UN’s Quintana to Assess Arakan Strife

By Lawi Weng 30 July 2012

UN Special Rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana will visit Arakan State, western Burma, on Tuesday to observe the current situation after sectarian violence erupted in the region claiming dozens of lives and leaving thousands homeless.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Monday, Win Myaing, a spokesperson for the Arakan State government, said that Quintana will visit Sittwe and Maungdaw townships where displaced people have lived in temporary camps since riots broke out between Buddhist Arakanese and Rohingya Muslims in early June.

“We do not have full information about what he will do when he arrives here,” said Win Myaing. “We only know that he will visit here for two days on July 31 and Aug. 1.”

The situation of Arakan State is getting more peaceful, he added, with schools reopening last week and Sittwe University about to hold classes again. Lessons for Rohingya children in the camps will also reportedly begin soon.

Quintana, an expert on human rights for the UN, arrived in Rangoon on Sunday for his second trip to Burma since February. He is visiting notorious Insein Prison on Monday where many of Burma’s remaining political prisoners are being held.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay released a statement on July 27 that claimed Muslim communities in Arakan State were being targeted by security forces.

“We have been receiving a stream of reports from independent sources alleging discriminatory and arbitrary responses by security forces, and even their instigation of and involvement in clashes,” she said.

However, when asked by The Irrawaddy about the international outcry regarding the perceived persecution of Rohingyas, Win Myaing said, “We do not know what facts on which they are basing their accusations that there is discrimination here.

“If you visit their camps, you will see the situation that we treat them equally and we do not discriminate against them.”

Quintana said after his last visit that Burma has made “significant” progress during the reforms of President Thein Sein, whose quasi-civilian administration came to power last year, but added that the country still faces “ongoing human rights challenges.”

Amnesty International reported in June that the Burmese authorities in Arakan State violated human rights and arbitrarily arrested Rohingya Muslims. Official figures from the Burmese government report that the violence in Arakan State has claimed at least 78 lives and left 70,000 homeless.

Thein Sein said that Burma will not accept Rohingyas as citizens during a speech earlier this month and asked for UN help to resettle them in any other willing country.

There are an estimated 800,000 Rohingya in Burma, according to the UN, who describes the community as “one of the world’s most persecuted peoples.” The Burmese government refuses to give Rohingyas citizenship and considers them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Quintana will meet different civil society groups in Rangoon on Monday including the 88 Generation Students at 3 pm, according to local sources. Violence in Arakan State, remaining political prisoners and ethnic conflict in Kachin State will apparently be the main subjects for discussion.

Burma has more than 700 political prisoners remaining incarcerated, according to rights groups. Quintana also complained of ongoing abuses in Burma in his statement to the 19th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in March.

He highlighted the ongoing conflict in Kachin State as being of particular concern with continuing reports of human rights violations and said that the needs of those displaced by fighting must be addressed as a matter of priority.