Controlling the Narrative at Home and Abroad

October 2nd, 2020  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  6 minute read
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Whether internationally or domestically, the NLD-led government is clamping down on expression and assembly during protests or political opposition, while deliberately obscuring the discussion of deeply worrying human rights concerns at platforms such as the UNHRC.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar has recently outlined key concerns to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) as part of his regular reporting on the human rights situation in Myanmar, including restrictions of freedom of expression, and the disenfranchisement of those most marginalized in the country such as the Rohingya. The attempts by the Myanmar government, and its allies in the HRC, however, to interrupt and create obstacles to this reporting speaks volumes about Myanmar’s attempts to control and manipulate the narrative regarding the hugely problematic upcoming election.

On 22 September, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Mr. Tom Andrews, was presenting his report to the UNHRC, outlining problems regarding hatespeech, and bigoted language used by political parties in the upcoming election in November – Myanmar attempted to shut this down. As Mr. Andrews presented a widely circulated photo of a recent campaign poster for an independent parliamentary candidate in Latha Township, Yangon, in which he proudly pronounces his ‘No Rohingya’ policy, Myanmar interjected with a point of order, in that they opposed the use of such an image. Its political allies on the HRC then made statements of support in the rejection of the use of this image, while other countries made statements to the opposite effect. After Mr. Andrews then went on to show images of Rohingya villages that were destroyed during the Myanmar military’s genocidal campaign of violence in 2017, and what is now a military installation, a further interjection and a vote was called for, in which members had to decide whether or not to allow the continued use of images.

Such attempts to obfuscate, distort, and censor essential reporting of the human rights situation in Myanmar on the international stage is a continuation of the years of denial employed by Myanmar representatives during military junta rule, most notably by former Chair of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission, Win Mra, during his stint as Myanmar’s UN representative in the 1990s. That this is done under the watch of the NLD-led government, should be a wakeup call to their international backers that believe there is a genuine and substantive transition to democracy in the country.

The censorship of human rights reporting also tallies with the situation closer to home. A series of nighttime raids, arrests, and police harassment of peaceful student protesters is a blatant attempt to clamp down on any legitimate dissent. The students are members of the All Burma Federation of Students Union (ABFSU) who conducted a sticker and flier campaign, in solidarity with Rakhine students who had been arrested for protesting the intensifying war and ongoing internet restrictions in townships in Rakhine and Chin States. Charges have been brought or are in the process of being brought against over 30 students, with authorities using the Penal Code, the Disaster Management Law, and the deeply problematic Peace Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law. This is a blatant and authoritarian tactic all too familiar with those who lived through military rule.

It appears that not much has changed in terms of political dissent and reporting of human rights in Myanmar. Whether internationally or domestically, the NLD-led government is clamping down on expression and assembly during protests or political opposition, while deliberately obscuring the discussion of deeply worrying human rights concerns at platforms such as the UNHRC. Myanmar must do more to protect freedom of expression and the discussion of the atrocities that the military has and is committing. Until it does, any optimism that greater freedoms afforded in recent years has generated will continue to diminish.


[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

မြန်မာစစ်တပ်၏ ရာဇဝတ်မှုကျူးလွန်ခြင်းကို ခံနေကြရသည့် ရခိုင်လူမျိုးများနှင့်အတူ ရိုဟင်ဂျာလူမျိုးများ စည်းလုံးညီညွတ်စွာ အတူတကွ ရပ်တည်လျက်ရှိခြင်း

By 29 Rohingya Organizations

Rohingya Groups Stand in Solidarity with Rakhine People Suffering from Burmese Military Crimes

