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U.N. envoy says Myanmar denied her access to troubled Rakhine state

Rohingya girls pass in front of a damaged shelter in Rohingya IDP camp outside Sitttwe, Rakhine state August 4, 2015. (Photo: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun)

By Timothy Mclaughlin
August 7, 2015

A U.N. human rights investigator said on Friday Myanmar's government had denied her access to the state which is home to the Rohingya Muslim minority and security officials had photographed people she met on previous visits.

Yanghee Lee, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, has angered the government by criticizing restrictions on political freedom and demanding citizenship rights for the country's 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims, many of whom live in Rakhine state.

She has become a hate figure for Buddhist monks led by firebrand Ashin Wirathu. He denounced Lee as a "whore" and a "bitch" at a public rally in January.

Lee said on Friday that her request to visit Rakhine was denied before she began a five-day visit to Myanmar, and that the government had also denied her permission to stay 10 days.

Security forces had conducted surveillance on some of the people she met on previous visits, she said.

"I unfortunately received credible information that some of my interlocutors were photographed by security officials," Lee said.

"I also heard that some individuals I met with in previous visits were monitored, photographed and later questioned by security personnel."

Meetings she had requested on the latest trip were refused, changed or canceled without notice, she said.

Lee said she understood the country was dealing with a natural disaster, but that she had not anticipated such unfriendly treatment. Myanmar is in the grip of floods that have killed 88 people and displaced 330,000.

Lee said the lack of identity documents and voting rights for Rohingya Muslims was a "serious concern".

"Some have informed me that these are sensitive issues which should not be raised publicly given the risk of fuelling communal tensions and potential conflict, and that my previous statements ... on this issue have caused discord," she said.

"But I cannot shy away from continuing to highlight serious human rights violations and make principled but constructive comments."

In a March report, Lee warned that Myanmar was sliding toward conflict as the government backtracked on pledges to protect human rights.

Lee has previously said Muslims in Myanmar face systematic discrimination, including restrictions on freedom of movement, restricted access to land, food, water, education and health care, and restrictions on marriages and birth registration.

Myanmar denies it persecutes the Rohingya.

The government denies the Rohingya citizenship and refers to them as Bengalis, a term most Rohingya reject because it implies they are immigrants from Bangladesh.

Tens of thousands of Rohingya have fled the region by boat since 2012, after violent clashes with ethnic Rakhine Buddhists killed hundreds of people and displaced 140,000, mostly Rohingya.

Many who fled fell victim to human traffickers. Thousands were abandoned by criminal gangs and left drifting on crammed boats in Southeast Asian seas as Thailand cracked down on trafficking.

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