Pres­i­dent ap­points UN del­e­gate

For­mer regime de­fender U Htin Lynn, a ca­reer civil ser­vant in the for­eign min­istry, has been ap­pointed Myan­mar’s per­ma­nent del­e­gate to the UN, de­spite be­ing the sub­ject of a de­ba­cle on the in­ter­na­tional stage last year.

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - AN­DREW D KASPAR a.kaspar@mm­ – Ad­di­tional re­port­ing by Ye Mon Tun

PRES­I­DENT U Htin Kyaw yes­ter­day ap­pointed a for­mer regime de­fender to the diplo­matic corps, se­lect­ing U Htin Lynn as Myan­mar’s per­ma­nent rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the United Na­tions in Geneva.

Pre­vi­ously the di­rec­tor gen­eral of the In­ter­na­tional Or­gan­i­sa­tions and Eco­nomic De­part­ment un­der the Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs, U Htin Lynn earned ire on the in­ter­na­tional stage in May of last year dur­ing an emer­gency re­gional sum­mit in Bangkok to ad­dress a then-in­cip­i­ent boat refugee cri­sis.

In ad­di­tion to blam­ing neigh­bour­ing Bangladesh as the root cause of the cri­sis – which saw record num­bers of refugees and mi­grants crowd­ing onto smug­glers’ boats and at least 370 die along the route – U Htin Lynn ac­tively blocked any men­tion of the term “Ro­hingya” dur­ing the dis­cus­sions. The for­mer Union Sol­i­dar­ity and Devel­op­ment Party-led gov­ern­ment re­fused to ac­knowl­edge the term “Ro­hingya” and in­stead used the term “Ben­gali”.

Pre­ced­ing the sum­mit of 17 na­tions, tens of thou­sands of self-iden­ti­fy­ing Ro­hingya Mus­lims took to boats flee­ing per­se­cu­tion in Rakhine State, where most of the state­less mi­nor­ity face on­go­ing re­stric­tions on move­ment and ac­cess to health­care and ed­u­ca­tion. A Thai crack­down on re­gional hu­man traf­fick­ing syn­di­cates last year led many traf­fick­ers to aban­don their hu­man cargo at sea, with thou­sands stranded or wash­ing up on the shores of other South­east Asian coun­tries.

At the May 2015 sum­mit, U Htin Lynn, serv­ing as Myan­mar’s spe­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tive, re­jected sug­ges­tions from a UN refugee agency of­fi­cial, who said eas­ing re­stric­tions on move­ment and guar­an­tee­ing other “ba­sic free­doms” in Rakhine State might lead to fewer refugee de­par­tures.

U Htin Lynn pushed back, crit­i­cis­ing the refugee en­voy for sin­gling out Myan­mar and say­ing those who hold such views “need to be more in­formed”.

Part of the testi­ness stemmed from the fact that the fleet of aban­doned boats also in­cluded Bangladeshi mi­grants, play­ing into the com­plex and volatile iden­tity pol­i­tics of Rakhine State, which bor­ders Bangladesh.

Bud­dhist na­tion­al­ists have whipped up a frenzy in re­cent months over use of the term Ro­hingya, forc­ing the Na­tional League for Democ­racy gov­ern­ment to at­tempt to chart a mid­dle course: It has asked that nei­ther “Ro­hingya” nor “Ben­gali” – the lat­ter term pre­ferred by both na­tion­al­ists and the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment – be used to de­scribe Mus­lims in Rakhine State.

U Htin Lynn’s ap­point­ment is likely to fuel fur­ther ques­tion­ing of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s com­mit­ment to im­prov­ing the lives of the Ro­hingya, more than 100,000 of whom con­tinue to live in squalid dis­place­ment camps four years after vi­o­lence tore through Rakhine State in 2012.

U Ye Htun, a for­mer lower house MP and po­lit­i­cal colum­nist, said U Htin Lynn’s se­lec­tion was likely made to send a sig­nal to Geneva that the new gov­ern­ment does not in­tend to re­verse course on its nomen­cla­ture pol­icy for Rakhine State.

“U Htin Lynn al­ways ob­jected to the term ‘Ro­hingya’ in UN meet­ings. So it can be guessed that the pol­icy on the Ro­hingya is [go­ing to re­main],” he said.

The United Na­tions, and in par­tic­u­lar its spe­cial rap­por­teur on hu­man right in Myan­mar Yanghee Lee and her pre­de­ces­sor, have been among the most per­sis­tent crit­ics of the gov­ern­ment’s treat­ment of the Ro­hingya.

David Mathieson, a Myan­mar re­searcher for Hu­man Rights Watch (HRW), said the ap­point­ment “is tan­ta­mount to declar­ing per­pet­ual dis­crim­i­na­tion to­ward Ro­hingya Mus­lims, and a tepid com­mit­ment at best to pro­mot­ing hu­man rights in Burma and glob­ally”.

“Htin Lynn should be pub­licly com­mit­ting to up­hold­ing hu­man rights for all peo­ple in his new po­si­tion, and dis­avow his pre­vi­ously de­plorable de­fence of the Thein Sein ad­min­is­tra­tion’s dis­crim­i­na­tory poli­cies and racist de­nial­ism of Ro­hingya iden­tity,” he told The Myan­mar Times.

U Htin Lynn’s ap­point­ment is not the first to stir con­tro­versy since the NLD took power ear­lier this year.

State Coun­sel­lor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s pick to head her newly cre­ated Min­istry for the State Coun­sel­lor was U Kyaw Tint Swe, who served as per­ma­nent rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the UN from 2001 to 2010, a pe­riod dur­ing which he de­fended the for­mer mil­i­tary regime’s abysmal hu­man rights record on mul­ti­ple oc­ca­sions.

“Myan­mar has long been a vic­tim of a sys­tem­atic dis­in­for­ma­tion cam­paign launched by anti-gov­ern­ment el­e­ments, gen­er­ously funded by their for­eign sup­port­ers,” he wrote in a 2007 re­port to the UN sec­re­tary gen­eral.

Thura U Aung Ko, a for­mer mem­ber of the USDP who now serves as the re­li­gious and cul­tural af­fairs min­is­ter, came in for crit­i­cism in April after he im­plied in an in­ter­view with Voice of Amer­ica that Mus­lims and Hin­dus are not en­ti­tled to full cit­i­zen­ship. He said that un­like Bud­dhists and Chris­tians, mem­bers of those re­li­gions de­served only “as­so­ciate” cit­i­zen­ship rather than full cit­i­zen­ship.

U Thein Swe, a fel­low for­mer USDP mem­ber now serv­ing as the im­mi­gra­tion min­is­ter, said last week that the gov­ern­ment has no plans to change the 1982 Cit­i­zen­ship Law, a con­tro­ver­sial piece of leg­is­la­tion crit­i­cised by HRW as dis­crim­i­na­tory and op­pres­sive.

U Htin Lynn suc­ceeds U Maung Wai as Myan­mar’s per­ma­nent rep­re­sen­ta­tive to the UN in Geneva.

Photo: EPA

U Htin Lynn at a Bangkok sum­mit on “ir­reg­u­lar mi­gra­tion” on May 29, 2015.

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