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Myanmar: UN Human Rights Expert Commends Reforms to Date, but Warns of Risks of Backtracking

By United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights  •  October 29, 2014

NEW YORK / GENEVA (29 October 2014) – The new United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, commended the process of reform that has improved the political, economic social and human rights landscape over the past three years, but said that “more is required if gains are to be genuine, sustainable and win the support of the people of Myanmar.”

In her first address* to the UN General Assembly, Ms. Lee warned against of possible signs of backtracking on the country’s reform process which must be addressed to avoid undermining gains made to date.

“Several conflicts continue to cause significant suffering to local communities, with currently an estimated 613,000 internally displaced persons in the country,” she noted. “Serious human rights violations are being committed on both sides, and I am particularly concerned by continued reports of arbitrary detention, torture and impunity on the side of the military.”

The expert stressed that sustainable peace must address the root causes of the conflict which lie in the denial of fundamental human rights, and urged the authorities to ensure that accountability for human rights violations is included in ceasefire and peace agreements.

“In the Rakine State, the situation remains profoundly disturbing,” she said. In July I visited two camps for internally displaced persons in Sittwe and saw that conditions in both Buddhist camps and Rohingya Muslim camps require urgent attention. Restrictions on freedom of movement severely affect basic rights such as access to health services, livelihoods, water, food and sanitation. However, the long history of discrimination against the community that identifies themselves as Rohingya further compounds human rights violations.”

Ms. Lee welcomed steps by the Government to develop a comprehensive Action Plan to address the situation in the Rakhine State, while calling for the adoption of genuine steps to reduce tensions and promote reconciliation between the Buddhist and Muslim communities, and avoid their permanent segregation.

The Special Rapporteur welcomed the recent release of two political prisoners but called for the immediate and unconditional release of all remaining political prisoners and those arbitrarily detained, as a matter of urgency.

“Despite advances in media reforms, laws are still being used to criminalize and impede the activities of civil society and the media. These should be urgently amended or repealed,” she said, expressing concern at the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act and other laws which have increased the number of political prisoners.

“On my visit to Myanmar I saw first-hand that large-scale development projects are threatening the lives and livelihoods of the most vulnerable, and have led to land-grabbing, land confiscation and forced eviction,” the expert noted. “I urge the Government and the international community to proactively manage development to ensure a rights-based and people-centred form of sustainable development.”

“As we move towards the 2015 election, I urge greater commitment to ensure that the right to vote and the freedoms of expression, assembly and association are fully protected,” Ms. Lee said while calling for the review and amendment of all restrictive rules to ensure a campaign environment free from bias and ensure freely available information to all.

In closing, the Special Rapporteur noted the recent appointment of new members to the Myanmar National Human Rights Commissions and encouraged them to establish a credible, effective and independent national human rights institution which has the confidence of all including civil society.

(*) Check the full report to the UN General Assembly (A/69/398): http://www.ohchr.org/EN/newyork/Pages/HRreportstothe69thsessionGA.aspx

Ms. Yanghee Lee (Republic of Korea) was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2014. She is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity. Ms. Lee served as member and chairperson of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2003-2011). She is currently a professor at Sungkyunwan University, Seoul, and serves on the Advisory Committee of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea. Ms. Lee is the founding President of International Child Rights Center, and serves as Vice-chair of the National Unification Advisory Council. Learn more, go to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/CountriesMandates/MM/Pages/SRMyanmar.aspx

UN Human Rights, country page – Myanmar: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/MMIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests please contact:
In New York:
André-Michel Essoungou, (+1 917 367 9995 / Cell: +1 917 940 0685 / essoungou@un.org)
Nenad Vasic (+1 212 963 5998 / Cell: +1 917 941 7558 / vasic@un.org)
In Geneva:
Sabina Lauber (+41 22 928 9473 / slauber@ohchr.org) or write to sr-myanmar@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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