2018 Must Seek to Hold the Myanmar Army Accountable and End its Impunity and Crimes Against Minorities

2018 begins in the same vein that 2017 finished, with the continued military offensives, the denial of access to independent human rights investigators and the continuing arrests of journalists. Further, the deteriorating human rights situation in Myanmar[1] is inextricably linked to the entrenched power and impunity of the Myanmar Army, which continues to overshadow any efforts towards achieving sustainable peace and democracy in Myanmar. These events over the holiday period serve to demonstrate the enormity of challenges that Myanmar must deal with in the year ahead.

Arbitrary arrests of journalists have highlighted the real and continued danger that those investigating abuses of power face. Following the arrest of three journalists in Shan State last year in June, and the arrest of journalist and photographer Aung Naing Soe, Singaporean journalist Lau Hon Meng and Malaysian journalist Mok Choy Lin in November, the arrest and detention in December of two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, under the Official Secrets Act, threatens press freedom and has drawn wide condemnation. The two Reuters journalists were investigating the Rohingya crisis in Rakhine State and now face up to 14 years in jail.  The persecution of journalists reporting stories on human rights violations, especially related to ethnic and religious repression and armed conflict, is a worrying precedent and is indicative of a shrinking space in civil society for those speaking out against human rights abuses.

It is not just journalists who are finding that the government is placing restrictions upon their work. In late December 2017, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Ms. Yanghee Lee, due to visit Myanmar in January 2018 to assess the human rights situation, was barred from entering Myanmar and was told that the Myanmar Government would no longer cooperate with her visits. In response, Ms. Lee said, “This declaration of non-cooperation with my mandate can only be viewed as a strong indication that there must be something terribly awful happening in Rakhine, as well as in the rest of the country.” Unfortunately, it only appears these indications are correct.

“This declaration of non-cooperation with my mandate can only be viewed as a strong indication that there must be something terribly awful happening in Rakhine, as well as in the rest of the country.”

Ms. Yanghee Lee, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar

The admission by the Myanmar Army of its culpability in the deaths of 10 Rohingya villagers, whose remains were found in a mass grave in Inn Din village near Maungdaw in Rakhine State, gives weight to the UN human rights chief’s description of the Myanmar Army’s actions as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”  As an internal inquiry by the Myanmar Army into potential atrocities committed by its security forces published in November 2017 found that no atrocities were committed and exonerated the Army of blame, it is highly unlikely that this admission marks the start of a new era of accountability for the Myanmar Army. Moreover, in the face of the harrowing reports coming out the refugee camps in Bangladesh and in light of Médecins Sans Frontières’s  estimate of at least 6,700 Rohingya having been killed, it is likely the true number of those killed is far higher, and that there are many more mass graves waiting to be found. The dangers for independent journalists or investigators looking into such cases is demonstrated by the arrests of the aforementioned Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, for allegedly possessing material relating to this case, and of witnesses and collaborators, including four villagers and two policemen, before the military admitted its culpability. The current whereabouts and fate of these four villagers and two policemen are still unknown, and this is worrying as it could lead to more concern and silencing of witnesses who may fear possible reprisals.

In addition to committing the atrocities in Rakhine State, the Myanmar Army has continued the dry season offensives in Kachin and northern Shan States, with increased fighting between the Myanmar Army and ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) forcing villagers to flee, creating an estimated 1,200 new internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the region. This has aggravated the already worrisome humanitarian situation in the two northern states, where continued blockage of humanitarian aid access to IDPs by the Myanmar Army has become commonplace. These attacks on civilians – many who are women and children – constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes and the offensive is particularly cruel in the cold of winter during the Christmas period, as the ethnic Kachin are primarily Christians. Many civilians were displaced and injured, while a twelve year old boy was killed by a mortar shell on Christmas Eve.

The Myanmar Army has continued the dry season offensives in Kachin and northern Shan States, with increased fighting between the Myanmar Army and ethnic armed organizations (EAOs) forcing villagers to flee, creating an estimated 1,200 new internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the region. This has aggravated the already worrisome humanitarian situation in the two northern states, where continued blockage of humanitarian aid access to IDPs by the Myanmar Army has become commonplace.

