UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says Myanmar's stateless Rohingya Muslims should be given the right to citizenship.
Ban told a press conference alongside Myanmar's State Counselor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi in the capital Naypyidaw on Tuesday that thousands of Rohingya Muslims have been living for more than four years in camps in the western state of Rakhine fleeing violence by the Buddhist majority.
"This is not just a question of the Rohingya community's right to self-identify," Ban said, adding, "People who have been living for generations in this country should enjoy the same legal status and citizenship as everyone else."
Nobel laureate Suu Kyi has come under fire from international rights groups for failing to address the plight of the Rohingya.
Ahead of his visit, Ban called on Myanmar's new leadership to pay “full respect” to human rights, noting, "The new leadership must now overcome discrimination, ensure equality and promote inclusive development for all, with full respect for human rights."
Last week, Myanmar's government, under pressure from the international community, announced it would set up an advisory panel chaired by Kofi Annan, a former UN secretary general, to find "lasting solutions to the complex and delicate issues" in Rakhine.
Reacting to Annan’s appointment, Ban said he would support his predecessor's work in Rakhine and work with Myanmar's central authorities to tackle the issue of the Rohingya.
"The situation is complex (in Rakhine) and the government has assured me of their commitment to address the roots of the problem," Ban said.
He added, "All of Myanmar's people, of every ethnicity and background, should be able to live in equality and harmony side by side with their neighbors."
Buddhist nationalists in Myanmar oppose Annan's appointment.
On July 1, Yanghee Lee, the UN special rapporteur on Myanmar, said Myanmar’s government should immediately end the deep discrimination practiced against the Rohingya and other Muslims in Rakhine.
On June 20, the UN human rights office said the Rohingya Muslims had been subject to multiple and aggravated forms of human rights violations, including citizenship denial, forced labor and sexual violence.
Rakhine is home to the Rohingya Muslim minority, who are labeled “Bengali” by hardline Buddhists. Many government officials brand the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh even though many can trace their ancestry in Myanmar.
A large number of the Rohingya is believed to have been killed and tens of thousands displaced in attacks by extremists who call themselves Buddhists.