Myanmar: UN human rights expert commends reforms to date, but warns of risks of backtracking

NEW YORK / GENEVA (29 October 2014) – The new United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, commended the process of reform that has improved the political, economic social and human rights landscape over the past three years, but said that “more is required if gains are to be genuine, sustainable and win the support of the people of Myanmar”.

In her first address* to the UN General Assembly, Ms. Lee warned against of possible signs of backtracking on the country’s reform process which must be addressed to avoid undermining gains made to date.

“Several conflicts continue to cause significant suffering to local communities, with currently an estimated 613,000 internally displaced persons in the country,” she noted. “Serious human rights violations are being committed on both sides, and I am particularly concerned by continued reports of arbitrary detention, torture and impunity on the side of the military.”

The expert stressed that sustainable peace must address the root causes of the conflict which lie in the denial of fundamental human rights, and urged the authorities to ensure that accountability for human rights violations is included in ceasefire and peace agreements.

“In the Rakine State, the situation remains profoundly disturbing,” she said. In July I visited two camps for internally displaced persons in Sittwe and saw that conditions in both Buddhist camps and Rohingya Muslim camps require urgent attention. Restrictions on freedom of movement severely affect basic rights such as access to health services, livelihoods, water, food and sanitation. However, the long history of discrimination against the community that identifies themselves as Rohingya further compounds human rights violations.”

Ms. Lee welcomed steps by the Government to develop a comprehensive Action Plan to address the situation in the Rakhine State, while calling for the adoption of genuine steps to reduce tensions and promote reconciliation between the Buddhist and Muslim communities, and avoid their permanent segregation.

The Special Rapporteur welcomed the recent release of two political prisoners but called for the immediate and unconditional release of all remaining political prisoners and those arbitrarily detained, as a matter of urgency.

“Despite advances in media reforms, laws are still being used to criminalize and impede the activities of civil society and the media. These should be urgently amended or repealed,” she said, expressing concern at the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act and other laws which have increased the number of political prisoners.

“On my visit to Myanmar I saw first-hand that large-scale development projects are threatening the lives and livelihoods of the most vulnerable, and have led to land-grabbing, land confiscation and forced eviction,” the expert noted. “I urge the Government and the international community to proactively manage development to ensure a rights-based and people-centred form of sustainable development.”

“As we move towards the 2015 election, I urge greater commitment to ensure that the right to vote and the freedoms of expression, assembly and association are fully protected,” Ms. Lee said while calling for the review and amendment of all restrictive rules to ensure a campaign environment free from bias and ensure freely available information to all.

In closing, the Special Rapporteur noted the recent appointment of new members to the Myanmar National Human Rights Commissions and encouraged them to establish a credible, effective and independent national human rights institution which has the confidence of all including civil society.

(*) Check the full report to the UN General Assembly (A/69/398): http://www.ohchr.org/EN/newyork/Pages/HRreportstothe69thsessionGA.aspx

ENDS

Ms. Yanghee Lee (Republic of Korea) was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2014. 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, and serves as Vice-chair of the National Unification Advisory Council. Learn more, go to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/CountriesMandates/MM/Pages/SRMyanmar.aspx

UN Human Rights, country page – Myanmar: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/MMIndex.aspx

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Address by UN Resident Coordinator to Myanmar, Ms. Renata Lok-Dessallien, at the 69th UN Day commemorations in Nay Pyi Taw, 24 October 2014.

Excellency Dr. Sai Mauk Khan, Vice President of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar.
Excellency U Wunna Maung Lwin, Union Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Ministers and Snr. Government Officials,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Distinguished guests. Ladies and gentlemen.
My Fellow UN Colleagues,
Mingalar-bar! And a very warm welcome to you all. Today is the 69th anniversary of the founding of the United Nation. Each UN Day is an opportunity to reflect on the essence of what the UN is and why it was created.
The United Nations is a vast organization and inter-governmental body tasked with an immense range of mandates and missions – from containing the proliferation of nuclear arms to maternal and child health; from promoting justice and human rights for all, to the international norms governing everything from civil aviation travel to pharmaceuticals to food safety; for preserving cultural heritages to promoting empowerment and dignity and human rights for the poor, the vulnerable,the marginalized and the powerless, and much more. Behind all the various strands of UN endeavor lies the essence of our organization and why we were created and the pursuit of peace.
UN Peacekeeping is our most visible global peace flagship. Our Blue Helmets are recognized across the globe for their noble work. But they are the tip of the iceberg. Because peace is not merely about ceasefires and the prevention of armed conflict. It is much more. The UNESCO Constitution eloquently says, and I quote: “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the buttresses of peace must be constructed”. So, the UN’s pursuit of peace embraces a vast body of work. It includes, first and foremost, dialogue and the search for mutual understandings between member states and peoples; it includes the promotion of human rights and justice for all, it includes bringing people and nations together to collectively decide and define the future we want, our collective Sustainable Development Goals; it includes harmonization of standards, norms, practices; it includes disaster response and humanitarian aid in times of great suffering; it includes the promotion of unity in diversity and the recognition of diversity as a strength of the human family and much more. Peace is the golden thread that weaves through all the many and various, missions, initiatives and tasks entrusted to the UN.
Although the UN was created to keep and cultivate world peace, it was however never fully endowed with all the means to achieve this goal. Our founding members were bold enough to dream of a world free from the scourges of war, but they were not yet fully ready to entrust the UN with the full authority and resources to do the job. So the birth of the UN was an important a step toward the global common good, but it was a partial step.
This explains why the UN sometimes fails to fully live up to all our expectations. It has performed great services for humanity over its almost seven decades, but it has also left us disheartened at times. Let us not forget that the UN is still an experiment in collective, cooperative governance for the common global good. Let us hope that this experiment is allowed to succeed as our big challenges are global in nature.
Myanmar is very much a part of this great experiment for the global good, for world peace. It was this country that offered to us our only Asian UN Secretary General to date and our very first Secretary General from a developing country. U Thant served as UNSG for 10 years from 1961-1971. In performing his demanding responsibilities at the helm of the world body, he displayed not only his own personal characteristics, but also gave the world a glimpse of the beautiful qualities of this great country: courage, wisdom, perseverance, modesty, a profound understanding of human nature, and immense graciousness. He steered the international community through great difficulties the Congolese civil war, the Vietnam war, the Cuban missile crisis, and much more. He did this in a manner that captured our imagination, inspired our confidence and showed the world the capabilities and subtle characteristics of the East, and of Myanmar in particular.
Myanmar joined the United Nations in 1948, becoming our 58th member state. Since then, the country has signed or ratified a total of 40 UN Treaties and International Conventions. This is a significant reflection of Myanmar’s commitment to the values and principles of the United Nations. We salute the Government of the Union of Myanmar for this. This, also, is part of building the buttresses of peace.
Myanmar knows well that the pursuit of peace takes patience, understanding and perseverance. Its efforts throughout history have seen successes and setbacks. The current peace process is unsurpassed by all previous efforts. The country stands at an important juncture in its pursuit of peace and fundamental reforms. Myanmar knows well that the only real and lasting victories are peace victories, and not war victories. I applaud the courageous leadership of this country in its efforts to bring lasting peace and sustainable development to all the people of Myanmar. As the Myanmar saying goes, the mountain top shall ultimately be under one’s feet. (Taunggyi phawar ouk). Today, on UN Dy, the entire UN System solemnly renews its pledge to help the Government and the people of Myanmar secure the mountain under your feet.

