15 Jan Govt repeats call to UN to dump rights envoy position

Written by Tim McLaughlin and Phyu Phyu Zin Published in Myanmar Read 2933 times
Yanghee Lee (C), United Nations Special Rapporteur stands with a boy at Thet Kel Pyin Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camp near Sittwe in Rakhine State on January 8. Photo: Nyunt Win/EPA

The government has reiterated that there is no longer any need for the United Nations to have a special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, in comments that came as the envoy was making her second visit to the country.

President’s Office director U Zaw Htay said the position of the special rapporteur was unnecessary because of the country’s reforms. He accused other countries of trying to meddle in Myanmar’s domestic affairs through the position.

The special rapporteur, Ms Yanghee Lee, is due in Yangon on January 16 after a 10-day visit that included trips to northern Shan State and Rakhine State.

“Myanmar does not need a special rapporteur or even a special representative on the issues, nor is there any need to discuss these issues in the General Assembly of the UN,”U Zaw Htay said in an interview with Mizzima on January 6.

“Somebody behind the scene obviously wants to influence the internal politics of Myanmar and the assignment of the special rapporteur is a means to this end,”he said.

The government has become increasingly vocal about its displeasure with the UN focus on human rights issues. Nay Pyi Taw would prefer the UN to highlight the progress it has made since President U Thein Sein came to power.

Foreign Minister U Wunna Maung Lwin told the UN General Assembly in an address in October that Myanmar had risen to a position at the “middle tier of the human rights ladder”.

“All major concerns related to human rights have been addressed to a larger extent in the new Myanmar,”he said.

His views were shared by President U Thein Sein, who during a trip to Italy later that month, also called for Myanmar to be dropped from the larger UN human rights agenda, which includes yearly, country-specific resolutions on Myanmar, as well as a mandate for the special rapporteur’s position.

U Thein Sein said the country was “taking measures to sign human rights conventions, trade union conventions and conventions on women and children”.

Ms Lee, who will brief the media ahead of her departure, was appointed special rapporteur in May 2014.

The government was more receptive to Ms Lee following her first trip in July than it had been to her predecessor, Argentinian lawyer Tomas Quintana, who had served the maximum term of six years in the role.

Mr Quintana had a strained relationship with Nay Pyi Taw over a perceived bias towards Muslims and particularly over issues involving Rakhine State and the Rohingya.

Opposition to Mr Quintana, though, was not confined to the halls of the capital. He was the target of an ugly incident in August 2013 when his convoy was attacked by demonstrators while travelling through Meiktila in central Myanmar. The government rejected Mr Quintana’s version of the incident in Meiktila, where communal unrest in March 2013 left about 40 people dead and scores displaced.

Ms Lee appeared to be on better terms with the government early in her tenure. After her first trip in July the government praised her for raising hardships faced by the Rakhine Buddhist community, a problem it said Mr Quintana had “consistently ignored”.

Ms Lee, however, appears to have benefited from being new to the job, with her views on contentious issues, particularly those surrounding the Rohingya Muslims, unknown to the government or public during her first visit.

Her second trip has proved to be more controversial.

Ms Lee’s insistence on using the term Rohingya, which is not accepted by the government, and her support of self-identification as a universal right of the group, has put her at odds with the government and Rakhine Buddhists.

Under the government’s citizenship verification process being carried out in Rakhine, individuals are granted citizenship only if they identify as Bengali.

Ms Lee was met by hundreds of protestors when she arrived in the Rakhine State capital, Sittwe, on January 8.

She was sharply critical of the conditions of IDP camps in Rakhine State, calling them “deplorable”and warned the government that there were worrying signs of backtracking on reforms.

A demonstration against a resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly last month calling on Myanmar to grant citizenship to Rohingya is planned at the Shwedagon Pagoda on January 16. Organisers are expecting about 500 protestors to attend and UN personnel have been advised to avoid the area.

Last modified on Thursday, 15 January 2015 14:51