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UN rights chief urges Myanmar to combat ethnic, religious discrimination

The government of Myanmar must do more to combat religious and ethnic discrimination against minorities or risk undermining the reform movement according to a statement [text] made by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official website] Wednesday. Pillay commended Myanmar President Thein Sein [official website] for statements on the need to end discrimination and violence but pointed to ongoing human rights violations against the Rohingya community in Rakhine State [Economist backgrounder] as a pressing issue the government needs to tackle or risk harming reform efforts. According to the statement, more than 140,000 people have been displaced by violence between Buddhist and Muslim communities last year in the region, many escaping on boats. The High Commissioner urged the government to, "urgently pursue legal and institutional reforms, including reforming local orders and national laws that discriminate along lines of ethnicity and religion." She also voiced concern over reports of arbitrary arrests, torture, sexual violence and extrajudicial killings carried out by government security forces.

Concern over Myanmar's sectarian violence and human rights record has been growing recently, as the country has attempted to normalize relationships with the US. Last month UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar [official website] Tomas Ojea Quintana released a statement welcoming recommendations [JURIST report] by the Myanmar government's Rakhine Investigation Commission, but at the same time also voicing a strong need for the government to address impunity and ensure investigations into credible allegations of systematic human rights violations against Muslims in Rakhine state. In April Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] released a statement demanding that the Myanmar government investigate and hold accountable [JURIST report] those involved in the deadly violence in the Mandalay Region in March, in which an estimated 40 people were killed and 61 more were wounded. Also in April Quintana expressed serious concerns [JURIST report] in a report on growing violence between Muslim and Buddhist communities in Myanmar. The Special Rapporteur urged bold action by the Myanmar government to combat this trend, and stated that government inaction has helped fuel the spread of discrimination and prejudice against Muslim communities across the country. In March Quintana warned [JURIST report] the country of the possibility that the current reformation process may be endangered by leaving areas of importance untouched, especially related to the states of Rakhine and Kachin.

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