UN rights official arrives in war-torn northern Burma

UN rights official arrives in war-torn northern Burma

The newly-appointed United Nations’ rights rapporteur for Burma, Yanghee Lee, arrived in Kachin State on Monday to assess the conflict-torn region.

As part of her first official visit to Burma, Lee and a delegation travelled to the Kachin capital, Myitkyina, to meet with regional government figures including the chief minister of the state.

Regional Social Affairs Minister Hpauyam Bauk Ja, who was present at the discussions, said that the rapporteur inquired about issues such as military conscription of children, available aid for internally displaced persons (IDPs), judicial corruption in settling land disputes, and female representation in the country’s ongoing peace process.

“The Kachin chief minister said that lower house member Dwe Bu is a member of the government’s Union Peace-Making Work Committee, and that two women from the Nyein Foundation and local women leaders are usually present at peace talks held in Kachin State,” said Hpauyam Bauk Ja.

“Regarding the land disputes, the minister said that the Tatmadaw [Burmese military] has returned the land they seized from locals,” she added.

Following the meeting on Monday, Lee visited the Thayet Taw IDP camp in Waingmaw district, where nearly 500 people have lived in dire conditions since they were displaced by conflict in January 2012. The rapporteur visited other camps in nearby Bhamo on Tuesday, where some camp administrators said they were not satisfied with the level of engagement.

“She didn’t ask a single question throughout her tour in the camp,” said Aung San, coordinator of the Tagondai IDP camp in Bhamo. “We offered to show her around here and there, but [government officials] told us not to show her unflattering things.”

Aung San said the delegation spent only a short time at the IDP camp on Tuesday morning, and expressed disappointment his that “we didn’t get to say a word to her”.

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Mahka, a lawyer based in Myitkyina, said that human rights violations have been rampant in Kachin State since fighting between the Burmese army and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) broke out in 2011, when government forces violated a 17-year ceasefire.

“There have been all forms of human rights violations all over the region since the fighting broke out,” he said. “On humanitarian grounds, the government has a responsibility to provide assistance to people displaced by fighting, but it barely happens. Most of the aid comes from international donors, while the government takes credit.”

“The government, while not distributing aid themselves, have also been actively blocking international aid from reaching certain areas,” he added, specifying Majayang and areas near the KIA headquarters in Laiza as particularly vulnerable areas with high displacement levels and deteriorating humanitarian conditions.

Yanghee Lee arrived in Burma on 16 July to begin her initial ten-day tour. The rapporteur spent three days in the troubled western Arakan State, where she spoke with locals about the ethno-religious tensions that have plagued the region for the past two years.

After her trip to Kachin State, the rapporteur is expected to meet with several government officials including opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and members of the Union Election Commission. Lee will present her findings on the situation of human rights in Burma at the 96th Assembly of the UN in September.

Lee was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma as of 1st June 2014, following Tomás Ojea Quintana’s six-year term

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