RVISION July 28, 2016

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 Arakanese Rohingya Muslims took to boats fleeing persecution in Arakan (Rakhine) State, where most of the 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 Arakan (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”.

Buddhists 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 concentration camps for four years after the state sponsored violence Arakan (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 Arakan (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.

Note: Changes have been made, MYANMAR TIMES is not responsible for these.