ASEAN rights groups call for Rohingya protection in Burma | Asia Pacific

ASEAN rights groups call for Rohingya protection in Burma

ASEAN rights groups call for Rohingya protection in Burma

Updated 13 June 2012, 22:57 AEST

Human rights groups in ASEAN have urged the Burmese government and the international community to protect all civilians from religious and ethnic violence in western Burma.

In a joint statement, Forum-Asia, Altsean-Burma, Indonesia's Kontras and the LBH legal aid institute voiced deep alarm at the continued sectarian violence in Burma's Rakhine state, which have killed at least 25 people and sent hundreds of civilians fleeing.

The call comes as the UN's special advisor on Burma, Vijay Nambiar, arrived in Rakhine, with Burmese officials on an assessment mission.

Presenter: Sen Lam

Speaker: Debbie Stodhart, coordinator of ALTSEAN Burma and deputy secretary-general of the International Federation for Human Rights

STODHART: We've been in a situation for many decades now, where the Rohingya have suffered genocide-like conditions, restrictions on marriage, restrictions on practising their religion or even on moving around within the state. And the UN has already acknowledged that they're one of the most threatened communities in the world. There's been a very disturbing propaganda trend. The authorities have not sought to dial down the tensions, in fact, they've allowed wild accusations to be circulated, calling the Rohingyas terrorists and claiming that Arakan state is under a Muslim terrorist attack. What's not helping is that Bangladesh has sealed off the border and refused to allow fleeing Rohingyas to enter Bangladesh for protection. So we are really seeing an incredibly dangerous situation unfold in front of our eyes.

LAM: The secretary-general Ban Ki-moon's special advisor on Burma, Vijay Nambiar is in the country as we speak. What do you think Mr Nambiar should be focussing on?

STODHART: Mr Nambiar needs to be focussing on the fact that there has to be decision action, to protect the vulnerable communities from both sides, but in particular, the Muslim community, which has been targetted with language that seems to endorse violence upon Muslims because they're Muslims. The evacuation of UN staff is actually contradicting the weight of Mr Nambiar's visit, so we do hope that the entire diplomatic community will insist on a humanitarian mission and a fact-finding mission into that area, to ensure that there is indeed, protection of all the people affected by the violence.

LAM: And for all the talk of reform, do you think the Burmese government is doing enough to address these situations and protect ethnic minority groups?

STODHART: The government has not engaged in any legal reform that will grant minorities protection from this type of violence. They've not sought to remove any discriminatory policies and practices. This is not just a problem affecting Arakan state. This is a problem affecting most ethnic groups, including in Kachin state, where the war in Kachin state has been going on for a year already.

LAM: Where the current situation in Rakhine and in Maungdaw is concerned, do you think the government is doing enough to bring calm to the area? We had reports earlier this week that local Rakhine buddhists were getting help from local police, while the Rohingya muslims were housebound?

STODHART: Historically, it has been the Burmese security forces that have enforced and perpetrated atrocities against the muslim minorities in that part of Burma. Definitely, they don't have a good record of being non-discriminatory and being protective of any minority.

LAM: Burma, of course is scheduled to take over the rotating chair of ASEAN - Do you think there could be a regional effort to get the Burmese government to pay more attentiion to ethnic rights and also to the more restive states?

STODHART: ASEAN has wimped out, and has panded to the authorities' refusal to acknowledge the existence of the Rohingyas. They've accepted the authorities' excuses for perpetuating war and discrimination against ethnic minorities in the country. It's high time that ASEAN did something substantial, because it is part of this willingness to go along with the government's excuses that has created the situation in the first place.

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