UN Rapporteur ‘Satisfied’ with Arakan Tour

By Rik Glauert 17 January 2017

RANGOON — UN Special Rapporteur to Burma Yanghee Lee said her tour of northern Arakan State was “very useful” despite a number of “hitches” as she wrapped up her four-day visit to assess the human rights situation in the conflict-torn area.

“I was granted full access without security to most of the places I asked for,” she told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday, adding that there were a couple of places she was not granted access to.

In a meeting with the state chief minister U Nyi Pu last week, Ms. Lee and her team had stressed that to fulfill their mandate they wanted to freely visit Arakan State, also known as Rakhine.

After coordinated attacks on border guard posts in October last year, Burma Army “clearance operations” in northern Arakan have been accompanied by allegations of human rights abuses of the Muslim Rohingya minority and sent 65,000 northern Arakan State residents across the border to Bangladesh, according to the UN.

Ms. Lee began her trip to Arakan State last Friday and visited the Muslim area of Aung Mingalar in state capital Sittwe, according to state media. Over the weekend and on Monday she met with officers at police posts that had been attacked on or since Oct. 9.

The rapporteur also visited a number of Rohingya villages in Buthidaung, Maungdaw, and Rathedaung townships—visits by foreign visitors are rarely granted to the area, which has been under military lockdown since October 2016.

Ms. Lee confirmed that she had visited Rathedaung Township’s Koe Tan Kauk village where footage of police beating Rohingya villagers in November last year went viral and prompted disciplinary action against the officers.

Reports surfaced online that the rapporteur had been “duped” into visiting another village believing it to be Koe Tan Kauk, which she denied. “I saw a lot of misinformation on Twitter,” she told The Irrawaddy.

The UN representative had wanted to meet with representatives from the Arakan National Party (ANP) during her trip but the ANP reportedly refused, according to local media, stating that their spokesperson was out of town and that they did not agree with previous human rights reports from Ms. Lee.

“It’s their choice to meet or not to meet with me,” she said when questioned by The Irrawaddy.

The UN envoy’s visit coincided with an announcement on Monday from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs that the World Food Programme had distributed aid to 4,690 people in northern Maungdaw Township over Jan 13-14. The report stated that around half of those reached had not received assistance since the military crackdown begun on Oct. 9 last year.

The UN Special Rapporteur’s fifth information-gathering visit to the country will end on Jan. 20. Ms. Lee also traveled to conflict-torn northern Shan and Kachin states where she expressed frustration at having her travel restricted by Burmese authorities.