YANGON: The UN Special Rapporteur to Myanmar has said the fixation on labelling the Muslim community either as Rohingyas or Bengalis has paralysed the development of Rakhine state.
Yanghee Lee was speaking at a news conference on Friday (Jan 16) to wrap up her ten-day visit to Myanmar, her second trip to the country following her initial assessment visit in July last year.
She warned the situation in Rakhine remains a crisis. Relations between the Rakhine Buddhists and the Rohingyas or the Bengalis – as the government calls them – remain tense and sensitive. Ms Lee pointed out that the two words – Rohingyas and Bengalis – mean different things to two groups of people, bringing out anger and passion.
Myanmar says those who identify themselves as Rohingyas are considered illegal immigrants, while the Muslim minorities refuse to be identified as Bengalis for fear of losing their rights. Such a debate, Ms Lee pointed out, is impeding the growth of this country.
“I’m not saying that the debate is not important. What I am asking for all of us is to focus on addressing the urgent humanitarian and human rights needs that continue to exist throughout the state,” she said. Ms Lee observed that actions to stifle freedom of expression and freedom of assembly indicate that backtracking in reforms in Myanmar is gaining momentum.
She called on the government to address this issue as a priority, particularly as the country prepares to hold its general elections by year end. She said: “Many of my recommendations have not been sufficiently addressed. The election is a very critical time in shaping the future of Myanmar, and the situation in Rakhine is still in a state of crisis.”
“I’m afraid that the situation, if not thoroughly addressed appropriately and adequately addressed by all parties, for all persons concerned, it could have far reaching implications which will reach outside of the borders of the Rakhine state,” she added.
Ms Lee is expected to present her findings and recommendations in a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council in April this year.