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UN expert urges the international community not to undermine human rights priorities in Myanmar

GENEVA / YANGON (4 July 2016) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, today called for greater efforts in furthering the democratic transition and respect for human rights, and urged the international community not to undermine the country’s rights priorities. “It is vital that all actors work together to ensure human rights are respected and protected across Myanmar,” she said.

“In the rush to forge or strengthen political or economic ties, international actors must continue to prioritize human rights, particularly in business and investment relations,”
Ms. Lee said at the end of an official visit* to Myanmar from 20 June to 1 July. “International actors should not undermine human rights priorities, including by remaining silent when confronted with human rights concerns or at worst, becoming complicit in perpetuating human rights abuses.”

The expert stressed that the international community must remain fully engaged on human rights issues in Myanmar, and committed to providing necessary support to further the reforms in line with international standards, building on the important steps already taken by the new Government.

“Myanmar’s young democracy can only advance if human rights are fully mainstreamed into its institutional, legal and policy framework,” the Special Rapporteur said. “Building a culture of respect for human rights must be a priority now and in the future.”

Ms. Lee pointed out the importance of strengthening State institutions so that they prioritize the needs and rights of the people in Myanmar’s diverse society. “I observed the very real tension between a new civilian leadership and a bureaucracy inherited from previous military regimes which often resulted in a duality in policy and approach,” she noted.

“The enjoyment of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly are essential ingredients for Myanmar’s democracy,” she said. “A change of mind-set is still needed at all levels of Government to allow civil society and the media to flourish.” Additionally, she noted the need to urgently resolve the cases of remaining political prisoners and to ensure the full re-integration of those released to society.  

Ms. Lee welcomed the priority given to upholding the rule of law, and renewed her call for a comprehensive legislative review with clear timelines and with adequate engagement by all relevant stakeholders, pointing out that many laws still in the books continue to limit the fully enjoyment of human rights. “Myanmar must also not lose sight of the need for constitutional reform,” she added.

The independent expert also urged greater progress in national reconciliation, calling for a peace process that is truly inclusive, collaborative and open. Ms. Lee, who visited Kachin, Rakhine and Shan States, recommended that future political dialogues tackle the root causes of conflict and the long-standing grievances of ethnic communities.

She also encouraged the Government to develop a comprehensive anti-discrimination law or policy to ensure that minorities can exercise their rights without any discrimination and in full equality before the law.  Additionally, she called for an end to the institutionalized discrimination against the Muslim communities in Rakhine State.

“It is clear that tensions along religious lines remain pervasive across Myanmar society. Incidents of hate speech, incitement to discrimination, hatred and violence, and of religious intolerance continue to be a cause for concern,” Ms. Lee said expressing concern at the lack of Government action “due to fears of fuelling greater tensions and provoking more conflict was precisely the wrong signal to send.”

“The Government must demonstrate that instigating and committing violence against an ethnic or religious minority community has no place in Myanmar,” she said.  “Perpetrators will be treated seriously in accordance with the law regardless of race, religious or ethnic background.” 

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 General Assembly in October 2016, which will include her observations and recommendations to the Government of Myanmar.

(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s full end-of-mission statement:  http://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=20224&LangID=E

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. Learn more, go 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. 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: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/MMIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact Ms. Thanda Thanda (+41 22 928 9194 / tthanda@ohchr.org)

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

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