GENEVA (IINA) – The UN human rights chief warned on Wednesday that widespread abuses of minority rights in Myanmar threatened to undermine reforms in the country, AFP reported.
“Myanmar had promised to end the era of political prisoners, but now seems intent on creating a new generation by jailing people who seek to enjoy the democratic freedoms they have been promised,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said in a statement.
He said the recent developments relating to the human rights of minorities, the freedom of expression and the right to peaceful protest are calling into question the direction of the reform in Myanmar, and even threatening to set it back.
Zeid cited in his statement, a number of recent cases of crackdown on the freedom of speech and peaceful protesting through the retroactive application of the law. He said a number of civil society members were jailed for protesting peacefully against the military’s alleged confiscation of their land. In 2014, he said, 10 journalists were jailed “under outdated defamation, trespassing and national security laws.
He also expressed concern related to upcoming elections. “During an election year, it will be tempting for some politicians to fan the flames of prejudice for electoral gain,” he warned. “But at a time when religious extremism is creating havoc in many parts of the world, the terrible consequences of appealing to or appeasing such sentiments should be all to clear.”
Among the worrying developments was a government announcement last week that identity cards for people without full citizenship, including Rohingya Muslims, will expire within weeks.
“The decision appears designed to prevent “white card” holders – the majority believed to be members of Myanmar’s stateless Rohingya Muslim minority – from being eligible to vote,” Zeid warned.
Many of Myanmar’s roughly 1.3 million Rohingyas are stateless and subject to restrictions that affect everything; from their ability to travel and work to the permitted size of their families.
Zeid said the Myanmar government even opposes the use of the term “Rohingya”. He insisted that denying the group’s right to self-identification “should sound a clear warning bell”.
The UN rights chief also voiced alarm at escalating violence between the military and rebels in the remote Kokang region near the Chinese border, where more than 130 people have died since February 9 and tens of thousands have reportedly been displaced.