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Four Immediate Reforms to Strengthen the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission

November 12th, 2019  •  Author:   International Commission of Jurists  •  4 minute read

The Government of Myanmar should adopt constitutional and legislative guarantees to enable the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) to better protect and promote human rights for all persons in the country, according to a new ICJ briefing note.

Entitled Four Immediately Implementable Reforms to Enhance Myanmar’s National Human Rights Commission, the note analyzes the ability of the MNHRC to address various human rights violations, some of which have been found by experts to constitute the most serious crimes under international law. The briefing is available in Burmese and English.

“The NLD-led government should promptly reform the MNHRC Law, allowing for the selection of better qualified and representative Commissioners, and granting them the independence and resources necessary for their work. This reform is a low-hanging fruit for the NLD, and overdue” said Sean Bain, ICJ Legal Adviser.

“At the same time, Commissioners should robustly pursue their mandate, including by advocating for the rights of society’s most vulnerable people,” he added.

The MNHRC itself has recognized the need for law reform, in its self-assessment of 2018, and in its reform proposals to the Government. Any law reform process should be opened up to genuine public consultation, enabling inputs from experts and the general public.

“The MNHRC generally fails to act on reported human rights violations, from crimes by soldiers in border areas through to regular attacks on the press, rendering it ineffective in providing redress to victims,” said Sean Bain, ICJ Legal Adviser. “The MNHRC’s routine inaction in critical cases demonstrates its lack of the necessary independence to stand against state actors, particularly the military,” he added.

One illustrative case is the Commission’s reluctance to further pursue justice for the death in military custody of journalist Ko Par Gyi, whose killers were secretly tried and acquitted in a military court, despite the MNHRC’s finding that a public criminal prosecution was warranted. Commissioners have also been notably silent on gross human rights violations against Rohingyas, perpetrated by Tatmadaw soldiers in the context of “clearance operations”.

The note highlights that the Commission refrains from investigating alleged human rights violations by referencing Section 37 of the 2014 MNHRC Law. This provision is narrowly construed to effectively preclude the MNHRC from conducting inquiries on matters that are already the subject of a legal proceeding.

The composition of the Commission also does not reflect Myanmar’s ethnic, religious, regional and gender diversity, which further erodes its ability to address the conflict-related violations and abuses particularly prevalent in border areas such as Rakhine, Kachin and Shan states.

While amending problematic provisions in the 2014 MNHRC Law is warranted, a constitutional guarantee would also significantly improve the Commission’s institutional independence.

“A constitutional provision, in contrast to ordinary legislation, is subject to a stricter amendment process that would less likely render the MNHRC politically vulnerable,” said Jenny Domino, ICJ Associate Legal Adviser.

“Myanmar can look to the experience of the national human rights institutions of East Timor and the Philippines, which were established by constitutional provision at a time that both countries were transitioning to a democratic and rule of law based order”,” she added.

Four immediately implementable reforms for the Government of Myanmar are recommended:

  1. To the Union President and the Selection Board: appoint Commissioners through a transparent and fully consultative process that enables its composition to effectively protect human rights and appropriately reflect the full diversity of the population of Myanmar, including ethnic, religious, regional, gender and sexual identities;
  2. To the Commissioners: adopt a broad and active interpretation of their mandate, including by taking steps to address the most serious violations, including crimes under international law, and certain human rights cases that have gone before courts;
  3. To the Myanmar parliament: amend the 2014 MNHRC Law to include provisions that strengthen the MNHRC’s capacity and independence, and improve the appointment process for commissioners
  4. To the Constitutional Amendment Committee: propose provisions guaranteeing the structural and financial independence of the MNHRC in amending the 2008 Constitution.

Burmese press release.

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