UN rights council approves fact-finding mission in Myanmar

AP News
Posted: Mar 24, 2017 11:11 AM

GENEVA (AP) — The U.N.-backed Human Rights Council on Friday approved a resolution by consensus to "dispatch urgently" an international fact-finding mission to Myanmar to probe alleged abuses by military and security forces, particularly against the minority Rohingya Muslim community.

In a move bound to put pressure on State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi's government, the 47-member body threw its weight behind existing efforts to investigate alleged rights abuses such as torture, rape, arbitrary killings and forced displacement of the Rohingya in western Rakhine state. Zaw Htay, a presidential spokesman, said Myanmar "cannot accept" the council's decision.

"What the U.N. Human Rights Council did to us is totally not fair and not right under international practices," Htay said by phone, citing a domestic investigation. "They should have waited and watched the correspondent country's investigation, and the result coming out from that," and only then offer possible criticism of its work, he added.

Last week, a commission chaired by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, created at the behest of Suu Kyi, presented interim recommendations to the government about long-term solutions to tensions between Rohingya and Rakhine Buddhists in Rakhine state. The recommendations included allowing journalists free access to the western part of the country.

The Rohingya face severe discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar and were the targets of inter-communal violence in 2012 that killed hundreds and drove about 140,000 people — predominantly Rohingya — from their homes to camps for the internally displaced, where most remain.

The army launched counterinsurgency operations in Rohingya areas in northern Rakhine in October after the killing of nine border guards. U.N. human rights investigators and independent rights organizations charge that soldiers and police killed and raped civilians and burned down more than 1,000 homes during the operations.

The HRC resolution says the council's president will appoint the independent, international fact-finding mission, which is to provide an oral update on its work in the council's autumn session followed by a written report a year from now. Some countries including China, India and Cuba dissociated themselves from the resolution, brought by Malta on behalf of the European Union.

The U.N. human rights office's special rapporteur for Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, had urged the council to go further than a fact-finding mission by authorizing the creation of a full commission of inquiry to investigate the alleged crimes. A 25-page report from her office this month cited "continued and escalating violence" in parts of Myanmar. In an interview with The Associated Press last week, Lee said she had been told "the situation is currently worse than at any point in the past few years."

Lee also said a domestic investigative panel focusing on Rakhine state was "flawed" and that Annan's commission didn't have an all-encompassing mandate.

In a statement Friday, Lee said she was "disappointed" that the commission of inquiry was not established, and added, "I trust the government of Myanmar will cooperate with this mission, including granting it full access as called for in the Human Rights Council resolution."

The resolution was one of 42 voted on over two days as the Geneva-based council neared the end of its latest session. Other resolutions decried alleged crimes as diverse as violence that could devolve into genocide in South Sudan; "extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape" and other violence in North Korean prisons; and alleged war crimes and terrorist acts in Syria.


Htusan reported from Yangon, Myanmar.