These events highlight a lack of accountability for the Myanmar Army and demonstrate its entrenched impunity, and thus the importance of the independent, UN-mandated Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) is painfully clear. It may be that the FFM, its results and the level of cooperation from the Myanmar Government, will prove to be a defining moment for Myanmar in 2018. There must be a domestic political will to address the problems and recommendations in the eventual findings of the FFM.

Myanmar has vast monumental challenges to address in the year ahead. The continued suffering of Myanmar’s ethnic and religious minorities must cease and humanitarian aid must be allowed to reach IDPs in Rakhine, Kachin and northern Shan States. The events of the last year have only highlighted the need for the work of investigative journalists and human rights defenders, as well as for freedom of expression to be urgently protected. Journalists, human rights documenters and activists should be able to conduct their legitimate work without fear of arbitrary arrest, detention or imprisonment.

The international community must take a clear stand and concrete actions in the year ahead to stand on the principle of universal human rights, to end violence and atrocities on the ground and to work towards a solution that is sustainable for the most marginalized and vulnerable ethnic and religious minority populations of Myanmar. This includes those Shans and Kachins who have suffered the violent mortar shelling over Christmas and the Rohingyas who have escaped the horrific situation they experienced over the past year. The root causes of these crises must be resolved, including addressing the unaccountable power and the on-going impunity of the Myanmar Army. Targeted individual financial sanctions against Myanmar army generals and ending bilateral military cooperation, as well as supporting a UN Security Council imposed global arms embargo will be the first steps in the right direction to ensure the country progresses towards a democratic, equal, equitable and accountable society that protects the rights of all peoples in Myanmar.

__________

[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: Reuters Journalists Must be Released
By Amnesty International

Myanmar: Military’s mass grave admission exposes extrajudicial killings of Rohingya
By Amnesty International

Burma Must Release Journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo Immediately
By Burma Human Rights Network

ျမန္မာ့အမ်ဳိးသမီးသမဂၢ အဌမအႀကိမ္ေျမာက္ညီလာခံ ထုတ္ျပန္ေၾကညာခ်က္
By Burmese Women’s Union

Local EU Statement on the Myanmar Military’s Admission of Extrajudicial Killings of 10 Muslim Villagers in Rakhine State
By Delegation of the European Union to Myanmar

Scandal of Luxury Yachts Built in the UK with Illegitimate Burmese Teak
By Environmental Investigation Agency

Myanmar: Drop Charges, Release Arbitrarily Detained Journalists
By Fortify Rights

Burma: Privacy Law Used to Prosecute Critics
By Human Rights Watch

ARSA Ambush No Excuse For Further Violence Against Rohingya
By International Campaign for the Rohingya

Myanmar: Journalists Charged under Official Secrets Act
By International Federation of Journalists

SASC Chairman John McCain Calls for the Release of Reuters Journalists Detained in Burma
By John McCAIN, US Senator

Karenni Civil Society Network on the extrajudicial killing of three KNPP soldiers and one civilian
By Karenni Civil Society Network

ေကအဲန္ပီပီရဲေဘာ္သုံးဦး ႏွင့္ အရပ္သားတစ္ဦးအား ဥပေဒမဲ့သတ္ျဖတ္မႈအေပၚ ကရင္နီလူမႈအဖြဲ႔အစည္းကြန္ယက္၏ သတင္းထုတ္ျပန္ခ်က္
By Karenni Civil Society Network

70th Anniversary of the Kachin State Day Statement
By Kachin National Organization

ကခ်င္ႏိုင္ငံေရးပါတီမ်ား ညိႇႏိႈင္းပူးေပါင္းေဆာင္ရြက္ေရးေကာ္မတီ (KPCC)၏ ၂၀၁၈ ခုႏွစ္ ႏွစ္သစ္ကူးသ၀ဏ္လႊာ
By Kachin Political Parties Coordination Committee

