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UN rights chief concerned over Myanmar ethnic clashes

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official website] on Friday expressed concern [press release] about the continued violence and human rights violations prevalent in Myanmar's Rakhine state since clashes began between its Buddhist and minority Rohingya [BBC backgrounder] Muslim communities in May. Pillay said that independent reports alleging "discriminatory and arbitrary responses by security forces, and even their instigation of and involvement in clashes" are being continuously received. The High Commissioner called on Myanmar [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] to prosecute all individuals responsible for the violence regardless of their religion or ethnicity without discrimination and in accordance with the rule of law. The international community was also urged to speak up against discrimination and exclusion of minorities as well as to support equal rights in Myanmar. Only a week ago, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] reported that the violence between the two groups has increased [JURIST report] since a state of emergency was declared [NYT report] in the western Myanmar State Rakhine. Benjamin Zawacki, AI's Myanmar Researcher, commented that "Declaring a state of emergency is not a license to commit human rights violations." The rights group also added that the number of political prisoners is on the rise despite the country's previous amnesties [JURIST report].

Myanmar has been unsuccessful in resolving the sectarian violence prevalent in the country despite attempts by its President Thein Sein [BBC profile; official website, in Burmese] to bring peace to the communities. Earlier this month, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) [official website] Melissa Fleming reported that 10 UN staff and aid workers had been arrested [JURIST report] in the northwestern Rakhine state and three of them are facing unknown criminal charges. In June, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] had urged [JURIST report] the Chinese government to provide basic food and shelter needs to refugees from Myanmar after finding refugee abuse. Earlier in June, HRW also called on [JURIST report] Bangladesh to open its borders to Myanmar refugees a day after it demanded Myanmar ensure the safety of communities in the Arakan State subject to the violence between Arakan Buddhists and ethnic Rohingya Muslims. In March, HRW reported [JURIST report] that violence and rights abuses continue in Myanmar's northern state of Kachin due to the conflict between Myanmar's armed forces and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) [BBC backgrounder]. During the same month, Tomas Ojea Quintana [official profile], the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar urged [JURIST report] the country to ensure the protection of human rights. In November, Human rights group Partners Relief and Development [advocacy website] issued [JURIST report] a report [text, PDF, graphic content] which alleged that the army may be committing war crimes including torture and forced labor against ethnic communities in Kachin state.

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