The Albatross around Myanmar’s Neck

July 31st, 2020  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  8 minute read
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“Even where there are high profile cases which pressure the military to take action, trials are held in secrecy, any punishment is often secret, and it is not known if soldiers convicted of these type of crimes even serve their sentences. An approach like this from the top of the military encourages soldiers to feel that they can get away with such crimes.”

Karen Peace Support Network

The murder of a Karen woman by two soliders of the Myanmar military in Mutraw District, Karen State, is just the latest in a very long line of severe human rights violations in which the perepatrators are able to act with impunity. Despite symbolic actions that are supposed to indicate that the military will take responsibility for the actions of their own soldiers, precedent tells us that justice will not be done.

Mu Naw, who lived in Papun District/Mutraw District, in northern Karen State, was a mother of three, an innocent civilian who was the victim of an extrajudicial killing. Two Myanmar military soldiers, who were stationed at a nearby base, came into her home, shot her three times and stole her jewelry. As the Karen Women’s Organization stated “Mu Naw had no weapon. She posed no threat.” Her murder was strongly condemned by Karen political and civil society organizations, while demonstrations protesting the systemic and omnipresent violence of the Myanmar military have taken place in Karen State.

The Myanmar military has responded, stating that the two soldiers have been arrested and will face a court-martial. Yet already, excuses for their behaviour are being made, with a statement from the military indicating that the gun went off by accident, and that the two soldiers were drunk. Yet what kind of institution uses a drunken accident as a reason for the death of any human life? Thus, despite some public comments that the soldiers in question will face harsh punishment for their actions, this cannot be accepted as a path towards justice. The institutional culture, as well as legal and political protection, enables the Myanmar military to escape accountability, as precedent shows over several decades. For example, a massacre of ten Rohingya by the Myanmar military in Inn Dinn, Rakhine State in September 2017, methodologically detailed by a Reuters report, resulted in the Reuters journalists who investigated the incident spending more time in prison than the seven soldiers who were found guilty in the military court proceedings. The seven soldiers were released after spending less than a year of a ten year sentence for engaging in the massacre. This is the reality of court-martials and military justice in Myanmar – a slap on the wrist.

In another case this year, the military announced it had convicted three soldiers for their role in another massacre of Rohingya in Gu Dar Pyin Village, in Rakhine State in 2017. Extensively documented by the UN Fact-Finding Mission, and the press, hundreds of villagers were murdered, women were raped, and the village was burnt down. Five mass graves were found. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi described the courts-martial process as an example of the military pursuing accountability. Yet, regarding the decision, no information as regards the identity, the sentence, nor the actual actions of the soldiers involved has been disclosed publicly. There is a distinct lack of transparency and the likelihood is that the guilty parties will not serve anything like a proper jail sentence. As Human Rights Watch stated, this “case underscores the Myanmar government’s longstanding efforts to conceal military crimes with hollow admissions of wrongdoing and claims of justice.” The network of Karen civil society organizations, the Karen Peace Support Network aptly describes the lack of transparency in courts-martials, “Even where there are high profile cases which pressure the military to take action, trials are held in secrecy, any punishment is often secret, and it is not known if soldiers convicted of these type of crimes even serve their sentences. An approach like this from the top of the military encourages soldiers to feel that they can get away with such crimes.”

In more recent cases, an ethnic Rakhine woman has filed a case at her local police station after being raped by three Myanmar military soldiers at gunpoint in Rathaedaung Township, Rakhine State last month. Also in Rakhine State, a video of five Rakhine men blindfolded and being beaten on a boat went viral in May. Meanwhile, in Shan State, operations against the Shan State Army – South, resulted in an elderly man being shot and killed by the Myanmar military while fleeing for cover.

The examples of military justice such as the massacres at Gu Dar Pyin and Inn Dinn mean that the prospects of accountability for the severe human rights violations committed by the Myanmar military in Karen, Rakhine and Shan States in the past few months are very low.  Domestic accountability does not exist for the military.