Now let me read the special message of the UN Secretary General Mr. Ban Ki-Moon for UN Day 2014:
“The United Nations is needed more than ever at this time of multiple crises. Poverty, disease, terrorism, discrimination and climate change are exacting a heavy toll. Millions of people continue to suffer deplorable exploitation through bonded labour, human trafficking, sexual slavery or unsafe conditions in factories, fields and mines. The global economy remains an uneven playing field.
The founding of the United Nations was a solemn pledge to the world’s people to end such assaults on human dignity, and lead the way to a better future. There have been painful setbacks, and there is much work ahead to realize the Charter’s vision. But we can take heart from our achievements.
The UN Millennium Development Goals have inspired the most successful anti-poverty campaign ever. United Nations treaties addressing inequality, torture and racism have protected people, while other agreements have safeguarded the environment. UN peacekeepers have separated hostile forces, our mediators have settled disputes and our humanitarian workers have delivered life-saving aid.
At this critical moment, let us reaffirm our commitment to empowering the marginalized and vulnerable. On United Nations Day, I call on Governments and individuals to work in common cause for the common good”.
Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, The entire UN family joins me in extending our sincere gratitude to the Government of the Union of Myanmar for its support to the United Nations, and for its gracious commemoration of our UN Day each year. Next year we will commemorate our 70th birthday and we look forward to another special commemoration with you! Thank you – Kyay zu tin bar deh.

Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar to the 69th Session of the General Assembly

The report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar to the 69th Session of the General Assembly is now availableat the following link.
A-69-398 SR Myanmar Report to the GA 69th Session 2014.
The Special Rapporteur will be presenting her report to the General Assembly at the afternoon session on Tuesday 28th October 2014.

Discharge Ceremony Speech by the UN Resident Coordinator Mme. Renata Lok-Dessallien, Co-chair of the Country Taskforce on Monitoring and Reporting (CTFMR), Myanmar 25 September 2014

 

Excellency Minister Lt. General Wai Lwin,
Lt. General Tun Tun Naung,
Deputy Ministers,
Major General Than Soe, Vice Adjutant General, Office of the Adjutant General, Office of the Commander in Chief of Defence;
Brigadier General, Tauk Tun, Director, Directorate of Military Strength, Ministry of Defence
Senior Representatives of the Government of the Union of Myanmar,
Friends and colleagues from the Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting

Mingalarbar and a very good morning to you all. It gives me great pleasure to be here on this special occasion marking the discharge ceremony releasing 109 children and young adults from the Tatmadaw.  I offer my sincere congratulations to the Tatmadaw and also the young people and their families.
As you know, this is the seventh discharge under the Plan of Action that was signed between the Government of the Union of Myanmar and the Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting in June 2012. Less than two months ago, the Tatmadaw released 91 children and young adults in its 6th discharge. To date, a total of 472 children have been released under this agreement.
I would like to express my warm appreciation to the Tatmadaw and the Myanmar Government on the commitment you have shown in fulfilling your international obligations under the UN Security Council Resolution 1612 and the Plan of Action signed with the CTFMR. Through this Plan of Action, in close collaboration with the members of the CTFMR, The Tatmadaw has put in place important mechanisms to prevent children from being recruited and used in the army, and to identify those underage recruited persons to be discharged and reintegration with their families and communities.
In talking with some of the young people to be discharged today, I am aware of the payoff from the hard work undertaken by those of you here today – the Tatmadaw as well as the CTFMR.  I know that there are many young people and families who, because of the enhanced country-wide awareness campaign on preventing underage recruitment and the opportunity for release, came forward to self- identify or use hot lines to be identified for discharge.
Furthermore, the regular review of suspected minor cases, which has been institutionalised between the CTFMR and Tatmadaw most recently, has proven an effective way to identify and verify children in the Tatmadaw. The discharge today is a direct result of these consultations and accelerated efforts.  I congratulate you all for these concerted efforts and encouraging results. 
I would now like to say a few words to the young people that are being discharged today.
I want you to know that you are discharged today, not because you have done anything wrong. It is important that you understand that you are being discharged because you were recruited by the Army before you were 18 years old. The age of 18 marks the threshold between being a child and an adult according to international standards.  To be recruited when you are still under 18 years is against international standards. Your discharge today reflects the Tatmadaw and Government strong commitments to its international obligations under the overall umbrella of positive changes and reforms that are taking place in the country. 
It is solely for these reasons, that you are being discharged today.
Some of you may have served in the army for some time and the army has become a way of life.  I want to say that today marks the first step in a process of transition from your life in the Army to returning back to your family, your friends and your community: to school if you are school age and are thinking of going back to school or to learn a profession; earn an income and develop fullest potential.
We want you to know that the Country Task Force together with the Department of Social Welfare are here to support you in this process, to help you reintegrate and to reshape your pathway in life.
Finally, I would like to reiterate on behalf of the CTFMR, our strong commitment to continue with  our collective efforts and a continued partnership with the Tatmadaw, the Government, families, children and communities to work together to ensure a child free Tatmadaw in Myanmar. I thank the Tatmadaw and the government for its current strong resolve and commitment to this noble cause.
And I wish each one of you young people and families here today, the best of success for your new start in life, and a very bright future ahead.    Kyayzu tin ba de.

Myanmar Military speeds up release of children

YANGON, 25th September – The Myanmar Armed Forces (“Tatmadaw”) today released 109 children from the armed forces, demonstrating its continued commitment to professionalise its security forces, ensuring that they become and remain ‘child free’. The discharge, which was attended by Union Minister for Defence, Lieutenant General Wai Lwin, follows soon after the release of 91 children and young people in August 2014. To date a total of 472 children and young people have been discharged since the signing of an Action Plan in June 2012, to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children. Today’s release of 109 children is the largest of such discharges.

