United States President Barack Obama should make human rights a central and public focus of the upcoming summit of Southeast Asian leaders in the United States, Human Rights Watch said today in a new report on human rights in the Southeast Asia region. Obama is scheduled to host the leaders of the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) February 15-16, 2016, at the Sunnylands estate in California in the first-ever US-ASEAN summit held in the US.
“President Obama knows that human rights are under assault in Southeast Asia; the question is whether he’s going to say or do something about it,” said John Sifton, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “The risk is that the Sunnylands summit will empower and embolden ASEAN leaders who have been responsible for jailing journalists, cracking down on peaceful protesters, and dismantling democratic institutions after coups.”
The 63-page report, “Human Rights in ASEAN,” urges the Obama administration to raise particular human rights concerns at the summit, including political prisoners in Vietnam, politically motivated prosecutions in Malaysia, political repression in Cambodia, and the crackdown on free expression in Thailand.
- NLD pledges no more political prisoners - The Irrawaddy
- Special Report on Sexual Violence: Justice Delayed, Justice Denied January 2016 - LAN/KWAT
- Who is instigating the violence against the Rohingya? Dr Azeem Ibrahim - Huffington Post
- Wai Wai Nu on Discrimination, the Rohingya People, and the Future of Myanmar - WNN
- Reports on genocide in Myanmar highlight the need for change: Ronan Lee - E-IR
- Myanmar frees 102 political prisoners days before power transfer - Channel News Asia
Anniversary of crime against two Kachin teachers remembered
- NLD pledges to reveal truth about Kachin teachers' murder - Myanmar Times
- New call issued for justice for murdered Kachin teachers - Associated Press
- One year on, rights group demand justice for rape, murder of Kachin teachers - The Irrawaddy
- One year on: No justice for Kawng Kha rape - Civil Rights Ddefenders
I’m planning on going there within the next two months. I would like to go there before the government changes hands, before Thein Sein retires from his office, so that I will be able to reiterate some past issues and past points.
I really was heartened by the election process. We had many concerns - both the people of Myanmar and the international community did. There definitely were some disappointments and some regrets, but by far it was relatively fair and free, although not in absolute terms.
I stick by justice, accountability and truth, but you have to be aware of the 50 years of oppressive dictatorship.
Some people think that now everything will be hunky dory, that we will conduct trade and [build] relations with Myanmar. But we have to remember that the military has a very strong hold on most of the business sector, at least most of the major, noteworthy, big revenue-generating businesses - or their cronies.
The new government will start with very good intentions. They were the recipients of decades of oppression. But when you’re in politics, when you gain power, you can’t just change things overnight.I’m keeping a very close eye on developments in Shan. I’m really concerned on how it’s evolving.
There are still 3,000 IDPs from the recent conflict and they want to go back to their homes and their livelihoods. And of course Kachin State is another area that I’m keeping my radar on.I was hoping that before this government leaves, they release the remaining political prisoners. We should push for that.
They were prompt - and of course no country is late - in submitting their report to the UPR cycle. The civil society consultations I don’t think were adequate. It was very regrettable that it took place in the wake of the elections, it was terrible timing.
I’m trying to see the other side, what kind of logic or reasons they had for not fielding any Muslim candidates. The political sentiment there, the temperature, was escalating. Ma Ba Tha was very strong and the division between religion and the state was [blurred].
“The Former Presidents Security Bill is a brazen attempt to shoehorn immunity from prosecution into the president’s retirement package,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director. “The immunity provision should be stripped from the proposed law so that President Thein Sein and future Burmese presidents remain accountable for any crimes they commit.”
The draft law consists of 14 clauses that outline the government’s commitment to support retired presidents, such as lifetime funding for a bodyguard and other personal security measures.
Derek Tonkin writes: Domestic law cannot override international law where such matters as war crimes and crimes against humanity are concerned. Information Minister Ye Htut is reported to have said: "I understand that the bill is based on a US Former Presidents Act.” The Irrawaddy says that there is no similar immunity provision in comparable US legislation passed by Congress in 1958.
The United States on Thursday called for a credible, independent investigation by Myanmar's government of reports of military atrocities in the country's Shan State, saying they were reprehensible, if true.
A rights group, the Shan Human Rights Foundation, accused Myanmar's army last week of bombing schools and Buddhist temples, firing on civilians and rape in an offensive against ethnic rebels in eastern Myanmar that has uprooted more than 10,000 people.
"We are concerned by reports of Burmese military atrocities, including allegations of indiscriminate attacks on civilian populations and infrastructure, rape, and other acts of sexual violence," said Katina Adams, a spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department.
"These allegations, if true, are reprehensible, and we urge the Government of Burma to undertake a credible, independent investigation into these allegations, and to hold perpetrators accountable for their actions."
The United Nations General Assembly's human rights committee on Wednesday criticized Myanmar for its treatment of the nation's Muslim minority and urged the Southeast Asian country to change its citizenship rules to make Rohingya full citizens.
"The representative of Myanmar, in an explanation of position, reaffirmed his delegation’s strong opposition to country-specific resolutions, which were politicized in nature. He underlined that the Universal Periodic Review remained the sole appropriate mechanism to address specific country situations. In a spirit of cooperation, however, his delegation had engaged in the negotiation processes and refrained to call for a vote on the draft text......
