Washington-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Saturday urged US President Barack Obama to publicly address the deadly sectarian violence that continues in Rakhine State between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya (and non-Rohingya) Muslims.
“Obama should press Thein Sein to end discrimination and violence against the Rohingya and grant them citizenship on par with other ethnic nationalities,” said Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director. “He should stress the urgent need to allow international aid to reach the Rohingya and for security conditions that would allow them to return to their homes.”
The statement comes a day after the US government lifted import restrictions on Burma, broadly authorizing Burmese-origin goods to enter the United States for the first time in almost a decade.
Obama should also raise concerns about continuing abuses and unmet humanitarian needs in Burma’s Kachin State, where conflict continues between the Burmese army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the statement said. “The Burmese military has attacked villages and committed extrajudicial killings, forced labor, torture, rape, and pillage. Both sides have used anti-personnel landmines.”
HRW said that an estimated 90,000 people had been displaced in Kachin State this year, and that Burmese authorities had largely denied them humanitarian aid.
“US President Barack Obama’s visit to Burma will be a success only if it generates concrete and lasting steps toward improving human rights in the country,” said the international watchdog.
HRW also called for the release of any remaining political prisoners, and legal and constitutional reform.
Thein Sein reportedly included no political prisoners among the 452 prisoners released in a November 15 amnesty prior to Obama’s visit, HRW said. In four amnesties in the past year, the government has released at least 300 political prisoners, leaving an undetermined number behind bars.
HRW called for independent international monitors to be given unfettered access to Burma’s prisons to provide an accounting of all remaining political prisoners.
The president’s visit on Monday is the most visible gesture of praise by the US government toward Burma since it lifted longstanding sanctions on the country in July, the statement said.
“While genuine progress in Burma should be encouraged, Obama should be careful not to overstate the changes that have occurred,” Adams said. “The still-suffering Burmese people will be better served by a US president who is committed to seeing long-term reform in their country than one who expresses overeager praise.”