Myanmar Says it Will Not Grant Visas For UN Fact-finding Mission on Rakhine

The foreign ministry orders embassies not to grant entry visas for the UN mission charged with investigating army atrocities following the October 2016 attacks by militants.

Yanghee Lee (L), the UN's Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, visits a camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, where tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims took refuge from an army campaign, Feb. 21, 2017.

Myanmar doubled down Thursday on its refusal to cooperate with United Nations' efforts to investigate reported army atrocities in the strife-ridden western state of Rakhine, with the foreign ministry saying it has ordered the country's embassies not to issue visas to U.N. investigators.

The United Nation Human Rights Council issued a resolution in March calling for the dispatch of an independent, international fact-finding mission to investigate the alleged recent human rights violations by security forces in Rohingya Muslim communities in the northern part of the state.

In May, the council appointed three legal experts and rights advocates as members of a fact-finding mission to investigate the human rights situation in Myanmar, especially in Rakhine state. The mission was tasked with producing a draft report by September.

On Thursday, however, Kyaw Tin, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affair, told parliament Myanmar's embassies were ordered not to grant visas to U.N. fact finding mission members.

"Daw [honorific] Aung San Suu Kyi said we would not coordinate with the U.N. fact-finding mission as we have disassociated ourselves from the resolution because we do not think that the resolution is in keeping with what is actually happening on the ground," he said during questioning in parliament.

"We will order Myanmar embassies not to grant any visa to U.N. fact finding mission members. But this mission will travel to Myanmar’s neighboring countries and will ask in these countries what they want to know and submit its report to U.N.," Kyaw Tin added.

Myanmar soldiers carried out a four-month crackdown in parts of Rakhine state following a deadly raid on border guard posts in October 2016, which officials blamed on Rohingya militants in the country’s impoverished and religiously and ethnically divided westernmost area.

The U.N. previously said that reports of atrocities committed during the crackdown that killed an estimated 1,000 people and displaced about 90,000 Rohingya, most of whom fled to neighboring Bangladesh where they are living in refugee camps, may amount to genocide or ethnic cleansing.

'Less than helpful'

On April 11, a top-level Myanmar government official briefing foreign diplomats, U.N. agency personnel, and reporters called the U.N. resolution "less than helpful," saying that Myanmar has made progress in dealing with the situation in Rakhine.

He noted that the government is complying with most of the 30 recommendations made by a Rakhine advisory committee headed by former U.N. chief Kofi Annan by opening restricted areas to news media, allowing increased humanitarian access, and agreeing to close down three internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in three Rakhine towns.

Two weeks later, an open letter sent by 23 rights groups and other international organizations is calling on world governments to urge Myanmar’s cooperation with the U.N. fact-finding mission saying the country would be better off allowing reports of sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, torture, and the destruction of homes by security forces in Rakhine state to be openly and honestly addressed.

The foreign ministry's stance was supported by members of parliament at the hearing.

"This issue can harm our country’s sovereignty. I was thinking that the government must do something effective to protect it," said lawmaker Hla Htay Win.

Another member of parliament, Oo Hla Saw, weighed in, urging a tough line.

"Sending a fact-finding mission to our country is cavalier. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi should declare our attitude toward this," he said.

Reported by Win Naung Toe and Thiri Min Zin for RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Paul Eckert.