YANGON: The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Myanmar Yanghee Lee said on Friday (Jan 20) the Myanmar’s government denial and dismal of allegations of atrocities against Rohingyas in Rakhine were counter-productive and reduced the authorities' credibility.
She was speaking at a news conference as she concludes her 12-day visit to Myanmar.
This is Ms Yanghee Lee’s fifth visit to the country and her first since the Oct 9 border attacks in Maungdaw, Rakhine.
The attacks has resulted in a security lockdown of the area, causing over 60,000 Rohingyas to flee to Bangladesh.
Not surprisingly, the Rakhine, Rohingya situation was the main subject of interest at the news conference which took place in that room much earlier.
Ms Yanghee Lee confirmed that over 450 people related to the Oct 9 attacks were being detained in Rakhine.
However, she highlighted that most of them did not know why they were there, what charges they face, having no legal representation and no communication with their families. All these are clear violations of human rights.
Ms Lee however acknowledged that some allegations of atrocities against the Rohingyas may be sensationalised, but the government’s response so far to all of these is certainly not helpful.
"I was told by the government officials that it was the villagers who had burnt down their own houses. That this was part of the Rohingya villagers’ propaganda campaign to put the security services in a bad light.
"Again, I find it quite incredible that these desperate people are willing to burn down their own houses where they may have lived for generations, to be without a home?
"Potentially displaced for five or more years like those in Sittwe just to give the government a bad name? ... for the government to continue being defensive when allegations of serious human rights violations have persistently been reported, that is when the government appears less and less credible.
"The government’s response to all of these problems seem to currently be to defend, dismiss and deny. And this response is not only counterproductive but it’s draining away the hope that has been sweeping the country."
During her visit, Ms Lee observed that the climate of fear among citizens in speaking to hear is still very real.
Humanitarian access in many conflict areas such as in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan is worse now and continuing to shrink.
She was asked if these are signs of a potential backslide in Myanmar’s reform and democratisation process?
"There is a commitment in this new government, That’s for sure. However, there are three legs that are holding that commitment. The military appointed defence, border and home affairs. They are the same people there. They are the ones that are still using the same tactics.
"If you look at the kind of events that are taking place throughout Myanmar, not just in Rakhine state, I think I’m concerned and you should be concerned, everyone should be concerned. The civilian side of the government is trying to push back the backsliding. But the three legs are still there which is an uphill battle."
Ms Lee will present her findings and a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council in March.