The UN Human Rights Council (HRC) that is currently in session has heard from the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Ms. Yanghee Lee on the current state of human rights in Myanmar. In the opening address to the HRC, UN Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein reiterated his concern for the “clear indications of well-organized, widespread and systematic attacks continuing to target the Rohingya in Rakhine State.” Despite these efforts and momentum building at the international level to hold Myanmar accountable for the mass atrocities against the Rohingya, more steps to address the decades-long atrocities and human rights abuses against ethnic and religious minorities must be taken.
In April, 2018, the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) asked the court to decide whether it has jurisdiction over deportation as a crime against humanity – allegedly committed by the Myanmar military – following the human rights violations committed against the Rohingya people in what the Special Rapporteur Ms. Lee describes as bearing ‘the hallmarks of genocide’. The ICC has collected observations from Bangladesh and has asked the Myanmar Government to provide observations by 27 July, 2018, but the Myanmar Government spokesman, Zaw Htay, has indicated they are unlikely to respond to the request. Although Myanmar is not a party to the Rome Statute, they have been asked to provide observations on the issue of deportation into Bangladesh, which is a state party to the Rome Statute, given that the alleged crimes started on Myanmar’s territory.
For the ICC to investigate other crimes committed by the Myanmar military, this would need a referral by the UN Security Council (UNSC). Unless a referral is made, those who have perpetrated crimes of sexual violence, torture, ethnic cleansing and other international war crimes that are alleged to have occurred within Myanmar, can continue on with impunity. Adding to this challenging situation is the lack of transparency and consultation concerning the undisclosed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Development Program (UNDP) and the Myanmar Government for the repatriation of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh back to Myanmar. This has triggered Rohingyas in Cox’s Bazar refugee camps to demonstrate for safe, dignified and voluntary return, which in the present political climate would be unsustainable given the failure to address the root causes of the conflict and failure to hold to account those who perpetrated crimes. Meanwhile persecution against Rohingya carries on inside Myanmar causing people continue to flee to Bangladesh.
The human rights violations in Rakhine State are indicative of the Myanmar military’s systematic pattern of violence against ethnic minorities throughout Myanmar. Recent artillery and aerial bombings at the hands of the Myanmar military in Kachin and northern Shan States has forced civilians to flee and become displaced, leaving an estimated total of 120,000 Internally displaced persons (IDPs). Kachin civilians who have found safety have recounted war crimes and crimes against humanity, including rape, torture and extrajudicial killings. Ethnic civil society organizations, such as the Kachin Women’s Association Thailand, Karen Human Rights Group, and the Women’s League of Burma, among others, have been documenting the abuses for many years.
Under the weight of international pressure, the Myanmar Government has endeavored to appease this pressure by setting up a string of domestic inquiries to investigate human rights violations against Rohingya. Each iteration of these domestic investigations has been marred with substantive and procedural flaws. These have lacked independence and impartiality, failed to protect witnesses and victims, and denied Rohingyas’ identity, usually referring to them as Bengali immigrants. Ultimately, the process is used to deflect and deny any human rights violations that have occurred, despite considerable evidence from independent sources to the contrary, with no political will to genuinely promote and protect the rights of the Rohingya.
Accountability is needed to answer to the decades-long human rights violations that amount to international crimes committed by the Myanmar military. In her oral report to the Human Rights Council, Ms. Lee said, “Power should not be absolute; power must be accountable. On ensuring accountability for gross violations of human rights and serious violations of international humanitarian law in Myanmar, we must admit that so far the United Nations and the international community have failed – once again.” To that end, she strongly recommends the UN Security Council to refer Myanmar to the ICC and for the HRC to establish an accountability mechanism. It is time for the Myanmar military to be held accountable for their decades-long cycle of repetitious and abhorrent crimes. For this, a strong commitment to human rights and accountability is needed from the international community. To ensure that these violations come to an end, the UNSC must refer Myanmar to the ICC, and the Human Rights Council must establish an accountability mechanism that will include providing support to victims of human rights violations. The people of Myanmar, particularly the ethnic nationalities and religious minorities who have suffered decades of persecution and human rights abuses deserve nothing less.
 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
By Human Rights Foundation of Monland
By Karen Community of Canada
By Karen Human Rights Group
By Karen Peace Support Network
By United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
By Free Burma Rangers
By Karen Environmental and Social Action Network
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.”