Speaking at a press conference at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Thursday, Tomás Ojea Quintana, the Special Rapporteur for human rights in Burma called on Thein Sein's government to grant the UN and its agencies unimpeded access to all areas of Burma including parts of Kachin State not controlled by the government.
Since June of this year the UN has been unable to visit a series of camps housing more than half of Kachin State's estimated 75,000 internally displaced people because the government has refused the UN permission to cross into territory controlled by the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO).
Government authorities “must provide the United Nations and its partners with regular, independent and predictable access to all in need of humanitarian assistance both in government and non-government controlled areas”, Quintana said. From April until June the UN was able to visit camps in vicinity of Mai Ja Yang, the second largest town in KIO territory. A small UN team was only allowed to visit camps at the KIO's Laiza headquarters once in December of last year.
Quintana made his remarks at a press conference held to coincide with his presenting his annual report to the General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) as part of his mandate.
While noting the progress being made in other parts of Burma Quintana said he remained concerned about ongoing violence in Kachin and Arakan (Rakhine) States Quintana said he had received allegations of serious human rights abuses being committed in Kachin State which he said included “attacks against civilian populations, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, internal displacement, torture, ongoing use of land mines, the recruitment of child soldiers as well as forced labor and portering committed by all parties of the conflict,” he said.
“Furthermore the government should continue to engage ethnic groups in serious dialogue to resolve the longstanding and deep rooted concerns to forge durable political solutions,” Quintana added. A reference to the on again off again talks between the Kachin Independence Organization and the government that have taken place sporadically since the conflict began in June 2011.
Quintana characterized the situation in Arakan state, where thousands of stateless Muslim Rohingya have been displaced following the eruption of long standing communal tensions in June of this year, in particularly stark terms. Quintana called on the government “to take measures to address endemic discrimination against the Rohingya community and ensure respect for their human rights, which should include a review of the 1982 Citizenship Act", he said Referring to the law imposed by General Ne Win's military regime which stripped the Rohingya of Burmese citizenship.
Quintana also revealed during his press conference that one staff person from the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) who was arrested in Arakan state earlier this year remains in prison as do four other staff people from unnamed international NGOs. At least 3 other UN aid workers were released in August following a presidential pardon from Thein Sein. Regarding the aid workers who remain in prison Quintana stated “I again call for their immediate release”. These comments echoed a similar statement he made in August in which he described the charges the aid workers faced as “unfounded”.