Has Myanmar Lost Sight of Justice, Accountability and Truth?

After decades and decades of iron-fisted rule by one of the most repressive military regimes the world has ever seen, its people deserve better. At least, Justice, accountability, truth, and national reconciliation are aspirations that many have fought and died for many years. Myanmar cannot lose sight of them.

As 2019 draws to a close, with no positive progress on the situation of human rights, Myanmar[1] has drawn international attention regarding allegations of genocide at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for crimes committed against the Rohingya. However, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s decision to represent the country as the Agent at the ICJ court proceedings in the Hague in defense of “the national interest”, has caused and continues to cause deep divisions amongst diverse people of Myanmar inside and outside of the country. Meanwhile in Rakhine State, clashes between the Arakan Army (AA) and the Myanmar military has displaced more than 5,800 people in one week while in some parts of Rakhine State people are still unable to access the internet, making it six months since it was shut down by the government. On Saturyday, twenty civil society organizations in Myanmar issued a joint statement – initiated by Free Expression Myanmar and joined by others including Progressive Voice – condemning this continued shut down of internet access in parts of Rakhine State.

In her capacity as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi took the stand at the ICJ over the course of 10 – 12 December 2019 as the Agent of Myanmar. Although she denied the genocidal intent of the crimes, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi admitted at the world court that atrocity crimes have been committed by the Myanmar military. In her statement she admitted that “it cannot be ruled out that disproportionate force was used by members of the Defence Services in some cases in disregard of international humanitarian law.” The Myanmar military can no longer hide its brutal human rights violations against the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities. However, what is troubling is that a number of public rallies were held across the country in support of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi without a clear understanding of the public hearings at the Hague. The Myanmar military and the National League for Democracy government has taken advantage of this lack of clarity, falsely claiming that the people of Myanmar are on trial, rather than the State, for violating the Genocide Convention. Therefore, many of those who gather at the rallies in support of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi believe that they have a duty to support their leader for “defending the country.”

While these demonstrations supporting Daw Aung San Suu Kyi might give the international community the impression that the people of Myanmar support genocide, it is important to take note of the many individuals and civil society groups who stand with victims and survivors of the military’s abuses. They continue to seek justice and accountability, especially those from ethnic communities who have suffered similar abuses by the Myanmar military for decades. For this very reason, contrary to the mass rallies in Myanmar, many statements in support of The Gambia’s effort to file a case against Myanmar were issued by diverse ethnic groups around the world, in solidarity with the Rohingya community.

While Daw Aung San Suu Kyi continued to lend legitimacy to the military-courts martial, she herself went on to illustrate “that even when military justice works, there can be reversals,” offering the example of the soldiers who summarily executed 10 Rohingya men being pardoned by the military only after serving part of their sentence. The people of Myanmar, especially the victims and survivors of human rights violations, have waited long enough to know that domestic justice mechanisms are inadequate in addressing crimes committed against the Rohingya and other ethnic communities. It is clear that the domestic justice system continues to fail the most vulnerable and persecuted people such as the Rohingya and instead works to protect the impunity enjoyed by the criminals who should be held accountable for the crimes they have committed. How can the victims and survivors of grave international crimes have faith in a judicial system that is composed of the very institution that has committed heinous crimes against them and their communities for decades? It is in the highest interest of the diverse Myanmar society and for national reconciliation to welcome all international accountability mechanisms and their proceedings as domestic accountability has proven to fail the victims time and again.

As Daw Aung San Suu Kyi spoke at the ICJ in defense of the military’s actions and the domestic justice system, nearly 100 Rohingya appeared in a court in Pathein in southern Myanmar’s Ayeyarwady Region to face charges of illegal immigration within their own country. Their only crime was to flee the apartheid-like conditions of Rakhine State without permission, in hopes of a better future in Yangon. Treated like foreigners in their own country, these Rohingya, including 25 children, will likely receive two years in jail for violating the 1982 Myanmar Citizenship Law. In November, a court in Pathein sentenced 14 Rohingya to two-year jail terms for traveling outside Rakhine to other parts of Myanmar without permission.

Ultimately, domestic accountability has failed and if Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her government are serious about pursuing justice and accountability, denying the horrific violence committed by the Myanmar military against the civilian Rohingya population will be a stain that will last for generations. However, it must be remembered that this is not about one person. It is not about Daw Aung San Suu Kyi falling from grace from idol to genocidaire in the eyes of those who stand for justice and accountability, or defending the country and thus the people in the eyes of ultranationalists, or brainwashed and naive public. It is about ending the impunity of the decades of direct, systemic and structural violence committed against the Rohingya and many other ethnic minorities by the Myanmar military. Disinformation, propaganda campaigns and the promotion of an exclusionary nationalist rhetoric are fuelling an entrenched hatred campaign against Myanmar’s most persecuted population. It is, unfortunately, not a localized phenomenon, and can be seen throughout the world. Myanmar, however, does not need to fall into this trap. After decades and decades of iron-fisted rule by one of the most repressive military regimes the world has ever seen, its people deserve better. Justice, accountability, truth, and national reconciliation are aspirations that many have fought and died for over the decades. Myanmar cannot lose sight of them.

