The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Ms. Yanghee Lee, giving her end-of-mission statement on 1 February, 2018 despite being barred from entering the country, laid bare the extent of the deeply troubling human rights violations experienced by the people of Myanmar, not just over the past few months, but over the past few decades. Stressing the horrors of what has been happening to the Rohingya since August 2017 – made all the more tragic given reports of more mass graves of Rohingya being found – she also outlined how this is not an isolated, recent situation, but that other ethnic groups “have suffered the same horrific violations at the hands of the Tatmadaw [Myanmar Army] over several decades” as she highlights their struggle for “belonging” and “equality.”
Her statement spoke of the horror that caused the nearly 700,000 Rohingya to flee northern Rakhine State into Bangladesh over the past few months, saying “No amount of videos, photographs or news footage can prepare you for witnessing in-person the immensity of the camps and gravity of the loss and suffering experienced by the Rohingya population.” Her statement comes in the same week that news reports of the existence of five previously-unreported mass graves of Rohingya villagers in Gu Yar Pyin Village, Rakhine State. While the Myanmar Army has denied the existence of these graves, access to the area is restricted for journalists, while access for independent human rights investigators and organizations is obviously out of the question.
It is of major concern how many mass graves will eventually be found in the aftermath of the ferocious military operation that began in August 2017, especially given policies of disinformation, denial, restricted access and the narrative of securitization being peddled as justification for such violence. This has led to a merging together of the interests of the Myanmar Army and the Myanmar Government with both actors working together in a frightening nexus of abuse and denial. Yet as Ms. Lee points out, the brave actions of journalists reporting on such issues have led to one admission of culpability of the Myanmar Army with the mass grave at Inn Din Village. The consequence of such reporting, however, has been that they have been locked up in jail, denied bail, and facing up to 14 years in prison after being charged under the colonial era, Official Secrets Act.
It is not only journalists that are in locked up for exposing the abuses of the Myanmar Army. Two Kachin pastors who had previously helped journalists report on the Myanmar Army’s shelling of civilian targets including a church during fighting between the Myanmar Army and ethnic armed organizations in northern Shan State in November 2016 remain in prison for their efforts. This conflict and abuse by the Myanmar Army continues in northern Myanmar, especially in Shan and Kachin State. Since 19 January, three townships in Kachin State have faced a renewed offensive including aerial shelling leading to thousands being displaced in addition to civilian casualties. For the past several years, humanitarian aid has been insufficient for the over 100,000 internally displaced persons living in these areas, largely due to the Myanmar Army blocking access for aid provision.
Ms. Lee has been barred from accessing Myanmar due to her work as an independent human rights reporter on Myanmar – a mandate bestowed on her by the UN. The need for her to give her press conference in Seoul, South Korea, rather than Yangon, Myanmar, speaks volumes for where the country stands on human rights. Denial and obfuscations regarding the human rights situation for ethnic and religious minorities by the Myanmar authorities is becoming less effective as the country has opened up to greater scrutiny as well as the technological advances that allow the wide dissemination of information. This has allowed the wider international community to have greater depth and breadth of knowledge regarding the violations that the Myanmar Army commits.
Such violations are committed in a systematic and institutionalized manner against ethnic minorities and have been for decades – as evidenced by the approximately 100,000 refugees on the Thailand border, the majority of whom are ethnic Karen and Karenni, who fear for their security if they return. The Myanmar Government has thus far refused to address or even acknowledge this institutionalized pattern of abuse. However, the international community – which states its commitment to the democratization process at every opportunity – must grapple with the real shortcomings of an abusive and unaccountable Army that has shown no political will or made any compromise towards genuine peace, democracy and ethnic equality.
 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
Hillary Clinton to Present Human Rights Awards Monday at Georgetown
By Georgetown University
Chairman Royce Statement on Burma
By House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce
Statement Condemning Tatmadaw Airstrikes Against Unarmed Civilians
By Kachin Alliance
KNU President General Mutu Say Poe’s Address on 69th Anniversary of Karen National Revolutionary Resistance
By Karen National Union, President General Mutu Say Poe
End of Mission Statement by Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar
By Ms Yanghee Lee, UN Special Rapporteur on situation of human rights in Myanmar
Northern Burma Clash Account – December 2017
By Free Burma Ranger
Urgent Update on Humanitarian Situation in Kachin State
By Joint Strategy Team
Humanitarian Update on the Situation in Kachin State
By Joint Strategy Team
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.”