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Myanmar: UN expert decries failure to implement democratic reforms

GENEVA (25 January 2019) – The UN’s human rights expert on Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, said today the Government was consolidating what military governments worked towards over many years, defying a pledge to transition to a fully functioning democracy under civilian control.

“Democratic freedoms are ever fragile,” said Lee at the end of an 11-day mission to neighbouring Thailand and Bangladesh.  “Communities are divided based on religion and ethnicity, and members of minorities face marginalization and discrimination. Ethnic nationalities continue to be subject to domination by the central government and the military, despite the official stance that they are working for peace to be brought to the country.”

Lee expressed serious concern about the situation in the conflict affected states of Kachin, Shan and Rakhine, noting that despite a unilateral ceasefire in Kachin and Shan States, there continues to be fighting between ethnic armed organisations that is increasing instability and insecurity for civilians.

In Rakhine State, the escalating fighting between the military and the Arakan Army is very worrisome, especially because the government and military have disallowed humanitarian access, she said. The Special Rapporteur said that there was fighting in Kayin State, and new military bases have been built in Kayah State.

Lee spoke with several people about their fear regarding the implementation of the amendments to the 2012 Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Lands Management Law which could lead to many people becoming landless. Additionally, she heard concerns about mega projects, such as dams, being pursued by the Government. “The Government is not consulting with local people or being transparent about these projects, which is causing concern and uncertainty for millions of people,” Lee said.

From discussions she had with Rohingya who had only recently arrived in Bangladesh from Myanmar, Lee said, “It is evident that Myanmar is not working to create conditions for return for the Rohingya but is engaging in a sustained campaign of violence, intimidation and harassment.”

Lee also visited the island Bhashan Char, where the Bangladesh Government is planning to relocate refugees. “If any plans are made about refugee relocation in the future, refugees must be fully engaged and participate in the process,” she said. “Without a protection framework agreed with the humanitarian community, the plans cannot move forward.”

The Government must be transparent about its plans, release its feasibility studies and allow the UN to undertake a full humanitarian and security assessment.


Yanghee Lee (Republic of Korea) was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2014 as the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar. She is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity. Ms. Lee served as member and chairperson of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2003-2011). She is currently a professor at Sungkyunwan University, Seoul, and serves on the Advisory Committee of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea. Ms. Lee is the founding President of International Child Rights Center.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.

UN Human Rights, country page: Myanmar

For more information and media requests please contact: Georgia Drake (+41-22928 9780 or +41-79444 3993 / gdrake@ohchr.org).

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts: Jeremy Laurence, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org