Lack of Progress in Peace Process and Further Military Impunity Underline Urgent Need for UN-mandated Commission of Inquiry into Human Rights Abuses in Northern Myanmar

March 9th, 2017  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  7 minute read
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Last week saw the conclusion of what was touted as a “successful” meeting between State Counsellor, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the political negotiation branch (DPN) of the United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC), a coalition of seven non-signatory ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) to the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA). But lurking beneath the optimistic proclamations and ostensibly progressive developments are new developments that further undermine the National League for Democracy (NLD)-led Government’s intense focus on signing the NCA, especially in its current form.

First, the emergence of a new political actor has put into question the UNFC’s previously uncontested position as the primary negotiating body for non-signatories to the NCA, thus casting some doubt on the teeth of any agreements made between the UNFC and the government. For years, the United Wa State Army (UWSA) has held meetings  with EAOs in the backdrop of government and think-tank-led peace initiatives, but it’s their most recent meeting that cements their indisputable political role in the peace process. The meeting, held in Panghsang, the capital of the Wa’s autonomous region in eastern Shan State, was attended by seven EAOs, two of which, the Kachin Independence Army and Shan State Progressive Party/Shan State Army-North, are not only currently engaged in armed conflict with the Myanmar[1] Army but are also both UNFC members. Notably, the post-summit statement agreed to by all attendees dismissed the current NCA, calling for a “more just ceasefire agreement” and for the formation of a new, UWSA-led political body to negotiate with the government.

That the UWSA commands such political leverage amongst the EAOs indicates that trust in the peace process – and by extension – in the government, has further deteriorated amongst ethnic communities. Fueling the UWSA’s rise is the increased disenchantment on the part of ethnic communities with the NLD-led Government’s inability to control the Myanmar Army. Its recent military offensives have displaced thousands already in intensifying armed conflict in northern Shan and Kachin States, and its conduct has it facing allegations of grave human rights abuses, which in some cases amount to crimes against humanity. Indeed, one of the calls made at Panghsang was an “immediate halt to all military offensives in ethnic areas.”

The Myanmar Government’s response to decades-long armed conflict with ethnic nationalities must start with an appreciation for why such dissatisfaction exists. An intransigent focus on signing the NCA will only divert attention from underlying issues of discrimination and military impunity that are impeding its success. In a similar vein, allowing the Myanmar Army to discredit demands made at conferences like the recent Panghsang meeting and exclude its attendees from peace talks will only further complicate the peace process. Furthermore, allowing the Myanmar Army to continue to commit and deny, widespread human rights violations in areas of armed conflict only serves to alienate ethnic populations and narrow the policy space needed to address the root causes of ethnic conflict.

“The Myanmar Government’s response to decades-long armed conflict with ethnic nationalities must start with an appreciation for why such dissatisfaction exists. An intransigent focus on signing the NCA will only divert attention from underlying issues of discrimination and military impunity that are impeding its success.”

It’s not only in areas of armed conflict that the Myanmar Army is committing grave human rights violations. In northern Rakhine State, following attacks by Rohingya militants in October 2016, the Myanmar Army unleashed a heavy-handed security response that failed to respect established standards of proportionality and distinction. Interviews of Rohingyas conducted by both local NGOs and the United Nations highlight incidents of widespread gang-rapes, killings, and torture of innocent civilians committed by the Myanmar Army as part of its security response.

The Myanmar Army has been committing similar abuses towards ethnic population for over six decades. Moreover, in the past 30 years, successive military governments have failed to honor a series of ceasefire agreements and political negotiations between the EAOs and military governments, thus perpetuating an endless cycle of conflict throughout generations. To start the road to building trust with the EAOs and the ethnic populations that they serve, the Myanmar Government must support impartial and independent investigations into all alleged human rights violations, as well as take seriously political demands made by ethnic organizations, regardless of their standing with the NCA.

For the international community, the clear lack of authentic progress with the peace process and the clear signs of deteriorating trust between the ethnic communities and the government only make a UN-mandated commission of inquiry (COI) into the grave allegations of human rights abuses committed by the Myanmar Army more urgent. Both the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar and the High Commissioner for Human Rights have called for a COI at minimum in the Rakhine State, as does a recent letter drafted by 13 human rights NGOs to the 34th Session of the Human Rights Council which will discuss Myanmar next week. As it currently stands, there is no credible domestic alternative, with various state-mandated commissions refusing to acknowledge the abuses that have been well-documented by both the United Nations and numerous local and international organizations for years. A COI would first send a strong signal to the Myanmar Army that impunity will not go unaccounted for, and to the NLD-led Government that any leniency or sympathy previously granted given the Myanmar Army’s political stranglehold is losing ground. Furthermore, the strength of an international mandate, especially in light of the government’s repeated denials of military abuse, will press the NLD-led Government and the military to respond more substantively, as well as widen the domestic political space to discuss the protection of human rights. International recognition of its failure to protect its population from heinous crimes, combined with the recommendations put forth by the COI, may be the first elements needed to push the Myanmar Government to seriously address the root causes of a decades-long ethnic conflict and persecution of minorities in the country.


[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


Statements and Press Releases

Regional MPs Join With International Rights Groups to Call for UN Investigation into Rakhine State Abuses

By ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights

ႏိုင္ငံေရးဆိုင္ရာ ညွိႏႈိင္းေဆြးေႏြးေရး ကိုယ္စားလွယ္အဖြဲ႔ သတင္းထုတ္ျပန္ခ်က္
By Delegation for Political Negotiation

Delegation for Political Negotiation Press Release
By Delegation for Political Negotiation

Myanmar: End Arbitrary Detention of Human Rights Defender Khaing Myo Htun
By  Fortify Rights

Myanmar: Amend Special Economic Zones Law to Protect Human Rights
By International Commission of Jurists

Witness to Horror: New Report Details Myanmar Army Atrocities Against Rohingya Women
By Kaladan Press Network

Yanghee Lee,UN Expert Urges Action to Protect Rohingya population in Myanmar

By: United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner



Witness to Horror: Rohingya Women Speak Out About Myanmar Army Rape and Other Atrocities in Maungdaw

By Kaladan Press Network

Special Economic Zones in Myanmar and the State Duty to Protect Human rights

By International Commission of Jurists

ျမန္မာႏိုင္ငံရွိ မူးယစ္ေဆး၀ါးျပသာနာမ်ားကုိ ကိုင္တြယ္ေျဖရွင္းျခင္း – အေျပာင္းအလဲျပဳလုပ္ရန္ အေရးယူေဆာင္ရြက္ႏိုင္သည့္ အဓိကနယ္ပယ္က႑ (၅) ခု
By Transnational Institute

Addressing Drug Problems in Myanmar
By Transnational Institute

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