YANGON, MYANMAR (27 Jul 2017) — Lawmakers in Naypyidaw have approved a motion by the ruling National League for Democracy party (NLD) to open discussion of a U.N. report that sharply criticizes Myanmar’s treatment of its Rohingya minority. The move could lead the government to refuse to accept the U.N. document.
The United Nations special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, said in a preliminary statement that her report will show the human rights situation has “hardly improved” since an evaluation last year. Lee assessed alleged atrocities committed against the Rohingya people during a 12-day visit that ended July 21.
Her statement accused Myanmar’s government of policies reminiscent of the country’s previous military government and of presiding over a worsening security and human-rights situation.
Myanmar’s Rohingya are a Muslim minority in a Buddhist majority nation. Lee wrote that she was aware of “reports of killings, torture, the use of human shields by security forces [and] deaths in custody.”
‘Ongoing humanitarian crisis’
Altogether, the U.N. representative said, there is “an ongoing humanitarian crisis for the Rohingya people” as well as other minority groups in Myanmar who have been forced to leave their homes.
The office of Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, released a statement expressing disappointment with the special rapporteur’s end-of-mission statement.
During a Lower House hearing Tuesday, Myanmar’s deputy foreign minister, Kyaw Tin, said lawmakers had rational concerns about the special rapporteur’s statement. He also noted that statement contained a number of factual errors.
“Ms. Yanghee Lee is due to submit her report to the 72nd U.N. General Assembly (UNGA) in October,” Kyaw Tin said, “and it is based on her statement of many sweeping allegations and a number of factual errors. This might lead the UNGA to adopt a negative resolution on Myanmar, which we don’t want. So we need to analyze it and take necessary actions accordingly.”
Wednesday’s parliamentary motion opened the floor to discussion of the U.N. rapporteur’s statement and forthcoming report, which could lead to its eventual rejection by the central government.
Denied citizenship for generations
About 1 million Rohingya live in Myanmar, but authorities view them as illegal migrants from neighboring Bangladesh and deny them citizenship, even though many families have been in Myanmar for generations.
The group Human Rights Watch said “this lack of full citizenship rights means that the Rohingya are subject to other abuses, including restrictions on their freedom of movement, discriminatory limitations on access to education, and arbitrary confiscation of property.”
The plight of the Rohingya, who primarily live in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, has drawn international condemnation. Earlier this month, the United States called on Myanmar to allow a United Nations fact-finding mission to investigate widespread allegations of killings, rape and torture by government security forces operating in Rakhine state.
Myanmar had responded June 30, however, that it would refuse entry to the U.N. fact finders, whose mission is separate from that of the special rapporteur.
UN ‘causing problems’
Thirteen lawmakers from all major parties in the lower house of parliament spoke out about the U.N. rapporteur’s findings. They represented the NLD, which holds a majority in the 440-seat chamber and is the party of Aung San Suu Kyi; the former ruling Union Solidarity Development Party (USDP), which lost 218 seats in the last national election in November 2015, when the NLD took over power; the Arakan National Party (ANP), which represents Myanmar’s Raphine people; and one of the military-appointed members of parliament, who hold one-quarter of the seats.
ANP lawmaker Aung Thaung Shwe, whose constituency includes areas populated by Rohingya, criticized the activities of United Nations teams and international non-governmental organizations, known as INGOs, which he said have been “causing problems in Rakhine state.”
“Local authorities and the public simply do not know what kind of understanding and mandates are made between the Myanmar government and those international organizations.
“The U.N. and INGOs staffers can go freely wherever and whenever they want,” the ANP lawmaker said, adding that this “deliberately creates tensions.” He appealed to the central government in Naypyidaw to ban the U.N. and other organizations from Rakhine state on the grounds that they trigger conflicts among communities of different ethnic and religious backgrounds.
However, human-rights activist Aung Myo Min, the director of Equality Myanmar, urged the government to cooperate with the U.N. and other INGOs on human rights.
“The legislative body should not have approved such a motion to discuss” the rapporteur’s findings, Aung Myo Min said. “This would tarnish the legislative body.”
Maung Myint of the USDP also urged the central government to restrict the activities of the U.N. and INGOs.
“We are a sovereign nation,” Maung Myint said. “If we implement non-binding U.N. resolutions and yield to international pressure, we will be doomed. I fully support this motion of objecting to the special rapporteur’s report.”
Khin Soe Win contributed to this report, which originated on VOA Burmese.