"The delegate of Egypt, speaking on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, said the group had intended to table a text regarding the situation of the Rohingya, but in a spirit of good faith, it had put that document aside in favour of the draft text, which had been approved by consensus.....
"The representatives of Singapore, China, Iran, Cuba, Russian Federation, Belarus, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and Venezuela reiterated their principled position against country-specific resolutions and the politicization of human rights issues, and defended the view that the Universal Periodic Review was the appropriate mechanism to address human rights concerns in a spirit of cooperation, non-selectivity and objectivity.
"The representatives of Thailand, India and the Philippines said country-specific resolutions regarding Myanmar were no longer needed, while the delegate of Japan expressed the hope that the Government of that county would address the remaining challenges so that a resolution would not be necessary in 2016."
Derek Tonkin writes: As in 2014, none of the sponsors of the Resolution came from South or South East Asia or from the five BRICS countries of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. We can only wait to see whether this annual ritual, which pits developed against developing countries, will continue in 2016. There ought to be more constructive ways to tackle Myanmar's problems.
- 'No turning back in Myanmar' says human rights expert in wake of the elections - UN News Centre
- Hugo Swire welcomes UNGA Resolution on human rights in Burma
Derek Tonkin writes: While the ISCI report sticks closely to its remit, the Yale report is more of a political document because it advocates action through the Human Rights Council. This weakens its impact considerably. It also appears to accept the Rohingya narrative that their ethnicity dates from the 9th Century, a view shared by few if any reputable historians.
- Briefing on the elections from the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK
- Myanmar, Human Rights and Academic Integrity: Derek Tonkin - Network Myanmar
- Backlash against Muslims casts shadow over elections: Robin McDowell - Associated Press
- Myanmar's disenfranchised Rohingya: U Shwe Maung - New York Times
Reports into Human Rights Concerns
- Exclusive: 'Strong evidence' of genocide in Myanmar - Al Jazeera
- Cache of 27 documents released by Al Jazeera
- Text of OHCHR internal report on the disturbances and of the humanitarian response needed
- Text of ISCI Report: Genocide in Myanmar
- Text of Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic Report: Crackdown at Leptadan
- Text of Yale University Law School Clinic: Is genocide occurring in Rakhine State?
- Press Conference in New York by the UN Special Rapporteur Ms Yanghee Lee - 29 October 2015
- Video Record of the Session of the Third Committee: Ms Yanghee Lee - 28 October 2015
- Letter from the Permanent Representative of Myanmar at the UN - 19 October 2015
- Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar: Report of the UN Special Rapporteur - 6 October 2015
- Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar: Report of the UN Secretary-General - 19 August 2015
Derek Tonkin writes: It is assuredly no coincidence that these partisan reports, from a Yale University Law School Clinic, a Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic, Queen Mary College ISCI and Al Jazeera have all appeared in the same week, just prior to Myanmar's 'Universal Periodic Review' at the Human Rights Council in Geneva which starts on 6 November 2015 and the General Elections on 8 November 2015. It would appear that the campaigning organisation "Fortify Rights" is closely and directly involved in the production of these reports. This is likely to have a negative impact on their effectiveness as independent presentations.
These reports should be read in conjunction with the recently released and more authoritative reports presented by the UN Special Rapporteur and the UN Secretary-General to the UN General Assembly on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar.The Myanmar Government has already rejected the allegations.
Historical Note. In 1939 the Riot Inquiry Commission of the Burmese Government published a report into the anti-Muslim riots which broke out in Rangoon and several other towns in Burma (though not in Arakan) in July 1938. The Commission concluded that the riots were at root political and communal and that the anti-Buddhist religious tract by a certain Maung Shwe Hpi which was the ostensible cause of the violence was in fact no more than its pretext.
Although the riots may well have had an underlying anti-British flavour, it is nonetheless instructive to read two of the Commission's several conclusions, in paragraphs 5 and 6 on Page 288 attached, notably the references to "an hysterical appeal deliberately made to Burman Buddhists to protect their religion and their race" and to the "wave of Burman nationalism" unleashed by the separation of Burma from India on 1 April 1937. The parallel with the emergence of a civilianized government in Myanmar on 30 March 2011 and the subsequent freedom of speech and press unexpectedly permitted in Myanmar is striking.
Latest News and Views
- Text of Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic Report: Crackdown at Leptadan
- Election Forecast: Cloudy, with a chance you'll be arrested - Myanmar Times/Myanmar Now
- Myanmar rights body speaks out [over student arrests] - Bangkok Post
- Land rights activists are newest political prisoners - Human Rights Watch
- Ma Thida on prison, hopes for Myanmar and The Lady - South China Morning Post
- Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar: Report of the UN Secretary-General - 19 August 2015
UN envoy says Myanmar denied her access to troubled Rakhine State
Reuters - 7 August 2015
UN Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee said on Friday that her request to visit Rakhine State was denied before she began a five-day visit to Myanmar, and that the government had also denied her permission to stay 10 days. Security forces had conducted surveillance on some of the people she met on previous visits, she said.
