'Something Terribly Awful Is Happening': UN Investigator Has Been Banned From Rakhine

Myanmar has told the United Nations it will not cooperate with its independent investigator on human rights in the country, who is due to visit the restive Rakhine state in January.

At least 646,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh since violence erupted in Rakhine in August. The U.N. said a military operation taking place in the state may amount to ethnic cleansing.

U.N. special rapporteur Yanghee Lee said she had been scheduled to travel to Myanmar to investigate human rights, including alleged abuses against the Rohingya. However, Myanmar told her on Wednesday (December 20) that it will not cooperate with her or grant her access to the country for the rest of her tenure.

"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," Lee said, according to Reuters.

"The government has repeatedly denied violations of human rights are occurring throughout Myanmar, particularly in Rakhine State. They have said that they have nothing to hide, but their lack of cooperation with my mandate and the fact-finding mission suggests otherwise," she continued.

Lee believed that the decision to bar her from the country is due to comments she made after previous visits in Myanmar, a country she is required to travel to twice year as part of her mandate.

The government of Myanmar has not commented on Lee's claims.

UN Special Rapporteur  Yanghee Lee
Yanghee Lee, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, speaks during a press conference in Yangon on July 21, 2017. Myanmar told her in December it will no longer cooperate with her and will deny her entry in the country for the rest of her tenure. YE AUNG THU/AFP/Getty Images

The country's army has been accused of committing human rights abuses, including mass rapes and extrajudicial executions, against the Rohingya, an ethnic minority that lives in segregated conditions in Rakhine.

The Rohingya are stateless people regarded as unwelcome migrants from Bangladesh. They routinely flee Myanmar due to alleged persecution.

The recent exodus was sparked following attacks by Rohingya insurgents that killed at least 11 people in Rakhine. The military retaliated with what was described as "clearance operations" to identify and root out militants. However, the U.N. described it as a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing."

The army has strongly denied accusations of excessive force against the Rohingya, but U.N. rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said violence against Rohingya may amount to genocide.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) released satellite images in December purportedly showing the destruction of buildings in 40 villages that occurred in October and November, increasing the total of raided villages to 354.

Rakhine State
Maungdaw township
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The group said villages were targeted even after Myanmar and Bangladesh reached a deal in November to repatriate hundreds of thousands of displaced Rohingya.

Analysts have cast doubts over the effectiveness of the deal, arguing that displaced Rohingya may not want to return to a country where they face persecution.

The HRW report came just days after Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) claimed that at least 6,700 Rohingya had been killed in Myanmar between 25 August and 24 September. The figure is in stark contrast with the official number of deaths given by Myanmar authorities, which said 400 people were killed, most of whom were alleged terrorists.

Myanmar's de-facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has faced scathing criticism for her prolonged silence and perceived inaction to resolve the ongoing crisis.

Suu Kyi's power over the military is limited, however she has been criticized for failing to address the situation and publicly condemn the massacres. The leader refuses to use the word "Rohingya" in her public addresses, arguing that such word is too contentious for an already affected population.