The United Nations is ready to assist thousands of people displaced by recent ethnic and sectarian violence in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State, and a UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights has visited the region to assess the situation.
“The government has indicated that food, shelter and medical assistance are urgently required,” UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Ashok Nigam told IRIN from Yangon, the former capital, on 15 June. “The UN and its humanitarian partners stand ready to support, as long as security to staff can be guaranteed during operations.”
The Rakhine State Minister said dozens of people had been killed, and close to 32,000 were now displaced and staying in 37 camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs), the local Burmese media reported. However, aid workers say the situation remains volatile and it is difficult to verify those figures.
On 13 June, Myanmar’s Border Affairs Minister, Maj-Gen Thein Htay, accompanied by Tomás Ojea Quintana, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar, visited Maungtaw, the capital of Rakhine State, where they met with residents whose homes had been destroyed.
More than 1,500 homes were reportedly burned in the violence after the alleged rape and murder of a young Buddhist woman by a group of Rohingya Muslim men on 28 May, followed by an attack on a bus on 3 June, in which 10 Muslims died.
In an effort to quell the violence, Burmese President Thein Sein declared a state of emergency in Rakhine on 10 June.
“The underlying tensions that stem from discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities pose a threat to Myanmar’s democratic transition and stability. I urge all sides to exercise restraint, respect the law and refrain from violence,” Quintana said.
“It is critical that the government intensify its efforts to defuse tension and restore security to prevent the violence from spreading further,” he said, calling on the authorities to lift the state of emergency as soon as order was re-established.
Discrimination against the Muslim community, particularly the Rohingyas in Rakhine State, was the root cause of the violence, the Special Rapporteur noted, stressing the need for the authorities to take steps to address long-standing issues of deprivation of citizenship, freedom of movement, and other fundamental rights for the Rohingya.
Human Rights Watch has consistently described the treatment of the Rohingya in Myanmar as “deplorable”.
Hundreds of thousands have fled persecution to neighbouring Bangladesh over the past three decades, mostly in the 1990s.
“Policing action should be carried out impartially, in line with human rights standards, and with respect for the principles of legality, proportionality and non-discrimination,” Quintana said.
President Thein Sein called on various segments of Burmese society to jointly maintain peace and stability, and Quintana noted that this obligation also extended to all state security forces because they were responsible for restoring order.
Underscoring the sensitivity of the issue, some Burmese have taken to the internet to express their dissatisfaction with how the situation has been portrayed in the international media.
The Special Rapporteur emphasized that “Responsible media reporting is also imperative to prevent violence from escalating.”