"I unfortunately received credible information that some of my interlocutors were photographed by security officials. I also heard that some individuals I met with in previous visits were monitored, photographed and later questioned by security personnel." Meetings she had requested on the latest trip were refused, changed or or cancelled without notice.
Derek Tonkin writes: This was an unfortunate time to visit, but presumably necessary in the context of the report required to the UN General Assembly in the near future. Ms Angela Jolie was likewise unable to visit Rakhine State beacuse of the serious weather conditions, but reacted with good grace to her disappointment. There has been no independent corroboration of reports from 'Rohingya' lobbying sources that the authorities in Rakhine State have given no aid or evacuation support to the Muslim population. The President reportedly visited northern Rakhine State on Friday 7 August 2015.
Immigration officials have so far intercepted one of the fishing vessels, called the Blissful Reefer, and rescued its trafficked crew. Another 33 Thai trawlers thought to be crewed by slaves are being tracked in fishing grounds off the south coast of Papua New Guinea, known locally as the Dog Leg.
The trawlers are thought to be linked to a huge trafficking operation that was disrupted on the isolated Indonesian island of Benjina in March, liberating hundreds of enslaved fishermen – although a large number of boats loaded with slaves managed to escape.
Analysis of the trafficking operation reveals that the fish, which were originally heading for Thailand’s huge export-oriented seafood trade, are entering global supply chains, with some almost certainly destined for Britain.
155 Chinese jailed for illegal logging set free in amnesty
AFP/Shanghai Daily - 30 July 2015
Myanmar yesterday released 155 Chinese nationals, who were last week jailed for illegal logging in a mass amnesty that also freed several political prisoners. Authorities ordered the release of 6,966 detainees, including 210 foreigners, the Ministry of Information said on its website. The move hoped to promote “goodwill and is aimed at keeping a friendly relationship between countries,” it said.
All of the 155 Chinese nationals given prison sentences for illegal logging in northern Myanmar near the China border have been freed, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a statement. “Myanmar informed China this morning that they will transfer the above-mentioned persons tomorrow,” the statement said, adding that there had been “intense communication” between the two nations over the loggers.
- Presidential amnesty does little to liberate political prisoners - AAPP(B)
- Myanmar: Prisoners of conscience released, but scores remain behind bars - Amnesty International
- Myanmar: National Trade Union Centre officially registered - ITUC
- Human Rights Council adopts Resolution on Rohingya Muslims without a vote - OHCHR
- Text of HRC Resolution 29/21 of 3 July 2015
- Stateless 'Sea Gypsies' face severe discrimination - The Irrawaddy
- Stateless at Sea: The Moken of Burma and Thailand - Human Rights Watch Report
Police clash with student protestors
- Spokesperson for OHCHR condemns crackdown on students - AFP
- Burma takes a big step backward: Min Zin - Foreign Policy Blog
- Letpadan students released from prison - Democratic Voice of Burma
- Guy Dinmore: Backsliding or stumbling forward? - Myanmar Times
- Government sought peaceful protest resolution: Minister - Global NLM
- NLD demands inquiry into police clashes with students - Reuters
- Government forms inquiry commission into Yangon dispersal - Global NLM
- US condemns use of force against protesters - Associated Press
- EU 'deeply regrets' police violence against student protesters - Mizzima
- Police baton-charge student protestors - Human Rights Watch
The record of the discussion on the draft Resolution on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar states that the Resolution was adopted without a vote, though some countries thought the Resolution related to a country with a different name called "Burma", while other countries, including Russia, China, India and Indonesia, made it clear that they did not support any consensus.
Myanmar, speaking as the concerned country, "said it rejected country-specific mandates and was disappointed that the European Union had once again tabled a resolution targeting Myanmar under the pretext of human rights. There was no one-size-fits-all constitution in the world and prejudging the outcome of general elections was unwarranted on any grounds. Myanmar rejected the intrusive elements contained in the operative paragraphs 2 and 7, and strongly rejected operative paragraphs 6 and 8 which contained sweeping and unverifiable accusations. There had been no recurrence of inter-communal violence in Rakhine State since 2012. Myanmar strongly rejected the use of terminology 'Rohingya' since it had never existed in the ethnic history of the country. Continued use of that invented false term did not help addressing the issue but further undermined the efforts to resolve the situation. The reforms in the country had contributed greatly to the better enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms of the people, significantly in the areas of freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly."
Derek Tonkin writes: The Resolution, approved coincidentally on the 70th Anniversary of Myanmar Armed Forces Day, has become, like the annual UNGA Resolutions, little more than a ritual which serves only to irritate Nay Pyi Taw but is useful to some Western Governments for their own domestic political reasons. The Resolution, which included no Asian regional sponsor, makes several references to the "Rohingya minority" without seeking to define what this comprises, nor whether it includes the many thousands of "Rohingya" who live outside Rakhine State, who have not been affected by the withdrawal of White Cards or temporary IDs and had no problems during the Census last year in being counted.