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Thank you for your continued support and we look forward to continuing our work with you in the coming year. Our Weekly Highlights will take a short hiatus over the holidays, but we will return with a full issue on the week of 13 January 2019. We wish you happy holidays and all the best for 2019.

Best wishes,

The Progressive Voice Team

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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

Statement of Shan Communities in Support of International Legal Action Against Burma’s Military

By 17 Shan Organizations

Myanmar: Reinvigorate the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission to be an Independent and Effective Institution for the Better Promotion and Protection of Human Rights

By 20 Civil Society Organizations

Joint Statement Condemning One of the World’s Longest Internet Shutdowns in Rakhine State

By 20 Civil Society Organizations

မြန်မာနိုင်ငံရဲတပ်ဖွဲ့၏ ကလေးသူငယ်အခွင့်အရေးများဆိုင်ရာ ဉပဒေပါ ပြဌာန်းချက်များအပေါ် ချိုးဖောက်မှုအားရှုံ့ချကြောင်း မကွေးတ…

By 33 Civil Society Organizations

International Court of Justice: A Momentous Week for Justice for the Rohingya Genocide

By Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK

Suu Kyi’s Defence of Tatmadaw Normalizes Violence Against Muslims in Burma

By Burma Human Rights Network

UK Must Support Genocide Case at ICJ

By Burma Campaign UK

Civil Society Organizations Call for the Selection Process of New Commissioners for the MNHRC to be Transparent

By CSO Working Group on MNHRC Reform

သက်တမ်းကုန်ဆုံးနေပြီဖြစ်သော MNHRC ၏ အဖွဲ့ဝင်များ ပြန်လည်ရွေးချယ်ရေး လုပ်ငန်းစဉ်ကို ပွင့်လင်းမြင်သာစွာ ဆောင်ရွက်ပေးရန် အရပ်ဘက်အဖွဲ့အစည်းများ တောင်းဆို

By CSO Working Group on MNHRC Reform

The International Court of Justice Hearings Evidence of Need for International Action to Ensure Accountability in Myanmar

By FORUM-ASIA

Joint statement of Canada and the Kingdom of the Netherlands

By Government of the Netherlands and Government of Canada

The Karen Grassroots Women’s Network (KGWN) Welcomes the Two New Legal Cases Against Burma’s State-actors and Military for Crimes Against the Rohingya in Conflict-torn Rakhine State and the Investigation Authorized by the International Criminal Court

By Karen Grassroots Women Network

Statement of Karenni Civil Society Network (KCSN) on the Cases at the International Court of Justice and International Criminal Court Against the Burmese Military for Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity

By Karenni Civil Society Network

US Karen Community and Inclusive Development International Publish Open Letter Urging New Belgium Brewing Employees to Stand for Human Rights and Vote No to Kirin

By Karen Organization of America, Karen Community of North Carolina and Inclusive Development International (IDI)

Vote No to Kirin! Oppose Kirin’s Partnership with War Criminals

By Karen Organization of America, Karen Community of North Carolina and Inclusive Development International (IDI)

Statement on Consultation on Indigenous Peoples’ Conserved Territory in Taw Oo District

By Karen Environmental and Social Action Network

Ethnic Nationality Organizations Call to Protect Innocent Mother and Children from Deporting Back Home

By Nationalities Alliance of Burma, Canadian Burma Ethnic Nationalities Organization and Coalition of Burma Ethnics Malaysia

သဘာဝအရင်းအမြစ်နှင့် ဖက်ဒရယ်စနစ် ဖွံ့ဖြိုးရေးဖိုရမ် သဘောထား ထုတ်ပြန်ချက်

By Resources Federalism Development Forum

The European Rohingya Council Call on International Community to Support Gambia in Genocide Case at ICJ

By The European Rohingya Council

reports

Reports

Myanmar: A Little Less Conversation, A Little More Action Please

By 20 Civil Society Organizations

အပြောလျှော့ပြီး အလုပ်ပိုလုပ်ပါ

By 20 Civil Society Organizations

Analysis on One-Year Continuous War in Arakan (Rakhine State)

By Arakan Students’ Union (Universities-Rangoon) and Arakan Students’ Union (Arakan State)

Shoot-on-Sight Orders Given by Burma Army as They Impose Curfew and Restrict Movement for Villagers in Kyaukkyi Township

By Free Burma Rangers

“Not About Us Without Us”: Legitimate National Land Law Making by Design

By Transnational Institute (TNI)

“ကျွန်ုပ်တို့မပါလျင် ကျွန်ုပ်တို့အတွက်မဟုတ်”- တရားဝင်မှုရှိသည့်အမျိုးသားမြေဥပဒေရေးဆွဲခြင်း

By Transnational Institute (TNI)


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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