“The United Nations welcomes today’s release of a further 109 children and young people. We are witnessing an increasing number of children coming out of the Tatmadaw, indicating the accelerated efforts of the Government of Myanmar and the Tatmadaw to put an end to the harmful practice of recruiting and using children,” said Ms. Renata Lok-Dessallien, the United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar, and co-chair of the Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting on grave violations against children (CTFMR).

Since 2007, the Tatmadaw, as well as seven non-state armed groups, have been listed on the UN Secretary-General’s list of parties to conflict who recruit and use children. In response to this listing, the Government developed and signed an Action Plan with the CTFMR in June 2012, setting out measures to end and prevent the use and recruitment of children.

“Today’s discharge is a result of intensified discussions between the Government and the CTFMR on how to speed up efforts to make the Tatmadaw child free. We commend the progress achieved so far including the issuing of a new directive which seeks to prevent enrollment at battalion level, continued CTFMR access to military facilities, and the setting-up of billboards nationwide to raise awareness that the recruitment of children – those under the age of 18 years – is illegal,” said Mr. Bertrand Bainvel, UNICEF Representative to Myanmar and co-chair of the CTFMR.

The release comes ahead of the review of the Action Plan on Friday 26 September where the CTFMR and Government will take stock of progress made and identify remaining steps to end the recruitment and use of children by the Government armed forces. Among the primary issues that the CTFMR is looking for is the strengthening of the legal framework, the strict implementation of age verification procedures, and the reinforcement of accountability mechanisms to prevent further recruitment into the ranks of the Tatmadaw.

“Ending the recruitment and use of children in the armed forces is critical as Myanmar strives to strengthen the broader protection of its children and to guarantee their rights,” Mr. Bainvel concluded.


BACKGROUND

* All young people released were children under 18 at the time of the signing of the Joint Action Plan in June 2012.

In addition to the Tatmadaw, there are seven non-state armed groups listed by the UN Secretary-General as being “persistent perpetrators” in the recruitment and use of children in Myanmar. They are the:

1. Democratic Karen Benevolent Army (DKBA)
2. Kachin Independence Army (KIA)
3. Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA)
4. Karen National Liberation Army Peace Council
5. Karenni Army (KA)
6. Shan State Army South (SSA-S)
7. United Wa State Army (UWSA)

ABOUT THE UN COUNTRY TASKFORCE ON MONITORING AND REPORTING (CTFMR) ON GRAVE VIOLATIONS AGAINST CHILDREN

United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1612 mandates the UN to establish UN-led CTFMRs in countries where there is verified evidence that Grave Violations against children are being committed by parties to a conflict, either by armed forces and/or by armed groups. The CTFMR is tasked with establishing a Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (MRM) which documents, verifies and reports to the UNSC on Grave Violations against children.

The CTFMR is also mandated to provide a coordinated response to such grave violations. The CTFMR was established in Myanmar in 2007 and is co-Chaired by the UN Resident Coordinator and the UNICEF Representative in Yangon. The CTFMR in Myanmar includes relevant UN agencies (ILO, UNDP, UNFPA, UNHCR, UNICEF, UN OCHA, the UN RCO and WFP), Save the Children and World Vision.

HOTLINE
In November 2013, UNICEF supported the Myanmar Government to launch a nation-wide campaign to raise awareness on its population on its commitment to end use and recruitment of Children by Tatmadaw. As part of this campaign, and on behalf of CTFMR, UNICEF and World Vision are managing 2 hotlines (09-421166701 and 09-421166702) where anyone can alert and report suspected cases of children being recruited by the Tatmadaw.

For more information please contact:
Alison Rhodes, Chief, Advocacy, Partnerships and Communication, UNICEF Myanmar, Tel: (+95) 1 2305960-69 (Ext. 1446) arhodes@unicef.org
Ye Lwin Oo, Communication Officer, Advocacy, Partnerships and Communication, UNICEF Myanmar, 09 511 3295 (m), ylwinoo@unicef.org.

Press Release: Visit to Myanmar by Mr. Vijay Nambiar, United Nations Special Adviser to the Secretary-General

The Special Adviser to Secretary-General Mr. Vijay Nambiar visited Myanmar from 18 to 25 August in pursuance of his mandate. Undertaken ahead of the 69th session of the General Assembly, this was Mr. Nambiar’s eighth visit to the country during the past year.

The Special Adviser was received by President Thein Sein on 22 August and held discussions with senior officials including Foreign Minister U Wunna Maung Lwin, Senior Ministers in the President’s Office U Soe Thane and U Aung Min, Minister for Immigration and Population Affairs U Khin Yi and with Rakhine Chief Minister U Maung Maung Ohn. During his visit he also met with the Speaker of the Pyidaungsu Hluttaw Thura Shwe Mann and with Deputy Commander-in-Chief Vice Senior General Soe Win of the Tatmadaw and held consultations with members of political parties, ethnic armed groups, civil society, aid agencies, women and youth organizations as well as with diplomatic representatives. The Special Adviser had met with opposition leader Daw Aung Sang Suu Kyi during his earlier visit in July this year.

At the invitation of the Government, the Special Adviser participated as observer at a tripartite meeting of the UPWC, NCCT and representatives of various political parties in the discussion on the peace process including the finalisation of a nationwide ceasefire and framework of a political dialogue. This discussion held in Yangon on 18 August was the first of its kind held in the country. On behalf of the Secretary-General of the United Nations Mr. Nambiar conveyed a key message to all stakeholders to take a leap of faith and to set aside all narrow agendas in the common interest of peace and a unified Myanmar.

In addition to meetings in Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw, the Special Adviser visited Rakhine from 23 to 25 August to obtain a first-hand understanding of the latest situation and progress in relief efforts to assist the local communities including the population affected by the violence of the past months as well as actions being taken to address underlying causes. In his discussions with the authorities, Mr. Nambiar highlighted that translating various plans and commitments, including with regard to the urgent resumption of humanitarian assistance in Rakhine, would help address prevailing tensions and pave the way for sustainable solutions.

In his exchanges with various interlocutors, the Special Adviser touched on areas relating to the reform and democratization process, development, national reconciliation and the strengthening of harmony and cooperation between the communities and ethnic groups as well as emerging constitutional and other issues. He underlined the commitment of the United Nations in providing support to Myanmar during this critical period of the reform process in the country as well as its working constructively with all major national stakeholders.

