U.N. rights envoy expresses concern at spread of hate speech in Myanmar

U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights on Myanmar Yanghee Lee has expressed concern about the spread of hate speech in Myanmar inciting violence and hostility between the country's Buddhist and Muslim communities.

Wrapping up a 10-day mission to Myanmar, Lee told reporters at Yangon International Airport on Saturday night before leaving the country that the recurring inter-communal violence in Myanmar "reveals deep divisions and a growing polarization between Muslim and Buddhist communities in the country."

"I am concerned by the spread of hate speech and incitement to violence, discrimination and hostility in the media and on the internet, which have fuelled and triggered further violence," she added.

Anti-Muslim violence has been spreading in Myanmar since June 2012 when riots broke out following sectarian disputes between Buddhists and Muslims in western Rakhine state bordering Bangladesh.

More than 250 people have been killed so far and tens of thousands of people left homeless.

Riots sparked by an online rumor hit the country's second largest city Mandalay earlier this month, leaving two people dead and dozens hurt. Some shops and properties were also destroyed, mainly in Muslim areas.

Mandalay residents from both communities said, however, the attackers in the mob were mostly strangers and thugs believed to be from outskirts or nearby towns converging on the city after a false rape claim involving two Muslim man and a Buddhist woman.

Lee said that although she appreciates the efforts by the government in trying to work with religious and community leaders, the media and civil society to prevent further spread of violence, more needs to be done to counter this "negative trend."

"A comprehensive series of measures is needed as a priority; this should include the adoption of specific legislation to prohibit and combat hate speech -- one that is compliant with international human rights standards, carefully construed and applied by the judiciary so as not to excessively limit the freedom of expression," she said.

Lee arrived in Myanmar a day before her 10-day mission began on July 17 to gather first-hand information on the human rights situation in the country before presenting her report to the 69th session of the U.N. General Assembly later this year.