Myanmar Assassination Shows Urgent Need for Unity Against Hate Crimes

The 29 January assassination of U Ko Ni, a respected Muslim veteran of the pro-democracy struggle, is a great loss to Myanmar and underlines the urgency for unity against all forms of hate speech and possible hate crimes.

It is with shock and great sadness that Crisis Group has learned of the assassination on 29 January of prominent Myanmar lawyer, U Ko Ni. A senior National League for Democracy (NLD) constitutional expert and adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi, he was one of the most high-profile Muslim voices in the country. 

U Ko Ni was shot twice in the head at close range, at Yangon International Airport; a 52-year-old man was reportedly arrested at the scene. U Ko Ni was returning from an official visit to Indonesia with a cross-section of senior Buddhist and Muslim figures involved in addressing tensions in Rakhine State. The trip was aimed at sharing experiences of overcoming inter-religious tensions.

While the motive of the attacker is not known at this time, this killing has all the appearances of a hate crime, and is of grave concern at a time of heightened communal and religious tensions in Myanmar. These have recently escalated following deadly attacks on Myanmar border police bases in Rakhine State last October, and a brutal military response against local Rohingya villagers.

The killing of U Ko Ni, a widely respected veteran of the pro-democracy struggle, is a great loss to Myanmar. Such killings of political leaders have been extremely rare in Myanmar, even during the dark decades of dictatorship. But there is a serious risk that in a context of strong anti-Muslim sentiment in the country, rampant hate speech on social media, and virulent Buddhist nationalism propounded by some senior monks, this crime could embolden others and unleash further violence.

It is essential that a prompt, credible and transparent investigation is conducted and that no stone is left unturned in finding the truth about this incident and who may have been behind it. The killing also underlines the urgency of the Myanmar government and society coming together to condemn all forms of hate speech, confront it wherever it occurs, and take resolute action against those responsible for disseminating it.