The 193-nation General Assembly’s Third Committee, which focuses on rights issues, approved by consensus a non-binding resolution, which Myanmar said contained a “litany of sweeping allegations, accuracies of which have yet to be verified.”
Outbreaks of violence between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and the Rohingyas have killed dozens and displaced thousands since June. Rights groups also have accused Myanmar security forces of killing, raping and arresting Rohingyas after the riots. Myanmar said it exercised “maximum restraint” to quell the violence.
The UN resolution “expressing particular concern about the situation of the Rohingya minority in Rakhine state, urges the government to take action to bring about an improvement in their situation and to protect all their human rights, including their right to a nationality.”
At least 800,000 Muslim Rohingya live in Rakhine State along the coast of western Myanmar. But Buddhist Rakhines and other Burmese view them as illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh who deserve neither rights nor sympathy.
The Myanmar mission to the United Nations told the Third Committee that while it accepted the resolution, it objected to the Rohingya being referred to as a minority.
“There has been no such ethnic group as Rohingya among the ethnic groups of Myanmar,” a representative of Myanmar’s UN mission said. “Despite this fact, the right to citizenship for any member or community has been and will never be denied if they are in line with the law of the land.”
A Reuters investigation into the wave of sectarian assaults painted a picture of organized attacks against the Muslim community. During an historic visit to Myanmar last week, US President Barack Obama called for an end to incitement and violence.
“Violence in Rakhine state was just a violent communal clash affecting both sides of the community. It is not an issue of religious persecution,” the Myanmar representative told the Third Committee.
During the past year, Myanmar has introduced the most sweeping reforms in the former British colony since a 1962 military coup. A semi-civilian government stacked with former generals has allowed elections, eased rules on protests and freed dissidents.
“Any shortcomings in the human rights field are being addressed through legal reform processes and legal reform mechanisms, including the national human rights commission,” said the Myanmar representative.
The UN resolution also “urges the government to accelerate its efforts to address discrimination, human rights violations, violence, displacement and economic deprivation affecting various ethnic minorities” and expresses deep concern about an armed conflict in Kachin state.
Myanmar President Thein Sein has ordered troops in Kachin State not to attack the rebels, but has allowed them to defend themselves. The conflict there resurfaced in June 2011, scuttling a 16-year truce and displacing an estimated 50,000 people.
The Third Committee, which includes all members of the General Assembly, is also scheduled to debate resolutions on Iran, Syria and North Korea. A special General Assembly session next month is expected to formally adopt all recently approved committee resolutions.