Many Myanmar journalists are saying privately that the political situation in the country is sliding back to the way things were under military rule. Some believe the government should open the door to Yanghee Lee, the UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, and even allow the establishment of an international inquiry into rights abuses as a first step to solving the conflict in Rakhine.
On the other hand, social media, news outlets based in Rakhine State, the Arakan National Party and other Arakanese groups have welcomed the government’s decision to ban Lee, in particular its insistence that it could not accept her entering the country without the consent of the Arakanese people.
There are those who say the UN should replace Lee with a new special rapporteur, one who is less biased, in order to help solve the problems in the country. Lee, they say, views the issue from the Rohingya point of view, and is more interested in bringing criminal proceedings at the UN than in trying to solve the country’s problems.
On Thursday, the state-run media did not even report on Lee’s being denied entry to Myanmar.
When human rights abuses occurred in Rakhine, Kachin, and northern Shan, Lee discussed them at the UN without causing controversy. She traveled to these areas whenever she visited Myanmar in the past. Who will monitor the rights situation if she is barred from entering the country? This will be an important question if Myanmar shuts the door on her.
“Speaking generally, it is not a good idea to bar the special envoy on human rights from coming into the country, because they can protect people from rights abuses,” said U Pe Than, an ethnic Arakanese ANP lawmaker in the Lower House of Parliament from the constituency of Myabon.
“But if we look at the yearly reports she has made to the UN after visiting our country, she has presented only one side. Arakanese people and the government have many problems when it comes to the Bengali [a term used by many in the country to refer to the Rohingya as interlopers from Bangladesh], but she did not listen to them,” he said.
U Pe Than believed the decision to block Lee’s entry into the country was made to protect the country’s sovereignty and image.
In interviews with the BBC, Lee has acknowledged that the government and the Myanmar Army are unhappy with her reports, which they say have been biased and unfair since July.
According to Yu Lwin Aung, a spokesperson for the Myanmar Human Rights Commission, the UN should consider finding a replacement for Lee who would be more appropriate to report on the situation in the country.
“We welcome anyone who acts in a positive way. It is difficult to accept someone who tries to make problems for our country,” he said. “I do not see our human rights condition suffering if she is not in our country.”
Lee Has Her Supporters Here
U Zay Yar Hlaing, editor of Maw Kun (Archive) magazine, said: “I do not support the idea of blocking her from trying to get information inside the country. It is not right to block someone just because we don’t like what she said. The government should give her some level of access to information. If she provides faulty information at the UN, the government should be able to produce the evidence to point it out.”
He said the government needs to have a better relationship with the international community, and to be more adept at public relations. The government needs a better mechanism for pointing out anything she says that is wrong, he said.
If the government slams the door in the face of the UN Human Rights Council and its mandate to dispatch special rapporteurs, it is essentially saying it doesn’t care about political prisoners including journalists, or about workers’ rights, the rights of farmers or the right to health care and education; it is not just an issue of the rights of religious minorities.
David Mathieson, an independent analyst working on conflict and peace issues, said Professor Lee is a respected academic who cares deeply for the people of Myanmar, and had tried hard to address a range of complex human rights issues, especially the ongoing conflicts and abuses in Kachin and northern Shan, when the rest of the world seem fixated on the Rohingya. She is not an official of the UN, she is an independent expert and the government should value her work as an independent auditor of the human rights issues facing the transition, Mathieson said. Instead they have treated her in a shabby, dismissive and insulting fashion, he said.