YANGON — Myanmar is still using the same “tactics” to silence its people as the former junta, the UN’s rights envoy said Friday, urging the government to allow the UN to probe allegations of ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims.
More than 70,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since October to escape a bloody crackdown by security forces, many bringing stories of mass killings, gang rapes and arson by security forces.
UN investigators fear the military has used “clearance operations” launched to find militants who attacked police as a cover for possible ethnic cleansing of the oppressed minority.
The government has stanchly denied the allegations but refused to allow in a UN fact-finding mission to investigate, or allow unfettered access for international journalists or rights workers.
UN special rapporteur Yanghee Lee “strongly” urged the government to allow in the mission, saying she was still receiving reports of abuses by security forces from Rakhine State.
She also warned police and military were still trying to intimidate and harass people for speaking out over rights abuses in the same way they did under military rule.
“I have to say I am disappointed to see the tactics applied by the previous government still being used,” she told a press conference in Yangon at the end of her 12-day trip to the country.
“In previous times human rights defenders, journalists and civilians were followed, monitored and surveyed and questioned — that’s still going on.”
Hopes were high that democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi would usher in a new era of freedom when her party won landmark 2015 elections — the first fully free vote for generations.
Her victory ended half a century of military control, which left Myanmar impoverished, scarred by ethnic conflicts and gripped by an oppressive security apparatus that killed and imprisoned thousands of dissenters.
But a jump in prosecutions of journalists, a surge in violence on the country’s restive northeast and the military crackdown on the Rohingya have already tarnished her reputation a little over a year since her government took power.
Buddhist-majority Myamar has long faced criticism for its treatment of the more than one million Rohingya who live in Rakhine, who are seen as interlopers from Bangladesh, denied citizenship and access to basic rights.
Lee — who Buddhist nationalists have previously branded a “whore” for speaking out over the Rohingya — warned the UN would keep up its scrutiny of the country until more was done to protect its people.
“Just as we are told not to expect Myanmar to transition into a democracy overnight, that it needs time and space, Myanmar should also not expect to have (UN) special mechanisms dismantled overnight,” she said.
“Not until a real and discernible progress in the human rights situation.”