UN Special Rapporteur for Myanmar Urges China, Russia to Join Calls for Accountability on Rohingya

By Muktadir Rashid   23 January 2020

DHAKA—The UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar on Thursday repeated her criticism of China and Russia over their stance on the Rohingya issue and called on both countries to visit Cox’s Bazar in order to understand why the refugees fled Myanmar, and to seek justice for them.

Yanghee Lee, who was visiting Dhaka as part of her final mission to the region as special rapporteur, said Naypyitaw’s decision to deny her entry was Myanmar’s loss, and expressed gratitude to Bangladesh for allowing her to visit numerous times since the latest Rohingya crisis erupted in August 2017.

The UN Special Rapporteur was addressing a press conference at a hotel in Dhaka before carrying out her final mission ahead of her report to the UN Human Rights Council, which she is due to deliver in March, when her tenure ends.

“It’s shameful for those states [China and Russia] to not do anything…please come and look at Cox’s Bazar. That’s not fabricated. That’s not fake news,” she told reporters in reply to a question over the two countries’ stance on the crisis.

Pointing to China, she added, “Especially China, which is attempting to become one of the top global leaders; it cannot be a global leader without respecting human rights. [To respect] human rights, you have to seek justice and accountability.”

Lee addresses the media in Dhaka. / The Irrawaddy

Unlike some Western nations, China and Russia have not condemned the Myanmar military operations in Rakhine State that caused more than 700,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh, and have supported Myanmar in international forums over the issue.

She also expressed disappointment in Myanmar’s refusal to allow her to return to the country, attributing it to the fact that Naypyitaw did not want to know the truth about the Rohingya issue.

Lee said not allowing her to visit was a loss for Myanmar, rather than for herself.

Since being denied entry by the Myanmar government, Lee has visited Thailand and Bangladesh to speak to interlocutors and receive information about the situation in Myanmar from both sides of the border.

She also suggested forming an international ad-hoc tribunal on the Rohingya issue, whose work she said could complement ongoing efforts to achieve accountability and justice.

She said that while there had been some significant achievements in the past two years on that front, “More needs to be done.”

During her visits to Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, she said, she had found a “deep desire” among Rohingyas to return to their places of origin in Rakhine State.

During her latest visit to Cox’s Bazar, she met Mohib Ullah, a leader of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, among other prominent Rohingya figures, at Kutupalang refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar on Jan. 21 for half an hour.

On the same day, another Rohingya leader, Abdur Rohim, told the media that at the meeting they had discussed issues including food supplies and repatriation to Myanmar.

The previous day, Lee visited Rohingya camps located on the “zero-line” on the Bangladesh-Myanmar border at Tamru in Bandarban district.

She said her mission and the end of her tenure come at a critical time for human rights in Myanmar, adding that she would continue to strive to do her utmost to improve the situation.

Lee has held the mandate of Special Rapporteur since 2014. She enjoyed biannual visits to Myanmar until she was denied entry in December 2017, according to a statement released by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva.