Myanmar: Quintana warns of a ‘crisis’ in Rakhine State

The United Nations expert on human rights in Myanmar has said that Rakhine State is facing a “profound crisis”, with the government failing to address the root causes of religious violence that has left more than 100 dead and another 140,000 displaced.

Special rapporteur Tomas Quintana issued the warning in his latest report on Myanmar’s human rights situation, which he delivered to the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee, a body which focuses on human rights, on October 24.

“There is little evidence that the government has taken steps to tackle the underlying causes of the communal violence or has put in place the policies that are necessary to forge a peaceful, harmonious and prosperous future for the state,” his report said.

Rakhine State was the scene of widespread clashes in June 2012 between Rakhine Buddhists and Muslims, many of whom are ethnic Rohingya. Violence erupted again in October 2012.

Mr Quintana said the government’s April report on the unrest, composed by the Rakhine Investigation Commission, “fails to address the issue of impunity and the allegations of widespread and systematic human rights violations against the Rohingya community in Rakhine State”.

“[Myanmar] has not fulfilled its obligation to properly investigate allegations, dating from June 2012, of extrajudicial killings, rape and sexual violence; arbitrary detention and torture and ill-treatment in detention; deaths in detention; and denial of due process and fair trial rights.”

Mr Quintana visited Myanmar from August 11 to 21 on his eighth – and longest – fact-finding mission to Myanmar since taking up his position as special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar in 2008.

The visit took an ugly turn in the town of Meiktila, where Mr Quintana travelled to assess the effects of religious violence the previous March. As his car approached the town at night it was attacked by a mob of protesters.

However, the government later disputed Mr Quintana’s description of the attack, claiming town residents were only trying to hand him a letter.

The Argentine national was also confronted by protesters in Rakhine State, who accused his previous reports of being biased towards the state’s Muslims.

Mr Quintana warned that the situation in Rakhine had been a factor in the spread of anti-Muslim feelings to other parts of the country.

“The situation in Rakhine State has fed a wider anti-Muslim narrative in Myanmar, which is posing one of the most serious threats to the reform process,” Mr Quintana told the Third Committee meeting.

Along with the issues in Rakhine, the report touched on a number of other human rights concerns. Though he said that he welcomed positive changes that had occurred across many areas, Mr Quintana expressed concern that the government believes human rights issues will be addressed by the reform process and do not need to be specifically targeted. He said this risked worsening the problems.

He warned in the report of “the dangers of glossing over shortcomings in the area of human rights or presuming that these shortcomings will inevitably be addressed through the momentum of current reforms”.

“If these shortcomings are not addressed now, they will become increasingly entrenched.”

Mr Quintana’s August trip could be his last, as the special rapporteur’s mandate runs for six years. The UN Human Rights Council is responsible for deciding if the mandate is to continue. A decision will be made in March.