Special Rapporteur begins tour of Myanmar

Insein Prison in Yangon (Photo-EMG)

Yanghee Lee, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, launched her tour of Myanmar by visiting Insein prison in Yangon today.

She arrived in Yangon yesterday evening and will continue touring the country until January 16. This is her second tour of Myanmar; her first tour was in July 2014.

Her second tour will mainly focus on the human rights situations in Rakhine State and northern Shan State.

During her tour to Rakhine State, she will assess the conditions in the IDP camps and hold talks with the Rakhine State chief minister on the Rakhine State Action Plan, which was adopted by the Myanmar government to to ensure the peace, stability, the rule of law and regional development in the state.

The action plan has been denounced by human rights groups for expanding and solidifying the marginalization of the Rohingya Muslim population of Rakhine State.

During her tour of Shan State, Lee plans to hold talks with local organisations to assess the human rights situation for local ethnic minorities and gender-based terrorism in conflict-affected regions.
She will also use her visit as an opportunity to evaluate the freedom of association, media, land disputes and protests against infrastructure projects.

According to the UN's press release, the UN will hold talks with civil society organizations (CSOs) to ensure a transparent, free and fair general election in 2015.

A few days before her trip to Myanmar, the UN passed a resolution calling for citizenship status to be granted to the Rohingya (also known as Bengalis) in Rakhine State at the 69th General Assembly on December 29. Lee is expected to put further pressure on the Myanmar government to grant citizenship to the Rohingya.

The Arakan National Party (ANP) issued an announcement on January 4 condemning the UN resolution as a direct threat to Rakhine State. Other Rakhine nationalist activists plan to stage protests against Lee during her tour of Rakhine State, according to some sources.

President Thein Sein recently proposed to allow all white card holders, many of whom are Rohingya, to vote in the referendum on constitutional amendment expected to take place in May. Members of the ANP and the National League for Democracy oppose the president's proposition.

The international community, including the UN, has made repeated demands over the last few years for Myanmar to recognise the Rohingya as citizens.

The tension between the Rohingya and Rakhine Buddhists erupted in communal violence in June 2012 and resulted in property damage and death on both sides. Over 100,000 thousand Rohingya have been displaced by the violence and confined to designated camps in Rakhine State.