UN Rapporteur Blocked on Kachin State Visit

By Moe Myint 10 January 2017

RANGOON — The UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in Burma Yanghee Lee was restricted from visiting areas of conflict-torn Kachin State on Monday, according to her spokesperson.

“She was not allowed to travel to Laiza and Hpakant,” spokesperson U Aye Win told The Irrawaddy Tuesday, adding that the rapporteur’s team visited camps for internally displaced persons run by the Kachin Baptist Convention outside state capital Myitkyina instead.

Yanghee Lee arrived in Burma on Sunday and will spend 12 days assessing human rights abuses in the country.

A statement released before the visit said she was expected to visit Myitkyina, Hpakant, and the border town of Laiza—home to the headquarters of the ethnic armed group the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

On Monday evening The Voice of America (VOA) reported that Yanghee Lee said she had experienced “inconvenience” during her visit to Kachin State.

VOA quoted Yanghee Lee as saying she had received “no cooperation from both the Union and Kachin State government—I was not allowed to visit the places which I applied to visit.”

“That really harms my rights and duties,” she reportedly went on to say. “My responsibility is to look for injustices and human rights violations, [the government] did not allow me to visit the places where human rights violations are taking place.”

A representative of the Joint Strategy Team (JST)—a coalition of nine NGOs in Kachin and Shan states that met with Yanghee Lee on Monday—told The Irrawaddy that the UN rapporteur appeared dissatisfied with her tour of Kachin State.

In the one hour meeting representatives of the JST expressed concern over a burgeoning number of displaced persons following recent clashes between the Burma Army and armed ethnic groups in Kachin and Shan states, Myittar Foundation’s Executive Director Sai Samm Kham said.

Representatives told the UN rapporteur that the state government had prevented the NGOs from delivering aid to Mong Ko town of Muse Township, Shan State where houses were damaged by government airstrikes, according to Sai Samm Kham.

Sai Samm Kham said the NGOs also expressed concern over the whereabouts of two Kachin pastors who disappeared on Christmas Eve in Mong Ko after being summoned by the army. The two men had helped journalists from Rangoon report on the situation in Mong Ko.

The restriction of movement by the Burma Army in northern Shan State demanding identification at military checkpoints was another issue raised.

He said Yanghee Lee asked participants whether recent skirmishes would harm the State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi-led peace process or not.

Participants responded that the conflict between the KIA and the Burma Army had now reached its fifth year and that pain and hate is now deeply rooted in some ethnic Kachins.

“Some say they don’t want to hear the word peace anymore, they want independence,” Sai Samm Kham said.

Yanghee Lee will travel to troubled northern Arakan State on January 13 and is scheduled to spend three days in Maungdaw Township, according to Arakan State government office secretary U Tin Maung Swe.

The exact locations will be finalised based on the security situation, he said.