UN Concerned About Burma’s Ethnic, Religious Tensions

By Louis Charbonneau 3 October 2014

UNITED NATIONS — UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s latest report on Burma raises serious concerns about ethnic and religious tensions that have led to violence against Rohingya Muslims, though he praises the government’s attempts to press ahead with democratic reforms.

The situation is especially worrying in Arakan State, Ban said, where deep rifts between the Buddhist and Muslim communities have widened and the conditions at camps for internally displaced persons have deteriorated.

“The deep-seated inter-ethnic and inter-religious tensions that have re-emerged around the country have given rise to further violence, loss of life, displacement of populations and destruction of property,” the UN chief said in his annual report to the General Assembly’s Third Committee.

The Third Committee, which focuses on human rights, will be discussing Ban’s report on Burma in the weeks ahead. It is also expected to adopt a resolution about its concerns—an annual ritual to which Iran, North Korea and Syria are also subjected.

“The situation in Rakhine [Arakan] State continues to cause widespread concern and alarm both domestically and internationally,” Ban said.

Most of Burma’s 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims are stateless and live in Apartheid-like conditions in Arakan State on the western coast of the predominantly Buddhist country. Almost 140,000 Rohingya remain displaced after deadly clashes with ethnic Arakanese Buddhists in 2012.

Condemnations from Burma’s leaders have not improved the situation, Ban said.

“While the government of Myanmar has repeatedly made strong statements of actions to be taken against perpetrators of violence, these have not been conveyed with sufficient firmness to the local level,” the report said.

He also praised the administration of President Thein Sein for the progress it has made on democratization, national reconciliation and economic development over the past three years.

Ban suggested he was concerned about the 2015 general election, in which Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent nearly two decades under house arrest for her efforts to promote democracy, is barred from running for president.

“Addressing the legitimate concerns of various political parties about the restrictions and conditionalities imposed by the [Union] Election Commission will be important,” the report said.

Next year’s parliamentary elections will be the first since Thein Sein embarked on landmark reforms in 2011, dismantling the control of the military, which had ruled since seizing power in a 1962 coup.

The annual scrutiny to which Burma is subjected at the Third Committee and at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva has long annoyed Burma’s leaders. They have insisted they be dropped from the bodies’ agendas, a demand Burma’s foreign minister reiterated last week in his address to the UN General Assembly.

“All major concerns related to human rights have been addressed to a larger extent in the new Myanmar,” Wunna Maung Lwin said. “Therefore we are now fully convinced that Myanmar should no longer remain on the agendas of the Human Rights Council and the Third Committee of the General Assembly.”

Western diplomats say their governments and delegations from over 50 Muslim countries agree that Burma should remain under UN scrutiny for the foreseeable future.