International Day of Peace for Whom?

“Myanmar’s unwillingness to address rampant rights abuses in situations of armed conflict, to hold perpetrators of human rights violations to account and end impunity goes to show the little regard it has for the most marginalized and disenfranchised communities in Myanmar.”

Naw Blooming Night Zan, Karen Refugee Committee

With the national elections just weeks away, Myanmar[1] civil society organizations (CSOs) have noted the myriad ways that the military and government perpetuate violent and discriminatory policies and practices against Myanmar’s ethnic and religious minorities in submissions to the UN’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Released on the International Day of Peace, 21 September, the UPR submissions on hatespeech, the situation for refugees and IDPs, and on the 1982 Citizenship law and rights of minorities, outline how peace remains elusive for the vast majority, but particularly vulnerable, marginalized ethnic and religious minorities.

The UPR is a UN process in which member states make actionable recommendations to other countries on their respective human rights situations. This is the third cycle that Myanmar has participated in and as part of the process, civil society organizations can take stock of the human rights improvements on the ground by making stakeholder submissions to the UPR. At an online press conference on 21 September, 30 CSOs presented the situation in three separate but related issues. Firstly, regarding the situation for refugees and IDPs affected by armed conflict and related human rights violations, 14 ethnic community-based organizations working with displaced communities outlined how in fact the situation for these populations has further deteriorated, with ongoing uncertainty amid civil war, and reduction in humanitarian aid, their situation remains perilous as they are pressured to return. Secondly, a submission on hatespeech by 16 CSOs presents the various forms of discrimination, inflammatory langauge and incitement to violence faced by ethnic and religious minorities, and the threats that human rights defenders, especially women, face when working on such issues. The submission calls for the amendment or repeal of legislation that enables such hate-speech. Lastly, a submission by ten CSOs calls for the repeal of the 1982 Citizenship Law, a highly discriminatory piece of legislation that perpetuates statelessness, inequality and domination over minorities in the country, particularly the Rohingya.

These submissions come as Myanmar is gearing up for its general election in November. The concerns raised by the CSOs’ UPR submissions are exemplified by the pandering to racial hatred that some political parties are engaging in. For example, while lauded as being a supposed progressive party, Myanmar Now has documented the established connections between senior members of the People’s Pioneer Party, and the ultranationalist Buddhist movement, formerly known as Ma Ba Tha. Another candidate, who is running as an independent in Latha Township, Yangon, put up a campaign board touting his ‘No Rohingya’ slogan.

Despite the CSOs’ UPR submissions being launched on the International Day of Peace, it is clear that in Myanmar, and especially for minorities, peace remains elusive. In fact, as elections approach, and with the COVID-19 pandemic tearing through the country, civil society overwhelmingly came together to raise their grave concerns at this time. Over 300 CSOs signed onto an open letter to the member states of the UN Human Rights Council to “express concern over the deteriorating human rights situation amid the pandemic, escalating armed conflict in ethnic areas, and the lack of humanitarian assistance, and would like the UN Human Rights Council to urge Myanmar to respect and protect the rights of all people in the country and to adhere to the demand for a global ceasefire by the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres.”

This is the third UPR cycle, and five years have passed since the last UPR cycle. However, the concerns of civil society are further heightened and there is less hope during this cycle under the National League for Democracy (NLD)-led government due to the genocide against Rohingya and crimes against humanity and war crimes in Kachin, Shan, Chin and Rakhine States. Hopes that the NLD-led government would address previous human rights concerns are evaporating, and the optimism previously demonstrated towards Myanmar’s so-called transition is at a low. Worsening armed conflict, restrictions on freedom of expression, and flagrant anti-minority discrimination now characterize the lead-up to the 2020 elections. As Naw Blooming Night Zan from the Karen Refugee Committee stated upon the release the three UPR submissions, “Myanmar’s unwillingness to address rampant rights abuses in situations of armed conflict, to hold perpetrators of human rights violations to account and end impunity goes to show the little regard it has for the most marginalized and disenfranchised communities in Myanmar.” Thus, until concerted efforts are made to protect the fundamental human rights of all people of Myanmar, next year’s International Day of Peace, and indeed the 4th UPR cycle in five years time, will bear the same laments. UN member states, as they review and assess Myanmar’s human rights record over the past five years in this UPR cycle, must place maximum pressure on the Myanmar government to respect, promote and protect the rights of all people of Myanmar, especially those most marginalized, vulnerable, and disenfranchised.
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[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

actions

Statements and Press Releases

Burma Needs Consequences, Not More Recommendations

By Burma Human Rights Network

International Community Must Notice Example Set by High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet

By Burma Human Rights Network

မြန်မာနိုင်ငံဆိုင်ရာ ယန္တရားသည် ရာဇ၀တ်မှုများအတွက် တာဝန်ခံမှုဆိုင်ရာ ကြိုးပမ်းမှု၌ နိုင်ငံတကာ အသိုင်းအဝိုင်း၏ ဆက်လက် ထောက်ခံမှုကို တောင်းဆို

By Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar

Myanmar Mechanism calls for continued support of international community in the accountability efforts

By Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar

Statement to the Human Rights Council by Mr. Nicholas Koumjian, Head of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, on the 45th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council

By Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar

လူ့အခွင့်အရေး ကောင်စီ (၄၅) ကြိမ်မြောက် ပုံမှန် အစည်းအဝေးတွင် မြန်မာနိုင်ငံဆိုင်ရာ လွတ်လပ်သော စုံစမ်းစစ်ဆေးမှုယန္တရား အကြီးအကဲ Mr. Nicholas Koumjian မှ လူ့အခွင့်အရေးကောင်စီသို့ တင်သွင်းသည့်စာတမ်း

By Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar

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

By Khin Ohmar, Progressive Voice

Enhanced interactive dialogue on the implementation of recommendations from the Fact-Finding Mission on the situation of human rights in Myanmar

By Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Myanmar Report Details Ongoing Human Rights Violations

By Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

reports

Reports

Report of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar

By Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar

Situation of Human Rights of Rohingya Muslims and Other Minorities in Myanmar

By Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights


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.”

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