UN criticizes Myanmar’s treatment of minorities

January 20, 2017 8:00 pm

Special Rapporteur on Yanghee Lee (C) arrives for a press conference in Yangon on January 20, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

A rapporteur tasked with evaluating Myanmar’s handling of the plight of minority groups has criticized the country for its poor performance.
In a statement before her departure on Friday, the UN human rights envoy, Yanghee Lee, painted a bleak picture of the rights situation in Myanmar.
The UN’s special investigator criticized the government’s harsh crackdown on Rohingya Muslims in the west and aggressive fighting with the Kachin minority in the country’s north.
Myanmar’s military is accused of mass human rights violations in both areas.
“The government’s response to all of these problems seems to currently be to defend, dismiss and deny. And this response is not only counterproductive but is draining away the hope that had been sweeping the country,” she said at the end of her 12-day visit to probe the human rights situation in Myanmar.
Lee criticized army actions in Rakhine state, where a crackdown has driven an estimated 65,000 Rohingya to flee across the border to Bangladesh in the past three months. She said the military had conducted security operations there with seemingly little regard for the rights and dignity of the Rohingya.
The army denies abuses despite numerous reports of violations and global condemnation of the crackdown, which was launched in October after nine policemen were allegedly killed in attacks by unidentified gunmen along the border.
Human rights groups and Rohingya advocates charge that the security forces have killed hundreds of members of the minority group and burned down more than 1,000 Rohingya homes. Lee said the government claimed the houses were burned down by their own residents because they were of poor quality and the expected international aid would allow them to build better homes.
“The authorities offered no evidence for this, and I find this argument quite incredible,” she said, adding that in some cases these may be where families lived for generations, and they might be displaced for an indeterminate period.

The photo taken on October 14, 2016, shows debris of burned houses in Warpait village, a Muslim village in Maungdaw located in Rakhine state, Myanmar. (Via AFP)

Lee said the estimated 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine are victims of “decades of systematic and institutionalized discrimination against the Rohingya population”. They face official and social discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar. Most do not have citizenship and are regarded as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, even when their families have lived in Rakhine for generations. Communal violence in 2012 forced many to flee their homes, and more than 100,000 still live in squalid internal displacement camps.
Lee also said she was barred by the government from traveling to parts of Kachin state, but that it was clear that the situation there was deteriorating. People who live there told her “the situation is now worse than at any point in the past few years,” she said.
Lee expressed concern about the fear of reprisals against ordinary people she spoke with or wanted to speak with and asked officials to make sure that people who spoke frankly to her would not face retribution.
“Yet distressingly, several people I met during this visit would say to me, ‘I don’t know what will happen to me after our meeting,'” she said.
“In one case, an individual directly told me they thought they would be arrested following our conversation. In another village, where there were more than two communities living separately but side by side, I asked if that person was comfortable talking to me. The response: ‘I am afraid I will not give the right answer.'”
Lee also met with the country’s leader, State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, and other cabinet ministers.
However, she complained that the country’s military commander, Senior General Minister Aung Hlaing, had declined to see her.
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