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Parliamentarians Call on ASEAN Member States to Back OIC Human Rights Council Resolution on Anti-Muslim Violence in Myanmar

By ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus  •  May 22, 2013

The ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) today backed the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and its bid to raise the issue of anti-Muslim violence in Myanmar at the United Nations Human Rights Council, calling for a prompt, full and impartial investigation into allegations of ethnic cleansing.

The 23rd Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) will convene from 27 May – 14 June 2013. Currently four ASEAN nations are members of the Council: Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand.

Ambassadors to OIC nations met at the UN in New York last week to discuss the drafting of a resolution on human rights issues in Myanmar to present to the HRC, particularly concerning the persecution of the Rohingya minority and a wave of brutal sectarian violence there which has left tens of thousands of people displaced, hundreds dead and many more injured.

While it remains unlikely that a Commission of Inquiry into allegations of ethnic cleansing in Myanmar will be established at this time, as HRC members, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia should support a Human Rights Council resolution on the issue and call for an independent investigation into allegations of gross human rights violations in Myanmar, AIPMC said. This would mark a first and important step to convey to the Myanmar government that it must act immediately to prevent further violations, protect victims of abuses and work towards returning basic rights and freedoms to persecuted minorities within its borders. UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar Tomás Ojea Quintana has already said that reports suggest state authorities have been complicit in anti-Muslim attacks.

“We are in the middle of a humanitarian crisis and ASEAN should be doing more to push the Myanmar government to meet its international responsibilities but the regional grouping remains ineffectual when it comes to key human rights concerns. This does not, however, prevent individual ASEAN member states from backing a resolution on Myanmar when the UN Human Rights Council convenes later this month,” said Eva Kusuma Sundari, AIPMC President and Indonesian member of parliament.

“Ongoing, systematic violence, persecution and widespread human rights violations against the Rohingya population in Myanmar, including the massacre of children, burning of homes, religious buildings and schools, as well as the denial of basic rights such as health, education, and movement necessitates a prompt, full and impartial investigation of all allegations together with binding resolutions to try to bring an end to the inhuman suffering of hundreds of thousands of people,” she added.

The persecution of Rohingya minorities in Myanmar has regional ramifications, with the continued flight of thousands of refugees, seeking shelter in other ASEAN states, including Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia; hundreds have already died at sea this year. Extremist groups in Indonesia have also used the perceived persecution of Muslims in Buddhist-majority Myanmar as justification for hate speech and retaliatory actions against Buddhists, heightening concerns of regional sectarian unrest.

The international community, ASEAN included, has refrained from intervening in the affairs of Myanmar as it continues on its road to reform, instead, giving Naypyitaw the opportunity to conduct its own investigation. But the investigation process as well as the final report and recommendations of the inquiry, released April 29, were deeply flawed. The Myanmar government had an opportunity to investigate the violence and it failed. It is now on the shoulders of the international community – the United Nations – to facilitate an independent investigation.

While there were indeed some positive recommendations in the commission’s report along with a certain acknowledgement of persecution of Muslim minorities, in general, it was marred by the many flaws in the process by which it was conducted, as well as its final assessment and recommendations. One example of the flawed recommendations was the proposal to double the number of security forces in Arakan State, despite no investigations being carried out into allegations that police and other state security forces were complicit in human rights violations.

“There were no Rohingya on the panel, two Muslim members were removed and the report refused to use the name Rohingya, instead insisting on using the term, ‘Bengali’,” said Son Chhay, AIPMC Vice President and Cambodian member of parliament.

“Census teams have also been going around Arakan State trying to force Rohingya Muslims to list themselves as ‘Bengali’ in what appears to be an attempt to marginalize the Rohingya population as part of a state policy of persecution.”

AIPMC has received credible reports of continued harassment, arrest and torture of Rohingya populations by state security forces as well as insufficient care for displaced communities and the blocking of humanitarian aid to Rohingya camps. Some 140, 000 displaced men, women and children are living in makeshift camps with little access to food, healthcare, education and other basic rights and services. Their movement remains restricted and therefore they cannot work to provide for their families, and they are being prevented from returning to the sites of their homes which were destroyed by mobs during recent communal unrest. Instead, the government is keeping them in camps while developing plans to move them to new areas, segregated from other communities. Also, judicial proceedings in other regions following ant-Muslim riots in Central Burma this year also point to institutionalised racism, with widespread arrests and disproportionately harsh sentences for Muslims.

The OIC’s initiative to bring the plight of the Rohingya and other minorities to the Human Rights Council’s attention should receive the backing of other member nations of the HRC. ASEAN member-states should also bring up related human rights concerns that are plaguing ethnic minorities across Myanmar, AIPMC said.

“Burma’s ethnic diversity could be its greatest asset; it’s the people that will ultimately define the nation, and they must draw on their diversity as a strength, not a weakness – but at present the military mindset of the government and its majority Burman leaders is preventing the country from coming together. If dialogue and diversity are not supported, and the flames of ethnic and religious hatred permitted to be fanned, then there is little hope for peace in Burma,” said Kraisk Choonhavan, AIPMC Vice President.

“It is commendable that the OIC is taking the initiative to bring the human rights issues in Burma to the UN’s attention, but this is not just an issue for Muslims, it concerns those of all faiths and nationalities – it is an issue of basic human rights and the world cannot sit back and allow it to continue.”

For further information and interview requests please contact Ismail Wolff on +66 81 643 0009, or by email at ismailwolff@aseanmp.org

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This post is in: Press Release

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