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UN Experts join civil society in condemning Myanmar military’s “digital dictatorship” and call for Member State action

June 7th, 2022  •  Author:   Access Now  •  3 minute read
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Access Now supports UN human rights experts’ condemnation of the Myanmar military’s efforts to cement a “digital dictatorship,” and backs the call for UN Member States and international donors to support civil society initiatives to counter internet shutdowns, censorship, surveillance, and increasingly throttled internet access in Myanmar. For more than a year, civil society has been calling for international intervention.

“Access Now welcomes the UN experts’ strong statement that shines a spotlight on the deteriorating digital rights situation in Myanmar,” said Wai Phyo Myint, Asia Pacific Policy Analyst at Access Now. “Day by day, more people are being forced into the dark. If they are not already shut out from communications via shutdowns, they struggle to maintain access because of deliberate sky-rocketing of internet service costs. Any access is controlled and manipulated through sweeping website and platform bans.”

In their statement published today, June 7, the UN Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights in Myanmar; freedom of opinion and expression; privacy; and freedom of assembly and association recognized how “online access to information is a matter of life and death for many people” who require such access to navigate “indiscriminate attacks by the military” and an “economic and humanitarian crisis.” They noted how ongoing internet shutdowns shroud human rights violations — particularly in regions where fighting is most intense between the military and opposition forces — and how they “impede efforts by journalists, human rights monitors and humanitarian organizations” to monitor violations, including challenges to the rapporteurs’ own mandates which “depend on the collection of contemporaneous evidence of human rights abuses.”

“The Myanmar military is intent on enforcing silence and proliferating surveillance,” said Dhevy Sivaprakasam, Asia Pacific Policy Counsel at Access Now. “They are trying to outlaw VPNs through a draft law to stop people from accessing sites they desperately need, and pressuring operators to activate intercept technologies and furnish user data. People will be punished — not only for their legitimate resistance, but for merely trying to connect with others. UN Member States and international donors must intervene.”

The experts emphasized that “the people of Myanmar need and deserve a strong international response to the junta’s assault on freedom of expression and access to information and violations of the right to privacy, which threaten the lives and wellbeing of millions” and that “Member States must act swiftly to curtail the junta’s efforts to drag Myanmar back to a digital dark age.”

Access Now agrees. The coup in Myanmar is both offline and online — and the international community, telecom firms, technology companies, platforms, and network providers must stand with the people of Myanmar to resist.

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