Myanmar monk's U.N. whore rant 'could hurt Buddhism'

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 21, 2015 3:32 AM

By Thin Lei Win and Andrew R.C. Marshall

BANGKOK (Reuters) - A Myanmar Buddhist monk who called a U.N. human rights envoy a "whore" has violated his monastic code and could damage his religion, another prominent monk said on Tuesday, but he is unlikely to face censure.

Wirathu denounced Yanghee Lee, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, in a speech in Yangon on Friday, after she questioned draft laws that critics say discriminate against women and non-Buddhists.

"Just because you hold a position in the United Nations doesn't make you an honorable woman. In our country, you are just a whore," Wirathu told a cheering crowd of several hundred people in Yangon on Friday.

The monk also accused Lee of bias towards Rohingya Muslims, a stateless minority in the western Myanmar state of Rakhine.

"You can offer your arse to the kalars if you so wish but you are not selling off our Rakhine State," he said. Kalars is a derogatory word for people of South Asian descent.

His speech was condemned by Thawbita, a leading member of the progressive Saffron Revolution Buddhist Monks Network in Mandalay, where Wirathu is also based.

"The words used that day are very sad and disappointing. It is an act that could hurt Buddhism very badly," Thawbita told Reuters.

The network was formed by monks who helped lead the 2007 Saffron Revolution, a nationwide democracy uprising brutally crushed by the military. It is influential among educated Buddhists, but has little power.

A senior official at the Ministry of Religious Affairs told Reuters there were no plans to act against Wirathu.

"Of course, he has the right to express his opinion but he shouldn't have used these terms," said the official, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue. "It can tarnish the image of our religion among those who don't really understand its essence."

Famed for his fiery speeches, Wirathu belongs to a radical anti-Islamic group whose monks preach that Muslims will one day overrun Myanmar. Buddhism is the country's predominant religion and its monks are revered.

A quasi-civilian government now runs Myanmar after nearly half a century of hardline military rule. But its reforms have been marred by deadly religious clashes, with rights activists warning that hate speech could foment further violence.

Lee responded indirectly to Wirathu's remarks in a statement released by her office on Monday.

"During my visit I was personally subjected to the kind of sexist intimidation that female human rights defenders experience when advocating on controversial issues," she said.

(Additional reporting by Aung Hla Tun in Yangon; Editing by Simon Webb and Nick Macfie)