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Myanmar's burgeoning democracy 'fragile': UN expert

United Nations Human Rights envoy Tomas Ojea Quintana talks to journalists during a press conference at the Yangon international airport on February 19, 2014 (Photo: AFP/ Soe Than Win)

March 12, 2014

Geneva -- Myanmar's transition to democracy remains "fragile" with ethnic minorities still suffering widespread abuse and the military maintaining its influence in most institutions, a UN expert said Wednesday.

"The rule of law cannot yet be said to exist in Myanmar," Tomas Ojea Quintana, the UN's special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the country, said in a statement.

"For the time being, the military retains a prevailing role in the life and institutions, (which) in general remain unaccountable," he said of the situation three years after Myanmar emerged from military rule.

If authorities did not tackle "impunity and systematic discrimination in Rakhine State", it could jeopardise the entire reform process, Ojea Quintana warned.

Rakhine remains tense after several outbreaks of inter-communal violence between Buddhist and Muslim communities since 2012 that have killed scores and displaced 140,000 people, mainly from the Rohingya Muslim minority.

Ojea Quintana, whose report wraps up six years of monitoring the country in the midst of sweeping political reforms, said widespread violations of Rohingya rights could constitute "crimes against humanity".

Myanmar's 800,000 Rohingya -- who are stateless, and considered by the UN to be one of the world's most persecuted minorities -- face restrictions that hamper their ability to travel, work, access health and education and even to marry.

Ojea Quintana said it was essential that Myanmar authorities work with the UN Human Rights Council to establish a "credible" probe into events in January in the village of Du Chee Yar Tan, "including allegations of the brutal killing of men, women and children, sexual violence against women, and the looting and burning of properties." 

The attacks with the alleged involvement of police have been denied by Myanmar. 

While welcoming the dramatic political reforms that have taken place in Myanmar since the country emerged from decades of harsh military rule in 2011, Ojea Quintana also stressed the need to focus on past wrongs.

"Addressing the past will... become increasingly important," said the UN rapporteur, whose mandate expires in May.

"A critical step will be to secure ceasefire and political agreements with ethnic minority groups, so that Myanmar can finally transform itself into a peaceful multi-ethnic and multi-religious society," he said, urging the country's leaders to "set a clear timeframe for prompt progress towards political talks."

The current nominally civilian government has reached tentative peace deals with most rebel groups, but a nationwide ceasefire has so far proved elusive.

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