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Myanmar’s Extremist Monk Doesn’t Regret Calling UN Envoy a ‘Whore’

After international criticism and a rebuke from the UN, controversial monk Ashin Wirathu said today he stands by insulting special rapporteur Yanghee Lee.

by Maddie Smith
Jan 22 2015, 6:30pm

Photo via AP/Gemunu Amarasinghe

Ashin Wirathu, an ultra-nationalist monk, said today he stands by slating Yanghee Lee, Myanmar's UN special rapporteur, as "a whore" and "bitch" after she objected to controversial draft legislation.

On Wednesday, the UN's Human Rights High Commissioner, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, said in a statement that Wirathu's "sexist, insulting language" was "utterly unacceptable." Hussein urged Myanmar to take action and added: "Instead of attacking Ms. Lee personally, I invite community, religious and political leaders in Myanmar to tackle the substance of her concerns."

Wirathu's tirade of insults came on the final day of Lee's 10-day visit to Myanmar, where she had been assessing the human rights situation and promoting the integration of its Rohingya minority. The majority of Myanmar's 800,000 Rohingya live in the northern province of Rakhine, are denied citizenship in Myanmar, and labeled as illegal "Bengali" immigrants. The Rohingya face continued ethnic and religious persecution from the government in Yangon and Rakhine Buddhists for their Muslim beliefs, causing many to flee the country.

Lee had been objecting to proposed laws on race and religion, which she said the UN perceived as ongoing attempts to marginalize Rohingya. The regulations included curbs on interfaith marriage, religious conversion, and birth rates. Lee emphasized in her speech that "the rights of Rohingya people must be protected, promoted and upheld," adding that if the legislation was passed it would signal Myanmar was "backtracking" in its democratic reforms, reported the Democratic Voice of Burma.

'Don't assume you are a respectable person, just because you have a position in the UN. In our country you are just a whore.'

It is believed that it was Lee's support for the Rohingya provoked Wirathu's outburst. The monk is the spiritual leader of the ultra-nationalist 969 movement, which is an anti-Islamic group concerned with curtailing what it perceives as growing Muslim expansion in Myanmar. Wirathu spent nine years in prison after being sentenced in 2003 for inciting religious conflict, but has continued to amplify his campaign since his release.

On January 16, a group of around 500 monks led by Wirathu marched into the eastern outskirts of Yangon in protest of Lee's criticism, holding placards reading, "UN decisions cause problems in Burma — we don't want that!"

Addressing his supporters Wirathu said of Lee: "Don't assume you are a respectable person, just because you have a position in the UN. In our country you are just a whore." He added: "You may offer your arse to the kalars (a racist term used for Muslims)… but you will never sell off our Arakan (Rahkine) State." 

"Can this bitch really be from a respectable background?' he went on. The speech has been made public in a video translated by the Democratic Voice of Burma.

On Wednesday, the European Rohingya Council (ERC) released a statement urging the international community and Myanmar's government to take action against Wirathu's comments. The ERC said they are "deeply disappointed by the hate message propagated by Wirathu and his followers," and calls the monk "a foul mouthed religious cleric."

Wirathu later defended his comments, telling AFP: "That was the harshest word (I could think of), so I used it. If I could find a harsher word, I would have used it. It is nothing compared to what she did to our country."

Myanmar's Information Minister Ye Htut said on Monday that he had asked the country's Ministry of Religious Affairs to investigate the monk's comments. Htut stated: "Personally, I believe that Buddhist monks and any other religious leaders should recite speeches reflecting compassion, love, empathy, and good ethics."

Htut's comments were echoed by other Buddhists, who say Wirathu has violated his monastic code by attacking Lee. Geoff Hunt, founder of the meditation movement New Buddha Way, told VICE News that: "The very first of many precepts for Buddhist monks is the precept against violence, of which verbal abuse is a variant." Hunt added that for monks to violate the strict Buddhist ethical codes was "untypical" and could result in expulsion from the monastic order.

Mahinda Deegalle, a Buddhist scholar and reader in Religious Studies and Ethics at Bath Spa University, told VICE News that in Buddhism, "even thinking of, and considering to resort to violence at the 'mental' level is seen as negative." He added that he was keen "to examine to what extent Wirathu's public declarations can be identified as related to Buddhism."

Follow Maddie Smith on Twitter: @mddiesmith

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