The UN expert on human rights in Burma arrived in the country on Sunday, as dozens of Muslim governments and organizations have called on Burma to stop human rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State.
The UN special reporter on Burma, Tomas Quintana, will meet with government officials this week and travel to Rakhine and Kachine states, said UN officials.
The UN has urged Burma to cooperate in a “prompt, independent” investigation into the unrest in Rakhine State.
Last week saw a chorus of protests from international groups calling for a credible investigation into the sectarian violence that has wracked western Burma during the past two months, claiming up to 78 lives and the burning of thousands of homes and businesses in violence pitting Rohingya Muslim and Rakhine Buddhist in attacks and clashes, although the unrest is not exclusively centered on religion.
Jim Della-Giacoma of the International Crisis Group told Radio Free Asia that the attention of Muslim governments and groups could help pressure Burma's government to give more rights to Rohingyas, but it could also make the situation worse.
"This is an issue around which Burmese or ethnically Burman nationals rally around, and that is part of the problem," says Della-Giacoma. “So any sort of threats from outside groups would only enforce or harden that nationalism and definitely not help the problem.”
On Thursday, an umbrella group of the Pakistani Taliban threaten Burma over its treatment of Rohingya Muslims. Attacks to avenge crimes against the Rohingya will begin, the Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP) said in a statement, unless Pakistan halts all relations with the Burmese government and shuts the country's embassy in Islamabad.
A Taliban spokesman demanded that the Pakistani government halt intra-national relations and close Burma's embassy.
“Otherwise we will not only attack Burmese interests anywhere but will also attack the Pakistani fellows of Burma one by one,” said the statement.
The Taliban threat was widely rejected by Rohingya groups inside and outside Burma.
Maung Kyaw Nu, a former political prisoner turned activist who works with Burmese Rohingya Association of Thailand, told RFA that he doubted the threat of an attack should be taken seriously, and violence is rejected by most Rohingyas.
“Even we don't like it,” he said. “You know my political attitude toward Burma is to restore the peace and the rule of law... . We condemn them [Taliban], you know, not only regarding Burma, regarding any particular area in the world.”
Observers said the Taliban threat might have caused a backlash against Rohingyas inside Burma. Chris Lewa of the Arakan Project, an NGO that monitors Rohingya issues, said the Burmese military reportedly arrested 38 Muslim religious leaders in northern Rakhine State on Thursday following the terror threat by the Taliban. However, it's unclear if the threat was a direct response to the Taliban threat.
“It appears that [the Burmese military] has responded in arresting a number of imams and mullahs from Maungdaw and Buthidaung along the border with Bangladesh,” said Lewa, who said other religious leaders have been arrested prior to the religiously important month of Ramadan.
The violence and discrimination against Rohingyas is not genocide or ethnic cleansing, Lewa said, addding that such exaggerations are partly the result of a recent statement from Burmese President Thein Sein, who said earlier this month that deportation or refugee camps were the “only solution” for the Rohingyas, who are denied citizenship in both Burma and neighboring Bangladesh.
Benjamin Zawacki, a Burma researcher at Amnesty International, told RFA that it would be a mistake to view the conflict through only a religious perspective, saying it should be viewed in the wider context of Burma's struggles with ethnic minority groups.
“I think that religion is clearly a part, but my assessment is that it is more secondary than it is primary in terms of why these violations and this discrimination takes place,” said Zawacki.
He said the widespread prejudice and discrimination against Rohingyas in Burmese society is partly the offspring of government policies that limit the rights of the minority group.
Zawacki said such policies have the effect of making many Burmese citizens feel they are justified in treating Rohingyas differently from other groups.
Rights groups such as Amnesty International said to solve the crisis Burma must amend its 1982 citizenship law that says Rohingyas are not citizens.
Many observers were encouraged that democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi spoke out last week in Parliament calling for laws to protect the rights of ethnic minorities.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh's prime minister has told Al Jazeera that her country cannot afford to accommodate more Rohingya Muslim refugees fleeing persecution in neighbouring Burma. It has closed its borders to Rohingyas attempting to flee Burma.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina defended the policy, saying Bangladesh is already overpopulated. There are already about 30,000 Rohingyas living in a UN refugee camp, and an estimated 300,000 Rohingya living in the country. She said that it is not her country's responsibility to help all of the refugees.
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