HRC Must Be Resolute and Mandate Fact Finding Mission in Myanmar Including Rakhine State

In a positive turn of events on March 16, 2017, the Human Rights Council (HRC) draft resolution onMyanmar[1] now calls for the urgent deployment of an international Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) to investigate allegations of human rights violations committed by the military and security forces in the country, particularly in Rakhine State. Only two weeks ago, it seemed that Myanmar would evade such a probe. Previous versions of the European Union (EU)-led draft resolution stopped short of calling for an international investigation, which has been pushed for by both the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, as well as various local, regional and international human rights organizations, including Progressive Voice.

This marked strengthening of language came at the heels of the Special Rapporteur’s presentation to the Council, during which she reiterated her call for a Commission of Inquiry (COI) to examine the situation in Rakhine State, and stressed that “prompt, thorough, independent, and impartial” investigations are needed across the country, including in Kachin and Shan States. While FFMs are less authoritative than COIs and not usually coupled with a systematic legal assessment, the EU-led move is a step in the right direction. A FFM, if ultimately approved by the HRC member states, will dispel any uncertainty regarding the circumstances on the ground, and set the necessary foundation for further substantive action. In the case of Burundi, the alarming findings of the FFM established in 2015 led to the establishment of a COI in 2016.

As Progressive Voice highlighted in a joint statement with local women’s groups and FORUM-ASIA last week, the government has established numerous commissions since 2012, and all were bogged with questionable composition, methods, and conclusions. In addition, the Kofi Annan-led Commission itself does not have the mandate to investigate human rights violations.

But any optimism surrounding this UN call must be cautious as the Myanmar Government has been consistent in its opposition to any international investigations, urging the international community to have faith in domestic investigative bodies. As a case in point, one such body, the Kofi Annan-led Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, released its interim report late last week—a timely move considering that the EU-led draft resolution was tabled at the HRC just one day prior to its release. Among the Advisory Commissions’ numerous recommendations—all of which received the endorsement of the government—is a call for an “impartial and independent” investigation into allegations of abuse in the Rakhine State. But while that, along with the rest of the report, is largely in line with what civil society groups and the UN have called for, the international community must be wary of falling into a trap of complacency. As Progressive Voice highlighted in a joint statement with local women’s groups and FORUM-ASIA last week, the government has established numerous commissions since 2012, and all were bogged with questionable composition, methods, and conclusions. In addition, the Kofi Annan-led Commission itself does not have the mandate to investigate human rights violations.

Moreover, the significance of the timing of the report—at a time when UN member states are preparing to vote—cannot be lost. In 2011, amidst calls for a COI to investigate possible crimes against humanity in the country, the then military-backed, quasi-civilian Myanmar government established the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission. While the international call for COI ultimately fell through, partly due to increasing optimism about the reforms in Myanmar, the Commission has yet to live up to its mandate or gain public confidence as its existence has clearly not deterred continued abuse of the civilian population. Once again, the international community finds itself at the cusp of giving undue credence to the Myanmar Government’s commitments.

Whether a fact-finding mission will be dispatched at all is still completely up in the air, with HRC member states due to vote on resolutions later this week. Last Friday, China and Russia blocked a short Security Council press statement that would have “noted with concern” the renewed fighting in the country and “stressed the importance” of allowing humanitarian access to conflict affected areas. China is currently a member of the HRC, and its Security Council veto alone indicates that the voting on the EU-led draft resolution will be a serious test of international resolve.

As deliberations in Geneva continue, the situation on the ground remains distressing. Since March 6, 2017, over 30,000 people from the Kokang area of Shan State have been displaced due to renewed conflict between the ethnic Kokang Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army and the Myanmar Army. Ongoing conflict in Kachin State has also made the situation increasingly precarious for tens of thousands of internally displaced people. Just last week, three women human rights defenders from Myanmar testified at a HRC side-event, joined by the Special Rapporteur, Ms. Yanghee Lee, and moderated by Khin Ohmar, Chair of the Advisory Board at Progressive Voice, presenting unmistakable pattern of human rights violations, including rape and sexual violence, committed by the Myanmar Army on local ethnic and religious minority populations in both conflict and non-conflict areas.

Going forward, it is imperative that member states at the HRC remember who the true beneficiaries of an international investigation are, and vote for the EU-led draft resolution to deploy a UN-led fact-finding mission into the country.

As demonstrated by its own record thus far, the Myanmar Government is incapable of conducting “impartial and independent” investigations. Going forward, it is imperative that member states at the HRC remember who the true beneficiaries of an international investigation are, and vote for the EU-led draft resolution to deploy a UN-led fact-finding mission into the country. If the international community genuinely wishes to help Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy-led Government bring the Myanmar Army under civilian control, and thus ensure that the people of Myanmar achieve a successful transition into democracy, supporting an international investigation is an absolute must.

——-

[1] One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.

