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Crisis in Rakhine 'decades in the making'

Crisis in Rakhine 'decades in the making' and reaches beyond Myanmar's borders – UN rights expert

26 October 2017 – Voicing concern that hate speech and incitement to violence against Myanmar's Rohingya community has been “cultivated for decades” in the minds of the country's people, a United Nations human rights expert urged the Security Council to act strongly to resolve the crisis.

“The crisis in Rakhine state has not only been decades in the making but has for some time gone beyond Myanmar's borders. For a very long time now this issue has not been simply a domestic affair,” said Yanghee Lee, the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in the country, presenting her report to the UN General Assembly's main body dealing with human rights and social and humanitarian issues (Third Committee).

“It has been cultivated for decades in the minds of the Myanmar people that the Rohingya are not indigenous to the country and therefore have no rights whatsoever to which they can apparently claim,” she added.

In particular, the Special Rapporteur stressed that given the gravity of the situation, it is uncertain how long it might take for the Government to establish conditions for the safe and dignified return of the Rohingyas, and to ensure they can rebuild their lives.

Furthermore, she noted that while the plight of the Rohingyas remains her main concern, the country has numerous other human rights challenges, including consistent reports of religious intolerance against Christians and Muslims across Myanmar.

Many communities have also suffered from the development of “Special Economic Zones” and some people had their land confiscated, she said, adding also that rights violations and decreased humanitarian access have been alleged as a result of reported clashes between armed forces and ethnic armed groups.

It is unclear whether Myanmar's peace process had advanced since the signing of the nationwide ceasefire agreement two years ago, questioned Ms. Lee, underscoring that all those responsible for human rights violations must be held to account and that this should begin with full access for the UN Human Rights Council's fact-finding mission.

The Special Rapporteur also urged the Government to publicly embrace all the communities which make up the population of Myanmar and use its majority in Parliament to strike down all discriminatory laws, to show that all groups in Myanmar have equal rights.

“I have in the past commended Myanmar's flourishing, widening democratic space. However, it seems to me that national legislation is effectively resulting in the criminalization of legitimate expression,” said Ms. Lee, calling on the Government to press ahead with constitutional reform “to allow for proper operation of the rule of law.”

Furthermore reform of laws that contravene human rights standards should be prioritized, she added.

UN Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.

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