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45th Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council: Oral Statement by Khin Ohmar, Chairperson of Advisory Board, Progressive Voice

September 14th, 2020  •  Author:   Khin Ohmar , Progressive Voice  •  7 minute read
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Madam President, Madam High Commissioner, Excellencies,

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today. My name is Khin Ohmar, I am the chairperson of the Advisory Board of Progressive Voice, a local Myanmar human rights research and advocacy organization. I would like to call the Council’s attention to the grave human rights situation in Myanmar.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and the UN Secretary-General’s call for a global ceasefire, the civil war in Myanmar has reached an intensity not seen in decades with immense consequences on the local ethnic communities. In August, the Myanmar government held a Peace Conference aimed at furthering the peace process, but it remains non-inclusive and genuine steps towards peace have not been taken. The failure of the peace process is marked by the ongoing grave international crimes that continue to be committed throughout Myanmar, particularly in Rakhine State, by the same perpetrators that committed genocide against the Rohingya. Yet, no one is being held to account and the Myanmar military continues to act with total impunity. As the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar has repeatedly said, domestic accountability is not possible in Myanmar.

An estimated 350,000 people are displaced in Rakhine, Chin, Kachin, and Shan States due to the resumption of civil war since Myanmar assumed the transition to democracy in 2011. In Rakhine State alone, the total number of IDPs has reached over 200,000. The IDPs situation is exacerbated by the restrictions enacted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Without ending the armed conflict, the government’s supposed comprehensive pandemic response plan is unrealistic.

Conflict related human rights violations, including indiscriminate shelling of villages, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, extrajudicial killing, rape, continue to mount in Rakhine State under the cover of internet restriction that has lasted over a year. At least 145 deaths and 308 injured have been documented since January.  As recently as September 8, 5 civilians including 2 children were killed by the Tatmadaw’s artillery shelling over Nyangkan village in Myebon Township, even though there were no fighting in the area. This has sparked protests in Rakhine, Mandalay and Karenni. In response, the government is using COVID restrictions as an excuse to crack down on their freedom of expression. Six students have been charged and arrested under the Natural Disaster Management Act and Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law.

Of particular concern, reported cases of rape by Myanmar military soldiers of ethnic Rakhine women points to the continuing use of rape as a weapon of war. Recently in Rathaedaung, three Myanmar soldiers gang-raped 36-year-old mother of 4 and attempted to rape her daughter. The military and the government denied it at first. Last week, the soldiers confessed, and the military said they would handle according to military law, but accountability and justice for crimes of this nature are seldom reached.

The government continues to target activists, human rights defenders and media to silence their voices.  According to local CSO, Athan, repressive laws including the Telecommunications Law, and Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law, sections of the Penal Code, and most recently, the Counter-Terrorism Law have been used against 1,051 individuals in 539 lawsuits in the past four years under the NLD-led government. Ethnic media and activists websites have also been blocked. While democratic space shrinks, hate speech has escalated to dangerous heights. Hate speech has been systematically promoted and disseminated by powerful interests, such as the military, religious leaders, businesses and ultranationalists, often with overt support from the government.

The upcoming 2020 elections presents increasing challenges. Rohingyas are disenfranchised from voting or standing for elections due to the discriminatory 1982 citizenship law, and there is a large population, Muslims, refugees and IDPs in Rakhine, Chin, Kachin and Shan who will also be unable to vote. We are concerned that the Union Election Commission may not be able to facilitate free and fair elections.

Madam President, 3 years passed since the genocide of the Rohingya; yet there has been no justice or accountability and no sign of their safe return home. Those who remain in Rakhine State continue to endure apartheid-like conditions.  Myanmar’s democratic transition has been plagued by old and new crises that needs serious attention, concerted efforts and action by the international community. This must include cutting business ties with the military conglomerates, MEC (Myanmar Economic Corporation) and MEHL (Myanmar Economic Holding Ltd.) and a moratorium on arms transfer to Myanmar.

In conclusion, I would like to call on the Council to ensure the implementation of the recommendations made by the FFM and former Special Rapporteur Ms. Yanghee Lee for peace, justice and accountability that serves all the people of Myanmar. I urge the UN to implement the recommendations of Rosenthal report with meaningful participation of Myanmar civil society without fear of reprisals. As the report concludes “member states also bear part of the responsibility” for the UN’s failures and its “horrific consequences”. We call on states and the Security Council to refer Myanmar to the ICC or to establish an ad-hoc tribunal.

Thank you.

Closing Remark by Khin Ohmar, Progressive Voice

Enhanced ID, Human Rights Council, September 14, 2020

Thank you, Madam President.

I thank Madam High Commissioner for her report. We are gravely concerned at the ongoing crimes against humanity and war crimes in ethnic regions, particularly in Rakhine State. In light of COVID-19 cases rising in Rakhine, it is of huge importance that the government fully restores internet and immediately ceasefire.

We remain deeply concerned at the systemic and institutionalized policies and ongoing practices that perpetuate violations against Rohingya and other ethnic and religious minorities and ongoing attack on HRDs, activists and independent media.

We reiterate our call for the urgent need for international criminal accountability in order to address justice and accountability. For this, we support the Fact-Finding Mission’s findings that domestic accountability is not possible in Myanmar. It’s painfully evident to the victims and survivors that domestic justice has continued to fail them and that such avenue for justice is nowhere near possible inside the country. One major obstacle is Myanmar’s total denial!

For example, Myanmar military has long used rape as a weapon of war against non-Bamar ethnic communities. In spite of it being well documented by the FFM, Myanmar continues to deny that such crimes are taking place at every opportunity. Myanmar’s Independent Commission of Enquiry also categorically dismissed rape and sexual violence in its final report, further emboldening the military to continue to commit these crimes with impunity.

Since the genocide against the Rohingya, Myanmar has established several investigation mechanisms. All of these mechanisms were neither independent nor transparent, and none addressed the issues of justice or accountability. These domestic mechanisms proved themselves to be nothing more than a tactic to buy time, and this has delayed justice for the victims.

Myanmar cannot achieve durable peace and genuine federal democracy without justice and accountability and without ending military’s impunity. The only way to achieve this, is to hold the perpetrators to account through international criminal accountability and bring the military under civilian control. I’d like to call on the Council, states and High Commissioner to support this vital step forward.

Finally, I’d like to reiterate our call on the Security Council to refer Myanmar to the ICC or to establish an ad-hoc tribunal and ensure that Myanmar complies with the provisional measures ordered by the ICJ. The victims and survivors of the military’s violent crimes deserve nothing less.

Thank you, Madam President!