Yangon, 25 August 2014

Ends

Statement of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar Yangon International Airport, Myanmar, 26 July 2014

Statement of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar Yangon International Airport, Myanmar, 26 July 2014

Introduction:

Good evening and thank you all for coming today. I have just concluded my first official ten- day mission as Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar. The objective of my visit was to assess the human rights situation in Myanmar through a better understanding of the realities on the ground. Accordingly, I sought to engage constructively with a broad spectrum of stakeholders, including Government officials, political, religious and community leaders, civil society representatives, as well as victims of human rights violations and members of the international community. I was pleased to have had a frank and open exchange of views on a range of matters related to my mandate. And I am grateful that many were so forthcoming in their views on sensitive issues.

Today, I would wish to highlight some preliminary observations from my mission and from additional background research. These issues, along with others, will be elaborated in more detail in the report I will present to the 69th session of the General Assembly later this year.

I would like to warmly thank the Government of Myanmar for its excellent cooperation and flexibility throughout my visit. I would particularly like to note with appreciation the efforts made to ensure my safety and that of my team, including in challenging circumstances. I would also like to thank the United Nations Country Team for giving their full support to this mission and for their invaluable assistance and advice in organizing my programme of meetings.

In Nay Pyi Taw, I met with the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Director –General of the ASEAN Affairs Department in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Attorney General, the Chief Justice and members of the Supreme Court, the Chair and members of the Constitutional Tribunal, the Minister of Defence, the Minister of Border Affairs, the Minister of Information, the Minister of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, the Minister of Labour, Employment and Social Security, the Minister of Immigration and Population, the Deputy Minister of Education, the Minister of Health and the Minister of Home Affairs. I also met with Ministers U Soe Thein and U Aung Min in the President’s Office, and the Legal, Political and Economic Advisers to the President. Additionally, I met with the Union Election Commission. I was grateful that many provided detailed information highlighting the sequence of events and the context in which certain policy decisions were made or actions were undertaken.

Also in Nay Pyi Taw, I met with the members of various parliamentary committees of the Amyotha and Pyithu Hluttaws and with the Parliamentary Constitutional Amendment Implementation Committee.

I also had a meeting with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

In Yangon, I met with members of the Interfaith Friendship Group of Myanmar and the Interfaith Dialogue Group, the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission, as well as with civil society actors working on a wide range of human rights issues, media professionals, lawyers and lawyers groups, members of the 88 Generation Student Group and released prisoners of conscience. I visited Insein Prison and met with six prisoners of conscience: Dr. Tun Aung, U Saw Gay They Mu, U Chit Ko, U Saw War Lay, U Htin Kyaw and U Nay Linn Dwe. I also held meetings with the United Nations Country Team, the Humanitarian Country Team and the diplomatic community.
During my mission, I also visited Rakhine State, Kachin State and Mandalay Division. I will elaborate on those visits shortly.

Preliminary observations:
Myanmar is undergoing an important transition and the sweeping and far-reaching reforms that we have seen in recent years have dramatically transformed the political, economic, social and human rights landscape. This was affirmed in my meetings with various Government officials in Nay Pyi Taw. In three years, Myanmar has come a long way since the establishment of the new Government. This must be recognized and applauded.

Yet, there are worrying signs of possible backtracking which if unchecked could undermine Myanmar’s efforts to become a responsible member of the international community that respects and protects human rights. As many have said, Myanmar therefore needs further encouragement and understanding in order to address these challenges and to continue on the path of reform. And I hope that my observations and recommendations will be taken in this light.

Shrinking of democratic space:
The opening up of democratic space for people to exercise their rights to freedom of opinion and expression and to freedom of assembly and association is widely acknowledged as one significant achievement in Myanmar’s continuing reform process. Yet, in recent months many of my interlocutors have seen the shrinking of that space for civil society and the media.
During my mission, I was informed of the use of the judicial system and the application of outdated legislation, such as the 1923 State Secrets Act or the 1950 Emergency Provisions Act, as well as other legislation such as the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act (now amended) to criminalize and impede the activities of civil society and the media. I learned of the continuing arrests and prosecution of people exercising their rights to peaceful assembly and association, particularly under Section 18 of the amended Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act. A disturbing example is the recent conviction of Chin activists who protested against the alleged rape of a woman by a military soldier in Chin State.

Civil society actors also face intimidation, threats and attacks and I was concerned by the alleged threats received by various activists who had publicly voiced opposition to a proposed package of draft bills related to religion, including a proposed interfaith marriage bill and a religious conversion bill.

Civil society actors campaigning on land and environmental issues, or trying to help communities affected by large-scale development projects, face particular challenges. They are routinely harassed and subject to arrest (including for violating the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act). There are also continuing reports of the excessive use of force by the police and the authorities in breaking up protests. During my mission, I met with one activist who had been arrested multiple times and was under trial in multiple township courts for protesting against land grabbing and forced evictions. He informed me that he would continue to protest, regardless of the personal consequences, so as to raise awareness amongst local communities and to ensure that the authorities “listened to what we have to say”.

These patterns not only undermine the work of civil society, but also impose a climate of fear and intimidation to society at large. The Government should create a safe and enabling environment for civil society, given their central role in democratisation, national reconciliation, development and the promotion and protection of human rights. Thus, any administrative and legislative provisions that impede their legitimate and peaceful activities should be reviewed and abolished. Further, specific protections measures should be put in place to allow civil society actors to carry out their work safely and without fear of reprisals. Complaints of violations should be investigated and properly brought to justice.

With respect to the media, I arrived in Myanmar shortly after the sentencing of four journalists and an editor of Unity Journal to ten years’ imprisonment with hard labour under the 1923 State Secrets Act, and charges were brought under Section 18 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act against 50 journalists who had staged a silent protest against the verdict. I also received information of other arrests of journalists who had reported on issues deemed too sensitive or critical of those in power, such as Government corruption. Additionally, I was told of the threats and intimidation faced by journalists, including most recently in trying to report on the recent violent incidents in Mandalay. Many spoke to me of a climate of uncertainty, intimidation and fear of arrest resulting in a form of self-censorship of the media.

The enjoyment of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of association and peaceful assembly are essential ingredients for Myanmar’s democracy and for debating and resolving political issues, particularly in the run-up to the 2015 elections. Electoral periods
are important moments in the life of a nation with the potential to consolidate and strengthen democratic principles and practices. The mere fact that elections are held is not an adequate indicator of democracy. The process leading up to the election is a crucial component of a democratic society. Thus, there should be strict and clear safeguards to prevent undue interference in public freedoms, in particular the rights to freedom of opinion and expression and the freedom of peaceful assembly and association. In effect, genuine elections cannot be achieved if these rights are curtailed.

