SITTWE, Myanmar – Buddhist demonstrators on Wednesday protested the arrival of the U.N. human rights envoy to Myanmar for an information-gathering trip in troubled Rakhine state, where security forces have been accused of rights abuses against the Muslim Rohingya minority.
Less than 100 protesters from the state's ethnic Rakhine Buddhist community shouted and held signs as Yanghee Lee passed in her car in Sittwe, the state capital, calling her unfair and unwanted.
Lee has criticized the government's treatment of the Rohingya minority, who face severe discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar. They were the targets of intercommunal violence in 2012 that killed hundreds and drove about 140,000 people — predominantly Rohingya — from their homes to displacement camps, where most remain.
Last October, the army launched counterinsurgency operations in Rohingya areas after assailants presumed to be Rohingya attacked police outposts along the border with Bangladesh, killing nine officers and seizing weapons and ammunition.
U.N. human rights investigators and independent rights organizations charge that soldiers and police killed and raped civilians and burned down more than 1,000 homes during the operations.
Lee is on a 12-day visit to Myanmar at the invitation of the government during which she is to discuss human rights issues with political and community leaders and civil society representatives.
After her arrival in Sittwe, she visited a prison where hundreds of Rohingya men are detained on suspicion of having links with the assailants who carried out the October attacks.
"Yanghee Lee has been here in Rakhine three or four times but every time she goes back and writes a report about her trip or has press conferences and never mentioned any good thing about either Rakhine people or the Myanmar government," said Than Tun, a leader of the Rakhine Buddhist community.
"What Rakhine people think about Yanghee Lee is that she is too one-sided," he said. "This is why people in Rakhine state don't like Yanghee Lee's visit, because whether she comes here or not, nothing will change for us."
Lee has been outspoken in her criticism of the government on previous visits, and recommended the establishment of a special U.N. mission primarily to investigate the problems in Rakhine. The U.N. Human Rights Council approved the mission by consensus in March and in May appointed three legal experts and human rights advocates to lead it.
In June, however, Myanmar officials announced that the mission's members would not be allowed into the country. They insisted that their own efforts to deal with the problem — including an advisory committee appointed by Myanmar's leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and led by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan — are adequate.