Reports of ‘state involvement’ in Burma unrest: UN expert

Tomas Quintana, UN special envoy on human rights in Burma, reads his statement during a news conference before his departure in the VIP lounge of the Rangoon International Airport in February 2012. (Reuters)
March 29, 2013

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Burma human rights said Thursday he had received reports of “state involvement” in some of the recent violence between Buddhists and Muslims in the former army-ruled nation. 

At least 40 people have been killed and mosques burned in several towns in central Burma since fresh sectarian strife erupted on 20 March, prompting the government to impose emergency rule and curfews in some areas. 

“I have received reports of State involvement in some of the acts of violence,” Tomas Ojea Quintana said in a statement. 

He also pointed to “instances where the military, police and other civilian law enforcement forces have been standing by while atrocities have been committed before their very eyes, including by well organised ultra-nationalist Buddhist mobs. 

“This may indicate direct involvement by some sections of the State or implicit collusion and support for such actions.” 

According to the statement, Quintana also received information indicating that the military and police may be arbitrarily detaining people based on religious and ethnic profiling. 

“The military and police must now be held to account for human rights violations committed against ethnic and religious minorities,” he said. 

Quintana also called on the government to take “immediate action to stop the violence from spreading to other parts of the country and undermining the reform process.” 

“This includes stemming campaigns of discrimination and hate speech which are fuelling racist and, in particular, anti-Muslim feeling in the country,” he said. 

“Tackling discrimination is fundamental to establishing the rule of law, and impunity for acts of violence and discrimination must no longer be tolerated.” 

His comments come after Burma President Thein Sein vowed a tough response to religious extremists in a national address. 

According to the United Nations, the recent clashes, which were apparently triggered by an argument in a gold shop that turned into a riot, have seen some 12,000 people displaced. 

It is the worst sectarian strife since violence between Buddhists and Muslims in the western state of Arakan last year left at least 180 people dead and more than 110,000 displaced.

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