US Campaign for Burma thanks Tomás Ojea Quintana, UN Special Rapporteur for the situation of human rights in Burma, for his six years of superb service relentlessly unearthing the extent of human rights abuses in Burma.
Quintana provided a voice of reason to policymakers, decision-makers, and international governmental bodies. He dispelled the narrative adopted by many in the international community that Burma is a foreign policy success story, and called on the international community to push for real and lasting reform in Burma. Here are three important facts that Quintana highlighted during his tenure.
Fact #1: The government’s persecution of
Rohingya Muslims could amount to
crimes against humanity.
The Burmese government severely oppresses Rohingya Muslims, an ethnic minority living in Rakhine State in western Burma. They have faced persecution and violence at the hands of the state and national governments for decades.
Médecins Sans Frontières (aka MSF, or Doctors Without Borders) was the largest provider of humanitarian aid in Rakhine State prior to its expulsion by the Burmese government. Over 700,000 Rohingya in Rakhine State depended on MSF for life-saving care. In January 2014, MSF treated Rohingya survivors of a massacre in Durchiradan village that resulted in the deaths of at least 40 Rohingya, according to UN and AP reports. The Burmese government absurdly denied the mass slaughter ever occurred.
But when MSF confirmed that it had treated 22 patients for severe injuries near Durchiradan, verifying that the massacre did in fact take place, mass demonstrations from Buddhist nationalists ensued. In response, the government expelled MSF, denying hundreds of thousands of Rohingya access to medical care. Over 175 Rohingya have already died from biased medical treatment in Rakhine clinics, or lack of healthcare.
Anti-Rohingya sentiment continues to rise in Rakhine State, further endangering the already vulnerable Rohingya population. On March 27th, more than a dozen UN and international NGO offices were destroyed in the Rakhine capital Sittwe as Buddhist mobs orchestrated attacks on international aid groups. Hundreds of aid workers were forced to flee, fearing for their safety. Quintana stressed that “the withdrawal of these workers will have severe consequences on the enjoyment of fundamental human rights, including the right to life.”
Quintana views these events in a greater context, part of a long-running and ongoing campaign of hate.
[The] recent developments in Rakhine State are the latest in a long history of discrimination and persecution against the Rohingya community which could amount to crimes against humanity as defined under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.”
Quintana believes that these murders and attacks are not merely fueled by local state actors “on the ground.” Rather, he sees it as a manifestation of an agenda crafted by those in power.
The influential community, political and religious groups are propagating an agenda to rid Rakhine State of the estimated one million Rohingyas that live there.”
He advised that “systematic discrimination and marginalization of the Rohingya” had to be tackled with key legislative changes, such as bringing the 1982 Citizenship Act, which denies Rohingya official legal status, into line with international standards such as the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, a treaty that Burma has ratified.
Fact #2: Burma has not made
“[T]he democratic transition is still fragile,” said Quintana. “[T]he military retains a prevailing role in the life and institutions of Myanmar for the time being.” In fact, only 75% of the parliament is democratically elected. The other 25% is reserved for the military, as enshrined in the 2008 Constitution. Legislation needs more than 75% overall support to pass, meaning no real political change can transpire without approval from the military. Quintana presses for constitutional amendments that would “allow the people of Myanmar to freely choose their government.”
Quintana has noted that Burma’s power dynamics have undergone little change despite Thein Sein’s promises to yield power to the people. “Proliferating incidence of land confiscation, mass privatization of state assets to well-connected cronies and former officials, the continued incarceration of political prisoners, and the harassment of peaceful protestors by security forces” are examples of how the Burmese government is not remotely close to a democracy.
Fact #3: No legal consequences for brutal violence
Women continue to be victims of sexual violence, and their attackers are granted impunity. On December 24, 2013, a soldier raped a thirteen-year-old girl in Ye Township, Mon State. Rather than bring the rapist to justice, the military offered 500,000 kyat (500 USD) to the girl’s family to keep quiet. Burma’s judiciary system turns a blind eye to thousands of these cases. Quintana reports that he has received allegations of more than 100 women and girls raped by army soldiers since 2010, not including 47 cases of gang rape with 28 women dying from their injuries. In June 2013, three Rohingya women were shot dead while participating in a peaceful protest in Rakhine State. Quintana said that the fatal shooting was one of many shocking examples of how law enforcement officials operate with complete impunity.