The World Must Open Its Eyes, Listen and Feel with Their Hearts

September 21st, 2019  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  6 minute read
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The recent reporting by the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar[1] and the UN-mandated Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar (IIFFMM) to the Human Rights Council (the “Council”), clearly demonstrated the extent to which the human rights situation in Myanmar has continued to deteriorate, particularly in ethnic areas. Ethnic and religious minorities continue to be persecuted and systematically oppressed as we observe an increase in arrests of ethnic human rights defenders, while systemic human rights violations, particularly in conflict areas, carry on.

The Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar delivered her oral statement to the 42nd regular session of the Council on 16 September, 2019. In her powerful delivery to the Council, she implored the State Councellor, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, “to open your eyes, listen, feel with your heart, and please use your moral authority, before it is too late.”

The Special Rapporteur’s report submitted to the Council describes deplorable human rights situation in Myanmar, particularly in conflict-ridden ethnic areas. In Rakhine State, Myanmar military bases have been built on land that belongs to the Rohingya who have fled genocide, while only 320 villages out of 392 villages that were destroyed – many completely razed to the ground – have been reconstructed, illustrating the unwillingness of the government to prepare the ground for the safe, dignified and voluntary return of the Rohingya. Meanwhile, indiscriminate use of heavy artillery shelling, gunfire and landmines in civilian areas, which has led to deaths of civilians, persist as conflict between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army continue. As the Special Rapporteur stated, “Myanmar has done nothing to dismantle the system of violence and persecution [in Rakhine]…”

In response to her oral statement, the Myanmar delegation continued to express their disdain for the Special Rapporteur and maintained their position to bar her from entering the country. In the same statement, the government professed to promoting and protecting human rights stating “it is now at the core of what we plan and how we take the decision.”

This could not be farther from the truth.

Naw Ohn Hla, chairperson of the Karen Women’s Union and a long time Karen women human rights defender was arrested on September 9, 2019, charged under section 20 of the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law by the  Kyauktada police chief in Yangon. Charges came after organizing an anual Karen martyer’s commemoration ceremony. For nearly 70 years, “Karen Martyr’s Day” has been celebrated to commemorate the day the founders of the Karen National Union were killed in an ambush by the Myanmar military in 1950. The arrest of the leading organizer of the event not only an affront to freedom of expression, but is a blatant display of oppression against ethnic people by the Myanmar authorities, particularly those who dare to celebrate their history and heroes. Rather than clamping down on these ethnic voices, the government should heed the calls of the Special Rapporteur and listen to their voices.

The root of the conflict and human rights violations of ethnic and religious minorities is the prioritization and domination of the Bamar-Buddhist identity that harbors culture of impunity and continues to embolden the Myanmar military to act with impunity. Urgent steps must be taken to hold this brutal institution to account.

While the establishment of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM) is a welcome step following the recommendation of the IIFFMM, this is still only a single step towards accountability. This must be followed by further steps, including a referral of the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court or establishment of an independent tribunal, exercising universal jurisdiction, divesting from military owned businesses and companies, as well as targeted sanctions against members of the Myanmar military and arms embargoes. In the meantime, there must be regular public reporting and monitoring of the situation of human rights in Myanmar, as the gravity of crimes warrant continuing serious attention of the international community. This could be achieved by broadening the mandate of the Special Rapporteur or the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). It is for the sake of not only all people of Myanmar, but the wider world that we bring perpetrators of the worst international crimes to account.


[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

UN HRC42: Action to Protect Privacy and Address Artificial Intelligence Among Key Priorities

By Article 19

Statement by Action for Shan State Rivers: IFC must stop promoting dams on theNamtu/Myitnge river amidst conflict in Shan State

By Action for Shan State Rivers

Myanmar/Bangladesh: End Internet Blackouts in Rakhine State, Rohingya Refugee Camps

By Fortify Rights

HRC42 Oral Statement on Item 2: General Debate on the Oral Update by the High Commissioner and the Report of the Independent Investigative Mechanism on Myanmar


ကရင္ၿငိမ္းခ်မ္းေရးအေထာက္အကူျပဳကြန္ရက္ သတင္းထုတ္ျပန္ခ်က္ ကရင္အာဇာနည္ေန႔ ႏွင့္ ဦးေဆာင္က်င္းပသူမ်ားအားတရားစြဲဆိုမႈအေပၚ ခ်က္ခ်င္းရုပ္သိမ္းေပးရန္

By Karen Peace Support Network

Karen Martyrs Day And Charges Against Organisers

By Karen Peace Support Network

KNU Concerned Group statement on Naw Ohn Hla arrested by Myanmar Police Force

By KNU Concerned Group

KHRG Condemns the Arrest of Karen Activist Naw Ohn Hla

By Karen Human Rights Group

Position Statement of IKO on Arrest of KWU Chairperson Naw Ohn Hla by Myanmar Government

By International Karen Organization

KWU ဥကၠဌ ေနာ္အုန္းလွအား ျမန္မာအစိုးရမွ ဖမ္းဆီးလိုက္ျခင္းႏွင့္ ပတ္သက္၍ IKO ၏သေဘာထား ထုတ္ျပန္ခ်က္

By International Karen Organization

ျမန္မာႏိုင္ငံဆိုင္ရာသီးျခားလြတ္လပ္ေသာ စံုစမ္းစစ္ေဆးမႈလုပ္ငန္းစဥ္၏ အႀကီးအကဲျဖစ္သူ မစၥတာနီကိုလတ္စ္ခြန္ဂ်န္ (Mr. Nicholas Koumjian) မွ လူ႔အခြင့္အေရးေကာင္စီထံသုိ႔ ထုတ္ျပန္ခ်က္

By Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar

Statement to the Human Rights Council by Mr. Nicholas Koumjian, Head of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar

By Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar

UN Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar Hands Over to Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar

By Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar

စည္းလံုးညီၫႊတ္ေသာ တိုင္းရင္းသားလူမ်ိဳးမ်ား မဟာမိတ္ ႏွင့္ မိတ္ဖက္ အဖြဲ႔အစည္းမ်ား၏ အမ်ိဳးသား တန္းတူေရးဆိုင္ရာ သေဘာထားထုတ္ျပန္ေၾကညာခ်က္

By United Nationalities Alliance

Global Update at the 42nd Session of the Human Rights Council: Opening Statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet

By UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner



Public redacted version of “Second Registry Report on Victim Representations Pursuant to the Pre-Trial Chamber’s Decision ICC-01/19-6 of 28 June 2019”,13 September 2019, ICC-01/19-11-Conf

By International Criminal Court

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.”