- Human Rights Council interactive dialogue on Myanmar -16 March 2015
- Muted protest as Rights Council raps Myanmar - again: Myanmar Times
- She observed "a growing atmosphere of fear, distrust and hostility" during her latest visit in January.
- She witnessed "abysmal" conditions at a camp where displaced Muslims were being held.
- The mostly stateless minority was likely to be the main loser from a new law initiated by the Rakhine National Party that restricts political party membership to full and naturalised citizens.
- Myanmar's Constitutional Tribunal had stripped voting rights in an upcoming constitutional referendum from all temporary registration card holders.
- Ethnic tensions could worsen because of draft bills on religious conversion, inter-faith marriage, monogamy and population control.
- There was also an alarming escalation of violence near the Chinese border.
- She cited information that Myanmar's security forces were still recruiting children and that the number of political prisoners in Myanmar could be "much higher" than the official total of 27.
- She also cited the use of live ammunition by the police, restrictions on media and evictions of farmers protesting against a proposed copper mine.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, today warned that Myanmar “seems headed in the wrong direction and needs urgently to get back on track” in a crucial year for the country's democratic transition and long-term reconciliation.
“The international community has seen the transition in Myanmar as a story of promise and hope,” the High Commissioner in a statement. “But recent developments relating to the human rights of minorities, the freedom of expression and the right to peaceful protest are calling into question the direction of that reform, and even threatening to set it back.”
Human Rights Watch Activity
Derek Tonkin writes: Human Rights Watch (HRW) are in the forefront of exposing human rights abuses world-wide, and the section on 'Burma' in their World Report 2015 (on events in 2014) is a hard-hitting account of perceived inadequacies and continuing abuses, which Western Governments have likewise condemned. HRW have a tendency however to give undue credence and emphasis to accounts which are only reported at the time but not subsequently confirmed or invalidated.
Surprising attention, for example, is paid in their report to events in Du Chee Yar Tan village in January 2014. These events according to HRW "reportedly resulted in the killing of between 40 and 60 Rohingya villagers by security forces and Arakanese residents. One policeman was also reportedly killed. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights conducted a short investigation under restrictive government conditions and confirmed that a violent incident had taken place, and estimated that dozens of killings had occurred."
In point of fact, the UN Special Rapporteur Tomás Ojea Quintana made no such allegations in his report dated 12 March 2014 to the Human Rights Council (pages 46-47), and while at the time UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay spoke of "credible" evidence and called for an impartial investigation, I am not aware that any UN agency conducted any investigation itself, nor that it issued any evaluation like that described by HRW. A Confidential Report of the Incident by the UN dated 20 January 2014 to the Myanmar Government provided a lengthy recital of allegations made to UN staff in Rakhine State, but gave no UN assessment of the credibility of these allegations.The UN "Incident Report" concluded however that: "In addition to these [alleged] deaths, the UN can confirm that at least 16 Rohingya from Dar Chee Yat (sic) Tan suffered serious injuries in the violence on 14 January, including gunshot and knife/sword wounds." This report of injuries is credible and is not contested.
It is now apparent that the alleged massacre of some eight Rohingya coincidentally passing through Du Chee Yar Tan and supposedly seeking to leave Rakhine State by boat on the night of 9 January 2014 never took place. As regards the alleged massacre on 13/14 January and a subsequent police investigation to discover the fate of missing Police Sergeant Aung Kyaw Thein (who was assuredly killed, and not just "reportedly" so), not a single name of any murdered Rohingya has been confirmed. A list of alleged victims turned out to have no basis in fact, as did reports of severed heads bobbing around in a water tank.
Indeed, I have been told by a reliable and highly placed source that a Muslim conciliator subsequently took up temporary residence in Du Chee Yar Tan where he gained the confidence of the villagers. He has confirmed that there had indeed been brutal police action against the villagers in mid-January, a woman had been raped, and several local inhabitants needed medical treatment. But no one had died as a result of their injuries.
It is also apparent that Médecins sans Frontières were suspended (HRW claims 'on a technicality') for failing to disclose the names of villagers who had received medical treatment in a case involving the murder of a Police Sergeant. My local doctor (in the UK) has confirmed that if he treated a number of men for injuries which might have arisen in the context of the murder of a local policeman, a refusal on his part on the grounds of supposed "patient confidentiality" to reveal the names would have resulted in an immediate legal injunction requiring him to do so.
The strong probability, to my mind a virtual certainty, is that reports of massacres of Rohingya villagers at or near Du Chee Yar Tan village around 9 and around 13/14 January 2014 were fabricated.
Derek Tonkin writes: This statement merits most careful reading. It reveals a UN Special Rapporteur passionately concerned to support Myanmar in its struggle to improve the human rights regime. "I am feeling more and more part of this country and am privileged to be accompanying the people of Myanmar on this journey of reform towards greater enjoyment of human rights." Yanghee Lee thought that the Government "is continuing to progress its reform programme", adding that "I am pleased to see that programmes to improve education, health care and livelihood are underway". However, she noted that "in some areas I have not observed progress since my last visit" and the main part of her statement proceeds to analyse these problems and difficulties in detail, under the headings of Democratic Space, Land and Environmental Issues, Intercommunal Situation, and the Legislative Package on Race and Religion, Community Level Development and Rule of Law. It would be difficult to find any element in her perceptive and sympathetic analysis with which either the international community or the Myanmar Government would not wish to support proactively and compassionately.