Prisoners of conscience:
I commend the 15 prisoner amnesties granted since the establishment of Myanmar’s new Government. And I note that the most recent presidential pardon of 30 December 2013 (which released more than 41 prisoners) included those convicted under various laws, such as the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Act, the Unlawful Associations Act, sections 122, 124 (a) and 505 of the Penal Code, and the Emergency Provisions Act of 1950.
However, I believe that there are several remaining prisoners of conscience who did not benefit from these amnesties or who were recently arrested (as I described earlier). The information I received from civil society sources as well as my interviews with several prisoners in Insein Prison, Sittwe Prison, Bhamo Prison and Myitkina Prison confirmed that this issue has not been resolved. I raised these cases in my meetings in Nay Pyi Taw and called for their review and release as a matter of priority.

In this respect, I was pleased to hear that the prisoner review committee would continue to function and would likely hold regular monthly meetings. I encourage the Government to continue working with this important body in order to release all remaining prisoners of conscience and to fulfil President Thein Sein’s pledge. And I also reiterate my predecessor’s call for this body to be formally established as a standing institution with a mandate to review continuing detentions that may be politically motivated and to consider questions related to the rehabilitation of released prisoners.

Development and economic, social and cultural rights:
I was encouraged by the priority attention given to education and health and the efforts made to improve Myanmar’s education and health systems as a whole. I was also encouraged to hear of significant increases in public spending on these sectors though note that this is still a very small portion of the total national budget.

My meetings with both Government and civil society actors confirmed my predecessor’s view that land rights issues, in particular land grabbing and confiscations, as well as forced evictions are and will remain one of the major challenges facing Myanmar. And I note that the majority of complaints received by the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission related to land rights and that various parliamentary commissions have been established to address this issue.

These are complex issues requiring reforms to the legislative and institutional framework governing land use and management, the management and sharing of resources, as well as land tenure. A change in the response to public protests on land issues and the handling of complaints received by various institutions and bodies is also needed. While I will elaborate upon these issues in my report to the General Assembly, I will state generally that priority attention should be given to these issues in accordance with human rights principles and standards. This requires that the principles of equality and non-discrimination, participation, protection, transparency and accountability, including access to appropriate remedy, are fully taken into account.

I was also struck by the information I received regarding the impact of large-scale development projects, particularly on vulnerable groups, such as the rural poor, displaced persons and returning asylum-seekers, ethnic communities and women. In this regard, I believe that it is essential to ensure that environmental and social impact assessments are undertaken and recommendations implemented consistently, that relevant information about development projects be made widely available and accessible, and that concerned communities are able to participate actively, freely and meaningfully in the assessment and analysis, design and planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of such projects.
The coming years present an opportunity for the Government to proactively manage development and investment processes so as to ensure a rights-based and people-centred form of sustainable development, inclusive growth, poverty reduction and equitable resource-sharing. I believe that Myanmar has started to embark on this path but further reforms to the relevant legislative, institutional and administrative frameworks, as well as a change in mindset and behaviour, is required.

Legislative reform and the rule of law
A recurring and cross-cutting concern mentioned in many of my discussions on a broad range of issues is the need to strengthen the rule of law in Myanmar. This is the foundation for any functioning democracy and underpins the entire process of reform. Thus, it should continue to be given priority attention by the Government.
Central to this is the continuing review and reform of legislation, particularly outdated laws that do not reflect current realities and those deemed to be inconsistent with international human rights standards, as well as the adoption of new laws. While I was encouraged by the scope and pace of the legislative reform process, I heard many concerns regarding the lack of consultation on draft laws, with some laws drafted in secret, published at a late stage with little time for comments to be provided or with unclear or no information on where comments should be submitted. In raising these issues consistently during my mission, I came away with the impression that greater coordination, priority-setting, transparency, consistency and clarity in the process by which laws are reviewed, consulted and drafted is vitally needed. Clear timelines should be given to enable broad consultation and proper consideration of draft laws, including by civil society and international organizations. Consultation should be meaningful and not merely superficial, with comments properly taken into account and concerns addressed. Additionally, more efforts should be made to raise awareness of new laws amongst the general public, beyond their publication in newspapers and journals.

Further, while legislative reform is an organic process, shaped and defined by changing realities, it should ultimately consolidate and further democratic transition and respect for human rights. I am therefore concerned by the legislative package on the protection of race and religion, which includes four draft bills on interfaith marriage, religious conversion polygamy and population control. I have spoken out publicly on this issue and have raised concerns that these bills are incompatible with international human rights standards, in particular the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Myanmar is party. I add my voice to those who have called for the package to be withdrawn.

Women’s rights and gender equality
During my visit, I had the opportunity to meet and discuss with civil society organizations and activists working on women’s rights issues in Myanmar. Yet, it seemed to me that women’s voices and women’s roles are seemingly lacking on the public radar: women are severely underrepresented in Government and Parliament, as well as in the formal peace process, and there does not seem to be much public awareness and understanding of the important roles women could and should play in the reforms process – as both agents and beneficiaries of change. As party to CEDAW, I believe that Myanmar should do more to promote women’s participation in all areas of public and political life.

Rakhine State
During my mission, I had the opportunity to visit Sittwe and Maungdaw and I wish to thank the State Government for its cooperation and logistical facilitation. In Sittwe, I met with the Chief Minister and members of the State Government, members of the Rakhine State Emergency Coordination Centre, representatives of the Rakhine Buddhist community and representatives of international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) and United Nations agencies. I also visited Shwe Say Ti Monastery. In and around Sittwe, I visited Set Yone Su and Baw Du Par Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps, Ohn Yay Paw Village and Aung Mingala. I also visited Sittwe Prison and met with U Kyaw Hla Aung, U Than Shwe, U Kyaw Myint and three Muslim male prisoners. In Maungdaw, I met with four Muslim women who were being held under charges of arson in the Maungdaw police station detention centre.
I listened carefully to the views expressed by both communities in order to better understand their different perspectives and grievances. I recognize that Rakhine State is one of the poorest in Myanmar and for many years, has suffered from neglect and underdevelopment. I visited Ohn Yay Paw Village and saw a glimpse of how some in the Rakhine Buddhist community lived – with no toilets, no electricity and with a minimum of basic services. I was pleased to hear that the United Nations was cooperating with the Rakhine State Government to provide development assistance and I would encourage similar support and cooperation in other areas of Rakhine State.

