Gross human rights violations in Myanmar continue to jeopardize lives and “relentlessly impact” its neighbors, threatening regional peace and security, a United Nations special rapporteur said Thursday.
The human rights situation in Myanmar has created “serious… issues for South and Southeast Asia,” including 1.5 million refugees who have fled and are now residing in countries around the region.
It has also contributed to the trafficking and smuggling of people, and the drug trade inside and outside the region.
UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee gave the findings in her end-of-mission press conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
“The continuing gross violations of human rights in Myanmar jeopardize the lives of people around that country and relentlessly impact Myanmar’s neighbors in such a way that could threaten South and Southeast Asian peace and security,” she said.
Lee also highlighted worsening human rights violations and abuses against the civilian population amid conflict between the Tatmadaw (armed forces) and Rakhine insurgent group the Arakan Army, adding that an ongoing government internet shutdown in northern Rakhine and southern Chin states also impeded residents’ access to humanitarian aid amid flooding and displacement.
Due to the conflict, 55,000 people have been displaced across the Chin and Rakhine states since January, and Lee said three villages were burned down by the Tatmadaw in Rakhine in the past two weeks.
Large-scale social media campaigns were also being waged to manipulate public opinion, causing fear among citizens over hate speech and misinformation targeting religious and ethnic minorities and the LGBTI community.
“These campaigns are getting ever more sophisticated and are being coordinated and strategic in their action, using coded language to get around content restrictions to continue to spread hateful messages,” Lee said.
She added that social media companies were taking inadequate action.
She also raised concerns about forced land evictions — particularly in the Bago region — leading to “crippling legal proceedings”.
Lee said she was “distressed” to hear reports of the trafficking of women and girls, some as young as nine years old, for sex work.
“Women and girls from Shan, Kachin, Lahu, Pa-o and other ethnic minority communities are being taken by brokers to China where they are kept as ‘brides’ and, shockingly, raped, impregnated and forced to give birth,” she said.
The rapporteur highlighted the story of a trafficked woman who was moved around various locations in China for 20 years and gave birth to 18 children by different men — who were all taken from her immediately after birth — before she was provided with assistance to return home.
“It terrifies me to think of how many other women may be in similar situations, treated as less than human, held captive for decades, and uncontactable by their families,” Lee said.
She emphasized that there was “no peace without justice” and pressed the need for Myanmar’s government to provide redress to citizens for damage done over the decades.
“The first step for this to happen is for the government and the military to reverse its stance of denial, and to recognize what the people of Myanmar have suffered at their hands,” she said.
She urged the 10 states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to play a role in persuading the government to bring about criminal justice.
The rapporteur was denied entry into Myanmar, so conducted her research in Thailand and Malaysia, which are both home to many refugees from the country.
The Myanmar government “appears to be increasing pressure and engaging governments of neighboring countries in efforts to violate rights and avoid scrutiny,” Lee said.
She added that she had to abort part of her visit due to “interference,” which “would not be tolerated”.