- Message to Ban Ki-moon and Yanghee Lee - Eleven Media
- Radical monk Wirathu uses insulting words about Yanghee Lee - DVB
- Yanghee Lee: 'In some areas I have not observed progress' - DVB
- Rakhine still in crisis state: UN Envoy - Channel NewsAsia
Latest News and Views
- Burma 'Peaceful Assembly Law' fails to end repression - Human Rights Watch
- Sitagu Sayadaw in Iran 'unconditionally' condemns violence against Muslims
- 376 children released from armed forces in Myanmar in 2014 - Unicef
UN urges citizenship for Rohingya in Myanmar
Al Jazeera/Agencies - 22 November 2014
The UN General Assembly’s human rights committee has approved a resolution urging Myanmar to allow its persecuted Rohingya minority "access to full citizenship on an equal basis" and to scrap its controversial identity plan. The resolution adopted on Friday expresses "serious concern" over the plight of the Muslim minority in Rakhine state.
So far, Myanmar's 1.3 million Rohingya have been denied citizenship and enjoyed limited rights. Many within the government and local Buddhists see the Rohingya as illegal immigrants though the Rohingya community maintains it has ancestral roots in the country. The UN resolution urges the government protect the rights of all those residing within its borders and allow "equal access to full citizenship for the Rohingya minority," to "allow self-identification" and ensure equal access to services.
Meanwhile, Myanmar's representative voiced concern over the use of the term "Rohingya" stating that its usage would heighten tensions in Rakhine state. "Use of the word by the United Nations will draw strong resentment from the people of Myanmar, making the government's effort more difficult in addressing this issue," Myanmar Ambassador Tim Kyaw told the committee.
- Rakhine protests after UN passes Resolution on Burma - Kaladan Press
- UK Minister welcomes UNGA Third Committee Resolution - UK Government
- Text of draft Resolution as considered in the Third Committee - UN document
- UN Press Release on the discussion (final item) - UN Meetings Coverage
UN human rights expert commends reforms to date
UN Human Rights Commissioner press release: 30 October 2014
The new United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, commended the process of reform that has improved the political, economic social and human rights landscape over the past three years, but said that “more is required if gains are to be genuine, sustainable and win the support of the people of Myanmar”.
In her first address to the UN General Assembly, Ms. Lee warned against of possible signs of backtracking on the country’s reform process which must be addressed to avoid undermining gains made to date.
“Several conflicts continue to cause significant suffering to local communities, with currently an estimated 613,000 internally displaced persons in the country,” she noted. “Serious human rights violations are being committed on both sides, and I am particularly concerned by continued reports of arbitrary detention, torture and impunity on the side of the military.”
The expert stressed that sustainable peace must address the root causes of the conflict which lie in the denial of fundamental human rights, and urged the authorities to ensure that accountability for human rights violations is included in ceasefire and peace agreements. Continue reading.....
- Text of Statement by Yanghee Lee to the UN General Assembly
- UN draft resolution urges Myanmar to drop Rohingya identity plan - AP
- Letter from the Myanmar Permanent Representative to the UN Secretary-General
- A Note on the 1872 British Census of Burma - Derek Tonkin
- Press statement by Burma Partnership on Myanmar Civil Society Forum
- Forum of Myanmar civil society organisations damn stalled reforms - Mizzima
- A scathing verdict on Burma's stalled reforms - Human Rights Watch
UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office - Update 16 October 2014
- Freedom of expression and assembly
- Human rights defenders
- Access to justice and the rule of law
- Conflict and protection of civilians
- Freedom of religion or belief
- Women’s rights
- Minority rights
- Children’s rights
- Case Study: The Plight of the Rohingya
- Comments on this Case Study
Government plan would segregate Rohingya
Human Rights Watch - 3 October 2014
A draft government plan would entrench discriminatory policies that deprive Rohingya Muslims of citizenship and lead to the forced resettlement of over 130,000 displaced Rohingya into closed camps, Human Rights Watch said today. Burma’s international donors, the United Nations, and other influential actors should press the government to substantively revise or rescind its “Rakhine State Action Plan.”
The plan follows the April 2013 recommendations of the Rakhine Investigative Commission, established by President Thein Sein after widespread killings and violence against Rohingya in 2012 in the state. The plan, a copy of which was obtained by Human Rights Watch, does not recognize the term Rohingya, referring throughout to “Bengalis,” an inaccurate and derogatory term commonly used by Burmese officials and nationalist Buddhists. Muslims are only mentioned in the plan with reference to religious schools.
Derek Tonkin writes: HRW do not say how they would reintegrate Rohingya Muslims into a totally hostile local Rakhine environment. In the short term, the problem has no solution, but it still needs to be effectively managed. Reports suggest that more enlightened Myanmar Ministers believe a substantial majority of Rohingya Muslims could be granted some form of citizenship under present legislation. International pressures should be exerted to achieving that goal, while ensuring that those not eligible for immediate citizenship are deported only with the consent of the Bangladeshi authorities.
