Human rights special rep banned from Rakhine

Yanghee Lee, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, visits Thayawady Prison. Photo: MNA

United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights for Myanmar, Yanghee Lee was denied access to Rahkine state during her visit to the country because it was seen that her visit to the region would inflame tensions.

To counter her forced absence from the state, officials from Rahkine met her in Yangon to discuss the states inter-ethnic issues. A move she said was staged as the members were also dealing with flood relief.

“Some have informed me that these are sensitive issues that should not be raised publicly given the risk of fueling communal tensions and potential conflict and that my previous statements and publically expressed views of these issues have caused discord.” Ms. Lee remarked of her last visit.

Adding; “But I cannot shy away from continuing to highlight serious human rights violations and make principled but constructive recommendations.”

The request to visit Rahkine was denied by the government “well before” her visit to the country. She plans to draw on the Rahkine state issue in greater detail in her report to the UN General Assembly later this year.

Ms. Lee plans to, “Highlight issues such as the planned return and the resettlement of thousands of households affected by the communal violence of 2012, and efforts to promote dialogue between the two communities.”

The first issue she raised in her last report was the harassment of her interlocutors by security personal, whom she had visited and interviewed during her last assessment.

She met with Minister for Home Affairs, Ko Ko Gyi, who claimed that this would not be the case this time around and he ensured the safety of those who she has met with.

Incorrect voter lists were also addressed as well as showing her concern for the lack of voting rights amongst the Rohingya community and those displaced by internal conflict, in northern Shan state and Kachin state.

After Ms. Lee’s last visit to Rahkine state she drew negative attention from conservative Buddhist group Ma Ba Tha’s firebrand leader, U Wirathu. He claimed that Ms. Lee is a “whore”who “offers her ass to the kalar,” these remarks drew no response from the Myanmar government.

Also going on to call her a ‘bitch’ for raising concerns to the Protection of Race and Religion bills that were rushed through parliament. During the conference she noted that most bills took time to go through parliament and faced amendments, but the PoRR did not face any scrutiny.

Ms. Lee addressed the amnesty of religious conservatismand the hypocrisy of Myanmar’s penal code. She used the issue of now expelled NLD member Htin Lin Oo for his speech, where he was seen as ‘wounding religious feeling’ and sentenced to two years hard labour in June 2015.

She compared it to when Chairman of the ironically named Peace and Diversity Party, Nay Myo Wai, in a public rally vocally called for the crowd to “kill, shoot and burn the Rohingya,” she noted the chairman has not faced any legal actions because of his remarks. 

“The government must do more to combat hate speech and incitement to violence,” said Ms. Lee.

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