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UK Must Insist on Commitments from Myanmar President on Minority Rights

By Refugees International  •  July 12, 2013

Ahead of President Thein Sein’s upcoming visit to London, Refugees International (RI) calls on the British government to demand action from Myanmar on protections for minority groups and citizenship for the stateless Rohingya.

“The British government has been focused on the positive reforms seen under President Thein Sein and the initial steps towards democratization in Myanmar. But these steps are reversible, and it is not in the interests of Myanmar for the international community to ignore the serious human rights abuses that persist in the country,” said RI Senior Advocate Melanie Teff.

“President Thein Sein has made several public statements about his supposed commitment to assisting the Rohingya community, but we have yet to see any real actions. The British government should insist on a clear plan of action as to how he will address the spreading anti-Muslim and anti-Rohingya violence, improve relations between the communities, end discrimination and abuses against the Rohingya, and ensure that they can safely and voluntarily return to their home areas.”

Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority, who were stripped of their nationality in 1982, are subject to a shocking array of discriminatory laws, including restrictions on their freedom of movement and their rights to marry and have children. Since inter-communal violence broke out in June 2012 in Rakhine State, the government has subjected them to even more repressive measures and human rights abuses. Roughly 140,000 Rohingyas are now displaced and living in segregated, squalid camps that pose severe risks to their health and safety.

In recent months, anti-Rohingya violence has metastasized into wider anti-Muslim violence across the country. Yet the Myanmar government has failed to prevent or respond adequately to these outbreaks. It has pursued very few prosecutions against Buddhists alleged to have incited or perpetrated the violence, while simultaneously pursuing disproportionate numbers of prosecutions against Muslims. Indeed, at a time when firm government action was needed, President Thein Sein chose to speak out in support of a high-profile Buddhist monk who has been preaching hatred of Muslims.

Other minority groups also lack protection. In Kachin State, the predominantly Christian Kachin people have suffered decades of conflict and serious human rights abuses – including killings and rapes – by government forces. More than 100,000 Kachin are currently living in displacement camps, and the government has severely limited humanitarian access to civilians living in areas controlled by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

“Since President Thein Sein has been in power, more than 250,000 people have been forcibly displaced across Myanmar, and humanitarian access to the majority of those people has been blocked,” said RI Southeast Asia Fellow Sushetha Gopallawa. “In Kachin State, the government has allowed only one United Nations aid convoy to enter  KIA-held areas, leaving the majority of Kachin IDPs stuck in substandard camps for a year. The British government should insist that President Thein Sein deliver on his previously-stated commitment to full humanitarian access in Kachin State, and that he assist and protect ethnic minority groups in Rakhine State and throughout the country.”

Contact: Michael Boyce +1 202 361 6131, michael@refugeesinternational.org
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This post is in: Press Release

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