As U Soe Nyunt, Controller of Immigration, put it to a senior British official in 1956: "Illegal immigration of Pakistanis was a much more serious problem than that of Indians or Chinese. In some parts of the frontier area only about five per cent of the population is of Burmese origin; the remainder are Moslems of Pakistani origin and are only too ready to help their friends and compatriots to cross the border. The Burmese would like the Pakistanis to help them check this flow into Burma." [Letter from British Embassy Rangoon to the Foreign Office dated 3 March 1956 on File DB 10399.]
HRW calls on all international donors to reject the Government's Action Plan for Rakhine in its current form. No doubt donors have reservations about aspects of the Action Plan, which is still in draft, but in his Annual Report to the UN General Assembly, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon observes in Paragraph 48 that: "Recommendations of the Rakhine Commission of Inquiry in 2013, together with the Rakhine State Action Plan (2014-2017), provide the basis for a solid foundation upon which to restore fundamental human rights in Rakhine State regardless of race, language or religion."
- UN concerned about Myanmar's ethnic, religious tensions - Reuters
- UN officials cite citizenship issue, expansion of aid as key concerns - UNIC
- Report of the UN Sec-Gen 'Situation of human rights in Myanmar' 29 August 2014
- World Bank Partnersdhip Framwork for Myanmar - HRW August 2014
"The Burmese Government has shared a draft copy of its Rakhine Action Plan with our embassy and other members of the diplomatic community for review and comment. We welcome the union government’s efforts to develop a comprehensive plan that seeks to address the complex challenges. The embassy and other members of the international community submitted collective feedback, namely to ensure the plan is designed and implemented in a transparent, consultative, and voluntary manner and in accordance with international standards.
"We jointly expressed some concern over some components of the draft plan, such as the provision stating that those who do not receive citizenship will be held in temporary camps. We encourage the Burmese Government to incorporate the input and feedback of the international community into the revision and implementation of the Action Plan, and we welcome further opportunities to provide input to the government’s refinement of the draft."
Derek Tonkin - 2 October 2014
This year a number of UN member countries may well wish to ask themselves whether the now ritual General Assembly Resolutions on the "Situation of human rights in Myanmar", if maintained, might not be in danger of becoming counter-productive, by pressurizing Myanmar not towards, but away from further democratic reform.
The Resolutions have served a useful purpose in the past. But with Myanmar about to enter what may be a somewhat fraught period of constitutional change, peace negotiations and general elections in 2015, sitting as it were in perpetual judgement on the situation in Myanmar may have lost its appeal and purposefulness to many UN members. Continue reading.....
It should be noted that theUN Secretary-General in his Report to the UNGA, which has just been released, has concluded:
"The understanding and support extended to my Special Adviser in his efforts to reach out to all relevant stakeholders in Myanmar has been invaluable. While reaffirming the need for continued constructive engagement between the United Nations and Myanmar through a fully fledged country programme, I would like to invite Member States to assess the continuation of my good offices during the coming year as the country moves towards the decisive phase of the 2015 elections, fulfilling its reform agenda and an entirely new phase of national reconciliation.
Myanmar Military speeds up release of children
UNICEF Press release - 25 September 2014
The Myanmar Armed Forces (“Tatmadaw”) today released 109 children from the armed forces, demonstrating its continued commitment to professionalise its security forces, ensuring that they become and remain ‘child free’. The discharge, which was attended by Union Minister for Defence, Lieutenant General Wai Lwin, follows soon after the release of 91 children and young people in August 2014. To date a total of 472 children and young people have been discharged since the signing of an Action Plan in June 2012, to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children. Today’s release of 109 children is the largest of such discharges.
- HRW letter to Australian Parliamentary Committee on human rights issues.
- Definition of 'political prisoner' sought with Govt, activists at odds - The Irrawaddy
- KIA leaders can't control recruitment of child soldiers, admits General - Mizzima
- Route home blocked for child soldiers - Democratic Voice of Burma
Lowy Interpreter - 7 August 2014
Rhys Thompson examines the progress of media freedom in Myanmar, against the background of recent events in this sector which have been disquieting. His article follows on from a previous analysis of the 'Unity Journal' case which has aroused international attention, primarily because of the ten year sentences imposed for what was perhaps no more than a shoddy and ill-advised piece of journalism.
He concludes that "the Government risks losing international support and alienating the local media if it continues to prioritise harsh punishment over working with the media to resolve issues. Recent reports suggest [however] the Government is willing to change. In early August, President Thein Sein met with Myanmar's Interim Press Council and acknowledged it should play a larger role in mediating disputes, including prosecutions. The President also apparently instructed ministers to examine mechanisms to allow journalists better access to information, something that has been lacking. While this appears to be a positive development, it is unclear whether it will work in practice.
Derek Tonkin writes: Myanmar's critics are only too eager to seize on each and every sign of backtracking on democratic reform and to lament that the process of liberalisation is stalling. The Government however remains determined to manage the transition and to ensure that there are no threats to stability, which an irresponsible press could unwittingly induce. Within the country, even Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has targeted her criticism in the 'Unity Journal' case at the severity of the sentence, but not at the guilty verdict itself for which the evidence was substantial and indeed uncontested.
