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Burma’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has slammed the UN special rapporteur for human rights in Burma, Yanghee Lee, for her use of the term “Rohingya” during a recent 10-day visit to the country.
“Myanmar [Burma] rejects such use of nomenclature unequivocally,” said a press release published in state media on Tuesday. “Myanmar never recognises such terminology which has never been included among over 100 national races of Myanmar or even in the census records of the British colonial period.
“Insistence on using this controversial terminology will only pose a barrier on the road to resolving this important issue. Use of such [a term] by the United Nations would certainly draw strong resentments of the people of Myanmar, making the government’s efforts more difficult in addressing the issue.”
A great many Burmese refer to the Muslim community residing in Arakan State as “Bengalis”, implying that they are illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh, despite the fact that many of the more than one million Rohingyas in Burma claim to have lived in the country for generations.
The UN has in the past referred to the stateless ethnic group as “one of the most persecuted minorities in the world”. Before leaving Burma last month, Lee delivered a speech in which she said, “The rights of Rohingya people must be protected, promoted and upheld.”
The UN rapporteur also reiterated: “You can be assured that in all my meetings with government interlocutors, I use the word ‘Rohingya’.”
The foreign ministry further warned the UN not to influence public opinion by inciting people.
“The Special Rapporteur should fulfill her mandate in a professional and prudent manner. Her visit should not leave the country and people of Myanmar with discord, distrust and incitement,” it said.
The statement concluded by noting that: “Myanmar will not tolerate any acts or expressions that would lead to hatred between religions and races”.
The press release by the Foreign Ministry was just the latest in a war of words between the Burmese establishment and the new UN rapporteur. On 21 January, the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights ZeidRa’ad Al Hussein hit back at what he called “sexist, insulting language” directed at Lee during her visit to Burma.
That exchange was undoubtedly directed at comments by controversial Buddhist monk Wirathu, who earlier had labelled Lee a “whore” for her alleged bias towards Muslims in Burma.