The United Nations’ regional and humanitarian coordinator for Myanmar, Renata Lok-Dessallien, has been moved for allegedly failing to prioritise human rights.
The UN’s Myanmar team has been accused of remaining silent on the persecution of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Rakhine State. An internal UN report for Secretary General António Guterres called the team “glaringly dysfunctional” with “strong tensions” between different agencies.
Matthew Smith, the head of Asean-based human rights group Fortify Rights, said that his NGO had been concerned about the UN’s leadership in Myanmar for several years. “The wrong so-called experts were appointed to deal with complex human rights problems. And that’s the tip of the iceberg,” Smith told Southeast Asia Globe. Lok-Dessallien had reportedly denied basic requests for information on developing situations in the troubled country. After becoming one of few international observers allowed access to the Rakhine State, the Canadian Lok-Dessallien allegedly refused requests to record her comments on the visit.
Late last year as thousands of Rohingya fled rape and arson attacks by Myanmar’s security services, the UN team inside the country was largely silent.
The BBC’s investigative reporter in Myanmar, Jonah Fisher, wrote: “Ms Lok-Dessallien and her spokesman declined simple requests for information; and on one absurd occasion she visited the conflict area, but on her return refused to allow journalists to film or record her words at a press conference.
“The BBC was told that on numerous occasions aid workers with a human rights focus were deliberately excluded from important meetings.”
Myanmar’s democratically elected National League for Democracy government has little influence in Rakhine State because the three key ministries – home affairs, defence and border security – are controlled by the military. The military-drafted 2008 constitution guarantees that 25 per cent of parliamentary seats are given to the armed forces, giving the generals a veto on any attempt to change the constitution.
State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has disappointed many who believed she would protect the Rohingya minority but has instead appeared to unwilling to jeopardise her relationship with the military.
“Unfortunately this decision is long overdue,” Smith said. “The resident coordinator prioritised development over human rights as if the two were not interconnected. It was a confused approach. We’ve heard consistent complaints from within the UN that the resident coordinator was not only failing to prioritise human rights, but was actively undermining those who were focusing on rights.”
The UN said Lok-Dessallien was being “rotated” and the decision was not related to her performance, which had been “consistently appreciated”, the BBC reported.
Pro-Rohingya protesters at the G20 in Brisbane in 2014. Picture credit: Flickr