UN Secretary-General Calls for Greater Rohingya Rights Protections

By Sean Gleeson & Kyaw Hsu Mon 12 November 2014

RANGOON/NAYPYIDAW — United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has used a press conference in Naypyidaw on Wednesday to call for greater protections for ethnic minorities in Burma.

While his earlier address to the 6th Asean-UN Summit praised the steps taken by the Burmese government to foster a democratic transition in the country, the UN chief told journalists that he had raised human rights issues in a meeting with  senior government leaders.

“I encouraged Myanmar leaders to uphold human rights, take a strong stance against incitement, and ensure humanitarian access to Rohingya living in vulnerable conditions,” he said.

Ban says he will reiterate this message when he meets with President Thein Sein Thursday morning.

Reiterating concerns expressed by Ban in an earlier report to the UN General Assembly’s Third Committee, the Secretary-General said that the plight of stateless Rohingya in Arakan State was of the utmost concern, adding that concerns remains over the government’s unilateral efforts to offer conditional citizenship to some members of the Muslim minority

“Myanmar authorities are carrying out a verification exercise in Rakhine [Arakan] to process the granting of citizenship to people in Rakhine. While the process is being carried out in accordance with national law, it should also be in line with international standards and guidelines,he said.

Ban also said the UN would stick to using the term Rohingya, despite objections by the Burmese government and Arakanese Buddhist community.

“The affected population—referred to as Bengalis by the government of Myanmar but known as Rohingya in the United Nations and in much of the international community—the United Nations uses that word based on the rights of minorities. I also urge the authorities to avoid measures that could entrench the current segregation between communities… Efforts must be made to foster interfaith dialogue and harmony to bring communities closer together,” he said.

Asked about the case of shot journalist Par Gyi, Ban said that he would make representations to the Burmese government about the necessity of protecting freedom of expression during the country’s transition period.

“Myanmar is making progress in strengthening its democratic institutions and achieving rapid economic development and national reconciliation,” he said. “In the course of that, when they have a political reform process, I have been asking leaders to fully guarantee freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.”

The United Nations cautiously welcomed the adoption of a human rights declaration by member countries in the aftermath of the 21st Asean Summit in Phnom Penh in 2012.

Navi Pillay, the then-High Commissioner for Human Rights, has expressed concern that the declaration fell short of international standards.

Addressing the opening of the 6th Asean-UN Summit in Naypyidaw earlier on Wednesday, the Secretary-General praised the Burmese government’s reform efforts while restating the UN’s call for regional partners in protecting human rights.

“I congratulate Myanmar on its achievements, including ambitious reforms aimed at improving the lives of its people,” he said. “As the country prepares for a general election in 2015, it will face a critical benchmark. The government and people of Myanmar can count on the support of the United Nations as they continue the process of democratisation, development, and national reconciliation.”

“Discrimination against minorities and vulnerable groups and violence against women are serious challenges in the region… We rely on the support of member states and regional organisations to enact this ambitious agenda,” he added.