By Lyndsey Kelly Impunity Watch Reporter, North America
WASHINGTON, D.C., United States of America – On Saturday, 9 August 2014, U.S Secretary of State John Kerry pressed Myanmar’s political leaders on Washington’s human rights concerns. Kerry, who was in Myanmar’s capital for the ASEAN Regional Forum, met President Thein Sein and urged him to step up constitutional reforms in order to prepare for next years elections.
Myanmar has struggled with human rights issues, including sectarian violence in Rakhine state, where access to humanitarian aid has been denied to more than 140,000 displaced people, most of whom are Rohingya Muslims. Most people in Myanmar refuse to acknowledge the Rohingya as a group belonging to Myanmar, instead referring to them as “Bengalis,” implying that they are immigrants from Bangladesh and thus not entitled to Myanmar citizenship. The Rohingya are denied most rights that citizens of Myanmar are privy to including freedom of movement and access to health care.
The United States has promised to ease sanctions on Myanmar if the process of democratic reform and respect for human rights advances. U.S officials have acknowledged significant changes in Myanmar since its political transition in 2011 from military rule, however some officials have accused Myanmar authorities of falling short on commitments to protect human rights, including issues such as freedom of press and constitutional reforms.
Kerry reaffirmed American support for the reform process in Myanmar on Saturday. Additionally, he raised issues of concern to Washington. Some of these issues included: the minority Muslim Rohingya community, the designation of the term “Bengali,” the need for changes in the constitution put in place by a pre-reform military government, the necessity of addressing religious intolerance and press freedoms.
Kerry said that Thein showed no resistance to discussing the issues. Kerry also warned the leaders of Myanmar that a significant improvement in its democratic transition and a solid commitment to improve human rights is required to advance Myanmar’s relations with the United States.