GENEVA January 24, 2017 – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, today warned about possible reprisals against people she met during her recent official visit to the country (9 to 21 January). “There is one word that has hung heavily on my mind during this visit – reprisals,” the expert said.

“I am deeply concerned about those with whom I met and spoke, those critical of the Government, those defending and advocating for the rights of others, and those who expressed their thoughts and opinions which did not conform to the narrative of those in the position of power,” she said, while noting the increasing use of section 66 (d) of the Telecommunications Law against many, “merely for speaking their minds.”

“It is particularly alarming to learn that the security forces’ counter operations in the villages of Maungdaw north in Rakhine State has reportedly been resumed following a brief lull, with raids conducted in several villages including nearby the villages I visited,” Ms. Lee stressed. There are further allegations of arbitrary arrests and detention in relation to these latest reported raids.

The expert was especially dismayed to note during this visit the feelings of optimism and hope appearing to slowly fade among the ordinary people of Myanmar just after one year when the whole country was elated with the outcome of the last general elections.

The Special Rapporteur expressed regret at only being allowed to go to Myitkyina, and not Laiza and Hpakant in Kachin State due to security reasons and met interlocutors who travelled to Myitkyina instead.

“It is evident that the situation in Kachin and at the northern borders is deteriorating, she stated. “Those in Kachin State tell me that the situation is now worse than at any point in the past few years. Whilst I was not able to travel to the areas most severely affected, the situation is now such that even in Myitkyina, the capital of the state and home to over 300,000 people, residents are afraid – and now stay home after dark.”
In Mon State, Ms. Lee visited for the first time a hard labour camp where she saw the living conditions of the prisoners. Her major concerns were the use of shackles as a form of additional punishment (including while working in the quarry) as well as the lack of transparency regarding the prisoners’ transfer to the hard labour camp. The lack of an individual complaint system in prisons, including the hard labour camps, was very concerning to the Special Rapporteur. “I was struck by the fear of those prisoners who were afraid of what would happen to them after speaking to me.”

In Rakhine State, the Special Rapporteur visited the Border Guard posts that were attacked on 9 October by armed individuals. She conveyed her deepest condolences to the families of those killed brutally during the attacks.

“I must remind again that these attacks took place within the context of decades of systematic and institutionalised discrimination against the Rohingya population,” she noted. The expert also went to several affected Muslim villages.

“I saw with my own eyes the structures that were burnt down in Wa Peik,” she said, and was told by Government officials that it was the villagers who had burnt down their own houses. “As the authorities offered no evidence for this, I found this argument quite incredible.”

The expert also noted the video clip that went viral of the Myanmar Police personnel beating men – and children – who were rounded up during the security operations, and highlighted the possibility that such treatment of the local population may not be an isolated incident but rather a more common practice.

She emphasised the importance for the security forces to always act within the parameters of the rule of law and in compliance with human rights and that it would be crucial for the Government to combat the apparent climate of impunity. “There must be accountability and justice must be done and seen to be done to reassure the ordinary people that no one is above the law,” Ms. Lee reminded.

“From my meetings and conversations with the State Counsellor and the various officials, I can see their genuine commitment and dedication in improving the lives of all in Myanmar. Somehow this commitment has yet to translate into real actions that are felt on the ground,” she said. In particular she found the Government’s response of defending, dismissing and denying human rights issues to be not only counterproductive but is draining away the hope that had been sweeping the country.

During the 12-day visit, the expert addressed a broad range of human rights issues with the authorities and various stakeholders, including political and community leaders, civil society representatives, as well as victims of human rights violations and members of the international community.

The Special Rapporteur will present her report to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2017, which will include her observations and recommendations to the Government of Myanmar.

Ms. Yanghee Lee (Republic of Korea) was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2014 as the Special Rapporteur on situation of human rights in Myanmar. She is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity. Ms. Lee is currently serving as the Chairperson of the Coordinating Committee of Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Ms. Lee served as member and chairperson of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2003-2011). She is currently a professor at Sungkyunwan University, Seoul, and serves on the Advisory Committee of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea. Ms. Lee is the founding President of International Child Rights Center.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

UN Human Rights, country page: Myanmar.