Myanmar: Aung San Suu Kyi and EU leaders urged to place human rights, anti-Muslim violence at the top of the agenda of European visit

BANGKOK – (October 18) Legislators from across Southeast Asia today called on Aung San Suu Kyi and European Parliamentarians and leaders to use the National League for Democracy (NLD) leader’s visit to Europe to secure greater commitments to tackle persistent human rights concerns in Myanmar, and draw particular focus on growing sectarian conflict and anti-Muslim violence there.

“The underlying tensions that stem from discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities pose a threat to Myanmar’s democratic transition and stability,” said ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) President and Indonesian Member of Parliament Eva Kusuma Sundari.

“There exists an urgent need to address anti-Muslim violence that has spread throughout Myanmar. Calls for action have so far fallen on deaf ears and as fellow parliamentarians in ASEAN, we have consistently offered to contribute in any way possible to help the people of Myanmar resolve this dangerous situation: many of our peers in Europe also feel the same.”

APHR understands that the European Union is in the process of drafting a resolution on the human rights situation in Myanmar to be put before the United Nations General Assembly next month. ASEAN parliamentarians stand behind the effort to again raise important human rights concerns in Myanmar whilst also recognising the political advances made as the country continues its transition to democracy.

Since being elected to Parliament in 2012, Aung San Suu Kyi has come under criticism for failing to tackle serious human rights concerns in her country. But as the de-facto leader of the opposition in Parliament, who also holds considerable sway and respect overseas, she is in a unique position to help broker offers of assistance to the Burmese government, with whom she has developed an effective working relationship, APHR said.

“It is of vital importance that the UN General Assembly resolution on Myanmar not gloss over the great failures of this transition so far: there have been many political advances but the government has systematically failed to improve on almost all of the concerns raised in the UN General Assembly resolution passed in 2012. It’s sincerity in tackling human rights abuses, unfortunately, remains questionable,” said Kraisak Choonhavan, APHR Vice-President.

“Daw Suu and political leaders in Europe must engage with the Myanmar government and ASEAN, through the UN and other international instruments. Thein Sein must be pushed to produce immediate and tangible improvements. Cowered by the threat of the return of military dictatorship and enticed by economic opportunity, the world is allowing ethnic cleansing to take place under its nose. It must stop here. We are all accountable: Daw Suu, Jose Manuel Barossa, David Cameron… everyone.”

Anti-Muslim violence, fuelled by nationalist-Buddhist extremism, has spread throughout Myanmar. On many occasions, security forces have failed to protect Muslim communities from targeted arson attacks and rioting mobs.

The majority of an estimated one million Rohingya Muslims are effectively denied access to citizenship through the controversial 1982 Citizenship Act. The UN General Assembly should press the government of Myanmar to improve access to humanitarian aid to tens of thousands of internally displaced persons across Myanmar, particularly those in Kachin, Shan and Rakhine states, APHR said.

The UN General Assembly must also press the Myanmar government to amend the 1982 Citizenship Act to bring it in line with international standards and to lift all abusive restrictions on ethnic and religious minorities, including Muslims, the organisation of parliamentarians from across ASEAN said.

APHR has received credible reports of continued harassment, arrest and torture of Rohingya populations by state security forces. Some 140, 000 displaced men, women and children are living in makeshift camps with little access to food, healthcare, education and other basic rights and services. Their movement remains restricted and therefore they cannot work to provide for their families, and they are being prevented from returning to the sites of their homes which were destroyed by mobs during communal unrest. Instead, the government is keeping them in camps while developing plans to move them to new areas, segregated from other communities. Also, judicial proceedings in other regions following ant-Muslim riots in Central Burma this year also point to institutionalised racism, with widespread arrests and disproportionately harsh sentences for Muslims.

Aung San Suu Kyi is on her third visit to Europe since being released from house arrest in 2010. She is scheduled to meet officials at the European Parliament in Strasbourg France, before visits to Luxembourg, Belgium, Italy, England and Northern Ireland. The Burmese pro-democracy icon and politician made her first trip overseas in 24 years in June 2012, visiting Thailand and several European countries, including Switzerland, Norway, Ireland, Britain and France.