Govt Disagrees With UN Rights Envoy’s Burma Concerns

Yanghee Lee speaks to reporters in Rangoon at the end of her 10-day visit to Burma on Saturday. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

Yanghee Lee speaks to reporters in Rangoon at the end of her 10-day visit to Burma on Saturday. (Photo: JPaing / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — A senior Burmese government official has pushed back against a statement from the United Nations on Monday, in which its human rights envoy to Burma warned that the country risked backtracking on political reforms and urged the government to allow more freedom to journalists and activists.

“We do not agree the notion of the Special Rapporteur [Yanghee Lee] that democratic space is shrinking as we are of the view that the challenges we are facing today in the area of media and civil society space include striking a balance between rights and responsibilities together with ethnical [sic] reporting and professionalism,” read a statement posted to the Facebook account of Hmuu Zaw on Tuesday and attributed to a senior official from the President’s Office.

The Facebook account of Hmuu Zaw is widely known to be operated by President’s Office Director Zaw Htay.

The statement went on to defend the recent sentencing of five staff members of the Unity journal to 10 years’ imprisonment with hard labor, claiming that the defendants had received a fair trial and insisting that they were put on trial not for merely reporting, but rather for revealing state secrets and on a separate trespassing charge.

Regarding Lee’s accusations of dire human rights violations in Arakan State, which she visited last week, the President’s Office official both commended and admonished the new UN envoy.

“We welcome the facts that Ms. Yanghee Lee acknowledged the concerns of the Rakhine [Arakanese] community which was consistently ignored by the previous Special Rapporteur [Tomás Ojea Quintana].

“We encourage Ms. Yanghee Lee to deepen her study to better understand the background and history of this delicate issue,” he said, referring to long-running tensions between Arakan State’s majority Arakanese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims.

The President’s Office official went on to urge against use of the term Rohingya, which the government does not recognize. Naypyidaw and much of the Arakanese Buddhist community instead calls those who identify as Rohingya “Bengalis,” implying that they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

“[W]e do not accept the term ‘Rohingya’ which has never existed in the country’s history. … The term has been maliciously used by a group of people with wider political agenda. The people of Myanmar will never recognize the term,” he said.

The UN envoy, who made her first trip to Burma from July 16-26, has said her use of the term is in keeping with the human rights principle of allowing the minority group to self-identify.

Lee on Monday noted positive developments in Burma since President Thein Sein took power in 2011, but also sounded a note of caution.

“In three years, Myanmar has come a long way since the establishment of the new Government. This must be recognized and applauded,” she said. “Yet, there are worrying signs of possible backtracking which if unchecked could undermine Myanmar’s efforts to become a responsible member of the international community that respects and protects human rights.”

Those signs, according to Lee, included an increasingly intolerant approach to journalists in Burma and civil society activists.

“These patterns not only undermine the work of civil society and the media, but also impose a climate of fear and intimidation to the society at large,” the special rapporteur said.

“The enjoyment of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association and peaceful assembly are essential ingredients for Myanmar’s democracy, particularly in the run-up to the 2015 elections,” she stated. “There should be strict and clear safeguards to prevent undue interference in public freedoms.”

7 Responses to Govt Disagrees With UN Rights Envoy’s Burma Concerns

  1. Public freedom is a norms of democracy which terminology does not understand and keep value by the soldiers, because has to follow the command. The soldiers know only dictator’s value. Since Burma is a member of international body such as United Nations, she should follow the human rights value.

    The face book writings are not law, whether the Mr. Hmuu Zaw understand or not, if he dose not understand that he should not practice as law in front of UN Human Rights Envoy. It is all most a shame for the country.

    As a matter of fact, Mr. Hmuu Zaw or Zaw Htay are very young they do not know Bama Leaders U Nu the first Prime Minister of Burma and Vice Chief of Staff Army, navy and Air Force Brig. General Aung Gyi recognized Rohingya, by that time why General Ne Win silence. In Arakan Mro-hong city was the capital of Arakan Kingdom. Mro-hong means Old City, the city’s residents were called in Arakanese Language Roa-hong-thar means Rohongthar, the pronunciation become
    slowly change to Rohingya, that means both Muslims and Buddhist of Mro-hong peoples of those days are called Rohingya. It is not at all newly invented word. Besides that Mulsims are living in Arakan since the centuries. They are the alienable community in Arakan, why to day they have to poof them self for the citizenship? Let the authority prove for them under UN charter as Burma (Myanmar ) is the member of UN at the time of Burmese Independent in 1948.

