Human Rights Council Holds Interactive Dialogue on the Situation of the Rohingya and Other Minorities in Myanmar

27 February 2020

Begins General Debate on the Oral Update of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Country Reports of the Secretary-General and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

The Human Rights Council this morning held an interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the root causes of the violations and abuses suffered by the Rohingya Muslim minority and other minorities in Myanmar.  The High Commissioner then presented her oral update, as well as country reports of the Secretary-General and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, followed by a general debate.

Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, presenting the report on the root causes of the violations and abuses suffered by the Rohingya Muslim minority and other minorities in Myanmar, welcomed the engagement and constructive input of the Government of Myanmar in the compilation of the report.  She reminded that for over half a century, the policies of Myanmar had discriminated against religious and ethnic minorities.  Democratic deficits, entrenched impunity, weak rule of law and the lack of civilian oversight had all contributed to human rights abuses in Myanmar, Ms. Bachelet noted, adding that women and girls were especially impacted as a result of sexual and gender-based violence.

In the ensuing discussion, speakers welcomed the recent provisional order of the International Court of Justice that called on Myanmar to take emergency measures to protect Rohingya from genocide and prevent destruction of evidence related to genocide.  Some speakers said it was clear that accountability efforts at the international level had been fostered by the absence of meaningful prospects for accountability at the domestic level in Myanmar.  Others acknowledged Myanmar’s own efforts to investigate violations, including through the Independent Commission of Inquiry, and to look at the causes of violence, noting that Myanmar had a historic opportunity to develop a strong minority right and non-discrimination regime that recognized, protected and fulfilled the rights of all.  They called on the international community to act constructively and provide technical assistance as a complement to Myanmar’s efforts to address the situation in Rakhine.

Documentation

The Council has before it the Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the root causes of the human rights violations and abuses against the Rohingya Muslim minority and other minorities in Myanmar (A/HRC/43/18).

Presentation of the Report of the High Commissioner on the Root Causes of Human Rights Violations and Abuses against the Rohingya Muslim Minority and Other Minorities in Myanmar

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, presented her Office’s report on Rohingya and other minorities in Myanmar, noting the Government’s engagement and constructive input in its compilation.  She outlined that for over half a century, the policies of Myanmar had discriminated against religious and ethnic minorities.  The military had at times targeted civilians as part of their counter insurgency policies.  Democratic deficits, entrenched impunity, weak rule of law and the lack of civilian oversight had all contributed to these human rights abuses in Myanmar.  Economic interests had also contributed, with women and girls especially impacted as a result of sexual and gender based violence.  The upsurge in violence could also be partly attributed to the transition from authoritarian rule.  The spread of social media had also enabled extremist movements to propagate hatred and violence, and as such, the High Commissioner urged the Government to build on inter-faith initiatives such as the Panzagar (flower speech) campaign.  Civilian oversight of the military and reforms of citizenship laws and the education system could help heal deep divisions.  She reiterated the readiness of the United Nations system to assist Myanmar in addressing these issues.

Statement by the Concerned Country

Myanmar, speaking as the concerned country, said that since 2016, the present Government had been transforming Myanmar into a democratic federal union in the midst of challenges resulting from decades of armed conflict.  Achieving reconciliation was the highest priority and the peace process was gaining momentum with 51 basic principles agreed between the Government and ethnic armed groups.  Rakhine was a complex and delicate issue, involving cross-border migration since colonial times.  The Government had taken a number of steps to address the issue.  It had set up the Central Committee for the Peace and Development in Rakhine state, but the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army terrorist group had made deliberate attempts to derail those efforts, causing mass displacement.  Although repatriation had not started, over 300 displaced persons had returned to Rakhine.  Concerning accountability, the Independent Commission of Inquiry had submitted its final report to the President of Myanmar, based on interviews with 1,500 witnesses.  There was no evidence that killings were committed pursuant to a plan to destroy Muslims or any other community in northern Rakhine.

