The Silent Alarm Bells

October 31st, 2019  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  7 minute read
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“If I don’t see action, I will raise this and will also ring the alarm bell.”

Special Envoy

The dire situation in Myanmar[1] captured the attention of UN Member States during the most recent 74th Session of the UN General Assembly (UNGA), with the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar (IIFFMM) warning of recurring genocide, while the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar called for targeted sanctions against companies and businesses owned by the Myanmar military and its commanders who bear the most responsibility for the grave violations committed in Myanmar. Despite their calls for international accountability, the report by the UN Secretary-General, which was outlined by the Special Envoy during her reporting at the session was tempered, remaining vigilant in observing the outcome of yet another domestic accountability mechanism set up by the Myanmar government to whitewash its heinous crimes.

The Special Envoy’s support towards several Myanmar government policies and actions – which is also reflected in the Secretary-General’s report on Myanmar – is unsettling as it may further erode fundamental freedoms and rights of ethnic and religious minorities in Myanmar and puts into question her stand on human rights principles. Her support towards domestic accountability mechanisms and the National Verification Card process in particular can seriously delay the process of justice and accountability, particularly for the persecuted Rohingya community.

Serious concerns surrounding the Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICOE) set up by the Myanmar government have been glossed over in the Special Envoy’s reporting. The commission has already proven itself neither impartial nor credible as it remains closely connected to the Myanmar military and government leadership who have been identified by the IIFFMM as responsible for the grave crimes committed against the Rohingya. At the same time, the Chairperson of the ICOE has already declared in August 2018 that accountability is not on the agenda of the ICOE when she stated “…there will be no blaming of anybody, no finger pointing.” A number of concerns have been raised by the Special Rapporteur and the IIFFMM as regards its methodologies and operations, including its ability to conduct independent, impartial, transparent and credible investigations into crimes of the breadth and brutality of the atrocity crimes committed by the Myanmar military.

In addition, the Special Envoy has in the past, capitulated to the racist demands of the Myanmar government not to recognize the term “Rohingya” in her own statements. Worse, while recognizing that the 1982 Citizenship Law must be amended inline with international standards, the Special Envoy continues to endorse the National Verification Card process and has parroted the government’s rhetoric that it provides “a first step towards citizenship,” while Rohingya’s fervent demands that the process be immediately halted as it effectively strips their status to mere foreigners, remains unaddressed in her reporting. In addition, while the Special Envoy and the Secretary-General’s report stresses the crucial role of ASEAN – particularly of the Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA Centre) – ASEAN and AHA Centre have been reluctant to address the root causes of the ongoing crisis, offering Myanmar the opportunity to windowdress the unpleasant truth of ongoing genocide and lack of progress made on the ground for a safe, dignified and sustainable return of Rohingya.

Meanwhile, according to a recent report published by Amnesty International, the Myanmar military have continued to commit serious violations against ethnic communities in Shan State despite the announcement of a unilateral ceasefire by the Myanmar military in northern and eastern Myanmar. Arbitrary detention, incommunicado detention, indiscriminate killing of civilians and indiscriminate shelling in villages were just a few of the violations found during the period of the unilateral ceasefire. Many of these violations are being committed by the notorious 99th Light Infantry Division of the Myanmar Army, who have been found to be implicated in atrocity crimes including mass deportation, murder, rape, and the burning of Rohingya homes by the IIFFMM and others.

During the July 2019 session of the UNGA, Special Envoy stated firmly, “If I don’t see action, I will raise this and will also ring the alarm bell.” Since then, the already dire situation for Rohingya have only continued to deteriorate on the ground, while fresh fighting in other ethnic areas have displaced more populations, as they suffer repeated violations by the same military that committed heinous crimes in Rakhine State. Yet the Special Envoy did not ring any alarm bells in October UNGA session and this raises serious concerns to those who continue to seek justice and accountability for the grave crimes committed in Myanmar.

In an effort to bring the perpetrators to account, Progressive Voice and partners called on UN member and observer states during the Human Rights Council session in September 2019 to take urgent and concrete action to ensure accountability for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, including a referral of the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Such joint calls from Myanmar CSOs must not go unnoticed and be strongly supported by the Special Envoy. The Special Envoy could further utilize her office in Naypyidaw to push the government to cooperate with the UN mandated independent mechanisms, including the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar and the Special Rapporteur and call for the full establishment of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights inside the country.

In addition, the Special Envoy can work to address issues identified in the Rosenthal report, which described UN’s systemic failure to stop. The UN must make a turning point – a moment where such lessons are finally learned – and operate with a unified, decisive, consistent and principled voice that prioritizes protection of human rights. To this end, the Security Council must refer the situation of Myanmar to the ICC. The international community and the UN must ask itself, how many more villages burnt, lives lost, families displaced, and torture, rape and sexual violence committed against civilians before the Special Envoy rings the bells and takes concerted action for justice and accountability without further delay.


[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

လားရှိုးမြို့နယ် ခေနင်းရွာ ဘုန်းကြီးကျောင်း ဆရာတော်ဘုရားအား သေနတ်ဖြင့် ပစ်ခတ် လုပ်ကြံခြင်းအပေါ် သဘောထားထုတ်ပြန်ချက်

By 40 Civil Society Organizations

2019 Open Letter to Permanent Representatives to the UN: Recommendations on the Security Council Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security (WPS)

By 438 Civil Society Organizations

Hundreds of Villagers Hold Prayer Ceremony Against Planned Coal Mine and Power Plant in Mong Kok, Eastern Shan State

By Action for Shan State Rivers

Military Atrocities ‘Relentless and Ruthless’ in Northern Shan State

By Amnesty International

ရှမ်းပြည်နယ် မြစ်ချောင်းများအတွက် လှုပ်ရှားအဖွဲ့မှ ထုတ်ပြန်ချက်

By Action for Shan State Rivers

EDF – No More Dams in Burma’s Conflict Zones – Pull Out of Shweli 3

By Burma Campaign UK

Bangladesh: Halt Plans to Relocate Rohingya Refugees to Isolated Island

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IKO ၏ Karen Woman of Courage Award ႏွင့္ ပတ္သက္ၿပီးသတင္းထုတ္ျပန္ခ်က္

By International Karen Organization

သဘာဝအရင်းအမြစ်နှင့် ဖက်ဒရယ်စနစ် ဆွေးနွေးနှီးနှောဖလှယ်ပွဲ၏ သဘောထားထုတ်ပြန်ချက်

By Karen Environmental and Social Action Network ,Myanmar Alliance for Transparency and Accountability ,Burma Environmental Working Group

Third Committee Experts Warn against Flouting International Norms

By UN General Assembly

Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural)

By UN General Assembly

UN Human Rights Expert Calls for Targeted Sanctions

By UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner

UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar Calls on UN Member States to Remain Vigilant in the Face of the Continued Threat of Genocide

By UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner



“Caught in the Middle” Abuses against Civilians Amid Conflict in Myanmar’s Northern Shan State

By Amnesty International

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.”