Myanmar Lawmakers Reject Statement by United Nations Rights Envoy

The members of parliament say a report by Yanghee Lee following her recent visit to Myanmar includes erroneous information and unfounded accusations.

Myanmar's Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Kyaw Htin addresses the lower house of parliament in Naypyidaw, July 25, 2017.

Myanmar’s lower house of parliament on Tuesday unanimously approved a motion rejecting a statement by the United Nations human rights envoy to the Southeast Asian nation that was critical of the government’s handling of security issues and human rights.

On July 21, Yanghee Lee, the U.N’s special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, issued a strongly worded statement at the end of a 12-day visit to Myanmar, accusing the administration of de facto national leader Aung San Suu Kyi of policies similar to those of the previous military government and of presiding over deteriorating security and human rights situations.

Her statement addressed reports of killings, torture, the use of human shields by security forces, deaths in custody, and an ongoing humanitarian crisis for ethnic Rohingya Muslims and other minorities forced from their homes.

“I am disappointed to see the tactics applied by the previous government still being used,” Lee said. “I understand the new government wishes to normalize its relations with the United Nations, but Myanmar must first become a country that deserves less attention and scrutiny.”

“We are told not to expect Myanmar to transition into a democracy overnight — that it needs time and space,” she said. “But in the same way, Myanmar should not expect to have its close scrutiny removed or its special monitoring mechanisms dismantled overnight. This cannot happen until there is real and discernible progress on human rights.”

Lee’s remarks prompted eight lawmakers from the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party, two from the opposition Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), two military members of parliament (MPs), two lawmakers from the ethnic Arakan National Party (ANP) and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Kyaw Htin to discuss the proposed motion and throw their support behind it.

Kyaw Htin said that Lee’s statement is not balanced or accurate and contains information that has not been confirmed, along with some outright accusations.

“The Myanmar government has a lot of challenges, including political and military conflicts, lack of development, and poverty that were inherited from previous governments,” he said.

“It has been working hard to build trust with all communities and groups and to change all differences to become strengths,” he said. “At this important time, the unfair report focusing on only one community can create more divisiveness and instability within different communities.”

‘Unfair for us’

Lower house lawmaker Maung Myint said Lee included negative information that was not obtained at the actual ground level.

“For example, she met government authorities and civil society organizations on the Lashio trip [in northern Shan state], and she included as fact that the government army uses human shields and tortures people in her report,” he said.

“It is obvious that she was given this kind of information by rebels or those who back them,” he said. “If she includes these kinds of facts, deeming them correct information, then it is unfair for us.”

Major Myint Maung, a military MP, noted that Lee said there were alleged rights violations by security forces and armed groups and inadequate assistance for civilians.

“Regarding this point, it is the attack of some international media and groups by interviewing only Bengalis and using fake videos and photos,” he said, using a derogatory term to refer to Rohingya Muslims whom the Myanmar government considers illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Lower house lawmaker Pyone Cho said the government had arranged for Lee to meet with ministers and authorities while she was in Myanmar, but she did not take up the offer, missing an opportunity to talk to or negotiate with them.

“Then she submitted her report to the U.N. on Myanmar’s human rights situation with negative accusations,” he said. “That’s why I strongly reject her report.”

The office of State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi announced on July 21 that the government is disappointed with Lee’s statement because it contains general accusations and incorrect information.

Visa denials

In her statement, Lee also criticized the government for denying visas to a U.N. fact-finding mission appointed to examine reports of atrocities against the Rohingya in the northern part of Rakhine state during a crackdown.

The security sweep began after deadly attacks on local border guard stations later blamed on an obscure group of Rohingya militants. The U.N. estimated that about 1,000 people died during the four-month crackdown and 90,000 Rohingya were forced to flee, with many going to neighboring Bangladesh.

Some Rohingya accused Myanmar security forces of indiscriminate killings, torture, rape, and arson during the operation.

About 120,000 remain in internally displaced persons camps in Rakhine where they were sent following deadly communal violence with ethnic Rakhine Buddhists in 2012, and where they are denied access to citizenship and basic rights.

The government must take concrete steps to investigate all alleged violations, end discriminatory practices against the Rohingya, and restore their freedom of movement, Lee said in her statement.

In March, the U.N Security Council appointed a fact-finding mission to investigate abuses against the Rohingya, but the Myanmar government rejected the decision and refused to grant visas to the members of the team.

Lee said the Myanmar government delayed confirming the dates of her visit after it asked her to give an assurance that she would not undertake any activities related to the fact-finding mission during her trip — a condition she viewed as an “affront to the independence of my mandate as Special Rapporteur.”

She also said she was not allowed to go to certain places and that those who met with her faced intimidation, including being photographed, questioned before and after meetings, and in one case followed.

“This is unacceptable,” she said in her statement.

Lee’s latest visit to Myanmar included stops in northern Myanmar’s war-torn Shan state, southeastern Kayin state, and violence-wracked western Rakhine state, as well as Yangon and the administrative capital Naypyidaw.

Northern Shan state has been the site of clashes between government troops and various ethnic militias. In Kayin state, tension exists between government military and soldiers from the New Mon State Party (NMSP), an ethnic group that controls part of the state.

Reported by Win Ko Ko Latt for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.