GENEVA (3 July 2019) – A UN human rights expert implored the international community to maintain pressure on Myanmar amid a deterioration of human rights in the country, citing concerns about possible war crimes in Rakhine State, the treatment of minorities, the environment and freedom of expression.
The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, addressed the Human Rights Council in Geneva and welcomed the Government’s reforms to the accounting requirements of extractive industry State-owned economic enterprises. “This is an opportunity for the Government to improve transparency in the sector, and to ensure that departments tasked with enforcing environmental and social safeguards are properly resourced,” the expert said.
However, Lee expressed serious concerns about the lack of enforcement of adequate environmental safeguards in natural resource extraction and associated industries.
In Hpakant, a pool of mine waste burst in April, flooding a nearby open pit mine and killing 54 workers. Pollution caused by the coal-powered Alpha Cement Factory in Mandalay led to protests that were violently suppressed by authorities. Independent scientific testing of air, water and hair samples taken near the coal-powered Tigyit Power Plant in Shan State found the plant to be leaching dangerous levels of toxic heavy metals into the surrounding environment.
Lee told the Council that freedom of expression continued to be stifled through draconian laws used to suppress criticism of the Tatmadaw, particularly in relation to reporting on the conflict with the Arakan Army in northern Rakhine State and parts of southern Chin State. The conflict has continued over the past few months and the impact on civilians is devastating, Lee said.
Acts of the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army may amount to war crimes, the Special Rapporteur said. Indiscriminate attacks in and around villages as well as targeting of civilians and civilian objects, including monasteries hosting IDPs, has left scores of civilians wounded and dead. “I again call on all parties to uphold international humanitarian law and respect human rights law,” said Lee.
Lee said that Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar are being subjected to a human rights crisis, responsibility for which lies with Myanmar. It is entirely Myanmar’s responsibility to bring about all necessary conditions for all the people they forcibly drove out to return and they are entirely failing to do so, she said.
“So long as impunity for alleged atrocity crimes prevails, we will continue to bear witness to flagrant violations of rights perpetrated against ethnic minority populations in the name of counterinsurgency, entrenching grievances and prolonging insecurity and instability,” the Special Rapporteur said.
Lee repeated her call that the situation of Myanmar be referred to the International Criminal Court, and that alternatively the international community establish an independent tribunal in which perpetrators of international crimes may be tried.
“It is incumbent on the Security Council to find a way to put differences aside and unite in relation to Myanmar by coming out with a strong resolution,” said Lee. “The situation is not improving, and serious violations continue to take place on a regular basis.”
Ms. Yanghee Lee (Republic of Korea) was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2014 as the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar. She is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity. 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.
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