Resources from the past week

actions

Statements and Press Releases

Myanmar: Urgent Action Needed to Address Deteriorating Human Rights Situation
By Amnesty International

Myanmar: Amnesty International Oral Statement at the 34th Session of the UN Human Rights Council
By Amnesty International

Myanmar: Act now on Rakhine Commission report
By Amnesty International

International Day of Action for Rivers: Countrywide Gatherings on International Rivers Day to Oppose Large Dams in Burma’s Conflict Zone
By Burma Rivers Network, Save the Salween Network and Burma Environmental Working Group

ျမစ္ေခ်ာင္းမ်ားအတြက္ ႏုိင္ငံတကာလႈပ္ရွားမႈေန႕- ျမန္မာျမစ္ေခ်ာင္းမ်ားဆုိင္ရာကြန္ယက္-BRN သံလြင္ထိန္းသိမ္းကာကြယ္ေရးကြန္ယက္- SSN ႏွင့္ ျမန္မာႏုိင္ငံသဘာဝပတ္၀န္းက်င္အလုပ္အဖြဲ႕ – BEWG တုိ႕၏ထုတ္ျပန္ေၾကျငာခ်က္
By Burma Rivers Network, Save the Salween Network and Burma Environmental Working Group

Statement by the Spokesperson on the Interim Report of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, Myanmar
By European External Action Service/Spokesperson on the Interim Report of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State

Remarks: Chairman Royce on Human Rights of the Rohingya People
By Foreign Affairs Committee

Burma/Myanmar: Human Rights Council should establish an independent, international investigation into gross human rights abuses
By FORUM-ASIA, Progressive Voice, Women’s Peace Network, Kachin Women’s Association‐Thailand and
Ta’ang Women’s Organization

U.S. Support International Inquiry Into Violations in Myanmar
By Fortify Rights

US: Call on Burma to Cease Persecution of Rohingya
By Human Rights Watch

BAHRI Joint NGO Statement on Human Rights in Myanmar Submitted to the 34th Session of the Human Rights Council
By  International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute

NGO Statement on Asia and the Pacific Agenda item 3(a)iv
By International Council of Voluntary Agencies

Out of Control: The World Bank’s Reckless Private Sector Investments in Southeast Asia Exposed
By Inclusive Development International

Myanmar Journalist Harassed Following Critical Reporting
By International Federation of Journalists

Statement by Kofi Annan, Chair of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State (Interim Report)
By Kofi Annan/Chair of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State

၂၀၁၇ ခုႏွစ္၊ မတ္လ(၁၄)ရက္ေန႔တြင္ က်ေရာက္သည့္ ႏိုင္ငံတကာျမစ္ေခ်ာင္းအင္းအိုင္မ်ားလႈပ္ရွားမႈေန႔အေပၚေဒသခံဌာေနတိုင္းရင္းသားမ်ားမွ သေဘာထားထုတ္ျပန္ေၾကညာခ်က္
By Kachin local Residents

A New Wave of Atrocities is Being Committed Against Muslims in Burma’s Rakhine State
By  Phil Robertson, Deputy Director, Asia Division/Human Rights Watch

မြန္တုိင္းရင္းသားတုိ႔၏ သေဘာဆႏၵကုိ ဆန္႔က်င္ကာ တံတားအမည္ေျပာင္းလဲျခင္းကုိ ကန္႔ကြက္ေၾကာင္း သေဘာထားထုတ္ျပန္ခ်က္
By Palaung State Liberation Front

Statement by Ms. Yanghee Lee, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar at the 34th session of the Human Rights Council
By Yanghee Lee/UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar

The U.S. Embassy is Concerned by Reports of Escalating Conflict in northern Shan State & the Displacement of tens of Thousands of People
By US Embassy in Burma

UN Expert Calls for Independent Investigations into Killings and Violations in Myanmar
By UN Human Rights – Office of the High Commissioner

reports

Reports

Advisory Commission on Rakhine State: Interim Report and Recommendations
By Advisory Commission on Rakhine State

ရခုိင္ျပည္နယ္ဆုိင္ရာ အႀကံေပးေကာ္မရွင္၏ ၾကားျဖတ္ အစီရင္ခံစာ
By Advisory Commission on Rakhine State

Moving From Discrimination to Inclusion: Gender Perspectives on the Political Dialogue Themes
By  Alliance for Gender Inclusion in the Peace Process

ခြဲျခားဆက္ဆံမႈမ်ားကင္းေ၀းရာမွ အားလံုုးအလံုုးစံုုပါ၀င္မႈဆီသိုု႔ ႏုုိင္ငံေရးစကား၀ုုိင္းအေၾကာင္းအရာမ်ားအေပၚက်ား မ ေရးရာ ဂ်ဲန္ဒါအျမင္ရႈေထာင့္မ်ား
By  Alliance for Gender Inclusion in the Peace Process

The Humanitarian Crisis Beneath the Conflicts: Report Detailing Dire Humanitarian Needs in Burma’s Rakhine and Kachin States
By Burma Human Rights Network

Briefing Paper on the Human Rights Situation in Burma/Myanmar
By FORUM-ASIA and Progressive Voice

Humanitarian Situation Update in Northern Shan State, 15th March 2017
By Joint Strategy Team

Dooplaya Situation Update: Win Yay Township, June to July 2015
By Karen Human Rights Group

A New Wave of Atrocities is Being Committed Against Muslims in Burma’s Rakhine State
By Phil Robertson, Asia Division Deputy Director/Human Rights Watch

Myanmar’s Next Great Transformation: Enclosing the Oceans and our Aquatic Resources
By Transnational Institute

သမုဒၵရာႏွင့္ ေရေအာက္သယံဇာတမ်ားကို ျခံခတ္သိမ္းဆည္းျခင္း။ ။ ျမန္မာႏိုင္ငံဧ။္ ေနာက္ထပ္ၾကီးက်ယ္သည့္ ျပဳျပင္ေျပာင္းလဲေရး ေျခလွမ္းတစ္ရပ္
By Transnational Institute


Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.”

Related Posts: