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You’re the Devil in Disguise: the Duplicitous, Obsolete MNHRC

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Introduction

This paper seeks to examine the performance of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC or Commission) reflecting international standards of the Paris Principles and the General Observations of 2018. Additionally, this paper will utilise desk research and coordination with civil society on the ground in Myanmar, which covers the period of late 2019 through to the beginning of 2021. The desk research consists of document analysis of MNHRC statements, its founding law, its own capacity assessment, media reports, and reports by civil society. This paper is authored by the members of the CSO Working Group on MNHRC Reform (Working Group), a membership based network of 22 Civil Society Organizations jointly working to reform the MNHRC, which was founded in January 2019 and the Asian NGO Network on National Human Rights Institutions (ANNI). This will also build on previous ANNI reports that employed field research in the form of key stakeholder interviews.

Tracing the events throughout the reporting period, this chapter shows how the endemic flaws in the structural integrity of the MNHRC’s legal framework led to its eventual capitulation in the aftermath of 1 February 2021, when the Myanmar military attempted to seize power through a brutal attempted coup d’état following the 2020 general elections where the National League for Democracy (NLD), once again, won a landslide victory. Since then, the MNHRC has been an active participant with and unwavering in its loyalty to the military junta, failing the people of Myanmar by relinquishing its mandate and basic function to promote and protect human rights. Furthermore, they have been cooperating, meeting with and taking orders from the military junta, bowing to unlawful seizure of power by the military and ignoring democratic norms. For the purpose of this chapter, the evaluation of the MNHRC’s performance is mainly focused on the latter half of 2019 to the end of 2020, but this will undoubtedly be coloured by the events of the attempted coup d’état. During the first half of 2021, a period in which 1,303 people were killed, 10,727 arrested, 7,796 still in detention, over 75 children killed and the escalation of conflict in ethnic areas occurred has resulted in over 230,000 displaced persons, the MNHRC has remained deadly silent and ultimately complicit in these horrific human rights violations. Crucially, the site of conflict has spread all throughout Myanmar — Kachin, Karen, Karenni, Shan and Chin states, as well as Sagaing, Bago, Magway and Mandalay regions.

In a statement, civil society organizations strongly called upon the MNHRC to denounce the coup attempt and stand with the people of Myanmar but these calls were also met with silence, with the commission continuing business-as-usual while the people of Myanmar suffer. The acts and omissions of the Commission in the wake of the attempted coup d’état may not come as a great surprise given the flaws of MNHRC Law, the mindset of the commissioners, lack of independence and partial treatment of the Myanmar military.

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