Discussion

Speakers expressed concern about the lack of progress to end the grave human rights violations and atrocities perpetrated against the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.  They welcomed the recent provisional order of the International Court of Justice that called on Myanmar to take emergency measures to protect Rohingya from genocide and prevent the destruction of evidence related to genocide.  It was clear that accountability efforts at the international level, before the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court, as well as the establishment of the Independent International Mechanism, had been fostered by the absence of meaningful prospects for accountability at the domestic level.  Speakers urged Myanmar to ensure unhindered access to United Nations agencies, mandate holders and human rights mechanisms, including the Independent Mechanism for Myanmar, to take measures to grant citizenship to Rohingya, to end Islamophobia and hatred against Rohinga and other ethnic minorities, and to stop labelling them as “Bengali immigrants living illegally in Myanmar.

Speakers further urged the Government of Myanmar to ensure full protection and inclusion of all persons in Myanmar through the equitable representation of persons belonging to minorities and the participation of civil society, including women’s groups.  They called on all parties of the conflicts in Rakhine, Shan and Kachin states to exercise restraint, comply with international law, and work towards peace.  They called on Myanmar to create conditions conducive to voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable returns of displaced Rohingya, including through enabling freedom of movement and granting access to services.  Some speakers expressed particular concern about the situation of women and girls in minority groups, which was still marked by deeply entrenched inequality, patriarchal attitudes and acceptance of gender-based violence.  They wondered how the international community could help Myanmar address those issues.

Delegations welcomed Myanmar’s own efforts to investigate violations, including through the Independent Commission of Inquiry, and to look at the causes of violence, noting that Myanmar had a historic opportunity to develop a strong minority rights and non-discrimination regime that recognized, protected and fulfilled the rights of all.  Some underlined the efforts of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Myanmar to continue promoting coherence in the principled and constructive work of the United Nations system in Myanmar.  They supported his call for international and regional support to domestic efforts towards ensuring alignment with international standards and principles.  The situation in Rakhine state had several dimensions and a long lasting solution to address that complex situation was through socio-economic development.

Speakers said the report of the High Commissioner rightly underscored the need to address the issue of citizenship as an important factor to alleviate the current plight of the Rohingya.  The report also clearly highlighted the complexity of the situation in Myanmar, shedding some light on the possible root causes, including the impact of the country’s colonial legacy.  The situation in Rakhine was one of the complex challenges in the democratic transition of Myanmar, which required time to address issues and build trust and harmony among communities.  Accordingly, speakers called on the international community to act constructively and provide technical assistance as a complement to Myanmar’s efforts to address the situation in Rakhine.

Concluding Remarks

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in concluding remarks, said a lot of delegations had raised the issue of accountability in Myanmar, and already thanks to the actions of the Council, there had been strong international action to advance the accountability agenda.  Proceedings were underway in the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court, and the Independent Investigative Mechanism had been established to collect evidence. Myanmar should cooperate with this international mechanism. Meanwhile, Myanmar was pursuing its own domestic processes, with the Independent Commission of Inquiry recently finalizing its report. It remained to be seen if this led to a full recognition of the truth, genuine criminal justice processes, and proper redress for victims. There had been a few isolated cases where the military had been prosecuted for violations, but the outcomes had not always been complete. In the long-term, Myanmar would benefit from a wider set of transitional justice measures, which could bring institutional reforms and promote reconciliation. Bringing the military under full civilian oversight and control would be essential in this regard.  Perhaps the Constitutional reform process could offer some opportunities. Civil society was still restricted and the Government was acting against those promoting human rights. This was seen as a heightened risk during the elections. There was no sympathy towards Rohingya, even among other minorities, and this was seen as a result of a wide disinformation campaign. There was a flower movement within civil society bringing people together. The Government was cooperating to a certain extent concerning the sexual gender violence, but the Independent Commission of Inquiry had completely dismissed this issue. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations should be included in the peace process.

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