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UN rights expert calls on Myanmar govt to change course

Yanghee Lee hopes for democratic transition but regrets 'credible evidence of ongoing crimes against humanity'

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UN rights expert calls on Myanmar govt to change course

Outgoing UN special rapporteur Yanghee Lee has urged Myanmar's government to face up to its responsibilities. (Photo: AFP)

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A United Nations human rights expert who has been denied entry to Myanmar remains hopeful for a democratic transition despite serious rights abuses that are yet to be addressed in the country.

Yanghee Lee, the UN’s special rapporteur to Myanmar, has been barred from the country since December 2017. She spoke about her hopes and concerns after her last mission to Bangladesh and Thailand from Jan. 15-23.

“How could I be optimistic with ongoing credible allegations of war crimes, crimes against humanity and possibly genocide having been committed in Myanmar, and with justice and accountability still not yet within reach?” Lee asked.

“But I still hold out hope that the promised democratic transition will proceed as it is not too late for the government to change its course. The Myanmar government must face up to its responsibilities, obligations and duties.”

Lee, a university professor in South Korea, has urged the international community “to keep the credible evidence of ongoing crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide front of mind in its relations with Myanmar.”

“Carrying on with business as usual will only allow the deplorable situation to persist,” she warned.

Lee said Myanmar has the ways and means to change its course “from slipping back to the dark pre-transition days” and to move forward in the direction of “an inclusive, free, democratic and rights-respecting nation.”

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Jan. 23 urged Myanmar to take all measures within its power to prevent the killing of Rohingya or causing bodily or mental harm to members of the group, including by the military or any irregular armed units.

Myanmar has to submit a report to the ICJ within four months, with further reports due every six months until a final decision on the case is rendered by UN’s top court.

Calling a spade a spade

Yanghee Lee has held the mandate of special rapporteur since 2014 and enjoyed biannual visits to Myanmar until she was denied entry in 2017.

Myanmar has long denied accusations of genocide and most allegations of targeted military-led violence, claiming that its actions in a 2017 clampdown were meant to protect the country against Rohingya militants.

Myanmar has rejected previous UN reports as untrue and didn’t allow UN investigators access to Rakhine state.

Lee was disappointed that Myanmar did not reverse its decision not to allow her access for a last time.

“As a special rapporteur, I must speak the truth. From the outset of my mandate, I told them I was committed to calling a spade a spade,” she said.

“Obviously, for the government of Myanmar, the truth I was speaking was not to their liking.”

Lee will present her report to the Human Rights Council in March.

Aung Myo Min, executive director of rights group Equality Myanmar, said Myanmar needs to collaborate with the UN after facing enormous pressure from the world over rights abuses.

“It needs to show the truth and reality of what happened in Rakhine by granting access to the UN rights envoy and the fact-finding mission,” he told UCA News.

He added that the failure to grant access to the UN rights envoy could have raised concerns and suspicions among the international community about rights abuses.

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