UN Council Has First-Ever Briefing on Rights in Burma

By Louis Charbonneau 29 May 2015

UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations Security Council on Thursday held its first closed-door briefing on the human rights situation in Burma, focusing on the dire situation of the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority, council diplomats said.

UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein briefed the council via video link in a meeting that US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power welcomed on her Twitter feed as a “historic first” for the 15-nation body.

“Zeid gave a powerful briefing on the dire situation and ‘institutional discrimination’ faced by the Rohingya in Myanmar,” a council diplomat present at the meeting told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

“They are often violently abused by smugglers, hundreds recently dying at sea,” the diplomat said, summarizing Zeid’s remarks about the country. “This demands a comprehensive response. Must look at root causes.”

Another diplomat confirmed the readout, adding that no immediate council action was expected.

Council members responded to Zeid by calling for the problem to be tackled at its root causes and welcoming a crisis meeting in Bangkok aimed at addressing Southeast Asia’s migrant crisis.

According to participants, that meeting of 17 countries from across the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) and elsewhere in Asia is unlikely to produce a binding agreement or plan of action to save thousands of people believed stranded at sea.

A delegate from Russia said the Security Council was not the appropriate forum for discussing human rights, suggesting it should be handled by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, a diplomat said.

China, Burma’s traditional ally, said it was an internal matter for the country’s authorities but expressed concern about the situation.

More than 3,000 migrants from Burma and Bangladesh have landed in Indonesia and Malaysia in recent weeks since Thailand launched a crackdown on human trafficking gangs earlier this month. About 2,600 are believed to be still adrift on abandoned boats, relief agencies have said.

Many of those who have made it to shore are members of Burma’s 1.1 million-member Rohingya Muslim minority who live in apartheid-like conditions in Burma’s Arakan State.

Recently Zeid said the Rohingyas’ situation was “one of the principal motivators of these desperate maritime movements.”

The Burmese government regards most Rohingyas as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. They enjoy few rights and have suffered violence at the hands of members of the Buddhist majority over the past few years.