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UN official hits back over government statement

By Wa Lone
February 10, 2015

A Myanmar-based United Nations official has criticised a recent Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement that said the UN special rapporteur on human rights had created “discord” during her latest visit.

The statement, which was published in state-run newspapers on February 4, accused Yanghee Lee of “interfering on issues which fall within state sovereignty and domestic jurisdiction”, including the use of the term Rohingya and four draft “protection of religion” laws.

A senior UN official, who asked not to be named because he was not authorised to speak about Ms Lee’s mandate, questioned why the government was singling out the rapporteur for criticism.

He noted that the government had not issued similar statements condemning foreign leaders, such as President Barack Obama, who had also spoken out about the poor treatment of the Rohingya.

“The government doesn’t dare to criticise the United States, for example. They just attack the UN because we have more limited avenues for responding,” he said.

He said the government also failed to respond to derogatory remarks made about Ms Lee, including those by U Wirathu.

“Some Rakhine leaders even used very rude words in their meeting with the UN rapporteur [in January],” he said.

The statement was issued almost three weeks after Ms Lee left Myanmar on January 16, following a 10-day visit to the country during which she met government officials, parliamentarians, religious and community leaders, civil society representatives, victims of human rights violations and members of the international community.

At her final press conference she emphasised the need to focus on addressing urgent humanitarian and human rights needs throughout Rakhine State. She also downplayed the importance of the Rohingya versus Bengali debate.

“Without wanting to invalidate either perspective, I would like to suggest that this fixation on which word to use has paralysed progress on important issues,” she said.

The ministry’s statement, however, saw it otherwise.

On the use of Rohingya, it said that “using this controversial terminology will only pose a barrier on the road to resolving this important issue. Use of such term by the United Nations would certainly draw strong resentments of the people of Myanmar making the government’s efforts more difficult in addressing the issue.”

It called on Ms Lee to “fulfil her mandate in a professional and prudent manner. Her visit should leave the country and people of Myanmar with discord, distrust and incitement,” it said.

U Zaw Htay, the director of the President’s Office, wrote on his Facebook page that the “Myanmar government always criticises Ms Lee’s mandate. No special rapporteur got a visa under the Tatmadaw government.”

While he refused to clarify his comment, he appeared to be suggesting that Ms Lee should appreciate the government’s generosity in granting her a visa, in contrast to its predecessor.

U Sai Nyunt Lwin, secretary of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, said the statement might have been issued to “comfort” the Rakhine people.

Ms Lee will submit her report to the UN Human Rights Council on the situation in Myanmar in March.

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