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Burma Bars UN Rights Expert

Broadening Attempts to Conceal Atrocities

Yanghee Lee, UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, speaks at a news conference in Rangoon, July 1, 2016. © 2016 Reuters

The Burmese government plans to permanently bar entry to Yanghee Lee, the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Burma. With this decision, Burma joins a handful of pariah governments – notably Eritrea, Syria, Burundi, and North Korea – that have outright refused to engage with UN experts assigned to their countries.

This refusal to cooperate is just Burma’s latest move in its efforts to conceal the military’s crimes against humanity, including killings, rape, and mass arson, against the ethnic Rohingya population in Rakhine State, which have forced over 645,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh since late August. It echoes the government’s refusal to grant access to the UN Fact-Finding Mission, established in March to investigate allegations of rights abuses in Rakhine State and elsewhere in the country.

In early December, Burma promised cooperation with UN experts.... The claim, then feeble, now appears patently false.

The decision was reportedly a response to the special rapporteur’s July 2017 end of mission statement, in which she highlighted ongoing abuses against Rohingya and noted she was “disappointed to see the tactics applied by the previous Government still being used” by the new administration.

In lieu of allowing independent investigators access to northern Rakhine State, the government has carried out domestic investigations that lack any credibility, the latest of which found that security forces had committed no abuses and caused “no deaths of innocent people.” As Yanghee Lee stated yesterday, the decision to bar her “can only be viewed as a strong indication that there must be something terribly awful happening in Rakhine.”

Lee has conducted six visits to Burma since being appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2014, yet she has recently faced growing hostility from the government and increasing restrictions on access to conflict areas and victims of abuses. Both the State Counsellor’s Office, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, and the lower house of parliament denounced her July report, claiming it contained factual errors and unverified allegations.

In early December, Burma promised cooperation with UN experts at both a Human Rights Council special session and UN Security Council briefing. “We always choose the path of engagement and cooperation,” Burma’s permanent representative in New York asserted. The claim, then feeble, now appears patently false. 

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