ႏိုင္ငံတကာအဖဲ ြ႔ အစည္းမ်ားမွဦးေဆာင္ျပီး အထက္ဧရာ၀တီျမစ္ညာျမစ္၀ွမ္းေဒသတြင္ ေရအားလွ်ပ္စစ္က႑ အ တြက္ မူ၀ါဒေလ့လာဆန္းစစ္မႈအေပၚ ကခ်င္ႏိုင္ငံေရးပါတီမ်ားညိႇႏိႈင္းပူးေပါင္းေဆာင္ရြက္ေရးေကာ္မတီ၏ သေဘာထားထုတ္ျပန္ခ်က္

By Kachin Political Parties Coordination Committee

တအာင္းဥပေဒအေထာက္အကူျပဳအဖဲြ႔(TLA)တာ၀န္ခံ မုိင္းမ်ိဳးေအာင္ ဖမ္းဆီးထိန္းသိမ္းခံရျခင္းအေပၚ လူ႔အခြင့္အေရးမွတ္တမ္းကြန္ရက္ ျမန္မာႏုိင္ငံ (ND-Burma) ၏ ထုတ္ျပန္ခ်က္
By ND-Burma

Reporters Without Borders Urges Myanmar to Free Two Reuters Reporters
By Reporters Without

Restoration Council of Shan State Statement on the National Political Dialogue of Shan Nationalities
By Restoration Council of Shan State

သွ်မ္းလူမ်ဳိးအလုိက္ အမ်ဳိးသားအဆင့္ ႏုိင္ငံေရးေဆြးေႏြးပြႏဲွင့္ ပတ္သက္၍ ထုတ္ျပန္ေၾကညာခ်က္
By Restoration Council of Shan State

Statement of Tanintharyi Weekly about Lawsuit by Tanintharyi Region Government
By The Tanintharyi Weekly

ဥပေဒ အေထာက္အကူျပဳအဖြဲ႔ တာ၀န္ခံ မိုင္းမ်ဳိးေအာင္ ဖမ္းဆီးခ်ဳပ္ေႏွာင္ခံရျခင္းအေပၚ မိမိတို႔ တအာင္းေက်ာင္းသားႏွင့္ လူငယ္မ်ားအဖြဲ႔ႏွင့္ တအာင္းအမ်ိဳးသမီးအဖြဲ႔၏ ပူးတြဲသေဘာထားထုတ္ျပန္ခ်က္
By Ta’ang Women’s Organization

Press Release by United Nationalities Federal Council Central Executive Committee (Extended) Meeting
By United Nationalities Federal Council -Burma

ညီညြတ္ေသာတိုင္းရင္းသားလူမ်ဳိးမ်ားဖက္ဒရယ္ေကာင္စီ၏ ဗဟုိအလုပ္အမႈေဆာင္ေကာ္မတီ (တုိးခ်ဲ႕) အစည္းအေဝး သတင္းထုတ္ျပန္ခ်က္
By United Nationalities Federal Council – Burma

Rohingya Children Trapped in ‘Appalling’ Conditions in Myanmar’s Rakhine State
By United Nations Children’s Fund – UNICEF

ၿမန္မာႏုုိင္ငံတြင္း လူငယ္မ်ား မတရားဖမ္းဆီး၊အက်ဥ္းခ်၊ တရားစြဲခံရမွုုမ်ားအေပၚ ေက်ာင္းသား၊ လူငယ္၊ အရပ္ဘက္ အဖြဲ ့အစည္း/ကြန္ရက္မ်ား (၁၁၃)ဖြဲ ့၏ သေဘာထားေၾကညာခ်က္ ထုုတ္ၿပန္ၿခင္း
By 113 Civil Society Organizations

reports

Reports

Submission from Burma Campaign UK: International Development Committee Inquiry – DFID’s country programme in Burma and Bangladesh
By Burma Campaign UK

Geneva Palais briefing note: The situation of children in Rakhine State, Myanmar

 By Marixie Mercado, UNICEF spokesperson in Geneva

United States Commission on International Religious Freedom: Burma Chapter – 2017 Annual report
By United States Commission on International Religious Freedom


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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