In visiting the IDPs in and around Sittwe during the rainy season, I gained first-hand impressions of the difficult conditions in which men, women and children of both communities live. The situation is deplorable. Many have remained in the camps for two years and I do not believe that there is adequate access to basic services. In Set Yone Su (Rakhine Buddhist) camp, I was told that while children attended primary school in the camp, older children had to make their own travel arrangements to attend the middle school some distance away from the camp. A number of the IDPs also highlighted the lack of access to livelihoods, with women selling craft work and men performing day labour in order to earn an income.
Yet, it is undeniable that the situation is worse in the Baw Du Par camp I visited, given the sheer number of IDPs in the camp – around 10,000, the comparatively fewer latrines per person than in the Set Yone Su camp (around 40 persons to one latrine by my count), and the lack of a health clinic or adequate access to health services (particularly given the departure of certain INGOs providing crucial health services). Restrictions on the freedom of movement have a severe impact on basic rights, including access to livelihoods, food, water and sanitation, health services and education. One young woman told me that she had passed her matriculation exams and wished to go to university. Yet, she could not physically leave the camp in order to pick up the university application forms. In Aung Mingala, the only Muslim quarter in Sittwe, I was also told that the residents were only allowed to leave the camp twice a week to go to the market. Students were prohibited from attending Sittwe University and were told that they could only pursue distance learning if they wished. Many merchants wished to return to their shops in order to reopen their businesses.
The health situation in the Muslim IDP camps is of particular concern. With the departure of INGOs providing critical health services and the operation of humanitarian organizations not yet at full capacity after the attacks in Sittwe in March, health provision still falls far short of needs. While the local health authorities have deployed additional medical professionals and provided mobile clinics, I have received disturbing reports of people dying in camps due to the lack of access to emergency medical assistance and due to preventable, chronic or pregnancy-related conditions. There are frequent daily reports of illnesses, yet there is now limited access and limited capacity by INGOs and the United Nations to provide the necessary services, undertake the necessary monitoring of the situation, and collect the necessary data.

The operational environment for INGOs and the United Nations remains difficult with continuing reports of threats, intimidation and attacks against staff. At the same time, representatives of the Rakhine Buddhist community spoke often of the perceived bias and discrimination in the assistance provided over decades and currently.

In listening to all views from both communities, I am concerned about the prevalence of inaccurate rumours and false information about the conditions of camps, the quality of assistance provided and the perceived intentions and behaviours of members of different communities, which subsequently become accepted as reality. More must be done to stop misinformation which only serves to heighten tensions and hostility and to increase the sense of discriminatory treatment. The conditions of both camps and the situation of both communities must be accurately reflected and seen for what they are.

I understand the sense of grievance and perceived discrimination by the Rakhine Buddhist community. And I do believe that their concerns should be taken into account when trying to address the underlying causes of the intercommunal violence. We need to call a spade a spade.

By virtue of their legal status (or lack of), the Muslim community has faced and continue to face systematic discrimination, which include restrictions in the freedom of movement, restrictions in access to land, food, water, education and health care, and restrictions on marriages and birth registration. Since the 1993 report of the first Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, the various forms of human rights violations faced by the Muslim community has been regularly documented by successive Special Rapporteurs. These include enforced disappearances, torture, forced labour and forced displacements, as well as rape and other forms of sexual violence.

In addition, I have received continuing allegations of violations against the Muslim community, including arbitrary arrests, torture and ill-treatment in detention, death in detention, the denial of due process and fair trial rights and rape and sexual violence. I believe these allegations are serious and merit investigation, with perpetrators held to account.

I also was provided information about the status of the three INGO national staff who were arrested in connection with the 2012 violence and who remain in detention. I believe that they have been denied fair trial and due process rights and were arrested under spurious charges. I call for their immediate release.

In my discussions on possible solutions with the Rakhine State Government, I was provided a brief overview of the Rakhine State Action Plan but was not able to actually study the Plan myself. I noted with concern, however, that the Government’s plan for long-term peaceful coexistence may likely result in a permanent segregation of the two communities. As an immediate priority, more must be done to reduce tensions and hostility, and promote reconciliation between the two communities.

Issues around terminology and citizenship are particularly sensitive. I was repeatedly told not to use the term ‘Rohingya’ as this was not recognized by the Government. Yet, as a human rights independent expert, I am guided by international human rights law. In this regard, the rights of minorities to self-identify on the basis of their national, ethnic, religious and linguistic characteristics is related to the obligations of States to ensure non-discrimination against individuals and groups, which is a central principle of international human rights law. I also note that various human rights treaty bodies and intergovernmental bodies, including the Committee on the Rights of the Child, which I chaired for four years and of which I was a member for ten years, the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly use the term ‘Rohingya’.

In my discussions on the question of citizenship for the Muslim community, I was repeatedly told that the rule of law should be respected; in this regard, strong opposition was voiced by many against the review and reform of the 1982 Citizenship Law. Yet, laws by nature are forever evolving. As the reforms process in Myanmar has demonstrated, they can be and should be amended whenever there are deficiencies and are not in line with international standards. The 1982 Citizenship Law should therefore not be an exception.

Kachin State
I also visited Kachin State – Myitkyina and Bhamo – and I wish to thank the State Government for its cooperation and logistical facilitation. In Myitkina, I met with the Chief minister and members of the State Government, as well as representatives of civil society organizations. I also visited Waimaw IDP camp and Myitkina prison where I met with U Brang Yung. In Bhamo, I met with the District Administrator and members of the District Administration. I also met with Kachin and Shan civil society organizations and with organizations working on women’s issues. Additionally, I visited the AD 2000, Robert Church and Shwe Kyi Nar IDP camps. I also visited Bhamo Prison where I met with U Mali Tan.
It has been three years since the resumption of conflict in Kachin and Northern Shan States and many IDPs have lived for years in camps that were only meant to be temporary. Many of the IDPs I spoke with highlighted the fervent desire for peace so that they could simply return to their homes. Yet, there was a general fear for their safety and security upon return, as well as uncertainty over what they would return to – with homes and farmland possibly destroyed or riddled with mines. Some noted the lack of access to livelihoods; in one camp, the majority of the IDPs were entirely dependent on amber polishing and the production of amber jewellery as the only means of income. The youth do not have any options for employment or livelihoods and many are turning to drugs.
While there has been progress in the peace negotiations, with another round of talks resuming this weekend in Laiza, almost all with whom I spoke were unaware of developments and had neither been informed nor consulted. Greater efforts must be made, therefore, to inform, involve and consult displaced populations or local communities. Greater efforts must also be made to inform and consult IDPs about the possibility of return. Any initiative to return IDPs to their places of origin has to be done with the free, prior and informed consent of those concerned, and also involve consultation with humanitarian actors including the United Nations.

