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UN rights rapporteur back in Burma amid ‘escalating security situation’

FILE PHOTO: The UN special rapporteur on human rights in Burma, Yanghee Lee, speaks during a news conference in Yangon on 1 July 2016. (Photo: Reuters)

Yanghee Lee arrived in Rangoon on Sunday for her sixth visit to Burma as UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in the country.

Her latest visit comes amid more reports of arrests and killings in restive Arakan State, and a UN press release ahead of the trip quoted Lee as saying she was “especially concerned with the escalating security situation in many parts of the country which have grave consequences for human rights in Myanmar.”

On Monday, state media reported that security forces in northern Arakan State’s Buthidaung Township had killed two “armed terrorists” and detained two other men on Sunday after they were fired upon in Tinmay village.

One day earlier, 10 people were detained in Norokla village, part of Arakan State’s Maungdaw Township. Of the 10, eight were arrested on suspicion of links to a terrorist group, while one was suspected in a murder case and the other was residing in the village illegally, according to the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar, which also reported on the incident in Tinmay village.

Hundreds of Muslims in Arakan State have been rounded up since 9 October, when Islamic militants launched a deadly assault on border police posts in the state’s north. The government has not provided a tally on the total number of those killed in the counter-insurgency campaign that has followed the attacks, but human rights monitors believe the casualty count could also be in the hundreds.

Meanwhile, 38 civilians in Arakan State were murdered from October 2016 to 26 June, while an additional 22 went missing or were abducted, according to a 1 July statement from Burma’s national security adviser that appeared to tie those cases to the 9 October attackers’ militant network.

Lee is scheduled to visit Arakan State, as well as Shan State — where conflict is also ongoing — and the capital Naypyidaw.

The special rapporteur, who was denied access to two townships in Kachin State on her last trip to Burma, is facing similar limitations this month.

“While it is regrettable that the Government has already refused access to several locations I had sought to visit in Shan State, citing security concerns, I look forward to the good cooperation which the Government has always extended to my mandate,” she was quoted as saying in the 7 July press release issued by the UN office in Geneva, Switzerland.

Like her predecessor, Lee has had occasionally difficult relations with members of successive Burmese governments and the military in her role as special rapporteur, and her current visit comes with an added element of potential tension: On 30 June, a government spokesperson said immigration authorities would deny access to Burma to delegates of a UN fact-finding mission. Lee was one of the most prominent figures advocating for the mission, which has been tasked with probing allegations of human rights violations in the country, with a particular focus on northern Arakan State.

The UN Human Rights Council approved the establishment of the fact-finding mission in March, following months of reports of grave human rights violations allegedly perpetrated by Burmese security forces against Rohingya Muslims during their crackdown in search of the 9 October attackers. Burma’s government “disassociated” itself from the resolution creating the international probe, has consistently rejected those reports of human rights abuses and insists that a national commission set up in December to investigate alleged misconduct by security forces makes any outside intervention unnecessary.

Lee’s 12-day trip to Burma will conclude with a press conference in Rangoon on 21 July.