RANGOON — The United Nations’ human rights chief urged Burma’s leaders to condemn an ultranationalist Buddhist monk who called a visiting UN envoy a “bitch” and a “whore” during a public rally last week.
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said language used by U Wirathu during Yanghee Lee’s 10-day trip to the Southeast Asian country was “utterly unacceptable.”
“I call on religious and political leaders in Myanmar to unequivocally condemn all forms of incitement to hatred including this abhorrent public personal attack,” Zeid said in a statement released from Geneva on Wednesday.
“It’s intolerable for UN special rapporteurs to be treated in this way,” he said, calling the language “sexist” and “insulting.”
Newfound freedoms of expression that accompanied predominantly Buddhist Burma’s transition from a half-century of military rule in 2011 lifted the lid on deep-seated prejudice against members of the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority, and those seen as defending them.
Wirathu has been accused of inciting violence with hate-filled, anti-Islam rhetoric that has left hundreds of people dead since 2012 and which has forced hundreds of thousands more to flee their homes, most of them Rohingya in Arakan State.
Lee was the focus of criticism at a rally attended by Wirathu and several hundred other people, many of them monks, last Friday.
The visiting rights envoy had criticized several pieces of legislation proposed by a coalition of nationalist Buddhist monks, including a bill that would place curbs on interfaith marriage and religious conversions, saying they were discriminatory toward women and minorities and could inflame tensions.
“We have explained about the race protection law, but the bitch [Lee] criticized the laws without studying them properly,” Wirathu shouted from a stage to the loud applause from the crowd. “Don’t assume that you are a respectable person because of your position. For us, you are a whore.”
Most of Burma’s 1.3 million Rohingya live under apartheid-like conditions in Arakan State. Denied citizenship by national law, they have limited access to adequate healthcare and education, and face restrictions on movement. More than 100,000 have fled the country in the last two years.