Despite assurances by the Chief Minister of improved international humanitarian access to non-government controlled areas (where roughly half of the 100,000 displaced by the conflict are living in camps or with host families), in reality, access remains limited and there are concerns regarding the access of people in these areas to adequate food, water and sanitation, health care and education. The humanitarian situation thus has clear human rights dimensions – with consequent impact on basic rights. It is imperative therefore that the United Nations and international humanitarian actors be provided with more regular and systematic access to areas outside government control.

During my visit, I received information about human rights violations committed by both the Kachin Independence Army and the Tatmadaw, including attacks against civilian populations, sexual violence, the recruitment of child soldiers, as well as forced labour. These allegations are serious and must be addressed as a matter of priority, with perpetrators taken to account. All parties to the conflict must do more to ensure respect for international human rights and humanitarian law.

Also during my visit, I met with two prisoners who had been convicted under the Explosive Substances Act and the Unlawful Associations Act (for alleged ties to the Kachin Independence Army). Both allege that they had been interrogated continuously for several days and subjected to torture and ill-treatment. One individual noted that he had been forced to commit homosexual acts with another male prisoner. Both also allege that photographic evidence showing them handling explosives had been fabricated. These cases are similar to information I have received from civil society sources regarding the arbitrary arrest and torture during interrogation by the military of Kachin men accused of belonging to the Kachin Independence Army. When raising these issues in Nay Pyi Taw, I was told unequivocally that the Ministry of Defence was not aware of any such cases and that it did not have any information on the use of torture or ill-treatment during interrogation. I must state, however, that the disturbingly similar pattern of abuse in the cases I have received merits investigation by the Government. The allegations are serious and should be taken up accordingly.

Mandalay
In Mandalay, I visited the sites where the murders of two men were committed and where incidents of violence took place. I met with the Chief Minister and members of his cabinet, the police chief and the Division Administrator. I also met with members of a non-governmental Peacemaking Committee. I was given detailed information on the actions taken by the Government to quell the violence, including outreach to religious leaders, and on the numbers of people arrested in connection with the murders and with the destruction of parts of a Muslim cemetery. In contrast, the information I received from civil society actors alleged state inaction in stopping the violence and highlighted the lack of transparency in the investigations conducted and in the arrests made. Additionally, many with whom I spoke suggested possible criminal and organized instigators of violence – deliberately timed to destabilize or undermine political movements or reforms. I was also given similar information regarding the events in Meiktila last year, particularly with how the violence was instigated and progressed, and how the authorities responded. I am, however, not in a position to verify these allegations.

In my meetings with various interfaith groups and civil society actors, Myanmar’s history of religious pluralism and tolerance was repeatedly highlighted. Yet the violence in Mandalay and previously in other parts of the country demonstrate that amicable relations and harmony between different religious and ethnic communities can never be taken for granted. In fact, the recurring outbreak of intercommunal violence reveals deep divisions and a growing polarization between Muslim and Buddhist communities. In this regard, I am concerned by the spread of hate speech and incitement to violence, discrimination and hostility in the media and on the Internet, which have fuelled and triggered further violence. I understand that the Government is making efforts in working with religious and community leaders, as well as the media and civil society, but more needs to be done to counter this negative trend. A comprehensive series of measures is needed as a priority; this should include the adoption of specific legislation to prohibit and combat hate speech – one that is compliant with international human rights standards, carefully construed and applied by the judiciary so as not to excessively limit the freedom of expression. Such legislation should be accompanied by a set of policy measures to address the root causes and underlying grievances, foster dialogue and bring about a change in mindsets and discourse. This should include education and awareness-raising measures, as well as intercommunal and interfaith dialogue and cooperation initiatives. Political leaders and public officials have a special responsibility and in this regard, I welcome President Thein Sein’s clear and public call against hate speech and incitement earlier this month. Others in positions of influence should also clearly speak out against hate speech.

Finally, I would encourage the Government of Myanmar to fully utilize and implement the Rabat Plan of Action on the prohibition of advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence. The Plan of Action sets out a series of measures to prevent and respond to incidents of incitement to hatred while upholding the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of religion or belief and other freedoms.

Conclusion
These are some of my preliminary observations from my first official mission to Myanmar as Special Rapporteur. As noted previously, I will elaborate upon these and other issues in greater detail in my forthcoming report to the General Assembly. Allow me to note that I am very much guided by the work of my predecessor and in this respect, I am of the view that many of his priorities and concerns remain valid and will be carried forward during my tenure.
Upon my appointment as Special Rapporteur last month, I stated that it was my intention to discharge my duties and responsibilities under this mandate in an objective and impartial manner. It is indeed my wish to be able to contribute to the efforts Myanmar has undertaken in its path towards democratization, national reconciliation and development. As Special Rapporteur, I look forward to working closely with the Government and the people of Myanmar, in a spirit of cooperation and dialogue, towards the promotion and protection of human rights in the country.
Thank you.

New UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar launches her first official country visit

GENEVA (14 July 2014) – The new United Nations Special Rapporteur on
Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, will undertake her first official visit to the
country from 17 to 26 July 2014 to gather first-hand information on the
current human rights situation in Myanmar.

The new independent expert appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to
monitor, report and advise on the situation of human rights in Myanmar will
visit Nay Pyi Taw, Yangon, Rakhine and Kachin states. Ms. Lee also intends
to visit Mandalay following the recent outbreak of violence there.

The Special Rapporteur, who visits the country at the invitation of the
Government, looks forward to engaging constructively with a broad spectrum
of stakeholders, including Government officials, political, religious and
community leaders, civil society representatives, as well as victims of
human rights violations and members of the international community during
her visit.

“A frank and open exchange of views will be vital to help me better
understand the realities on the ground,” Ms. Lee said. “And it is my
intention, as Special Rapporteur, to work closely with the Government and
people of Myanmar, towards the promotion and protection of human rights in
the country.”

The new Special Rapporteur 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, and serves as
Vice-chair of the National Unification Advisory Council.

The human rights expert will submit her first report following the country
visit. It will be presented to the 69th session of the UN General Assembly
in October.

A press conference will be held at the end of the Special Rapporteur’s
visit. Details on time and venue will be announced during the course of the
visit.

