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Myanmar’s human rights problems affect other countries in the region, warns UN Special Rapporteur

KUALA LUMPUR / GENEVA (24 February 2011) – The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, warned Thursday that the disquieting situation of human rights in Myanmar is affecting other countries in the region.

“There is clearly an extra-territorial dimension to the human rights problem in Myanmar,” Mr. Ojea Quintana said in Kuala Lumpur, at the end of his eight-day fact-finding mission to Malaysia, one of the affected countries. “Despite the promise of the transition in Myanmar, the human rights situation remains grave.”

As of the end of January 2011, there were some 84,800 refugees and asylum-seekers from Myanmar registered in Malaysia, where a large number remain unregistered. Other countries in the region also host a considerable number of refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants from Myanmar.

“Countries in the region have a particular interest in persuading the Government of Myanmar to take necessary measures for the improvement of its human rights situation,” the Special Rapporteur stressed. “These measures are an urgent matter for the new Government, and the international community should ensure that Myanmar fulfills this responsibility.”

As part of his efforts to continuously gather information about conditions in Myanmar, Mr. Ojea Quintana met with a wide range of individuals who had fled Myanmar to Malaysia and the organizations that serve these communities in the country. The Special Rapporteur met with different ethnic groups and focused particularly on the Chin and Rohingya communities.

“During my visit I talked to many people who had recently left Myanmar fleeing forced labour, land and property confiscation, arbitrary taxation, religious and ethnic discrimination, arbitrary detention, as well as sexual and gender-based violence,” the human rights expert said.

Mr. Ojea Quintana heard moving and disturbing testimony of human rights abuses suffered by numerous individuals from Myanmar. These include:

One man left Chin State after 15 years of portering and forced labour for the military. In one incident, after he was detained with 14 others on his way to church and forced to porter, he was in fear of being forcibly recruited into the military and thus fled.
One prominent Chin woman religious leader was coerced to read a statement at a televised event denying allegations of restrictions on religious freedom despite her own views. Her experiences of discrimination based on religion were echoed in many of the Special Rapporteur’s interviews with Chin people.
One young man left Northern Rakhine State after he was denied the necessary travel permit to attend university and was arrested for his efforts to bypass these restrictions as part of what the Special Rapporteur sees as a widespread pattern of discrimination against the Rohingya population.
Another young man left Shan State after years of forced labour and following an incident whereby the military confiscated his family’s farm for which his brother was arrested and subsequently killed; he himself was also arrested but managed to escape.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar will present his latest report to the Human Rights Council in March 2011.

Mr. Tomás Ojea Quintana (Argentina) was appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council in May 2008. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any government or organization and serves in his individual capacity.

For additional information on the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, please visit: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/countries/mm/mandate/index.htm

OHCHR Country Page – Myanmar: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/MMIndex.aspx

For press inquiries and additional information, please contact Ms. Christine Chung (Tel: +41 22 928 9673 / email: cchung@ohchr.org) or write to sr-myanmar@ohchr.org