The government of Myanmar has barred a UN human rights investigator from visiting the country and withdrawn cooperation with her for the rest of her tenure.
Yanghee Lee, a UN special rapporteur, was to visit in January to assess the state of human rights across Myanmar, including in Rakhine state where a brutal military crackdown has sent more than 650,000 minority Rohingya fleeing into neighbouring Bangladesh.
Refugees fleeing the violence have told of a systematic campaign of mass killings, rape, and arson. The UN has described the situation as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
“I am really deeply disappointed and very saddened by this decision of Myanmar to deny cooperation with my mandate and with any other human rights mechanisms, and most of all to silence people who speak out on these kinds of atrocities,” Lee told Al Jazeera.
In a statement on Wednesday, Lee said she was “puzzled and disappointed” by Myanmar’s decision.
“This declaration of non-cooperation with my mandate can only be viewed as a strong indication that there must be something terribly awful happening in Rakhine, as well as in the rest of the country,” she said.
Abuses by security forces
Lee said she was told the decision was in response to a statement she made following a visit in July.
At the time, she criticised abuses by security forces in Shan and Rakhine states and complained of increasing restrictions on her access.
Journalists and activists who met her were also subjected to state surveillance, she said.
Myanmar criticised her statement as biased and unfair.
Lee took up the rights monitoring role in 2014 and is required to visit Myanmar two times a year in order to report to the Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly.
Myanmar has also refused entry to a separate UN fact-finding mission appointed by the Human Rights Council to investigate allegations of human rights violations in various conflict zones, including in Rakhine.
Zeid bin Ra’ad al-Hussein, the UN rights chief, has said the security clampdown against the Rohingya minority in Rakhine may amount to genocide, a charge the government has denied.
The crackdown came in response to attacks on border posts by a Rohingya armed group on August 25.
Amnesty International called Myanmar’s decision to ban Lee “outrageous”.
“It is a further indication that authorities will do anything they can to avoid international scrutiny of their human rights record,” said James Gomez, Amnesty’s director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.