Top UN official in Myanmar denies Rakhine allegations

The United Nations resident coordinator, Ms Renata Lok-Dessallien, has denied that the UN was prioritising development over human rights in Rakhine State.

Ms Lok-Dessallien, the highest ranking UN official in Myanmar, was responding to a series of allegations published by VICE News on May 22.

The news website said the allegations were made in a independent report commissioned by the UN to review “the human rights implications” of its record in Rakhine, titled: “A slippery slope: Helping victims or supporting victims of abuse.”

The report found that the “situation in Rakhine state is forcing international institutions into complicity with systematic abuses” against Rohingya Muslims, partly because of “excessive self-censorship” on rights issues.

“The current UN strategy of emphasizing development investment as the solution to the problems in Rakhine state fails to take into account that development initiatives carried out by discriminatory state actors through discriminatory structures will likely have a discriminatory outcome,” said the report.

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VICE News said the report, meant for an internal UN audience and marked “confidential”, was prepared late last year and was “perhaps the most thorough internal review of the UN’s Rohingya policy to date”.

VICE News also quoted an end-of-assignment letter sent to former colleagues by a veteran UN staff member who worked in Myanmar that was highly critical of the resident coordinator.

“I had to conclude time and time again that the RC discarded or simply ignored information that underscored the seriousness of the situation” in Rakhine, said the letter, leaked to VICE News by sources in the US.

The letter also alleged that the RC instructed her staff to undermine other agencies that were taking a stronger line on Rohingya rights and that she would engage in “bullying, intimidating and discrediting people that had a different view”.

Denying the allegations that the UN was failing to uphold human rights, Lok-Dessallien told VICE News: “I don’t think anyone has spoken out as loudly as the UN on rights violations.”

The claim of being outspoken on human rights was contradicted by the former UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Mr Tomas Ojea Quintana.

Lok-Dessallien had asked him not to be outspoken on Rohingya rights and even not to visit displacement camps, he told VICE News.

“She advocated for another approach, which did not include a big focus on human rights but more on development and so on … her advice was not to be so outspoken or visit Rakhine state,” Quintana said.

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