UN-Mandated Fact-Finding Mission a Historic Opportunity for Human Rights Progress in Myanmar

In a historic move last week, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) decided to dispatch a Fact-Finding Mission to investigate allegations of grave human rights abuses in Myanmar,[1] particularly in Rakhine State. The draft resolution containing the call was adopted by consensus in the Council, following weeks of intense advocacy in Geneva by civil society groups, including Progressive Voice. While the Council opted for a more ambiguous mechanism—a Fact-Finding Mission rather than the Commission of Inquiry that was explicitly pushed for—there is ample room for this body to step up to the challenge of establishing the truth of circumstances on the ground and making robust recommendations to the Council and the Myanmar Government. “As the first international body with a dedicated mandate to look into gross violations in Burma/Myanmar,” said Khin Ohmar, Chair of the Advisory Board at Progressive Voice, “the Fact-Finding Mission has a historic task and an enormous responsibility.”

And while attaining this mandate was difficult, the road ahead is even more so.

“As the first international body with a dedicated mandate to look into gross violations in Burma/Myanmar, the Fact-Finding Mission has a historic task and an enormous responsibility.”

Khin Ohmar, Chair of the Advisory Board at Progressive Voice

In the coming weeks, per the resolution, the HRC President will need to swiftly appoint a group of experts to carry out the mission. The group will have five months before it’s due to present its first update at the 36th Session of the Council in September 2017. In the backdrop of competing agendas, it’s imperative that the President structures the Mission in an independent, transparent, and merit-based manner. The Mission itself must ensure that the allegations are comprehensively addressed, including by investigating abuses in Kachin and Shan States as well as in Rakhine State.

The larger concern is that cooperation from the Myanmar Government seems dubious. While it stopped short of pledging to block the investigation, the government has declared its dissociation from the resolution “as a whole.” Arguing that an international fact-finding mission would “do more to inflame, rather than resolve the issues,” the government reiterated its commitment to domestic investigations, vowing to set out a “clear action plan for the prompt implementation” of the interim report of the domestically mandated Advisory Commission on Rakhine State. But, as all its domestic commissions have been consistently dogged with problematic methods and composition, the government’s proclamations must be met with skepticism. Recent efforts look even more unpromising, with reports that surfaced last week from Bangladesh claiming that members of a domestic commission refused to seriously engage with their Rohingya interviewees.

Furthermore, while it’s yet unclear what dissociating from the resolution would entail, the claim to dissociate “as a whole” is particularly concerning as it puts into question the viability of other decisions and recommendations made in the resolution, including the renewal of mandate for the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar. While attention was concentrated on the contentious clause of establishing the Fact-Finding Mission, it’s important for both the international community and the Myanmar Government not to neglect the rest of the resolution, which makes key recommendations on areas such as amendment of the 2008 Constitution and repressive laws, humanitarian access, reform of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission, the voluntary and sustainable return of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees, and investigations of the murders of human rights defenders, including constitutional expert and senior legal advisor to the National League for Democracy (NLD), U Ko Ni. Recognizing and supporting these calls is also part of a comprehensive effort to bring forth accountability and justice in the country.

Going forward, the NLD-led Government should view the UN-mandated probe as an ally, rather than a destabilizing factor, in its struggle with the military. This is an excellent opportunity for the government to distinguish itself from the military and to start seriously tackling impunity in the country. Furthermore, while there is broad consensus that the alleged human rights abuses are committed by the Myanmar Army, failing to cooperate with the Fact-Finding Mission would implicate the NLD-led Government in the eyes of the international community. Moreover, if the situation on the ground really is inconsistent with the gravity of the allegations made, as the government has previously claimed, an international investigation would only help its case.

In this period of uncertainty, it’s evermore incumbent on the international community to support the implementation of the HRC resolution. Unfortunately, several HRC member states, including China, India, and ASEAN member the Philippines, have chosen to dissociate themselves from at least the operative clauses of the resolution. Others must not waver. For governments concerned about regional stability ensuring an independent, impartial investigation into grave human rights abuses in Myanmar will help bring about genuine stability in the country, and thus the region. For democratic governments that want to see a democratic, prosperous Myanmar, support for the resolution, especially its operative clauses, is crucial to helping the NLD-led Government bring the country under civilian control.

The Myanmar Government, still finding its footing within the framework set by the 2008 military-drafted constitution, has proven to be unreliable in carrying out credible investigations. Its categorical dissociation from the HRC resolution—which makes numerous recommendations that are in line with ones made by its own domestic bodies—shows just how inconsistent the government line can be. In this light, Myanmar civil society must also step up and urge the Myanmar Government to cooperate with the UN mandate, as well as call on international governments to provide political and logistical support to UN-backed efforts. The historic nature of this UN mandate and the opportunities that it creates cannot be wasted.

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[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

ရွမ္းျပည္ေျမာက္ပုိင္းရွိ နမၼတူျမစ္ေပၚ တည္ေဆာက္မည့္ ေရကာတာမ်ားကုိ ရပ္တန္႔ေပးရန္အတြက္ ေဒသခံရြာသူရြာသား ၄၀၀ ေက်ာ္ စုေ၀းေတာင္းဆုိ
By Action for Shan State Rivers

Over 400 Local Villagers Gather to Call for Halt of Dams on Namtu River in Northern Shan State
By Action for Shan State Rivers

Myanmar: Fact-finding Mission Welcome, Urgently Needed, Overdue
By Amnesty International

Burma: UN Establishes Human Rights Investigation in Rakhine State
By Christian Solidarity Worldwide

Myanmar: U.N. Orders Vital Inquiry into Severe Rights Violations
By Fortify Rights

HRC34 Oral Statement on the Importance of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRI)
By FORUM-ASIA

UN Human Rights Council Decides to Urgently Dispatch an International Fact Finding Mission to Burma/Myanmar
By FORUM-ASIA, Progressive Voice, Kachin Women’s Association Thailand, Women Peace Network Arakan,
Ta’ang Women’s Organization

Cracks in the Silence: Sexual Violence Against Children and Challenges to Accessing Justice in Mon State and Mon Areas of Southeast Burma
By Human Rights Foundation of Monland (HURFOM) and Women and Child Rights Project

Myanmar: Amnesty International Oral Statement at the 34th Session of the UN Human RigND-Burma Statement on the International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims Council
By ND-Burma

အမ်ဳိးသမီးမ်ားအဖဲြ႔ခ်ဳပ္(ျမန္မာႏိုင္ငံ)၏ န၀မအႀကိမ္ညီလာခံထုတ္ျပန္ေၾကညာခ်က္
By Women’s League of Burma

Statement of the Ninth Congress of Women’s League of Burma
By Women’s League of Burma

reports

Reports

ခြဲျခားဆက္ဆံမႈမ်ားကင္းေ၀းရာမွ အားလံုးအလံုးစံုပါ၀င္မႈဆီသို ့–ႏိုင္ငံေရးစကား၀ိုင္းအေၾကာင္းအရာမ်ားအေပၚ က်ား၊ မ ေရးရာ ဂ်ဲန္ဒါ အျမင္ရႈေထာင့္မ်ား
By Alliance for Gender Inclusion in the Peace Process

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

Cracks in the Silence: Sexual Violence Against Children and Challenges to Accessing Justice in Mon State and Mon Areas of Southeast Burma
By Human Rights Foundation of Monland (HURFOM) and Women and Child Rights Project


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.”

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