Govt Investigation ‘Failed’ to Address Alleged Rohingya Killings: UN Envoy

By Lawi Weng 20 February 2014

RANGOON — The UN human rights rapporteur for Burma Tomás Ojea Quintana said a government investigation has so far failed to address allegations of the killing of dozens of Rohingyas in Arakan State last month.

Quintana warned that he would urge the UN Human Rights Council to become involved in the investigation unless results of the government probe meet international standards.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has alleged that police and an Arakanese mob carried out a deadly raid on Du Chee Yar Tan, a Rohingya village in Maungdaw Township, Arakan State, during operation to find a police sergeant who had gone missing during a patrol in the village.

The government denies any violence took place and claims that a Rohingya Islamic militant group was involved in the killing of the policeman. Arakan State authorities and the Myanmar Human Rights Commission have conducted preliminary investigations into incident and said no Rohingyas were killed. A new inquiry into incident is led by Dr Tha Hla Shwe of the Myanmar Red Cross Society and will report its findings to President Thein Sein soon.

Quintana said the Arakan State police chief had told him that “more than 100 policemen armed with live ammunition” carried out the operation in Du Chee Yar Tan village on Jan. 13-14, but had denied that his men had been involved in alleged killings.

“However, I have continued to receive allegations of serious human rights violations being committed during this police operation, which also involved [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.

“Domestic investigations have failed to satisfactorily address these serious allegations,” Quintana said, adding that if government investigation did not improve “I will urge the UN Human Rights Council to work with the government of Myanmar to establish a credible investigation” into the incident.

The UN envoy made the remarks at a press conference at Rangoon airport on Wednesday after a six-day visit to Burma, his last as a rapporteur after six years of monitoring the rights situation in the country.

Quintana visited Arakan State and said he remained deeply concerned over rampant rights abuses against the stateless Rohingya Muslim minority in northern Arakan, where about 140,000 people, mostly Rohingya, are displaced by recurrent inter-communal violence between Rohingyas and Arakanese Buddhists.

“Tackling the situation in [Arakan] State represents a particular challenge which, if left unaddressed, could jeopardize the entire reform process,” he said.

Quintana also visited Laiza in the Kachin conflict area, and the Letpadaung copper mine in Monywa and Thilawa Special Economic Zone, both areas of large-scale land evictions.

During his Laiza visit Quintana said he “received allegations of more recent human rights violations following military clashes in Kachin State and northern Shan State, including cases of rape, arbitrary detention and torture during interrogation.”

He warned of the growing problem of forced land evictions, saying that “the rights of land users in Myanmar are currently not secure…Issues over land rights will be one of the major challenges of the government over the years to come.”

Quintana also took note of the recent roll back on media freedom in Burma. The government last month detained four journalists and an editor at Unity Journal because of a report claiming that the Burma Army has built a chemical weapons facility in central Burma. An Eleven Media journalist was sentenced to three months in prison in Karenni State last month, while the Information Ministry has tightened restrictions on foreign journalist visas.

“I met journalists who described a prevailing climate of uncertainty and fear of arrest, particularly
if reporting dealt with issues too close to the interests of the military or other powerful elites,” he said, adding that a planned visit to the Unity journalists in Insein Prison fell through because they “had been transferred to another prison two days previously.”

Reflecting on his six-year tenure as rights rapporteur, Quintana said he had seen great improvements, before adding that “there is limited space for backtracking though. As a senior government official admitted to me in [Naypyidaw] the democratic transition is still fragile.”

The UN envoy said a nationwide ceasefire, reducing the political powers of the military through constitutional reforms, the release of remaining political prisoners, as well as strengthening an independent judiciary are key remaining challenges for improving the human rights situation in Burma.