Myanmar’s Latest Whitewash

December 18th, 2018  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  7 minute read
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The latest Myanmar[1] government-led Independent Commission of Enquiry (CoE) to finally find out the ‘truth’ behind what happened in Rakhine State in 2017, after having spoken with the military, is now giving victims a few weeks to submit evidence of abuse by the end of January 2019. Such kinds of public relations exercises – this being the eighth of its kind – are usually used as a shield to hide from the international community what happened and thus avoid taking meaningful action to pursue accountability and justice for the hundreds of thousands of victims of genocidal violence. This comes in the same week as the US House of Representatives officially designating what happened in Rakhine State, as indeed genocide.

The Myanmar government’s CoE held a press conference on 12 December, 2018, inviting people to submit evidence of abuses by 31 January, 2019 as it prepares its report for the President’s Office which is due in August 2019. The CoE, as ever insensitive to the plight of people it doesn’t even recognize as existing, the Rohingya, said it accepts evidence submitted in ‘Bengali language’ – the Rohingya speak Rohingya language, and stating ‘Bengali’ is part of the government’s policy of not recognizing the term, ‘Rohingya.’ With the Rohingya having faced decades of persecution and violence from state actors, it is no surprise that they have very legitimate security concerns in testifying in front of a government-led probe where their personal details will be logged. Their freedom of movement has long been restricted in Myanmar while retaliation is a very real threat, as outlined by the UN Secretary-General in September 2018, “During a briefing by members of the Security Council on their mission to Myanmar, it was reported that Myanmar security forces had threatened Rohingya villagers with reprisals if they talked to members of the delegation during the visit and had told the villagers that those who had done so were being sought.” Mahmout Sori, a refugee and member of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, expressed this fear upon the invitation to submit evidence, “Our people fear they will be intimidated by Myanmar government once they provide their accounts [of what happened].”

A clear example of what happens to people who expose the realities behind what the Myanmar military has done to the Rohingya community is the case of the two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. It has now been one year since their arrest under the Official Secrets Act, for possessing documents given to them by the Myanmar police in a sting operation. The reason behind their continued imprisonment is that they were working on a story that exposes the details and planning behind a massacre of Rohingya villagers in Inn Din, Rakhine State. This is what happens to people in Myanmar who expose the truth with concrete facts. It is no wonder that Rohingya refugees remain frightened.

This is especially the case given the reasons behind the establishment of the CoE. The members of the commission and the Myanmar government have already publicly expressed biased and prejudicial comments, which have compromised the impartiality and neutrality of the CoE. The spokesperson for the Office of the President has stated: “We have formed the Independent Commission of Enquiry to response [sic] to false allegations made by the UN Agencies and other international communities.” Echoing this point, the Japanese member of the Commission, Kenzo Oshima stated that due to “reports which are frankly too one-sided,” the government felt the need to set up the CoE “to bring in more balance, set the record straight.”  The Chairperson of the CoE, former deputy Foreign Minister of the Philippines, Rosario Manalo, has declared that “there will be no blaming of anybody, no finger-pointing of anybody…  saying you’re accountable,” indicating that in the view of the Chairperson, accountability is not a part of the mandate of the CoE. Lastly, despite the overwhelming evidence that is freely available that points conclusively to genocide, including from the UN-mandated Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, Chairperson Manalo stated “for the time being, allegations are still allegations. There is no conclusive evidence.”

However, there is clearly enough evidence for the US House of Representatives to vote overwhelmingly – 394 to one – on a resolution on 13 December, 2018 that determines what happened in 2017 was genocide. As House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman, Ed Royce, stated, “The United States has a moral obligation to call these crimes genocide. Failing to do so gives the perpetrators cover and hinders efforts to bring those accountable to justice. With this resolution, the House fulfills its part of that duty.”

The government’s CoE lacks credibility, impartiality and independence, particularly in the broader context of the country under which it operates. This includes the ongoing impunity of the Myanmar military and its influence over key ministries, the lack of rule of law and a judicial system that operates under the purview of the Myanmar military. Thus, the CoE is incapable of providing justice, accountability and redress to victims and survivors of these grave human rights violations and to effectively combat ongoing impunity in Myanmar. It is merely a shield for the government to hide behind and the international community must not fall into this trap of deflection. Otherwise, justice and accountability will be delayed while the Myanmar military is further emboldened to continue its campaigns of terror and persecution.


Thank you for your continued support and we look forward to continuing our work with you in the coming year. Our Weekly Highlights will take a short hiatus over the holidays, but we will return with a full issue on the week of 14 January 2019. We wish you happy holidays and all the best for 2019.

Best wishes,

The Progressive Voice Team


[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


Statements and Press Releases

United States: Ensure U.N. Security Council Refers Myanmar to the ICC

By 23 Rohingya organizations and Fortify Rights

This Human Rights Day the World Needs to Remember Burma

By Burma Human Rights Network

Kachin Human Rights Activists in Prison on UDHR Anniversary

By Burma Human Rights Network

Economic Interest of Burmese Military must be Targeted – EU Takes Encouraging Steps Forward

By Burma Human Rights Network

Free Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, Protect Media Freedom: One-year Anniversary of the Arbitrary Detention of Reuters Journalists

By Fortify Rights

Declaring Genocide in Burma

By Foreign Affairs Committee of United States

ျမန္မာႏိုင္ငံ အစိုးရ၏ ေျမယာႏွင့္ သက္ဆိုင္သည့္ ဥပေဒမ်ားအေပၚ ေကအဲန္ယူ – ကရင္အမ်ိဳးသားအစည္းအရံုး၏ ရပ္တည္ခ်က္ႏွင့္ သေဘာထားထုတ္ျပန္ခ်က္

By Karen National Union Headquarters

Statement of KNU’s Position regarding Land Laws of the Myanmar Government

By Karen National Union Headquarters

Legal Analysis Statement on 70 Years Anniversary of Emergence of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights

By Legal Aid Network

Myanmar: UN Expert Dismayed by Jail Terms for Kachin Activists

By UN Human Rights



Suffering in Silence? Sexual Violence Against Women in Southeast Myanmar

By Karen Human Rights Group

Implementation of Burma’s Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Land Management Law: At Odds with the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement and Peace Negotiations

By Jason Gelbort

အက်ဥ္းေထာင္တြင္းလူဦးေရေလ်ာ့ခ်ႏုိင္ေရးအေရးတႀကီးလုပ္ေဆာင္ရန္လိုအပ္သည့္ အက်ဥ္းေထာင္စနစ္ ျပဳျပင္ေျပာင္းလဲေရး နည္းလမ္းမ်ား အစီရင္ခံစာ

By Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma)

“Prison Overcrowding and the Need for Urgent Reform”

By Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma)

“A Declaration of War on Us”: The 2018 VFV Law Amendment and its Impact on Ethnic Nationalities

By Transnational Institute (TNI)

Clash Summary: Steady Fighting in November in Northern Burma

By Free Burma Rangers

Documenting Atrocity Crimes Committed against the Rohingya in Myanmar’s Rakhine State

By Public International Law and Policy Group

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.”