Conflict & Justice

UN envoy arrives in Myanmar to asses rights situation


A child stands in a street lined with destroyed buildings following days of sectarian violence in Myanmar's western state of Rakhine on June 16, 2012. Tens of thousands have been displaced and 73 people killed in the region since May.



Despite human rights observers' optimism about Myanmar's democratization process over the past year, ethnic clashes and violence last month have prompted the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to send an expert to the the northwestern Rakhine State to evaluate the situation. 

High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay released a statement last week, expressing concern over violence in the area, where 73 people were killed in June and over 70,000 have been displaced.

"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," Pillay said, of the state's response to seemingly indiscriminate murders of Muslims that began May 28, when a woman in Rakhine was raped and killed. 

Pillay also pushed for an independent investigation, however, she noted her appreciation of the government's allowance of a Special Rapporteur, who had a trip planned to Myanmar already, access to the troubled area. 

"I also welcome the Government's decision to allow the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar access to Rakhine State... It is important that those affected from all communities in Rakhine are able to speak freely to the Special Rapporteur," the High Commissioner said.

UN Special Rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana arrived in Myanmar Sunday night, according to the AP, and he will meet with government officials (including Aung San Suu Kyi) during his trip and his findings will be used by the OHCHR as a measurement of how far pro-democracy reforms have reached since President Thein Sein took power, after years of a cripplingly oppressive military junta running the country. 

Quintana will also visit Yangon's Insein prison, where Suu Kyi was held on three separate occasions, and examine the continued mini civil war in Kachin State, which has been besieged by violence between the military and a rebel force, the Kachin Independence Army.

In a statement released by OHCHR, Mr Quintana spoke of Myanmar’s “ongoing human rights challenges, including ... recent violence in Rakhine State, as well as continuing armed conflict, particularly in Kachin State," according to the English language Myanmar Times.

This is Quintana's sixth trip to Myanmar since being appointed Special Rapporteur in March 2008.