The UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma has called for a credible, independent investigation into allegations of human rights violations in Rakhine, including the excessive use of force by security and police personnel, arbitrary arrests and detentions, killings, the denial of due process guarantees and the use of torture in places of detention.
“It is of fundamental importance to clearly establish what has happened in Rakhine State and to ensure accountability,” Tomas Ojea Quintana said on Saturday, at the end of his six-day fact-finding mission. “Reconciliation will not be possible without this, and exaggerations and distortions will fill the vacuum to further fuel distrust and tensions between communities.”
Quintana said the Burmese Parliament is "the most appropriate body" for the investigation.
"I believe that Parliament, as the only multi-party and multi-ethnic public institution, is the most appropriate body for the creation of such a commission and for this difficult but necessary task," he said in his statement. "As a first step, there should be a process of consultation with all relevant stakeholders, including victims of human rights violations, in order to get their advice and views on how this truth commission should be shaped. "Lessons should be learned from other countries that have experience in these processes. Assistance may be provided by the United Nations and other international organizations," he said.
At the same time, he called for the release from arrests of six UN staff members, the release of prisoners of conscience, and an end to fighting in Kachin state.
He interviewed six UN staff members, in Insein and Buthidaung prisons, who have been detained in connection with the events in Rakhine State, adding that he had also received information that a number of staff of international non-governmental organizations had been similarly detained. The others detained work for the World Food Program and Doctors Without Borders, say human rights groups.
“Based on my interviews, I have serious concerns about the treatment of these individuals during detention,” he said, adding that he believed the charges against them are “unfounded” and that their due process rights have been denied.
Clashes between Buddhist and Muslim communities in Rakhine State reportedly killed at least 78 people and displaced thousands in June.
“The human rights situation in Rakhine State is serious,” said Quintana, who witnessed the suffering of people who have lost their homes and livelihoods as a result of the violence.
Urgent attention was also required to address the immediate humanitarian needs of the displaced, particularly in the larger camps, he said, urging the international community to respond to the government’s appeal for increased assistance.
He also stressed the need for the government to develop a longer-term strategy for rehabilitation and reconciliation – one that is based on integration and not separation of the Rakhine Buddhist and Rohingya communities.
During his visit, Quintana also met prisoners of conscience at Insein Prison and called for the release of all remaining prisoners of conscience without conditions or delay.
Quintana said that efforts towards finding a solution to the ethnic conflicts should be accelerated and should address long-standing grievances and deep-rooted concerns amongst ethnic groups.
“Yet, as a result of ongoing conflict, particularly in Kachin State, I continue to receive allegations of serious human rights violations committed, including attacks against civilian populations, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, internal displacement, and torture. Furthermore, I received allegations of the use of landmines, the recruitment of child soldiers, as well as forced labour and portering committed by all parties to the conflict,” he said.
He reiterated the need to address these allegations as a matter of priority, as well as grievances from decades of human rights violations.
The Rakhine State conflict has exposed deep-rooted communal animosity and put the spotlight on promises by the government, in office since 2011, to protect human rights after decades of brutal army rule.
In a report this week citing witnesses and interviews with 57 people in Rakhine, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said there was evidence of “state-sponsored persecution and discrimination” against the Rohingyas, who number at least 800,000 in Burma.
“While I am in no position to be able to verify these allegations at this point in time, they are of grave concern,” Quintana said.
Rakhine is home to the Rohingya, an ethnic Muslim minority, who say they have been persecuted the Burmese military and government during decades of authoritarian rule, and are denied citizenship.
Quintana will present his findings to the upcoming UN General Assembly.
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