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UN rights expert calls on Myanmar to address worrying signs of backtracking in pivotal year

GENEVA (18 March 2015) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, called on the country’s authorities to rapidly address ongoing challenges to the democratic reform process “before they undermine the success achieved so far.”

“I was very disturbed by reports on 10 March that excessive and disproportionate force had been used against students and other civilians and that 127 people were subsequently arrested,” Ms. Lee said during the presentation of her first report* to the UN Human Rights Council. While welcoming the release of some detainees, she called for “the immediate release of all the others.”

Focusing on key issues surrounding democratic space, the expert drew special attention to the pressure on human rights defenders and journalists, including reports of regular surveillance, as well as prosecutions under outdated defamation, trespassing and national security laws, which have a severe “chilling effect on civil society activities.”

“A free and independent media has a vital role to play in any democratic society,” she said welcoming the Government’s efforts to reform media governance. “However, I am concerned that journalists are still being interrogated and arrested, and that 10 journalists were imprisoned in 2014. This needs to stop if Myanmar wants to create a meaningful democratic space.”
While noting that economic development had benefited some in the country, the independent expert urged the Government to ensure that “others are not left out” and called for “a human rights-based approach to development programmes.”

The Special Rapporteur expressed concern about the alarming escalation of fighting in the Kokang region, where over 100 civilians are reported to have died and tens of thousands have been displaced. “Even during a state of emergency, the Government has an obligation to strictly uphold fundamental human rights,” she highlighted.

“Far too often the people of Myanmar have suffered from the resurgence of violence and human rights violations in ethnic border areas,” the expert said, noting that there has been limited success in addressing the underlying issues at the heart of the conflicts, including control over and benefit from natural resources and accountability for human rights violations.
Ms. Lee warned that discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities was another factor fuelling conflict and expressed alarm on the package of four bills currently before Parliament that risks increasing tension.

“During my last visit in January 2015, I witnessed how dire the situation has remained in Rakhine State. The conditions in Muslim IDP camps are abysmal and I received heart-breaking testimonies from Rohingya people telling me they had only two options: stay and die or leave by boat,” she said.

The expert also cautioned against any provision in the Rakhine Action Plan that would classify Rohingyas as ‘illegal aliens’ and subject them to possible prolonged internment in camps or removal from the territory. “The expiry at the end of March 2015 of the temporary white cards held by many Rohingyas as identity documentation raises more uncertainties and further increases their vulnerability,” she stressed.

The Special Rapporteur made a call for collective efforts to find “meaningful ways to improve the human rights of all in Rakhine State.”

(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s full report to the Human Rights Council (A/HRC/28/72):  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session28/Pages/ListReports.aspx

Ms. Yanghee Lee (Republic of Korea) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar by the UN Human Rights Council in 2014. 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, and serves as Vice-chair of the National Unification Advisory Council. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/CountriesMandates/MM/Pages/SRMyanmar.aspx

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 that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

Read the Special Rapporteur’s statement to the Human Rights Council:  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=15713&LangID=E

UN Human Rights, country page – Myanmar: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/MMIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact Caroline Avanzo (+41 22 928 9208 / cavanzo@ohchr.org)

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Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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