    • Thank Oo Maung Gyi for interesting historical true objective fact for Rohyngyi existing.
      Idiot, killers both ne win and than shwe are historical criminals in Burma history.

    • I do agree with OO Mg Gyi’s comment, I know Rohingya for all of my life, at school or on radio program.Sub group of Rohingyas can start any other new name from today as the human rights principle of allowing the minority group to self-identify. Arakan state is not only for Rakhine Buddhists, also for Rohingya Muslims.
      M/s Y Lee gave same message as what Mr Quintana’s message. Only one Human Right principle where ever they come from.Follow them rather than oppose them.

    • I have learnt that there really was a MP member who represents Rohingya ethnics during legitimate government of U Nu ruled Burma.

  2. Whether the lepers agree or disagree, the lepers are the lepers. Also, whether the Myanmar regime agrees with the UN. It will Myanmar at least ten years to be able to see things rightly since it was just a leper and a blind nation for too long. Especially the current regime cannot even see what really is the real democracy.

  3. The term ‘Rohingya’ is not the issue. The real problem to solve is the issue of the 800,000 men, women and children – whatever you call them, Bengali or Rohingya. Some of those people are without the slightest doubt illegal migrants from across the border. On the other hand, many of them – probably a large percentage of the total – were born in Rakhine from parents who themselves were born in Rakhine.

    Some seem to think that the problem would be solved by denying those people adequate food and clean water and access to medical care. They seem to think that malnutrition and diseases would quickly reduce their numbers and eventually solve the problem. Isn’t this why they chased out MSF, UN, NGOs and INGOs?

    We should remember that such ‘solution’ amounts to ‘genocide’ which is a ‘crime against humanity’ under international human rights law!

    Unless and until the problem is solved, we will be at loggerheads with the UN, ASEAN, or OIC. Can we afford to be at loggerheads with the international community?

    Our country’s self-isolation under Ne Win and due to Western economic sanctions during Than Shwe’s rule, our resource-rich country became one of the Least Developed Countries!

    So let us find a solution to this long-standing problem once and for all.

  4. Hmu Zaw is definitely a major or Lt. Col., retired or not. A soldier does not, or is not willing to, understand the real meanings of such words as democracy, human rights, civil rights, human rights, media freedom and so on. They only understand how to receive and give commands. There is no freedom or accommodation of space in-between.
    Least of all, they don’t understand the function of a UN rapporteur. They haven’t deeply studied the docuents of the UN Human Rights Charter and principles. After all, Rohingya is only a term, new to us, and assuredly not native to Myanmar ethnic groups. Whether recognized or not, it is there. That is the reality. It is the term the people of foreign origin give to themselves. So, why make it a big issue of the term Rohingya? Bangalis or not, they are not native to Myanmar. That is all there is to it. But of course, whether they can be naturalized is up to our national law, not that of the UN. The problem is with the law itself. It has to be human, fair and just, not arbitrary. And the current laws made in the era of the military governments are suspects, being full of corruptions and malpractices.
    So, Hmu Zaw must defend his Masters, not necessarily the human rights and media freedom. For instance, how do you define trespassing? Are thers sufficient number of “No Trespassing” signs on the approaches to the site in question? And, how come some officials said there are no chemical weapons factory in the country? Why are there portals to the “secret” tunnels, land grabs and foreigners working for the “Project”? Isn’t that enough to arouse interest of some journalists? And why weren’t there guards to ward off “illegal” approaches?
    The UN envoy has all the responsibilities to point out what and where the wrong doings are? It is her job. Isn’t Hmu Zaw obstructing the legitimate work of a UN envoy?
    Our government should be smart enough to see through the principles and practice of democratic rights and responsibilities, and shrewd enough to appreciate and respect a UN envoy.
    Come, President U Thein Sein, please wake up to the realities of the world around you and beyond.

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