- DVB debate: Systematic rape is used as a weapon of war
- 'Unity' Journalists sentenced to 10 years hard labour - The Irrawaddy
Press Release: British Embassy in Rangoon (Yangon) - 11 June 2014
June 10 marks the beginning in London of the Global Summit on Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict. The summit is being co-hosted from 10-13 June by the British Foreign Secretary William Hague and Special Envoy of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Angelina Jolie. The Summit is the largest international gathering ever held on this issue.
We welcome the Burmese Government’s endorsement of the UN Declaration to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. Deputy Foreign Minister U Thant Kyaw is leading the government’s delegation, and representatives from Burmese civil society and faith leaders are participating.
- Burmese version of the Press release
- Baroness Warsi's remarks at the Global Summit - UK Government
- Burma joins Global Summit to end sexual violence in conlfict - The Irrawaddy
- Myanmar attends conference on ending sexual violence in conflict - Mizzima
The Irrawaddy - 24 April 2014
A report to the UN Security Council from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon titled “Conflict-related Sexual Violence,” addressed the issue of sexual violence in 20 countries around the world, including Burma.
“I call on the Government of Myanmar to fully investigate and respond to current and historical human rights violations and abuses, including crimes of sexual violence,” Ban Ki-moon said in the report, which is dated March 13 but has only just been made public. Continue reading.....
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights - 17 March 2014
The Human Rights Council this afternoon held an interactive dialogue with Tomas Ojea Quintana, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.
Mr. Quintana said this was the last time that he would address the Human Rights Council after six years on this mandate. On the ongoing efforts to secure peace and national reconciliation between the State and Myanmar’s ethnic minority communities, positive progress towards a national ceasefire accord continued. The development of a freer media had been an important feature of the reform process, and the release of prisoners of conscience was one of the most significant achievements of the Government. While the transition was generally moving in the right direction, the complex situation in Rakhine state remained dire and the Rohingya community in Myanmar continued to suffer systematic discrimination and human rights violations.
Myanmar, speaking as the concerned country, said it opposed country-specific mandates and resolutions, convinced that they did not create a climate conducive for genuine dialogue and cooperation between the Council and the countries concerned. In line with the code of conduct for Special Procedure mandate-holders, it was imperative for them to always seek to establish the facts, based on objective, reliable information emanating from relevant credible sources as well as to duly verify the facts to the best extent possible.
- Human Rights Council adopts Resolution without a vote on 28 March 2014
- Text of Resolution by the Human Rights Council dated 26 March 2014
- Report of the Special Rapporteur - Advance Unedited Version
- Comments by Myanmar on this report - Advance Version
Statement by T J Quintana at the conclusion of his mission
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights - 19 Feb 2014
In his final report at the conclusion of his six-year mission, UN Special Rapporteur Tomás Ojea Quintana commented:
- I have seen important changes in Myanmar that have brought improvements to the human rights situation.
- I believe there is limited space for backtracking though, as a senior Government official admitted to me in Nay Pyi Taw, the democratic transition is still fragile.
- For the time being, the military retains a prevailing role in the life and institutions of Myanmar. State institutions in general remain unaccountable and the judiciary is not yet functioning as an independent branch of Government. Moreover, the rule of law cannot yet be said to exist in Myanmar.
- Tackling the situation in Rakhine State represents a particular challenge which, if left unaddressed, could jeopardize the entire reform process.
- A critical challenge will be to secure ceasefire and political agreements with ethnic minority groups, so that Myanmar can finally transform into a peaceful multi-ethnic and multi-religious society.
- A change of mind-set still needs to take place within all levels of Government, to allow civil society, political parties and a free media to flourish beyond the limited freedoms that have currently been granted.
- The energy and enthusiasm of the younger generation and of women needs to be allowed to come through to reinvigorate the reform process and ensure that Myanmar secures a successful transition.
- It will be important for Myanmar to build on its progress of engagement with the international community, which should include the establishment of an OHCHR Country Office with a full mandate.
Questions remain over democratic transition, says HRW
The Myanmar Times 6 February 2014
A delegation from the international advocacy group Human Rights Watch has wrapped up a weeklong tour of Myanmar. The visit included meetings with civil society groups, government leaders in Nay Pyi Taw, and President U Thein Sein.
Speaking to the press in Yangon, HRW’s representatives offered measured praise for U Thein Sein’s administration. “One good illustration of the progress that has been made is the fact that HRW is here in such a significant forum. Our staff is not only here…but [were] received at the highest levels of government,” said Mr. Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.
However, Mr. Roth and his colleagues used most of their presentation to highlight both the ongoing human rights abuses taking place across the nation and the elements of the current government that continue to block reform. Continue reading.....
- Burma: Communal violence undercuts rights gains - Human Rights Watch
- Government should be tolerant of media - Human Rights Watch Press Conference
- Myanmar expreses willingness to cooperate with Human Rights Watch - NLM
Relief Web - 18 January 2014
In an historic step towards ending the recruitment and use of children by the Myanmar Armed Forces (the “Tatmadaw”), ninety-six children and young people today rejoined family and friends following a ceremony marking their entry back into civilian life.
