UN expert still barred from Myanmar

Yanghee Lee says military abuses are continuing amid a climate of impunity
UN expert still barred from Myanmar

Young Rohingya refugees enjoy riding on a traditional wooden Ferris wheel during Eid al-Fitr festival celebrations at a refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, on June 5. (Photo by Suzauddin Rubel/AFP)

A United Nations human rights expert who is visiting Thailand and Malaysia to investigate the killing and mistreatment of Muslim Rohingya is still barred from visiting the nation where they come from.

Myanmar has since December 2017 banned Yanghee Lee, who is the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in the country.

In that time more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees have joined several hundred thousand others who were already living in camps in Bangladesh, and some have made it to various  countries in the region or to developed Western nations.

In a July 5 statement, Lee said that despite Myanmar authorities not allowing her entry, she would continue to "reach out and seek to engage" with the government there in order to provide assistance on human rights issues.

She is visiting Thailand and Malaysia from July 8-18 to speak to Rohingya refugees with personal accounts of atrocities committed my Myanmar's military and extremist Buddhist vigilantes.

Matthew Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights, said barring U.N. and other rights investigators puts Myanmar in the same category as pariahs such as dictatorial regimes and war criminals.

He said this sent a message to international prosecutors, who deal with war crimes and crimes against humanity, that the government of Myanmar is engaged in a "crude attempt to cover up the truth."

"Domestically, the government wants people to believe that the special rapporteur is biased and untrustworthy, and that’s part of their strategy to maintain control over hearts and minds as well as political power,” Smith told ucanews.com.

He said the current government of former pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi mirrors past military regimes in this regard.

Khin Zaw Win, from a think tank group called Tampadipa based in the country's commercial hub Yangon, said Suu Kyi's government shared the army's attitudes and tactics in its dealings with the U.N.

In October, Lee is scheduled to present her findings to the U.N. General Assembly in New York from her visits to Thailand and Malaysia, along with making specific recommendations.

Lee told the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva on July 2 that fragrant rights violations during so-called counter-insurgency operations would continue in Myanmar while a climate of impunity prevails.

She said it remains Myanmar’s responsibility to bring about all necessary conditions for the return of more than one million Rohingya who have fled the Buddhist-majority nation

Lee called on the U.N. Security Council to put aside differences so that Myanmar could be referred to the International Criminal Court or to an independent tribunal for the hearing of charges in relation to atrocities against Rohingya.

"The situation is not improving and serious violations continue to take place on a regular basis," she asserted. 

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