Local and international civil society groups have accused the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission of failing to act on human rights abuses in the country during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The groups, including the Asian NGO Network on National Human Rights Institutions, called the commission apathetic and unwilling to investigate human rights complaints.
They urged the agency to exercise its powers and function effectively, fearlessly and independently “to make up for its disappointing lack of intervention on human rights violations exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“In fragile situations such as in the pandemic, the MNHRC should take measures to prevent and address human rights abuses, especially those committed against the most vulnerable and marginalised, as well as minority groups,” they said.
The groups alleged human rights abuses continue to escalate across Myanmar, and civilians bore the brunt of the abuses, especially in conflict zones.
“The MNHRC has failed to intervene in these blatant human rights abuses arising from the escalating conflict throughout Myanmar,” they said.
Daw Myint Thu Myaing of the commission denied the accusations and said the agency has frequently been the subject of criticism.
“In fact, our commission is about to finish solving all complaints, including leftover complaints last year and new complaints during the Covid-19 period,” she said.
In January 2020, the government reconstituted the commission with 11 new commissioners appointed by President U Win Myint.
Since then, the commission has been criticised for most of its members being retired civil servants and lacking experience in human rights advocacy.
The groups accused the government of lacking transparency in the selection of commissioners for the human rights agency.
The commission was established in September 2011 by the administration of President U Thein Sein. It was accused in 2016 of failing to protect children who worked as domestic help from being tortured by their employers in downtown Yangon.
The commission negotiated a deal with the children to drop the case in exchange for a payment of K5 million (US$3300) by the owners. Four members of commission had to resign due to public outrage over the settlement. The case was eventually tried in court and the employers were sentenced to jail for the crime.