Achieving Justice for Gross Human Rights Violations in Myanmar

1 General human rights situation in the country

1.1 Background

From 1962 to 2011, a succession of military governments, ruled in a strict chain of command by the country’s military Head of State, perpetrated gross violations of human rights and crimes under international law in Myanmar. In 2011, executive power was transferred to a quasi-civilian government that pursued significant economic and political reforms. After receiving an overwhelming majority of the votes in the November 2015 elections, the National League for Democracy (NLD) took office in March 2016.

The NLD-led Government is Myanmar’s first democratically elected, civilian-led government since the military coup of 1962. The NLD has committed to prioritize the establishment of the rule of law in Myanmar. However, it faces many longstanding challenges brought about by decades of authoritarian military rule that has systematically weakened Myanmar’s judiciary and compromised the independence of its legal system. Most of the population have been consistently denied access to the courts and effective remedies as a result of unfair and discriminatory laws, as well as poor court decisions. Political and military influence over judges remains a major obstacle to the rule of law, with the executive branch, the military and security apparatus maintaining undue influence over the judiciary.

Security forces in Myanmar, including the police and army, have a long and welldocumented history of violating the rights of the people of Myanmar, in particular including against members of ethnic minorities. The military (the Tatmadaw) wields undue influence over various sectors in the country, including the judiciary. By law and in practice the security forces have blocked and remain capable of blocking independent and impartial investigations, allowing impunity for human rights violations.1 Victims and survivors of human rights violations, even with respect to those constituting crimes under international law, have not received effective legal redress.

Discussions on transitional justice have taken a back seat to the peace process, land reform, economic development and an exhaustive list of legislative reforms proposed by various actors. A tense balance exists between the NLD-Government and a powerful military with control over the State’s administrative structures such that changing governance systems and power relationships are constantly under negotiation. Despite significant reforms, the military remains the most powerful institution in the country, largely outside the control of the civilian government. Cohabitation and cooperation with the military is a key challenge for the NLD.

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