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Foreign minister fires back at UN from Gen Assembly podium

Wunna Maung Lwin with Ban Ki-moon on September 24, 2015 (Photo: Reuters)

By Laignee Barron
October 5, 2015

After nearly a week of taking blows for everything from the peace process to “atrocious” conditions at internally displaced persons camps to the disenfranchisement of hundreds of thousands of ethnic minority voters, foreign minister U Wunna Maung Lwin struck back at the UN this weekend.

Taking the floor at the 70th UN General Assembly, U Wunna Maung Lwin questioned the effectiveness of the intergovernmental body, and called for wide-sweeping reforms to keep pace with the “daunting challenges” of social and economic conflicts inherited through the divisive “colonial legacy”.

“Time is now opportune to do soul-searching on the future of the organisation,” U Wunna Maung Lwin told the 193 gathered member states on October 2.

In particular, he called for an overhaul of the UN Security Council and the Human Rights Council, UN arms with which Myanmar has had a checquered relationship. In May, during a regional trafficking crisis, the Security Council held its first-ever, closed-door briefing on Myanmar, focusing on the treatment of the Muslim minority in Rakhine State. In a statement following the brief, UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein held Myanmar responsible for the root cause of the smuggling route due to “widespread and systematic human rights violations”, against the Rohingya, who, he added, deserve a “rightful place in the country where they were born.”

As the body responsible for appointing the special rapporteur on Myanmar, the Human Rights Council has drawn ire from Nay Pyi Taw, which rejects the critical reports regularly issued by the rapporteurs. The position has been especially contentious in Myanmar, where the volunteer appointees have sparked protests and been personally attacked with gendered hate speech.

“Human rights issues are increasingly politicized and exploited,” said U Wunna Maung Lwin. “Myanmar firmly believes that the Universal Periodic Review is the forum where promotion and protection human rights can be best addressed with objectivity and impartiality on an equal footing.”

Earlier in the week, the foreign minister also compared the temporary white-card holders to foreign residents allowed to live and work in the United States through “green cards”.

“I think that those holding these [white] cards cannot be eligible to vote in the elections … I don’t know whether the green card holders in the United States are allowed to give votes in the elections in America also,” he said during a discussion at the Center for Foreign Relations just ahead of the UN General Assembly meeting.

During his own statement on Myanmar at the General Assembly, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called the government’s last-minute decision to revoke the white cards and strike an estimated 700,000 to 800,000 ethnic minority voters from the electoral rolls just ahead of the elections “a step in the wrong direction”.

“I am deeply disappointed by this effective disenfranchisement of the Rohingya and other minority communities,” he said, adding that the disqualification of Muslim parliamentarians up for re-election “particularly egregious”.

High commissioner on human rights Ra’ad Al Hussein also reiterated concern for minority voters during his summary of rights abuses in Myanmar.

“Given that a whole sector of the population has been disenfranchised by these measures, this raises serious questions as to the fairness and integrity of the upcoming elections,” he said.

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