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UN expert urges international community to continue to address human rights challenges in Myanmar

28 October 2016 – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, called upon the international community today to not forget about ongoing human rights challenges in the country, including continued detention of political prisoners, the constitutional guarantee of 25 per cent of seats in Parliament to the military, and increasing unrest and discrimination against Muslim communities.

In a briefing to the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly, which handles social and humanitarian affairs as well as human rights issues, she praised recent progress but urged stakeholders to remember that much remains to be done.

"The international community has a responsibility to continue to encourage the changes needed to ensure that everyone in Myanmar can access their fundamental human rights – regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity, socio-economic status or location," Ms. Lee said.

Civilians and children continue to suffer amid the escalating conflict in Shan, Kachin and Kayin states, and humanitarian access to these locations is more difficult than it has been in recent years. Meanwhile, in Rakhine state, the continued discrimination against the Rohingya and other Muslim communities has affected peoples' fundamental rights. She pressed for the removal of all discriminatory orders, policies, and practices, she noted.

The expert expressed alarm over other developments in Rakhine state, including the murder of nine police officers on 9 October. The resulting security operations led to multiple allegations of serious human rights violations, including torture and ill-treatment during interrogations, summary executions, arbitrary arrest and the destruction of mosques and houses in Muslim villages.

Some 3,000 people from the Rakhine community and up to 12,000 Muslims have fled their homes.

"I am also extremely concerned that humanitarian programmes providing health, food, education, and nutrition assistance have been suspended and access by humanitarian and other groups has not be granted," Ms. Lee remarked.

She welcomed the release of 200 prisoners by the new government, but expressed concern for the remaining 200 still in detention. Both Ms. Lee and her predecessors have advocated for legal reform, but many people continue to be arrested under outdated laws, even under the new Government.

She also pointed to Myanmar's constitution, for which 25 per cent of seats in Parliament and three key ministerial posts are reserved for the military: "Until there is constitutional reform, there is still much to be done for Myanmar to evolve from having a military government to a civilian one," she said.

"Peace will be a pre-requisite for the long-term progress of Myanmar," she added, referring to the talks between the Government and armed groups at the Panglong Conference which was held in August of this year. "Unfortunately, on the ground, peace still feels remote and communities still fear attacks, abductions, and abuses."

Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.

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