United Nations’ Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Burma Yanghee Lee on Monday visited prisons in Rangoon to inspect standards.
Among her visits was notorious Insein prison, infamous for torture and inhumane conditions during the darkest days of the military junta era. Insein was also one of the main detention centres for political prisoners.
After the visit, Lee met with representatives of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC).
“[The UN rapporteur] asked if we were doing nothing about the extremely harsh living conditions prison inmates have to live with,” said MNHRC chairman Win Myint.
“She also asked about one thing – which I think she heard from the inmates in Tharawaddy Prison – that is about whether female inmates were being subjected to pregnancy tests. The UN envoy suggested that this is a violation of human rights, and questioned whether we were not doing anything about this issue too,” he said.
“We responded that conducting pregnancy tests on prisoners when they first arrive is a routine procedure in the Burmese prison system. But it is not a human rights violation. It does not disrespect their dignity; instead they are provided for if they are pregnant.”
Sitt Myaing, deputy-chair of the MNHRC, said, “[UN Rapporteur Lee] mostly opined that she would like the MNHRC to be more actively involved [in human rights issues] and more independent.
“Actually we have been doing all we can, independently, but perhaps this is still unsatisfactory for her.
“We have our limitations. We have concerns for our own safety in conflict zones. No one will take responsibility for our security, so we can’t afford to go to these areas,” he said.
Lee also met with representatives of Burma’s Press Council on Monday, when they discussed issues related to media freedom.
“We answered Ms Yanghee Lee’s questions – on press freedom, the ongoing situations with [the detained] 7Days News and BBC reporters, and if media workers have equal access when covering the news,” said the Press Council in a statement.
UN Special Rapporteur Lee is no stranger to antipathy and controversy in Burma.
Last year, firebrand Buddhist monk Wirathu called her a “whore” for her alleged bias towards the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority.
“Don’t assume you are a respectable person, just because you have a position in the UN,” he thundered at a rally in Rangoon. “In our country, you are just a whore.”