GENEVA (Reuters) – The U.N. independent investigator into human rights in Myanmar called on Wednesday for stronger international pressure to be exerted on Myanmar’s military commanders after being barred from visiting the country for the rest of her tenure.
Yanghee Lee, U.N. special rapporteur, had been due to visit in January to assess human rights across Myanmar, including alleged abuses against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State.
But Myanmar had told her she was no longer welcome, she said, adding in a statement that this suggested something “terribly awful” was happening in the country.
“From what I see right now I’m not sure if they are feeling pressured. I’m not sure if there is the right kind of pressure placed on the military commanders and the generals,” she later told Reuters by phone from Seoul.
She said it was alarming that Myanmar was strongly supported by China, which has a veto at the U.N.’s top table in New York. Other countries including the United States and human groups were advocating targeted sanctions on the military, she said.
“It has to work. And I’m sure the world has to find a way to make it work. And I think the United Nations and its member states should really try to persuade China to really act towards the protection of human rights,” she said.
More than 650,000 Rohingya have fled into Bangladesh since Aug. 25, when attacks by Muslim insurgents on the Myanmar security forces triggered a response by the army and Buddhist vigilantes.
Surveys of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh by aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres have shown at least 6,700 Rohingya were killed in Rakhine state in the month after violence flared up on Aug 25, MSF said last week.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra‘ad al-Hussein has called the violence “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” and said he would not be surprised if a court eventually ruled that genocide had taken place.
Lee had planned to use her visit to find out procedures for the return of Rohingya refugees, and to investigate increased fighting in the Kachin and northern Shan areas of Myanmar.
Lee, in an earlier statement, said Myanmar’s refusal to cooperate with her was a strong indication that there must be “something terribly awful happening” throughout the country, although the government had repeatedly denied any violations of human rights.
“They have said that they have nothing to hide, but their lack of cooperation with my mandate and the fact-finding mission suggests otherwise,” she said.
She was “puzzled and disappointed”, since Myanmar’s Ambassador in Geneva Htin Lynn had told the U.N. Human Rights Council only two weeks ago that it would continue to cooperate.
“Now I am being told that this decision to no longer cooperate with me is based on the statement I made after I visited the country in July,” she said.
Lynn did not respond to a request for comment. Neither Zaw Htay, spokesman for Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, nor Kyaw Moe Tun, a spokesman for the ministry of foreign affairs that Suu Kyi heads, were immediately available.