Myanmar Sliding Towards Conflict, UN Envoy Warns

Special rapporteur observes “a growing atmosphere of fear, distrust and hostility.”

Myanmar Sliding Towards Conflict, UN Envoy Warns
Credit: Flickr/UK Department for International Development

Myanmar risks sliding into conflict if certain disturbing trends in the country continue unabated, a United Nations envoy to the country said in a report published March 9.

In a report to the UN Human Rights Council released Monday, Yanghee Lee, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, warned of a “current slide towards extreme nationalism, religious hatred and conflict.”

During her second mission to the country this January, Lee said she observed “a growing atmosphere of fear, distrust and hostility,” partly because of backtracking by the government on previous reform efforts that began during the country’s historic opening in 2011.  Lee herself was subjected to sexist personal attacks from the nationalist Buddhist monk U Wirathu, who called her a “whore” and a “bitch” (The Diplomat reported on that here).

Lee warned that ethnic and religious tensions in the Buddhist-majority country are still high and could potentially worsen. She described the atmosphere between communities in Rakhine state – where many of the persecuted Rohingya Muslims live – as “hostile.” She also expressed concern that draft bills on religious conversion, interfaith marriage, monogamy and population control, if eventually passed, would “cement discriminatory attitudes and policies” instead of moving Myanmar towards a more pluralist direction.

Lee also expressed alarm about the escalation of violence in Kokang between the Myanmar Army and other armed groups, which has led the government to declare a state of emergency. She noted that the state of emergency needs to be accompanied by “strict accountability and safeguards for human rights.”

The UN envoy also warned that if the government continues to leave out large parts of the population with grievances against the state in its economic development programs, it would only lead to more alienation which could in turn lead to conflict.

“In a country with a long history of violent conflict, such grievances risk further disassociation from the state and extension or renewal of instability and conflict,” she said.

Yang’s mission to Myanmar took place from 7 to 16 January, and included meetings with government representatives and other stakeholders in Yangon and Naypyidaw, visits to Rakhine and Northern Shan States, and a trip to Insein Prison where she met political prisoners. She also had several related meetings in Thailand.