Outgoing Special Rapporteur Strikes a Familiar Theme

May 11th, 2020  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  7 minute read
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“Having faced no accountability, the Tatmadaw continues to operate with impunity. For decades, its tactics have intentionally maximised civilian suffering; we all know what they did to the Rohingya in 2017.”

Yanghee Lee, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar

The outgoing Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar[1], Ms. Yanghee Lee, ended her tenure on the same note that has unfortunately characterised her six years in the position – calling for an end to impunity of the Myanmar military which is committing “possible war crimes” in Rakhine State in its ongoing conflict with the Arakan Army (AA). As has been repeatedly shown, the government is totally incapable of ending such impunity, and the Myanmar President-established committee to investigate the attack on a World Health Organization (WHO) car in Rakhine State that resulted in the death of the driver bears all the hallmarks of previous, failed, partial and ineffective investigations. The ongoing war crimes and human rights violations committed by the Myanmar military, also reflects the urgent need for international accountability mechanisms to have access to the country, not just to investigate what is occurring now, but previous waves of violence, such as that against the Rohingya, Kachin and others.

After two terms, totalling six years, of reporting on the violent excess of the Myanmar military, Ms. Lee released a concluding statement expressing her concern at the current situation in Rakhine State, in which armed conflict between the AA and the Myanmar military is reaching levels not seen in decades. Around 157,000 people have been displaced, Myanmar military airstrikes are upending whole villages, people are being arrested on suspicion of membership of the AA, and innocent people are dying on an all-too-regular basis. It is no wonder that Ms. Lee warned of the “possible” war crimes that are being committed, as “calls for a ceasefire, including by the Arakan Army, have gone unheeded. Instead, the Tatmadaw is inflicting immense suffering on the ethnic communities in Rakhine and Chin.” To make matters worse, State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi released a statement praising the actions of the Myanmar military, and restated the designation of the AA as a terrorist organization, raising doubts on her leadership and commitment to peace and reconciliation.

Her statement comes on the heels of the death of a WHO  driver who was transporting swabs from Rakhine State to Yangon to test for COVID-19. The car was shot at by as of yet uncertain armed actors. The other person in the car was also injured. In response, President U Win Myint announced the establishment of an investigation committee to ascertain the facts of the situation. This is just the latest in a conveyor belt of committee-creation that the government has set up to investigate incidents of violence or human rights violations, and perhaps it is becoming clear that such committees are ineffective. While the President claims that the committee will follow ‘international standards’ it is not clear what standard these actually are while people appointed to serve lack the necessary expertise and political convictions to adequately investigate the Myanmar military. Many from the human rights community see this as a window-dressing attempt in response to the UN’s call for an investigation.

The lack of confidence in such a committee is based on precedent. Numerous such committees have been set up and have mostly served to absolve the Myanmar military from blame and used as a tool to whitewash crimes and evade accountability. The Rohingyas know this well. After the UN-mandated International Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar (IIFFMM) recommended that Myanmar be investigated for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide for the waves of violence committed against the Rohingya in Rakhine State in 2016 and 2017, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) opened proceedings. During the initial proceedings in January 2020, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi relied on the establishment of the domestic, ‘Independent Commission of Enquiry’ (ICOE) as a defence, stating how this entity was sufficient to investigate the violence, despite its total lack of partiality, its stated commitment not to point the finger of blame, and its refusal to even use the term Rohingya.

Later this month, the Myanmar government must make a submission to the ICJ that outlines the progress it has made on the preliminary order of the ICJ “to take all measures within its power to prevent the commission of all acts within the scope of Article II of this [Genocide] Convention.” Given the recent violence committed in Rakhine State, it appears that the Myanmar military has done the opposite and no sham investigative committee will disguise this. Ten years ago it was the Karen, five years ago it was the Kachin, three years ago it was the Rohingya, and today it is the Rakhine. Who is next? The Myanmar government must stop shielding the military and cooperate with international accountability mechanisms in order to end the impunity of the institution that commits war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. As Ms. Lee expressed in her final statement, “Having faced no accountability, the Tatmadaw continues to operate with impunity. For decades, its tactics have intentionally maximised civilian suffering; we all know what they did to the Rohingya in 2017.”


