The UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee completed her mission as mandated by the Human Rights Council last week, and despite the Myanmar government still barring her from accessing the country, she was able to gather information on the grave human rights issues in Myanmar today, and in particular in Rakhine State. Among the pressing issues she addressed in her end-of-mission statement are the mounting deaths of Rakhine civilians in military custody, the continuing internet shutdown in Rakhine State, the situation of refugees from all over Myanmar, and the continuing impunity of the Myanmar military. Given the severity of these issues, and the atrocious crimes that the military is committing, it is no surprise that they do not want her to have access to the country to report, but the Myanmar government itself is doing permanent damage to its reputation due to its own efforts to block her essential human rights reporting.
Of major concern is the growing number of arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial killings in Rakhine State as conflict between the Arakan Army (AA) and the Myanmar military continues unabated. According to Radio Free Asia, 15 people have died while in military or police custody in Rakhine State since March 2019. It does not bode well for the six Rakhine men deported from Singapore, accused of raising funds for the AA one of whom is the brother of the AA leader. Meanwhile, the Myanmar military is ramping up its military operations using helicopters to conduct airstrikes on suspected AA positions.
Rakhine State has been in a constant state of major state-sponsored violence since 2016 when the first clearance operations by the Myanmar military drove over a hundred thousand Rohingya over the border to Bangladesh. This was followed in August 2017 by a major operation that drove a further 700,000 Rohingya across the border in a campaign of intense violence of the UN-mandated Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar concluded that the top generals in Myanmar military be investigated and prosecuted for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. It is now the mostly Buddhist Rakhine communities and the Chin communities in the neighboring state that are facing the brunt of Myanmar military’s violence that has displaced up to 55,000 people in Rakhine.
There are, however, moves towards finding the perpetrators responsible. The US has imposed sanctions on four individuals in the form of travel bans, on Commander-in-Chief, Min Aung Hlaing and three other top generals. The US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo stated, “We remain concerned that the Burmese government has taken no actions to hold accountable those responsible for human rights violations and abuses, and there are continued reports of the Burmese military committing human rights violations and abuses throughout the country.” However, more needs to be done to substantively address the impunity of the Myanmar military, and what Mark Farmaner from Burma Campaign UK succinctly describes as a “holiday ban” is simply not enough, stressing that “limiting Min Aung Hlaing’s holiday options is not a proportionate response to genocide.”
More substantive than the “holiday ban” is that the Prosecutor’s office at the International Criminal Court (ICC) has begun to prepare for a possible investigation into the Myanmar military and is visiting Bangladesh to speak to government officials there. The next step is dependent on the decision of the pre-trial chamber at the ICC authorizing a full investigation into the crime against humanity of deportation that the prosecutor’s office requested on 4 July, 2019. This is a vital step in pursuing criminal accountability but it is still limited to the crime of deportation due to Myanmar not being a State Party to the Rome Statute of the ICC. In order for full accountability to be achieved and the end to the Myanmar military’s continuing crimes, the UN Security Council (UNSC) must fulfill its own mandate, and refer Myanmar to the ICC, thus paving the way for a full investigation and prosecution to the heinous crimes committed predominantly in ethnic areas, including in Kachin, Shan, Karen and Rakhine States. As Yanghee Lee stated in reference to the military’s current campaign of violence in Rakhine State, “We have seen this before. We saw it happen to minorities in Shan and Kayin States in the 1990s and 2000s. We saw it happen to the Rohingya in 2016 and 2017. And we are seeing it happen to other minorities in Rakhine State now.” How much longer will the UNSC standby and let this continue?
 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 International Karen Organization
By Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom
By Telenor Myanmar
By UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner
By UN Special Envoy of the Secretary General on Myanmar
By UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
By UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
By United League of Arakan/Arakan Army
By U.S. Department of State
By UNICEF Myanmar
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.”