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Myanmar: Human rights violations affecting region and ASEAN must apply pressure, says UN expert

KUALA LUMPUR (18 July 2019) – Human rights violations in Myanmar are creating increasingly serious issues for South and South East Asia, a UN expert said today, urging stronger action by regional countries to address potential peace and security concerns.

Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee cited the nearly 1.5 million refugees from Myanmar in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, trafficking and smuggling of people from Myanmar and the drug trade within and outside the region as examples of deepening concerns. 

Lee, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, continues to be denied access to the country and concluded her 11-day mission to Thailand and Malaysia today.  

“It is incumbent on Myanmar’s neighbours to acknowledge these most serious issues and that they have been created by Myanmar. The continuing gross violations of human rights in Myanmar jeopardise the lives of people around that country and relentlessly impact Myanmar’s neighbours in such a way that could threaten South and South East Asian peace and security.” 

The Special Rapporteur urged regional states to take a stronger position. “When states in this region engage with Myanmar, human rights should firmly be on the agenda. I therefore most strongly urge ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) to prioritise human rights in Myanmar, and to hold the Government of Myanmar to its obligations to respect, protect and fulfil human rights.”

During her visit, Lee received reports that the conflict between the Tatmadaw and the rebel Arakan Army (AA) rages on, and that human rights violations and abuses against the civilian population are worsening. The total number displaced by the conflict since January could now be as high as 55,000 across Chin and Rakhine States. “The situation is urgent and deserves more attention from the international community,” said the expert.

The Government’s almost month-long mobile internet shutdown in nine townships in northern Rakhine and southern Chin was unprecedented and unacceptable, Lee said. “It is now monsoon season in Myanmar and there have been terrible floods in three townships in Rakhine State. There is no access to mobile internet in any of those townships, meaning that people were not adequately prepared for or warned of the floods that occurred. This has resulted in displacement and houses being destroyed.” 

Lee also spoke to people from Myanmar who have grave concerns about the way that hate speech and misinformation campaigns are being waged on social media. It appears that these campaigns are getting more sophisticated, coordinated and strategic, using coded language to get around content restrictions to continue to spread hateful messages. She said social media companies are taking inadequate and inconsistent action; anything done should be in a transparent manner and in close consultation with civil society and technology organisations in Myanmar.

She was distressed that on her mission she received reports of women and girls, some as young as nine, being trafficked from northern Myanmar to neighbouring countries for sex work. Years of conflict in northern Shan and Kachin States has left families financially desperate, making women and girls vulnerable to human trafficking. 

The Special Rapporteur said it is incumbent on the international community to bring about criminal justice in Myanmar. 

She also said that victims need to receive reparations for the harm caused to them and they have a right to know the truth about what happened to them, their family members and their communities. Solid guarantees that violations that have occurred in the past, and continue to occur now, will not happen again in the future are also essential. 

“The first step for this to happen is for the Government and the military to reverse its stance of denial, and to recognise what the people of Myanmar have suffered at their hands. The countries in this region, and ASEAN, have a large role to play in persuading Myanmar to bring about this fundamental shift.”

ENDS

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 and Independent Experts are part of 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.  

UN Human Rights, country page: Myanmar

For more information and media requests please contact: Georgia Drake (+41-22928 9780 / gdrake@ohchr.org).

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts: Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org