Tensions were high between the State Counsellor, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the European Union (EU) during her visit last week to Brussels, Belgium. Contrary to former diplomatic visits, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was met with criticism for rejecting an international fact-finding mission to establish the facts and circumstances of the alleged human rights violations by the Myanmar military and security forces.
During a joint press conference with the EU’s top diplomat, Ms. Federica Mogherini, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi distanced herself from claims that the agreed resolution by the Human Rights Council (HRC) would help, “clear up uncertainty about allegations of killings, torture and rape against the Rohingya Muslim minority.” When asked about how the Myanmar Government was to proceed on the resolution, the State Counsellor rejected its terms on the grounds that international input would divide communities. Her comments drew criticism from rights groups, notably Human Rights Watch who wrote a letter to the European Council in the lead up to the State Counsellor’s visit expressing concern over ongoing and serious human rights abuses in Myanmar, specifically citing her lack of support for the fact-finding mission in Rakhine, Kachin and northern Shan States. As European diplomats call into question the ethics of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD-led Government, it is becoming apparent that there is a selectivity process in who benefits from her 2015 campaign platform of democracy, human rights and national reconciliation.
Meanwhile, as the European Union’s arm embargo on Myanmar remains in place, the Commander in Chief of Myanmar’s military, General Min Aung Hlaing, also visited Germany and Austria in what was touted as a ‘good-will trip.’ Despite a report by the UN this year detailing human rights abuses by General Min Aung Hlaing’s soldiers against the persecuted Rohingya minority, as well other documented violations against ethnic civilians in northern Shan and Kachin States, his visit was relished in gift exchanges, tours and elaborate dinners. Burma Campaign UK condemned Germany and Austria for hosting the alleged wartime criminal, suggesting that his army remains the biggest obstacles to peace in Myanmar. “His army committed crimes against humanity, yet he’s been so warmly welcomed in a civilized world” said Kyaw Win, secretary general of the Burma Human Rights Network. Foreign governments and officials must cease these visits to hold the Myanmar Government and military accountable for its actions.
“His army committed crimes against humanity, yet he’s been so warmly welcomed in a civilized world”
Perhaps one of the biggest threats to Myanmar’s transition to federal democracy is within ultranationalist Buddhist organization, Ma Ba Tha, which also rejects the UN-mandated mission. Following the closing of two Islamic schools last week for accusations alleging the prayer spaces were in defiance of restrictions previously imposed by authorities against the schools, Buddhist extremist, U Wirathu – renowned for spearheading anti-Muslim campaigns across the country – visited the troubled Arakan State accommodated and escorted by Border police. His trip sent waves of mixed messaging and concern over the safety of Muslims living in the area, many of whom identify as Rohingya and have been targets of hate crimes in a brutal military crackdown.
The unexpected visit from U Wirathu is especially tense after he celebrated the recent assassination of renowned Muslim lawyer, U Ko Ni by expressing gratitude towards the killers when he stated, “At this time, I feel relief for the future of Buddhism in my country,” The rise of Buddhist ultra-nationalism has unfortunately heightened a lack of religious tolerance with current Government doing little to protect the Muslim minorities. U Wirathu finds momentum in these limitations through expediting hate speech in his sermons by explicitly using the conflict in Rakhine State to create a narrative that speaks to the threat of a Muslim takeover of the country. With over 150,000 Rohingya fleeing violence since 2012, U Wirathu’s visit raised an alarm given his vitriolic messages of hatred in the midst of pressure being put on the Government for cooperation with the fact-finding mission. According to Reuters, a Muslim community leader in northern Rakhine State expressed fear over U Wirathu’s visit and issued a warning through religious networks, “We are concerned about his trip because he always spreads hate of Muslims,” said the leader, who declined to be identified for fear of retaliations.
Under these circumstances a UN-mandated fact-finding mission is urgently and desperately needed. As violence and hate speech expands throughout the country, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has an obligation to pressure her Government and the Army to cooperate with the UN to carry out the fact-finding mission in order to advance human rights protection and security for all people of Myanmar. In addition, international governments must ensure that the Myanmar Government, in particular, the Myanmar Army are held accountable.
 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
UK: Aung San Suu Kyi must help end Burmese military’s vicious campaign against Rohingya people
By Amnesty International
Statement: Ten Questions for Aung San Suu Kyi and Myths Debunked
By Burma Campaign UK
Continuing Tensions around Tharkayta Islamic Schools
By Burma Human Rights Network
Scorecard Assessing Freedom of Expression in Myanmar
By Article 19, Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, Burma News International, Human Rights Defenders Forum, Human Rights, Human Dignity Film Festival, Myanmar IT for Development Organisation, Myanmar Journalist Network, Myanmar Journalists Association, Myanmar Journalist Union, Myanmar Media Lawyers Network, PEN Myanmar, Pyi Gyi Khin,Equality Myanmar and Yangon Journalism School
MNHRC: Three Year Report 2011-2014
By Myanmar National Human Rights Commission
MNHRC: 2015 Annual Report
By Myanmar National Human Rights Commission
Urgent Humanitarian Situation Update in Northern Shan State
Joint Strategy Team
Jump-starting the stalled peace process: Is Revitalization of the 1961 Federal Amendment Proposal the Way to Go?
By Sai Wansai/Transnational Institute
Mixed Movements in Southeast Asia – 2016
By UNHCR Regional Office for South-East Asia
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.”