Bridging the Domestic Accountability Gap

After years of disappointment, civil society is pushing for a more effective and independent Myanmar[1] National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) by amending its founding law so it is in line with the international standards that guide national human rights institutions (NHRIs). Given the lack of political will in other domestic mechanisms such as the independent commission of enquiry (ICOE) to address the serious international crimes committed by the Myanmar military, it is vital that the MNHRC is given the strongest possible mandate by law to better address the human rights crisis in Myanmar today.

“If the MNHRC Law were amended, especially in regards to the selection process, the MNHRC would be empowered by commissioner with the willingness to tackle the power and impunity of the Myanmar military and its abuses.”

Thinzar Shunlei Yi, Advocacy Coordinator of Action Committee for Democracy Development

The MNHRC Law, which gives the MNHRC its mandate and lays out its duties and responsibilities, was passed in 2014. Yet the performance of the MNHRC has left a large trust deficit with civil society. In a briefing paper released on 3 August, 2019, the CSO Working Group on MNHRC reform, which consists of 24 Myanmar civil society organizations, made specific recommendations related to eight areas of the law that must be amended: the selection process, the ability to visit prisons without prior notification, its operational independence and powers, the pluralism of its staff, engagement with civil society, dismissal procedures, funding, and accountability to Parliament. One of the main problems is the selection process, which does not guarantee independence from both the government and the military, and thus places obstacles in the path of selecting commissioners with a commitment to human rights protection for all people of Myanmar. As Thinzar Shunlei Yi, Advocacy Coordinator of Action Committee for Democracy Development stated at the press conference in Yangon, “If the MNHRC Law were amended, especially in regards to the selection process, the MNHRC would be empowered by commissioner with the willingness to tackle the power and impunity of the Myanmar military and its abuses.” As the current term of some prominent commissioners ends in September 2019, it is vital that moving forward the MNHRC is reinvigorated with members who have the political will and the expertise to tackle pressing human rights issues, including accountability for the perpetrators of grave crimes committed in Rakhine, Shan and Kachin States.

The ineffectiveness of the MNHRC is in line with other examples of where domestic accountability in Myanmar has long been absent. Recent attempts such as the independent commission of enquiry (ICOE) have only served to deflect push for a genuine process to find accountability for the crimes committed by the Myanmar military. In the one year since it was established, it has proved a useful tool for some western governments to hide behind, and thus avoid substantive moves such as actively supporting an investigation by the ICC.

While the ICOE has provided a shield for international actors, the MNHRC has been a shield for successive Myanmar governments to deflect domestic criticism, especially in regards to the ongoing human rights violations committed by the Myanmar military. For example, after a massacre of villagers  who were under military custody from Kyautan Village, Rakhine State, the MNHRC sided with the military’s version of events, that they shot the villagers in self-defence, despite eye witness accounts that the killings were unprovoked.

It is time for such institutions to either be disbanded or reformed. An independent NHRI empowered with a mandate and the willingness to investigate powerful actors, including the Myanmar military, would be an asset for a country plagued by the worst human rights violations. As the next election looms, time is running out for lawmakers to make a substantive difference to the human rights situation in Myanmar. It is time to reinvigorate the MNHRC.

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[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

actions

Statements and Press Releases

လူ႔အခြင့္အေရးကို ပိုမုိေကာင္းမြန္စြာ ကာကြယ္ႏုိင္ေရးအတြက္ ေကာ္မရွင္ဥပေဒကို ျပင္

By 24 CSO Working Group on MNHRC Reform

MNHRC Law Must Be Amended for Better Protection of Human Rights

By 24 CSO Working Group on MNHRC Reform

ARTICLE 19 Urges Government to End Internet Shutdown

By Article 19

Drop Charges Against Detained Filmmaker

By Amnesty International

Kachin Alliance’s Statement on Sales of UAVs By Schiebel

By Kachin Alliance

Plan International Is Extremely Concerned About the Wellbeing of a Staff Member in Myanmar Who Was Shot and Injured in Mrauk U in Rakhine State on Sunday 28 July

By Plan International

UN Fact-Finding Mission to Hold Press Briefing in Jakarta

By UN Human Rights Council

reports

Reports

Recommendations on Reform of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission Law

By 24 CSO Working Group on MNHRC Reform

ျမန္မာႏိုင္ငံအမ်ဳိးသားလူ႔အခြင့္အေရးေကာ္မရွင္ ဥပေဒ ျပင္ဆင္ရန္အတြက္ အၾကံျပဳတိုက္တြန္းခ်က္ စာတမ္းတုိ

By 24 CSO Working Group on MNHRC Reform

Myanmar’s Internet Shutdown in Rakhine and Chin States

By Article 19

The Right to Information and Natural Resources in Myanmar

By Article 19

Concerns and Recommendations Regarding the Conflict in Rakhine State

By Women Peace 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.”

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