45th Session of the Human Rights Council
Statement by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
14 September 2020
I am pleased to participate, with my distinguished fellow panelists, in this discussion of Myanmar, pursuant to Resolution 42/3. As requested, you have before you a report by the Office. With elections approaching in early November, this is a key moment for the assessment of Myanmar’s progress on human rights, including areas where action should be taken by the next Government.
Three years have passed since the military operations in Rakhine created a terrible human rights crisis. The situation of many hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees and internally displaced people remains unresolved. In 2019, the Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar concluded that Myanmar incurred State responsibility under the prohibition against genocide and crimes against humanity, as well as for other violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law.
This Council and the General Assembly also emphasized the call for accountability. But regrettably, no concrete measures have been taken. National initiatives, including secretive and selective court martials and the national Commission of Enquiry, have been inadequate and fallen short of international standards.
I continue to encourage the Government of Myanmar to cooperate fully with international judicial and investigative bodies to ensure that justice is delivered and support the transitional justice processes, which are vital to sustainable peace.
Currently, people from the Rakhine, Chin, Mro, Daignet and Rohingya communities are increasingly affected by the armed conflict in Rakhine and Chin States, including through disappearances and extra-judicial killings of civilians; massive civilian displacement; arbitrary arrests, torture and deaths in custody; and the destruction of civilian property. Civilian casualties have also been increasing. In some cases, they appear to have been targeted or attacked indiscriminately, which may constitute further war crimes or even crimes against humanity.
It is troubling that a number of satellite images and eyewitness accounts indicate that areas in northern Rakhine have been burnt in recent months. I note that the Government has contested this, based on its own review of satellite data– this only underscores the need for independent, on-the-ground investigation. Government administrators are reclassifying areas where Rohingya villages were previously located, removing the names of villages from official maps and potentially altering how the land may be used. This should end immediately, and the prior situation should be restored. Such acts re victimize those who have been forced to flee, and could prevent Rohingyas from returning to their homes, reclaiming their rights and rebuilding their lives. I am also concerned that they risk destroying evidence relevant to determining legal responsibility for acts committed during military operations both before and after 2017.
I further regret that the complex travel authorization process obstructs access for humanitarian actors.
Myanmar has been fortunate to experience low levels of contagion of COVID-19, but the recent outbreak in Rakhine is cause for concern. The social and economic impact of the pandemic has been devastating for workers and migrant returnees. I encourage the Government to boost equal access to health services and redouble its social protection efforts, with international support and tripartite cooperation and dialogue.
The November elections are an important opportunity for all parties to demonstrate their commitment to democratic norms. The current situation is disappointing. The vast majority of Rohingya will be prevented from participating in the elections, since they have effectively been stripped of their previously recognized rights to vote and stand for office. Instances of hate speech, including Islamophobic messages, are rampant.
I am also alarmed at continuing crackdowns on human rights defenders, journalists, and critics of the Government and Army. And several laws related to the democratic space which fall short of international standards continue to be used, despite recommendations that they be reformed.
Myanmar has repeatedly stated that it wishes to resolve the Rohingya crisis and ensure the Rohingya can return to their places of origin in dignity and safety. Action must now be taken to properly remedy the serious violations the Rohingya have suffered, and include them into the life of their country. Given Myanmar’s stated commitment to democracy, I also encourage the Government to remove the barriers that impede democratic freedoms and undermine the equal enjoyment of human rights by all in Myanmar.