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UN human rights envoy: displaced Rohingya still suffering

Yanghee Lee, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, gestures during a media conference in Yangon, Myanmar on Friday, July 1, 2016. This is the fourth visit for Lee, who concluded her 12-day visit to Myanmar with a media presentation. (AP Photo/ Gemunu Amarasinghe)
July 1, 2016

YANGON, Myanmar — Conditions in camps for members of Myanmar's Muslim Rohingya minority, forced from their homes four years ago by communal violence, remain poor with overcrowding, the deterioration of temporary housing, and a lack of proper sanitation facilities, the U.N.'s special human rights envoy to the country said Friday.

Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee, speaking to reporters in Yangon at the end of her fourth trip to the Southeast Asian country, said ending institutionalized discrimination against the Muslim communities in western Rakhine State must be an urgent priority, and restrictions on them cannot be justified on grounds of security or ensuring stability.

There are more than 100,000 Rohingya living in the squalid camps, with restrictions making it impossible for most to make a living.

Her 12-day trip was her first since the new, democratically elected government took power at the end of March, ending more than 50 years of repressive military or military-dominated rule.

Discrimination against the Rohingya is widespread and the government refuses to recognize most as citizens, treating even long-term residents as illegal immigrants.

"It is clear that tensions along religious lines remain pervasive across Myanmar society. Incidents of hate speech, incitement to discrimination, hatred and violence, and of religious intolerance continue to be a cause for concern," Lee said in a prepared statement.

The violence that was originally directed toward Rohingya in Rakhine has since affected Muslim communities in other parts of the overwhelmingly Buddhist country.

Lee expressed concern over recent incidents of Buddhist encroachments or attacks on property of other religions, which have been met with little response by the authorities.

"It is vital that the government take prompt action, including by conducting thorough investigations and holding perpetrators to account. I am therefore concerned by reports that the government will not pursue action in the most recent case due to fears of fueling greater tensions and provoking more conflict. This is precisely the wrong signal to send," she said.

While highlighting other human rights problems, including abuses by both sides in insurgencies involving other ethnic minorities, Lee said the situation was still encouraging since the party of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi took power in March, succeeding an army-backed government.

"The peaceful transition to a democratically elected and civilian-led government after five decades is a significant milestone for Myanmar," she said. "My visit thus takes place at an important juncture for the country. After the euphoria in the wake of last year's elections, the reality of the significant and wide-ranging challenges facing the new government has not significantly dampened the sense of optimism and hope amongst many sectors of the population."

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