[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

“Leaving No One Behind” Amidst Genocide: the Myanmar Government’s Response to Covid-19 in Rakhine State

By Arakan Rohingya National Organisation

Joint Statement on Rohingya Refugees at Sea

By Asia Justice Coalition

BROUK Appeals to Malaysia to Show Solidarity with Rohingya

By Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK

EU Continues ‘Do Nothing’ Approach To Genocide in Burma

By Burma Campaign UK

Statement on One-year Anniversary of Lawsuit Against DMG Chief Editor and Other Concerning Developments in Myanmar Media Over the Intervening Months

By Development Media Group

Bangladesh: Prevent Push-Backs of Rohingya Refugees, Investigate and Prosecute Human Trafficking

By Fortify Rights

Free Rohingya Coalition (FRC) Statement Calling on Governments of ASEAN and South Asia to Urgently Provide Entry and Refuge to Rohingya Survivors of Myanmar’s Genocide and Tackle the Rising Hate-speech Occurring Within Their Territories

By Free Rohingya Coalition

No May Day Marches in Myanmar: Workers Fear Increase in Union Busting at Factories During Covid-19 Lockdown

By Human Rights Watch

မြန်မာနိုင်ငံအတွက်တရားမျှတမှု – မညီမျှမှု၊ မတရားမှု၊ အကြမ်းဖက်မှုနှင့် လူသားမျိုးနွယ်အား ဆန့်ကျင်သော ရာဇဝတ်မှုများကို စနစ်တကျ ဖြစ်ပေါ်စေသည့် အကြောင်းတရားများကို ဖော်ထုတ်ရန် တက်ကြွလှုပ်ရှားသူများမှ စည်းရုံးလှုံ့ဆော်ရေးလှုပ်ရှားမှုတစ်ရပ် မိတ်ဆက်ခြင်း

By Justice For Myanmar

Justice For Myanmar: Activists Launch Campaign to Expose Systemic Causes of Inequality, Injustice, Violence and Crimes against Humanity

By Justice For Myanmar

ရခိုင်နှင့် ချင်းပြည်နယ်များတွင် ပြင်းထန်သည့် ထိုးစစ်ဆင်မှု၊ စစ်ရေးလှုပ်ရှားမှုတို့ကြောင့် ဖြစ်ပေါ်လာသည့် တိုက်ပွဲများပေါ် ကန့်ကွက်ရှုတ်ချသည့် သဘောထားထုတ်ပြန်ကြေညာချက်

By Kachin National Youth Network

Myanmar: “Possible war crimes and crimes against humanity ongoing in Rakhine and Chin States” – UN Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee

By Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights



အစိုးရ၏ ၄ နှစ်တာကာလ သက်တမ်းအတွင်း လွတ်လပ်စွာထုတ်ဖော်ပြောဆိုခွင့်ကို ဆန်းစစ်ခြင်း

By Athan – Freedom of Expression Activist Organization

Analysis on Freedom of Expression Situation in Four Years under the Current Regime

By Athan – Freedom of Expression Activist Organization

Myanmar’s Media Not Free or Fair – လွတ်လပ်မျှတခြင်းများ ဆုံးရှုံးနေသော မြန်မာ့မီဒီယာ

By Free Expression Myanmar

မြန်မာနိုင်ငံ လူ့အခွင့်အရေး အခြေအနေအပေါ် အထူးကိုယ်စားလှယ်၏ အစီရင်ခံစာလူ့အခွင့်အရေးကောင်စီ လေးဆယ့်သုံးကြိမ်မြောက် အစည်းအဝေး (၂၀၂၀ ခုနှစ် ဖေဖော်ဝါရီလ ၁၄ မှ မတ်လ ၂၀ ရက်)

By Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

A Call to Action on Myanmar’s Genocide Against the Rohingya

By Refugees 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.”