In Myanmar, court-martials are a charade to appease demands for justice from local civil society and international actors. Taking these seriously will be delaying justice for victims of the heinous crimes long committed by the Myanmar military.  Entrenched impunity, protected by the Constitution and laws, as well as the political might of the Myanmar military, means that the soldiers who raped the Rakhine woman, the soldiers who murdered the elderly Shan man, and the soldiers who killed and stole from the Karen woman will likely be awarded get-out-of jail free cards, or if convicted, penalties will likely not commensurate with the gravity of the crimes they committed. Worse still, the culture of impunity within the institution, sanctioned by those at the very top, means that such cases will continue to occur. The albatross that remains around the neck of Myanmar, that impedes any progress towards human rights, justice and democracy, is the Myanmar military. The only way to stop military impunity and achieve justice and accountability in Myanmar is through International criminal accountability mechanisms. Therefore the Myanmar government must cooperate with the UN Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM) while the UN Security Council must refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court or create an ad-hoc tribunal to fully investigate the crimes being committed throughout Myanmar, particularly in ethnic and conflict regions, and prosecute the perpetrators.


[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

British Company Portia To Stop Managing Military Port in Yangon

By Burma Campaign UK

Burma Army Soldiers Murder 40-Year-Old Karen Woman in Her Home

By Free Burma Rangers

Analysis of First Beneficial Ownership Disclosures in Myanmar: A Step in the Right Direction, But Serious Issues Remain

By Global Witness

Japan: Cancel Financial Grant to Myanmar Police

By Human Rights Watch

မြေသိမ်းဆည်းခံ တောင်သူလယ်သမားများ၏ သတင်းစာရှင်းလင်းပွဲ

By Hsi Hseng Famers

Justice For Myanmar responds to President’s Office Announcement on Military Conflict of Interest, Calls for Independent Criminal Investigation and Concrete Reform

By Justice For Myanmar

စစ်တပ်အကျိုးစီးပွားပဋိပက္ခနှင့် ပတ်သတ်သည့် သမ္မတရုံးကြေညာချက်အပေါ် Justice For Myanmar ၏ တုန့်ပြန်မှု၊ လွတ်လပ်သည့် ပြစ်မှုဆိုင်ရာစုံစမ်းစစ်ဆေးမှုနှင့် ခိုင်လုံသည့် ပြုပြင်ပြောင်းလဲမှုများ လုပ်ဆောင်ရန် တောင်းဆို

By Justice For Myanmar

“We Want Justice”: Burmese Soldiers Kill Another Villager in Karen State

By Karen Community of Canada

Burma Army Robbery and Killing of Karen Woman in Mutraw Highlights Urgent Need to End Military Impunity

By Karen Peace Support Network

KWO Strongly Condemns Attack on Karen Civilian Woman by the Burma Army

By Karen Women’s Organization

Statement of KNU Concerned Group on Murder of Po-lo-ta Villager Naw Mu Nor by Soldiers of Myanmar Tatmadaw

By KNU Concerned Group

Legal Analysis of the Case of Naw Mu Naw, a Karen Female Who Was Shot and Killed by the Two Myanmar Army Soldiers in Karen State on 16 July 2020

By Legal Aid Network

မူတြော်ခရိုင် ဒွယ်လိုးမြို့နယ် ပိုလိုးထာရွာသူ နော်မူနော်အားမြန်မာ့တပ်မတော်မှအကြောင်းမဲ့ပစ်သတ်မှုအပေါ် KNU Concerned Group ၏သဘောထားထုပ်ပြန်ချက်

By KNU Concerned Group

The Network for Human Rights Documentation-Burma Calls for Accountability in Ta’ang Rape Case

By Network for Human Rights Documentation – Burma

တအာင်းအမျိုးသမီးငယ်တဦး အဓမ္မပြုကျင့်ခံရခြင်းနှင့်ပတ်သက်၍ သဘောထားထုတ်ပြန်ချက်

By Network for Human Rights Documentation – Burma



Out of the Shadows: Who Really Controls Myanmar’s Extractives Companies?

By Global Witness

Burma Army unjustly sues 47 farmers for trespassing on lands seized near Eastern Central Command base in Kho Lam, Namzarng township

By Shan Human Rights Foundation

နမ့်စန်မြို့နယ်ခိုလမ်ရှိ အရှေ့အလယ်ပိုင်းစစ်ဌာနချုပ်က လယ်သမား47 ဦး ကိုစစ်ဌာနချုပ် အနီးတပ်သိမ်း မြေပေါ် ကျူးကျော်ဟု စွပ်စွဲခံရ

By Shan Human Rights Foundation

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.”