By 29 Rohingya Organizations

အပြည်ပြည်ဆိုင်ရာ လူ့အခွင့်အရေးအခြေအနေ ပုံမှန်သုံးသပ်ဆွေးနွေးပွဲ (UPR) မတိုင်မီ အပြည်ပြည်ဆိုင်ရာ ငြိမ်းချမ်းရေးနေ့တွင် အရပ်ဘက်လူထုအဖွဲ့အစည်းများက မြန်မာအစိုးရအား လူ့အခွင့်အရေးဆိုင်ရာ တာဝန်ဝတ္တရားများကို လိုက်နာလုပ်ဆောင်ရန် တိုက်တွန်းလိုက်ပြီး အပစ်အခတ်ရပ်စဲရန် တောင်းဆိုခြင်း

By 30 Civil Society Organizations

On International Day of Peace CSOs Urge Myanmar to Uphold its Human Rights Obligations Ahead of the Universal Periodic Review, Calls for Ceasefire

By 30 Civil Society Organizations

Open letter from Myanmar civil society organizations to the UN Human Rights Council on the deteriorating human rights situation in Myanmar during the COVID-19 crisis

By 364 Civil Society Organizations

မြန်မာနိုင်ငံတွင် ကိုဗစ်-၁၉ ကပ်ဘေးကာလအတွင်း ဆိုးရွားစွာ ဖြစ်ပွားနေသော လူ့အခွင့်အရေးအခြေအနေများနှင့်ပတ်သက်ပြီး မြန်မာနိုင်ငံအရပ်ဘက်လူထုအဖွဲ့အစည်းများမှ ကုလသမဂ္ဂ၏ လူ့အခွင့်အရေးကောင်စီထံသို့ အိတ်ဖွင့်ပေးစာ

By 364 Civil Society Organizations


By All Burma Federation of Student Unions

Statement on the Arrest and Prosecution of Students during COVID-19 Pandemic

By Assistance Association for Political Prisoners

Concerns Over Possible Anti-Muslim Violence During Burma’s Election Campaign

By Burma Human Rights Network

BHRN Concerned Over Arakan State Troop Buildup and Border Wall Rhetoric

By Burma Human Rights Network

မြန်မာနိုင်ငံအမျိုးသားလူ့အခွင့်အရေးကော်မရှင် ပြုပြင်ပြောင်းလဲရေးဆိုင်ရာ CSO များအလုပ်အဖွဲ့မှ မြန်မာအစိုးရအား လူ့အခွင့်အရေးအခြေအနေ သုံးသပ်ပွဲဆွေးနွေးပွဲအတွင်း ၎င်းကပေးထားခဲ့သော ကတိကဝတ်များကို အကောင်အထည်ဖော်ဆောင်ရန် တောင်းဆိုခြင်း

By CSO Working Group on MNHRC Reform

CSO Working Group on MNHRC Reform Call on the Myanmar government to Deliver on Commitments Made During its Human Rights Review

By CSO Working Group on MNHRC Reform

Election boycott campaigns, including Myanmar’s “no vote” movement, are a legitimate form of democratic debate protected under international law and under Myanmar’s Constitution

By Free Expression Myanmar

Human Rights Situation Report by The Network for Human Rights Documentation-Burma Reveals Systematic, Widespread Abuses with Institutionalized Impunity

By Network for Human Rights Documentation – Burma

UN Human Rights Expert Calls for Immediate End to Military Assaults on Rakhine Villages, Decries Mounting Death toll of Children

By Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights



A Critique of Burma’s COVID-19 Economic Relief Plan

By Karen Peace Support Network

မြန်မာနိုင်ငံ၏ COVID-19 စီးပွားရေးထိခိုက်မှုသက်သာရေးစီမံချက်ကို ဝေဖန်ဆန်းစစ်ခြင်း

By Karen Peace Support Network

An Overview of the Human Rights Situation in Burma (January to June 2020)

By Network for Human Rights Documentation – Burma

မြန်မာနိုင်ငံ လူ့အခွင့်အရေးအပေါ် သုံးသပ်ချက် (၂၀၂၀ ပြည့်နှစ် ဇန်နဝါရီလ မှ ဇွန်လ အထိ)

By Network for Human Rights Documentation – Burma

Myanmar: Ethnic Politics and the 2020 General Election

By Transnational Institute

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.”