[JURIST] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein [official website] said [press release] Wednesday that Myanmar must end the widespread abuse of minority rights in order to keep on its progression toward becoming a democratic state. He stated that recent abuses of minority rights, freedom of expression and peaceful protests have led the country backwards. Earlier this month Myanmar President Thein Sein [BBC profile] called for the expiration of “white cards,” held mostly by ethnic minorities who cannot obtain citizenship under the country’s discriminatory citizenship laws. According to Zeid, the move appears designed to prevent “white card” holders from voting in the upcoming constitutional referendum and state elections later this year. Zeid also said that the Rohingyas, an ethnic minority group in Myanmar, have been the victims of many violent attacks. Zeid seemed particularly bothered by four new laws before the parliament of Myanmar that are discriminatory toward religious minorities and women, breaching international standards of freedom of religion. The commissioner was also disturbed by the two attacks in one week on Red Cross convoys in the conflicted area of Kokang. He estimated that tens of thousands of people have been displaced by the conflict. Zeid stated that for the progression toward a democratic state to continue those who have violated human rights need to be held accountable and the current violence in the country needs to end.
Myanmar has been back and forth in its progression toward becoming a democratic state since the dissolution [BBC report] of the nation’s military government and transition to a civilian regime in 2011. In early February before the president decided that all white cards would expire, Myanmar’s legislature passed [JURIST report] a new law granting temporary citizens the right to vote in a constitutional referendum later in 2015. In November Myanmar’s parliament announced that it will consider amending the country’s 2008 constitution [text] following talks between Sein and top army officials and opposition leadership. In July a provincial court in Myanmar sentenced four journalists [JURIST report] and the chief executive from the Unity Journal to a 10-year prison sentence and hard labor for publishing a story in January in violation of the national State Secrets Act, a British colonial law dating back to the 1920s. In February of last year Fortify Rights, an independent human rights group based in Southeast Asia, issued a 79-page report claiming evidence the Myanmar government ordered policy discrimination against Rohingya Muslims.