating they have illegally immigrated from neighboring Bangladesh.

Those who fail to meet the requirement or refuse the Bengali classification would be housed in camps, and then deported. Lee will visit other refugee camps in Sittwe Township on Saturday.

Lee’s 10-day visit to Myanmar comes on the heels of a U.N. resolution passed late last month calling on Myanmar to grant full citizenship to the minority group, allow them to move about freely, and give them equal access to services, according to reports.

The persecuted Rohingya have been denied citizenship, evicted from their homes, and have had their land confiscated. In 2012, radical Buddhists killed hundreds of Rohingya and burned their villages.

Democratic reform

During her visit to Myanmar, Lee also will assess the progress that authorities have made with their commitments to democratic reform and review issues related to freedom of association and the media, land disputes, and protests against development projects, the U.N. statement said.

She will travel to the Northern Shan states, the site of clashes between government troops and armed ethnic rebels, to examine the human rights situation of religious and ethnic minorities.

“I will also speak with various parties about the situation of sexual and gender-based violence in the context of the ongoing conflict in this region,” she said.

Lee also will look at the human rights concerns raised by Myanmar’s proposed bills on the protection of race and religion, because they contain provisions that are not in accordance with international human rights standards, the statement said.

They include provisions on marriage, religion, polygamy, and family planning proposed by a Buddhist organization called the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, which is connected to a nationalist Buddhist monk group.

"I am deeply concerned that if passed, these four bills will legitimize discrimination, in particular against religious and ethnic minorities and against women,” Lee said.

Lee first visited Myanmar to assess its human rights situation last July. She will submit a report on her current trip to the U.N. in April.

Reported by Min Thein Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.


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