Myanmar: Expert calls for continued pressure as situation reaches ‘human rights crisis’

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Graphic: BBC

A UN human rights expert implored the international community to maintain pressure on Myanmar amid a deterioration of human rights in the country, citing concerns about possible war crimes in Rakhine state, the treatment of minorities, the environment and freedom of expression.

The special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, addressed the Human Rights Council in Geneva and welcomed the government’s reforms to the accounting requirements of extractive industry state-owned economic enterprises.

“This is an opportunity for the government to improve transparency in the sector, and to ensure that departments tasked with enforcing environmental and social safeguards are properly resourced,” the expert said.

However, Lee expressed serious concerns about the lack of enforcement of adequate environmental safeguards in natural resource extraction and associated industries.

In Hpakant, a pool of mine waste burst in April, flooding a nearby open pit mine and killing 54 workers. Pollution caused by the coal-powered Alpha Cement Factory in Mandalay led to protests that were violently suppressed by authorities. Independent scientific testing of air, water and hair samples taken near the coal-powered Tigyit Power Plant in Shan state found the plant to be leaching dangerous levels of toxic heavy metals into the surrounding environment.

Lee told the council that freedom of expression continued to be stifled through draconian laws used to suppress criticism of the Tatmadaw, particularly in relation to reporting on the conflict with the Arakan Army in northern Rakhine state and parts of southern Chin state. The conflict has continued over the past few months and the impact on civilians is devastating, Lee said.

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Acts of the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army may amount to war crimes, the special rapporteur said. Indiscriminate attacks in and around villages as well as targeting of civilians and civilian objects, including monasteries hosting internally displaced persons, has left scores of civilians wounded and dead. “I again call on all parties to uphold international humanitarian law and respect human rights law,” said Lee.

Lee said that Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar are being subjected to a human rights crisis, responsibility for which lies with Myanmar. It is entirely Myanmar’s responsibility to bring about all necessary conditions for all the people they forcibly drove out to return and they are entirely failing to do so, she said.

“So long as impunity for alleged atrocity crimes prevails, we will continue to bear witness to flagrant violations of rights perpetrated against ethnic minority populations in the name of counterinsurgency, entrenching grievances and prolonging insecurity and instability,” the special rapporteur said.

Lee repeated her call that the situation of Myanmar be referred to the International Criminal Court, and that alternatively the international community establish an independent tribunal in which perpetrators of international crimes may be tried.

“It is incumbent on the Security Council to find a way to put differences aside and unite in relation to Myanmar by coming out with a strong resolution,” said Lee. “The situation is not improving, and serious violations continue to take place on a regular basis.”

UN news release

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