UN Praises Burma Reforms, Arakan Concerns Remain

By Lalit K Jha 27 November 2012

WASHINGTON—A UN General Assembly committee on Monday praised Burma’s ongoing reform process, but urged it to quell the communal violence between Buddhists and Muslims in Arakan State and to better protect the rights of Rohingya Muslims.

Burma’s UN mission representative defended government efforts to deal with the unrest and added that there was no need to protect Rohingyas as “there is no such ethnic group” in the country.

In a significant departure from the past, the General Assembly’s Third Committee unanimously passed a non-binding resolution recognizing the progress made by Burma in addressing the issue of human rights.

It also noted that the April by-elections had been transparent and fair, and that there had been increasing space for political activities and participation of opposition parties.

“After decades of repression, there is building momentum for reform and progress on human rights in Burma,” US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said, adding that the resolution was “a remarkable sign of how far Burma has come.”

However, the committee expressed concern over the unrest in western Arakan State, where 115,000 people—mostly Rohingya—have been displaced according to UN, while bloody clashes have seen several dozens of villagers killed since June.

“The violence that erupted in June between communities in Rakhine [Arakan] State has again drawn attention to the plight of the Rohingya community. It is important that the government takes the steps outlined in this resolution to address these issues,” said Hugo Swire, the British Minister of State for Foreign Affairs.

The resolution urged the Burmese government to improve the situation of the Muslim group and better protect their human rights.  The Rohingya, which by some estimates number about 800,000 people, are not recognized as Burmese citizens and the UN has said the group is “friendless” in Burma.

The text also called for the release of remaining political prisoners and for measures to address the armed conflict in Kachin State. The Burma Army has engaged in sporadic clashes with the Kachin Independence Army after a 17-year-old truce collapsed in June 2011. The fighting has since displaced nearly 100,000 people.

Burma’s mission to the UN expressed strong reservations about the resolution and did not accept the characterization of the Arakan unrest and alleged human rights violations committed against the Rohingya.

It contained “sweeping allegations… which have yet to be verified,” the representative said, adding that there is “no such ethnic group as Rohingya” among the ethnic groups of Burma.

The mission would nonetheless accept the text without alterations “in the spirit of compromise,” the official said, adding that Burma welcomed the committee’s praise for the country’s reform process.