[JURIST] The UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar [official website], Tomas Ojea Quintana, on Monday praised [press release] the latest presidential amnesty that resulted in the release of 73 prisoners of conscience. His announcement, however, came with concerns over ongoing arrests of activists. On Tuesday, Myanmar President Thein Sein granted amnesty [Kyodo report] to the 73 prisoners on “humanitarian grounds.” Following the release, it is estimated that fewer than 100 political prisoners remain in the country. Quintana stated his belief, however, that political arrests continue, which he vowed to continue investigating.
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 High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official website] demanded that the government of Myanmar do more to combat religious and ethnic discrimination [JURIST report] against minorities or risk undermining the reform movement in the country. In May Quintana welcomed 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] demanded 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. Quintana was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to the position of Special Rapporteur in 2008.