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UN extends mandate of special rapporteur

Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar Yanghee Lee. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

By Laignee Barron
March 25, 2016

The United Nations agreed yesterday to extend the role of a human rights monitor for Myanmar for another year and called on the new government to strengthen rule of law and ensure better protections for minority groups.

The special rapporteur’s mandate, which was reviewed at the 31st Human Rights Council last week, was particularly contentious this year as she will be reporting on the National League for Democracy-backed government, which will take office on April 1.

Special rapporteurs are independent experts appointed to investigate, monitor and report on human rights abuses. The outgoing government has argued vociferously that there is no need for such oversight and lobbied hard for the position to be abolished.

Some rights groups feared that in the wake of last November’s peaceful parliamentary election which the NLD won in a landslide, the special rapporteur for Myanmar would be given a downgraded role restricted to providing technical assistance.

Despite a speech delivered by the current special rapporteur for Myanmar Yanghee Lee which identified a slew of pressing and extant rights abuses in the country, Australia pressed the council to drop Myanmar from the list of countries of concern with serious rights issues.

Yesterday, Ms Lee’s current mandate was extended and the council urged that she “work with the government of Myanmar to identify benchmarks for progress”.

In her latest report delivered to the council, Ms Lee provided eight recommendations for the new government to adopt within the first 100 days of assuming power on April 1. Several of the recommendations concerned improving conditions for Muslim Rohingya in Rakhine State including access to basic rights like health care, education and freedom of movement. She also urged that the Rakhine and Rohingya communities be reintegrated to avoid fuelling further communal tensions in the restive state.

“How can we expect communities to recreate bonds if they continue to be segregated?” Ms Lee asked the council.

The special rapporteur’s criticism of human rights abuses in Rakhine has elicited ire and personal attacks from nationalists groups. Outspoken monk U Wirathu labelled the academic a “whore” due to the international attention she drew to the situation.

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