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UN rights envoy to embark on 5th visit to Myanmar

By Satuk Bugra Kutlugun
January 7, 2017

Visit comes with situation in country's western state continuing to raise international ire

ANKARA -- The United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar is to make her fifth "information-gathering visit" to the country at the end of January, with the situation in the western state of Rakhine continuing to raise international ire.

In a statement released Friday, Yanghee Lee said the Jan. 9-20 trip will see her visit to the troubled Rohingya areas of Buthidaung and Maungdaw, along with areas of northern Kachin State where ethnic rebels recently launched an offensive.

“The events of the last few months have shown that the international community must remain vigilant in monitoring the human rights situation,” Lee said.

“Apart from what is happening in Rakhine, the escalation in fighting in Kachin and Shan, with its inevitable negative impact on the situation of civilians, is causing some disquiet regarding the direction that the new government is taking in its first year of administration."

Since the deaths of nine border police officials in northern Rakhine on Oct. 9, aid agencies and independent journalists have been denied access to areas predominantly inhabited by the Rohingya Muslim community, and at least 101 people -- 17 police and soldiers, eight Muslim men working closely with the local authority, and 76 alleged "attackers" (including six who reportedly died during interrogation) -- have now been killed.

More than 600 people have also been detained for alleged involvement in the attacks.

Rohingya advocacy groups, however, claim around 400 Rohingya -- described by the United Nations as among the most persecuted groups worldwide -- were killed in the military operations, women were raped and more than 1,000 Rohingya villages torched.

During Lee's 12-day visit -- which the statement underlined was at the invitation of Aung San Suu Kyi's government -- the special rapporteur is expected to address a broad range of human rights issues with the authorities and various stakeholders.

The government has heavily criticized media and rights groups coverage of the situation in Rakhine, and the area was placed under military curfew during recent army operations -- acts that have led to further allegations that the government is attempting to cover up abuses in the area.

The statement said that in line with her mandate from the UN Human Rights Council, Lee has proposed benchmarks to the government ahead of her visit to help monitor and assess progress in the situation of human rights in the country.

It added that by the end of the trip, she hopes to arrive at mutually agreed benchmarks, which will include priority areas for technical assistance and capacity building.

“My main objective, as Special Rapporteur, has always been to work closely with the authorities and people of Myanmar, for the promotion and protection of human rights in the country,” Lee noted.

“I look forward to the good cooperation which the Government has always extended to my mandate. I especially hope for the constructive and frank exchange of views which always take place during my visits to lead to real and meaningful change for the people of Myanmar."

Lee is then scheduled to present a report to the Rights Council in March 2017.

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