Myanmar’s government rescinded access by a United Nations official who has been investigating human rights in the country, including the campaign of violence against the Rohingya Muslim minority.
“I am puzzled and disappointed by this decision by the Myanmar government,” special rapporteur Yanghee Lee said Wednesday in a statement. “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 [the state of] Rakhine, as well as in the rest of the country.”
Lee said the Myanmar government had assured her of its cooperation with her planned January visit only two weeks ago. But she said officials changed their mind due to a statement she released in July outlining the difficulties she had in working with the government to gain access to certain areas.
Lee has visited the country as part of her U.N. job six times since June 2014.
The decision to deny her continued access comes a day after authorities said they found 10 bodies buried in a mass grave in Rakhine, the heart of the violence against the Rohingya. The army said it’s investigating the site, but the chances of the government taking the blame for the killings are slim. An internal inquiry released by the military last month exonerated all soldiers from any wrongdoing in a crackdown against the Muslim group that began in late August.
Still, evidence grows of the Burmese government’s systematic violence against the Rohingya. About 650,000 Rohingya refugees have fled to Bangladesh since the end of August. Aerial footage of entire villages burnt to the ground was released by Amnesty International in September. That same month, Doctors Without Borders reported that at least 9,000 Rohingya had died in Myanmar during a roughly 30-day period ― more than 22 times the official government estimate of 400 deaths. Hundreds of Rohingya were systematically killed and raped in the Rakhine village of Tula Toli as security forces trapped people along a riverbank in late August, Human Rights Watch said in a report released Tuesday.
Efforts to cover up the evidence have also mounted. Burmese officials arrested two Reuters journalists last week after the pair had been invited to meet with police officials in the city of Yangon. Reuters is one of the few news outlets that had gained entry to Rakhine, which is closed off to most journalists.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussain said this week that Myanmar leaders Aung San Suu Kyi and Gen. Aung Min Hlaing, the head of the army, could be tried for genocide.