* Sees large gap between reform at top and reality
* Warns that Rakhine crisis could undermine reforms
By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA, March 7 The crisis in Myanmar's Rakhine
state, where sectarian violence erupted last year, risks
spreading and endangering democratic reforms undertaken since
military rule ended in 2011, a U.N. investigator said on
Myanmar should release the remaining 250 political
prisoners, end torture by police and address root causes of
ethnic conflicts, the independent investigator Tomas Ojea
"There remains a large gap between reform at the top and
implementation on the ground," he said in an annual report to
the United Nations Human Rights Council.
"Rakhine state is going through a profound crisis that
threatens to spread to other parts of the country and has the
potential to undermine the entire reform process in Myanmar."
Ojea Quintana visited Myanmar for five days last month and
held talks with ministers, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi
and prisoners. He also visited camps for displaced people
uprooted by ethnic clashes in Rakhine and Kachin states.
"While the process of reform is continuing in the right
direction, there are significant human rights shortcomings that
remain unaddressed, such as discrimination against the Rohingya
in Rakhine State and the ongoing human rights violations in
relation to the conflict in Kachin State," he said.
They must not become entrenched and destabilise the reform
process, said Ojea Quintana, an Argentine human rights lawyer.
Deadly sectarian violence erupted last June and October in
Rakhine state between Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingyas.
"Both Muslim and Buddhist Rakhine communities continue to
suffer the consequences of violence that the government has
finally been able to control, though question marks remain over
the extent to which excessive force has been used," he said.
The Nasaka, a border security force accused of committing
serious violations against Muslims, should be suspended.
Ojea Quintana voiced concern at the "endemic discrimination"
against the estimated 800,000 Muslim Rohingyas who lack legal
status, and called for discriminatory regulations to be removed.
The Yangon government says the Rohingyas are illegal
immigrants from Bangladesh and does not regard them as citizens.
Bangladesh also denies them citizenship.
More than 1,100 people, the vast majority of them Rohingya
men and boys, are reported to be detained, the U.N. envoy said,
urging authorities to ensure that they are not mistreated.
Despite a more open environment after decades of military
rule, people in Myanmar can be imprisoned for taking part in a
peaceful march, he said, calling for the law to be amended.
He saw "no evidence that the judiciary is developing any
independence from the executive branch of government".
The quasi-civilian government of President Thein Sein must
address serious abuses by the junta and prosecute perpetrators.
"Measures to ensure justice and accountability, and access to
truth, must therefore remain part of Myanmar's reform agenda."
Ojea Quintana welcomed increased freedom for Internet users
and the reopening of prisons to visits by the Red Cross.
The conflict in Kachin, a volatile area bordering China,
escalated in recent months, with the military using air power
and heavy artillery to attack targets in Laiza, he said.
He cited continued allegations of "attacks against civilian
populations, extrajudicial killings, sexual and gender-based
violence, arbitrary arrest and detention, as well as torture".
Kachin men suspected of having links to the Kachin
Independence Army have been arrested and possibly tortured.
Authorities must pursue negotiations with armed groups and
protect civilians in Kachin, he said. "Any durable political
solution must address the root causes of the conflict and should
address the particular concerns of ethnic minority groups."
(Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)