New UN Rights Rapporteur Meets With Rohingya, Arakan Leaders

By Lawi Weng 21 July 2014

RANGOON — Yanghee Lee, the new UN rapporteur on the human rights situation in Burma, visited the Arakan State capital Sittwe and has met with leaders of the Arakanese Buddhist and Rohingya Muslim communities in the troubled region, local sources said.

“She only told us that she wanted to hear about our concerns regarding the situation,” said Than Thun, a leader from an Arakanese NGO who participated in Sunday’s meeting with Yanghee Lee.

“Our community leaders gave her a letter to explain why we have conflict in our region between our Rakhines [Arakanese] and the Bengalis. The letter is explains the history of the conflict and the current situation,” he said, while referring to the Muslim minority as ‘Bengalis’ to suggest that they are immigrants from Bangladesh.

Than Thun said it was too early to determine what the Arakanese leaders thought of the new rights rapporteur, adding, “She will have a press conference at the end of her trip. Let’s see what she will say and then we could know what type of person she is.”

South Korea’s Yanghee Lee is making her first visit to Burma as a rapporteur and succeeds Argentina’s Tomás Ojea Quintana. He wrote numerous reports on the crisis in Arakan State and warned that the stateless Rohingya minority were facing persecution and a range of serious rights violations at the hands of the authorities and the Arakanese community.

The government, Arakanese authorities and Buddhist community leaders dismissed his reports as biased.

The new rapporteur announced last week that she would be visiting Naypyidaw, Rangoon, Mandalay and Arakan and Kachin states from 17-26 July to gather first-hand information on the rights situation in Burma.

She said she planned tohave “frank and open exchange of views” during meetings with government officials, political, religious and community leaders, NGO representatives, as well as victims of human rights violations and members of the international community.

State-run media reported that the new rapporteur met with the Burma Human Right Commission last week and several prisoners held in Rangoon’s Insein Prison for political reasons, before heading off to Arakan State.

Aung Win, a Rohingya rights activist living in Sittwe’s Muslim quarter Aung Mingalar, said he and other Rohingya leaders met with Yanghee Lee on Sunday, adding that the rapporteur visited Aung Mingalar and a camp for displaced Rohingya, as well as two camps for displaced Arakanese.

“I told her about how our children could not go to [Sittwe] university. I said everyone has the right to education, according to the UN, but our children cannot get it,” he said.

“One of our leaders told her that we need to have a program to be resettled [in former homes], while another said we needs rights under the 1982 Citizenship Law,” Aung Win said, referring to a Burmese law that has rendered the Muslim minority stateless.

Aung Win said leaders also complained about the lack of medical care in the Rohingya camps. “There is no 24 hour-service. They only provide 2 hours a day of medical treatment through a mobile clinic that visits the camps. So, we told her we have lost our rights [to access to care].”

Roughly 140,000 Rohingya displaced by the outbreak of deadly inter-communal violence have been living in squalid, crowded camps since 2012. Authorities prevent them from leaving the camp and are limiting humanitarian aid and basic government services such as health care, education and food, for the displaced.

Aung Mingalar is considered a ghetto as authorities are preventing its approximately 6,000 Muslim residents from leaving the area in central Sittwe, and families inside lack access to basic services.

Since the outbreak of violence in 2012, tensions have remained high and the government has come no closer to resolving the conflict. International aid groups’ access to needy Muslim communities has been restricted in recent months, and the government blocked two major medical charities helping the Rohingya from operating in the state.