ENDS

Ms. Yanghee Lee (Republic of Korea) was appointed by the United Nations
Human Rights Council in June 2014, succeeding Mr. Tomás Ojea Quintana, who
completed his six-year term on the mandate in May 2014. As Special
Rapporteur, Ms. Lee is independent from any government or organization and
serves in her individual capacity. Learn more, go to:

http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/CountriesMandates/MM/Pages/SRMyanmar.aspx

UN Human Rights, country page – Myanmar:

http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/MMIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact:
In Geneva: Ms. Azwa Petra, Human Rights Officer (+41 22 928 9103 /
apetra@ohchr.org)
In Yangon (during the mission, 16 July p.m. to 26 July a.m.): U Aye Win,
National Information Officer (+95 94 210 60343 / wina@un.org)
In Bangkok (27-28 July): Ms. Ann Syauta, Human Rights Officer (+66 98 969
7672 / syauta@un.org)

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ASSISTANT SECRETARY-GENERAL AND DEPUTY EMERGENCY RELIEF COORDINATOR, KYUNG-WHA KANG

New York  17 June 2014

As delivered

I am pleased to have this opportunity to brief you on my trip last week to Myanmar to take stock of the humanitarian challenges there. This trip coincided with the second anniversary of the terrible inter-communal violence in Rakhine State and the third anniversary of the conflict in Kachin State.

In both Rakhine and Kachin, humanitarian access is an issue, but for very different reasons. In Kachin, half of the 100,000 or so people displaced by war are living in camps beyond Government control, and where international access is limited to irregular cross-line humanitarian missions.

In Rakhine, I witnessed a level of human suffering in IDP camps that I have personally never seen before, with men, women, and children living in appalling conditions with severe restrictions on their freedom of movement, both in camps and isolated villages. Many people have wholly inadequate access to basic services including health, education, water and sanitation.

Two years into the crisis in Rakhine, hundreds of thousands of people continue to rely on humanitarian aid because they cannot rebuild their lives and livelihoods. Farmers can’t go to their fields, fishermen can’t go to the sea, and traders can’t go to the markets.

Humanitarian workers in Rakhine are carrying out their work under extremely difficult circumstances and I was humbled by their commitment to stay and deliver. However, unless the Myanmar authorities ensure that the perpetrators of the attacks on UN and NGO premises in late March are brought to justice, the safety and security of our staff will continue to be at risk.

The context in Kachin is very different. I was only able to visit an IDP camp in the Government-controlled area, but I met local NGO staff who are central to humanitarian work in areas held by the Kachin Independence Army. Access by international humanitarian organizations is improving through cross-line missions but aid agencies need regular, predictable, and sustained access to all IDPs.

In the capital Nay Pyi Taw, I met with the Vice President, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Social Welfare, Relief, and Resettlement, and the Deputy Minister of Border Affairs and I reiterated the UN’s commitment to support the Government’s efforts to meet humanitarian needs and reminded them of their responsibility to bring the perpetrators of the March attacks to justice.

With regular earthquakes, floods, and cyclones, Myanmar is one of Asia’s most disaster-prone countries and I thanked the authorities for their strong engagement in working with humanitarian organizations in improving disaster preparedness and response.

The priority for both the Government and the international community must be to improve the lives of the most vulnerable people in the country, regardless of ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender or class.

With those very brief introductory remarks, I’m ready to take your questions now.

UN DEPUTY HUMANITARIAN CHIEF CALLS FOR GREATER HUMANITARIAN ACCESS TO PEOPLE AFFECTED BY CONFLICT AND INTER-COMMUNAL VIOLENCE IN MYANMAR

(Yangon/New York, 13 June 2014): Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, Kyung-wha Kang, today concluded her field missions to Rakhine and Kachin States, stressing the need for improved access to people in need of humanitarian assistance in Myanmar.

“During my trip, I witnessed the serious challenges that humanitarian workers face in delivering aid to the estimated 421,000 people in urgent need of life-saving assistance in Myanmar,” said Ms. Kang. “Despite substantial progress in Myanmar’s reform agenda over the past years, humanitarian conditions have deteriorated in some areas where people are in greatest need, but where access continues to pose a challenge.”

In Rakhine State, Ms. Kang travelled with the Deputy Minister of Border Affairs to Sittwe and Pauktaw to visit IDP camps and host communities affected by inter-communal violence. She met with local authorities, community leaders, and humanitarian workers to evaluate progress in resuming and scaling up the humanitarian response following the 26-27 March attacks on UN and NGO premises in Sittwe. Despite the strong support of the Union authorities in this regard, the current capacity of the humanitarian community in Rakhine is still less than 60 per cent of previous levels.

“The safety and security of our staff, both national and international, must be guaranteed in order for the UN and NGOs to continue to support the Myanmar Government in responding to the vast humanitarian and development needs of all the people in Rakhine State,” said ASG Kang.

Despite considerable humanitarian efforts, many people in isolated villages and remote IDP camps continue to live in dire conditions, coupled with severe restrictions on their freedom of movement. “The situation that I witnessed in Nget Chaung IDP camp was appalling, with wholly inadequate access to basic services including health, education, water and sanitation,” said the ASG.

Ms. Kang also visited IDP camps in Kachin State, where communities recently marked the third anniversary of the conflict between the Kachin Independence Army and the Myanmar Army, which has displaced more than 100,000 people. About half of these internally displaced people, including women and children, are hosted in camps in areas beyond Government control, where access by international organizations is limited to irregular cross-line humanitarian missions.

“Local NGOs have been, and will continue to be, central to the humanitarian response in Kachin, but more regular, predictable, and sustained access by international organizations is needed to reach the required levels of assistance in all IDP areas,” stressed ASG Kang. She noted that renewed fighting over the past months in southern Kachin and northern Shan State led to the displacement of many people for the second, third, or fourth time. “It is essential that all parties ensure the protection of civilians and the full respect of international humanitarian law, while looking ahead in the long-term to develop durable solutions for displaced people and host communities.”

During her visit, Ms. Kang held a series of meetings with Union and State-level officials, including the Vice President, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Social Welfare, Relief, and Resettlement, the Deputy Minister of Border Affairs, the Chief Minister of Rakhine, and the Chief Minister of Kachin. Ms. Kang reiterated the UN’s continued commitment to support the Government in responding to humanitarian needs in Myanmar and reminded the authorities of their responsibility to ensure that justice is rendered and that the perpetrators of the 26-27 March attacks are brought to justice.

The 2014 Humanitarian Response Plan for Myanmar has received 39 per cent of the US $192 million required. $66 million would provide humanitarian assistance to 111,000 people across Kachin and northern Shan States, while $126 million would provide humanitarian assistance to 310,000 people across Rakhine State.

_____________________________________________
UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – Myanmar
No. 5 Kanbawza Street
Shwe Taung Kyar (2) Ward / Bahan Township
Yangon, Myanmar