The human rights situation in Burma has improved, UN envoy Tomás Ojea Quintana said at Yangon Airport on Wednesday, speaking at a press conference that concluded a six-day visit to the country and also marked the end of his six-year mandate as the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the country.
However, the Argentine diplomat criticised the Burmese government’s handling of the Rohingya crisis in Arakan State and said he has serious concerns over the impartiality of a government investigation into an alleged massacre of 48 Muslims in the village of Duchira Dan in Muangdaw Township between 9 and 13 January.
Quintana noted that Burma had made strides in releasing prisoners of conscience, opening space for freedom of expression, the development of political freedom, and “important progress” in bringing an end to conflict with ethnic armed groups. But he called for a “change of mindset” within all levels of government to allow civil society, political parties and free media to flourish.
The UN’s rights envoy then raised “serious concerns” over the impartiality of a government investigation into allegations by the UN that an Arakanese mob, possibly aided by local police, had conducted a witch-hunt in the Maungdaw village of Duchira Dan [also written Du Char Yar Tan] after a local policeman had gone missing on 13 January.
“I have continued to receive allegations of serious human rights violations being committed during this police operation, which also involved Rakhine [Arakanese] mobs, including allegations of the brutal killing of men, women and children, sexual violence against women, and the looting and burning of properties,” he said.
Quintana warned that the ongoing unrest in western Burma could “jeopardise the whole [political] transition process”.
He said that domestic investigations had to date “failed to satisfactorily address” the claims of a massacre and looting.
Quintana is due to present the findings from his tour to Burma – which also included visits to Latpadaung copper mine and Kachin State – on February 28, but pointed out that he would urge the UN to commission another inquiry if the Burmese government’s probe did not meet international standards.
Quintana said he had met the regional chief of police in Arakan State, who conceded that more than 100 officers, armed with live ammunition, had taken part in a search at Duchira Dan for the missing policeman. However, the police chief maintained that no deaths or injuries were caused during the operation on 13 and 14 January, he said.
Meanwhile, Burma’s state-run media on Thursday reported that Dr Tha Hla Shwe, the chairman of the Investigation Commission, had held separate talks with Roka Kuto of UNHCR and other officials in Maungdaw on Wednesday, and that suspects were being interviewed.