Myanmar human rights issue worsens, with Rohingyas denied access to international organisations

The human rights situation in some of Myanmar’s states is deteriorating, with reports of the use of human shields by the armed forces, while the situation of Rohingyas has become “more complicated”, a United Nations (UN) investigator said on Monday at the end of a 12-day official mission to the country.

Concern was growing over a worsening situation in Kachin and Shan states in Myanmar with the lack of access for international organisations, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee said at the conclusion of her visit to the country between 10 July and 21 July held at the invitation of Myanmar's government.

 Myanmar human rights issue worsens, with Rohingyas denied access to international organisations

Representational Image. Reuters

“I was particularly dismayed to learn that the situation in northern Shan State is deteriorating, with reports of increasing conflicts, more alleged rights violations by security forces and armed groups, and inadequate assistance for civilians.

“There have been numerous reports of killings, torture, even the use of human shields by the armed forces, allegedly in some cases accompanied by threats of further violence if incidents are reported,” Lee said.

The general situation for the Rohingyas has “hardly improved” since her last visit earlier in 2017 and has become “further complicated” in the north of Rakhine.

“There also appear to be incidents of Rohingya being targeted by unknown assailants for applying to be verified as a citizen, as well as village administrators and other Muslims targeted for being collaborators for working with the authorities, leaving many Rohingya civilians terrified, and often caught between violence on both sides,” Lee says.

The UN expert, who visited Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw as well as parts of Rakhine, Shan and Kayin States, says she was denied meetings with the Myanmarese commander-in-chief and representatives from the ministries of defence, home affairs, transport and communication, and religious affairs and culture.

Lee alleged that the government wanted an “assurance” from her that she will not undertake any activities that are to do with the UN fact-finding mission on Myanmar, the mandate for which was established through a UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution in March. Expecting such an assurance is an “affront” to her independence as a UN expert, Lee said.

The mandates of the UN special rapporteur on Myanmar and the UN fact-finding mission on Myanmar are separate. The Myanmarese government had recently denied visas to the members of the UN fact-finding mission.

While welcoming information on the recent release of 67 children and youth from the Tatmadaw — the Myanmar armed forces — in June, there reportedly has been an increase in “forced recruitment and abductions” by the several ethnic armed groups operating in the Shan state as well as by various militias.

“While I was not able to visit this time, I understand the situation in Kachin State is also extremely serious, with no access for the UN to non-government controlled areas for over a year and concerning developments in Tanai township,” Lee said.

In Kayin state, the UN expert was “shocked” to hear that in some cases farmers must still pay tax on land which was confiscated from them and in some other cases they are given the offer to buy back their own land at an inflated rate.

“Many of the tens of thousands of individuals displaced in the Thai-Myanmar border area are reportedly still afraid to return due to landmines and militarisation but face an increasingly precarious situation with assistance being reduced where they are now,” Lee said in her statement.

Around 120,000 internally displaced people from the Rakhine state were still living in camps after fleeing their homes, and there was little prospect of a long-term solution. “Some people were told they would be in the camps for three days, but this has turned into five long years,” she added.

In Kyaukphyu, the slow citizenship verification process is confining Kaman Muslims family members to Kyauk Ta Lone camp while their Buddhist family members have the freedom to choose where to live.

Communities living around three Special Economic Zones — in Kyaukphyu, Dawei and Thilawa — have relayed experiences of land confiscation with little or no consultation or compensation and with efforts to seek redress often gone unanswered. Lee says that she has heard similar stories in other parts of the country revealing it to be “a truly nationwide problem”.

“We are told not to expect Myanmar to transition into a democracy overnight, that it needs time and space.

“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,” the UN human rights envoy argued.

Lee also appealed to ASEAN to take a “non-indifference” stance to “assist Myanmar in its journey to full transformation to a fully democratic society”.

This is Lee’s sixth official visit to Myanmar and the third since the new government came to power. Her term was extended by the UNHRC in March this year, the mandate for a UN special rapporteur on Myanmar was established as early as 1992 by the UNHRC’s predecessor, the UN Commission on Human Rights.

In 2015, nationalist Buddhist monk Ashin Wirathu had called Lee a “whore”— after she questioned draft laws that many argued would discriminate against women and non-Buddhists — drawing international flak from many countries as well as condemnation from the UN.

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Updated Date: Jul 24, 2017 18:51:11 IST