UN rights envoy to Myanmar expresses disappointment

The U.N.'s human rights envoy to Myanmar, completing a 12-day fact-finding tour, expressed disappointment Friday over a lack of government effort to tackle problems underlying violence between Buddhists and Muslims in the western state of Rakhine, and exasperation at attempts to impede her investigation.

Yanghee Lee, on her fifth mission to the country, said she saw little improvement in the situation for Muslim ethnic Rohingya in Rakhine, where the army has been accused of human rights violations on a vast scale during counterinsurgency operations following an attack on police outposts along the border with Bangladesh last October.

She also said the government prevented her from visiting several areas in Rakhine state and in the north where there is armed conflict.

"The general situation for the Rohingya has hardly improved since my last visit in January, and has become further complicated in the north of Rakhine," she said. "I continue to receive reports of violations allegedly committed by security forces during operations."

Lee also referred to mysterious killing that seem to be targeting Rohingya who are believed to be cooperating with the government, "leaving many Rohingya civilians terrified, and often caught between violence on both sides."

Rakhine state officials as well as the national government "have stated that their duty to provide protection and security extends to not only the Rakhine (Buddhists) but also the Muslim communities," she noted.

"Concrete actions including investigating all alleged violations must be undertaken," she said. "At the same time steps must be immediately taken to end discriminatory practices and restoring freedom of movement."

In Shan state in the country's north, where other ethnic minority groups are in armed conflict with the government, she expressed concern over reports of "more conflict, more cases of alleged human rights violations by different parties to the conflict and inadequate assistance for civilians."

"There have been numerous reports of killings, torture, even the use of human shields by the Tatmadaw, allegedly in some cases accompanied by threats of further violence if incidents are reported," she said. Tatmadaw is a term for the Myanmar army.

She accused the government of disrupting her scheduling to make it difficult to plan visits, as well as barring some visits completely.

"As well as increasing restrictions on my access, individuals who meet with me continue to face intimidation, including being photographed, questioned before and after meetings and in one case even followed," she said. "This is unacceptable."

Lee said she would present details of her findings in a report to the U.N. General Assembly.