Shofica Belcom, 25, waits with other mothers at a Myanmar Red Cross health clinic near Sittwe, capital of Myanmar’s Rakhine state, October 14, 2012.
The United States is describing its first ever human rights dialogue with Burma as “very positive,” saying it now has an “open channel” to discuss sensitive topics with Burmese leaders.
State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said Wednesday a “full-range of human rights issues” was discussed during the talks in the capital of Naypyidaw.
“We are confident that we have now an open channel with the government of Burma to discuss human rights and to continue to work on bringing them where they want to be in terms of human rights standards for their government,” said Nuland.
Nuland said Washington was not sure if Burma would be willing to discuss sensitive issues, such as political prisoners. But she says they were, and that the tone was “very good.”
Burma has freed some political prisoners and made other reforms since a nominally civilian government came to power last year, replacing five decades of authoritarian military rule. In response, the U.S. has lifted many of the long-standing sanctions that helped isolate Burma’s economy.
But many rights groups have cautioned against moving too quickly, pointing out that many abuses are yet to be resolved. One such problem is in western Rakhine state, where recent violence between Buddhists and Muslims left dozens dead and thousands displaced.
Human Rights Watch researcher John Sifton says that Burma has not addressed its official policy of discrimination against the Rohingya Muslims, who are denied citizenship and many other rights.
“Instead of addressing the violence, they’ve embraced this policy of ghetto-ization, of segregation, where the Muslims are supposed to live separately from the Buddhists,” said Sifton. “They literally want to put them in camps and keep them separate from everybody else. Somebody’s got to tell them they can’t do this.”
Washington has called for Burma to protect the rights of the Rohingya. But it has also continued to ease sanctions and offer other diplomatic gestures, to the frustration of some rights groups.
Sifton expressed concern that increased Western business activity in Burma could provide less incentive for its government to continue reforms.