Human rights slide in worsening conflict in Myanmar

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A United Nations Special Rapporteur has issued a strongly worded statement accusing the Government  of Myanmar of policies reminiscent of the previous military government, and of presiding over a worsening security and human rights  situation.

Yanghee Lee, ending a 12-day visit to the country, listed a catalogue of concerns including reports of killings, torture, the use of human  shields by security forces, deaths in custody and an ongoing humanitarian crisis for the Rohingya people and other minorities forced  from their homes.

Her own movements had been severely restricted, she added, and access to crisis-hit areas remained off-limits even to international  organizations. People who met her faced harassment, and the Government had sought to place unprecedented pre-conditions on  her visit.

“I am disappointed to see the tactics applied by the previous Government still being used,” said Ms. Lee, launching her statement as  her visit drew to a close.  

“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 noted. 

“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.”

Ms. Lee said the situation of the Rohingya people from Rakhine State, many of whom have been forced from their homes amid reports  of grave human rights violations, had hardly improved since her last visit in January.

“I continue to receive reports of violations allegedly committed by security forces during operations.

“There also appear to be incidents  of Rohingya being targeted for applying to be verified as citizens, 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,” she said, adding that she was severely concerned about the treatment of prisoners.

The Special Rapporteur noted that the authorities have already recognised that State protection and security must extend not only to  the Rakhine but also the Muslim communities. However, she said, “the Government must take concrete steps in this regard, including  investigating all alleged violations, ending discriminatory practices and restoring freedom of movement.”

She said around 120,000 people from the area 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.

Concern was growing over a worsening situation in Kachin and Shan states, the Special Rapporteur noted, with lack of access for  international organizations a worsening feature in both.

“I was particularly dismayed to learn that the situation in northern Shan State is deteriorating, with reports of more conflict, 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,” said Ms. Lee.

The Special Rapporteur, who visited Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw as well as parts of Rakhine, Shan and Kayin States, said she had been  “astonished”at Government attempts to limit her activities and movements. She was not permitted to visit Hsipaw in Shan State, where  three journalists are being held in prison, even though it is a tourist destination.  Other areas of the country were also placed off-limits.

The Special Rapporteur also highlighted the confiscation of land to create so-called Special Economic Zones.

“Farmers and fishing communities described having their land confiscated with little or no consultation or compensation, with efforts to  seek redress often gone unanswered,” said Ms. Lee.

“In some cases farmers still have to pay tax on confiscated land. Others are told they can buy back their own land at an inflated price.
I heard similar stories in a number of areas, showing this to be a truly nationwide problem.”

During the visit, which took place from 10-21 July at the invitation of the Government, the Special Rapporteur met a broad range of  officials including political and community leaders and civil society representatives, as well as victims of human rights violations. It was  her sixth fact-finding mission to the country, and the third since the new Government came to power.

Ms. Lee will present a full report on her visit to the UN General Assembly in October 2017. 

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