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UN Human Rights Council: Statement on the Situation of the Rohingya in Burma, and on the Situation Throughout Mali

Oral Statement Under Item 2: Interactive Dialogue With the High Commissioner

Human Rights Watch shares the High Commissioner's concerns about serious ongoing abuses in Arakan and Kachin State in Burma both of which Human Rights Watch has extensively documented. In Arakan State, the Burmese government inadequately responded to the sectarian violence between the ethnic Arakan and Rohingya populations. When it finally did take action, state security forces targeted the minority Rohingya for killings, mass arrests and looting, causing massive displacement. Government officials and other political leaders have suggested the "solution" to the situation can be found in interning Rohingya in "camps" or deporting them -- actions that would amount to gross violations of human rights.

The Rohingya situation, as well as serious abuses arising out of the ethnic armed conflict in Kachin State, reinforce the need for the Government to invite the High Commissioner's office to set up an office in the country. Such an office would both help the government and the expanding civil society with technical assistance, but would permit independent monitoring and reporting on human rights generally, from conflict-related abuses to rights issues linked to the government’s political and democratic reform process -- including the release of political prisoners.

Without an active and assertive OHCHR office in Burma, the participants in Burma's transition process will likely have great difficulty in obtaining a clear picture of the human rights situation or the wide range of means and methods for addressing them. Establishing an OHCHR country office is common in countries transitioning into democratic rule or out of a period of instability, or otherwise where there is recognition of the value of outside technical assistance and monitoring, which is why governments from Mauritania to Mexico have invited the High Commissioner to open country offices. We would urge Burma to do so, and urge all member states to encourage Burma to do so.

Human Rights Watch is also concerned about the continuing deterioration of the human rights situation throughout Mali and urges the Human Rights Council to encourage OHCHR to set up a presence in the country and to continue to report on the situation in the country as a whole.

Research carried out by Human Rights Watch in Mali during July and August 2012 found that Islamist armed groups that seized control of the north in April have recruited hundreds of child soldiers; engaged in frequent acts of inhumane treatment, including amputations, executions and public floggings, associated with the application of Sharia law; and systematically destroyed numerous ancient mausoleums and shrines in the city of Timbuktu.

In areas controlled by the government, members of the security forces loyal to Capt. Amadou Sanogo, who led the March coup against President Amadou Toumani Touré, have forcibly disappeared at least 20 soldiers allegedly linked to an April 30 counter-coup, committed torture and other abuses against dozens of others, and engaged in a campaign of intimidation against journalists, family members of detained soldiers, and others deemed a threat.

Human Rights Watch is also concerned about the threat posed by thousands of civil defense militiamen, loosely associated with the government, who have a record of committing serious abuses, including lethal collective punishment. We remain concerned about the potential for further abuses by Islamist militants, undisciplined members of the security forces and civil defense militias, and encourage OHCHR to work closely with the UN to help prevent a further deterioration of the situation.

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