The release - the largest since the signing of the Action Plan to prevent and end the recruitment and use of children by the Tatmadaw between the Country Taskforce on Monitoring and Reporting on grave child rights violations (CTFMR) and the Government of Myanmar - follows in the footsteps of a visit to Myanmar by the United Nations Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict from 30 November to 4 December 2013.
Country Updates: Human Rights and Democracy - Final Quarter 2013
Foreign and Commonwealth Office - 20 January 2014
The last three months have seen encouraging progress on human rights, including releases of political prisoners and movement on the ethnic peace process. However, there has been a concerning lack of progress in Rakhine State and on wider ethnic tensions.
Myanmar still uses rape as a weapon of war - Women's League of Burma
Reuters - 14 January 2014
The Thailand-based Women's League of Burma has said in a report made available to Reuters that 47 of the cases documented were gang rapes and 28 of the women were either killed or had died of their injuries. It said several victims were as young as eight.
The group said the situation showed the need for legal reform in Myanmar, also known as Burma, and for changes to a 2008 constitution to ensure that the military is placed under civilian control.
Myanmar's government denied the allegation. "It's not the policy of our Tatmadaw (military) to use rapes as weapons," presidential spokesman Ye Htut told Reuters.
Myanmar reportedly releasing all remaining political prisoners
- Statement by the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission
- FCO Minister Hugo Swire welcomes prisoner releases - UK Govt Website
- UN Human Rights Office welcomes presidential pardon - UN News Centre
- Text of Pardon issued on 30 December 2013 by President Thein Sein
- Myanmar frees 40 political prisoners amid amnesty for detainees - Bloomberg
- Burma releasing political prisoners Tuesday - VOA
- Burma pardons political offenders - The Irrawaddy
- Burma declares 'no more political prisoners' after amnesty - The Telegraph (UK)
- Burma political prisoners to be pardoned - BBC
Latest Human Rights Reports
- Corruption, bribery 'embedded' in Myanmar judiciary system - ICJ
- Right to Counsel: the independence of lawyers in Myanmar - ICJ
- Reports of rape on the rise in Burma - The Irrawaddy
200 more political prisoners to be released in Myanmar by year end
Shanghai Daily - 24 November 2013
The Myanmar Government is continuing to scrutinize the remaining political prisoners still behind bars and 200 more such prisoners are expected to be released by the end of this year, state media reported Sunday. The Government's Committee for Scrutinizing Remaining Political Prisoners disclosed the planned move at the Myanmar Peace Center in Yangon.
Myanmar last freed 69 remaining prisoners of conscience on Nov. 15 from prisons across the country under an amnesty order of President U Thein Sein as part of the measures in realizing the government's promise to release all political prisoners by the year-end.
Allow Rohingyas citizenship, UN tells Burma
Democratic Voice of Burma - 20 November 2013
The UN General Assembly’s human rights committee [Third Committee] on Tuesday passed a resolution urging Burma to give the stateless Rohingya minority equal access to citizenship and to crack down on Buddhist violence against them and other Muslims in the Southeast Asian nation.
The resolution passed the committee by consensus, meaning under General Assembly rules the body will unanimously pass it later this year.
- Text of revised draft Resolution dated 12 November 2013
- Record of the discussion in the Third Committee on 19 Novermber 2013
- EU High Representative on the adoption of the UN Third Committee Resolution
- Burma calls on UN to respect its sovereignty - DVB
- UN Third Committee calls on Myanmar to keep prisoner release promise - AFP
- FCO Minister welcomes UN Resolution on Human Rights - FCO Website
Derek Tonkin writes: The Resolution, which is likely to be approved by the full UN General Assembly just before Christmas provided there is no significant and sudden change in the situation, in fact calls on Myanmar only "to allow.....equal access to full citizenship for the Rohingya minority....." which could reasonably be interpreted as only allowing the Rohingya treatment under the law equal to that accorded to all other ethnic groups. The law in this case though is the controversial 1982 Citizenship Act, which is not specifically mentioned in the Resolution. Nor would it be mentioned, as many countries accept that under generally accepted principles of international law only States can enact citizenship legislation for those permanently resident in territory under their legal jurisdiction. The wording is about as close to an appeal to the Myanmar Government to grant full citizenship to the Rohingya as convention would allow, without actually saying so.
Release of Prisoners of Conscience
Derek Tonkin writes:President Thein Sein has promised to release all prisoners of conscience by the end of 2013. There is however a difficulty that short prison sentences for participation in unauthorised demonstrations may still be given under the 2011 Law on Peaceful Assembly and such sentences would be likely to frustrate the President's intentions unless the Law is amended without delay.
Will Greene: Techonomy - 31 October 2013
After decades of rule by a brutal regime known for imprisoning cyber-dissidents, Internet freedom in Myanmar expanded dramatically over the past year, according to a recent report by Freedom House. The report warns that the Internet in Myanmar is still “not free,” however, and that major obstacles remain to further improvement. One is a legacy of repression that casts a shadow on the reform process. Continue reading.....
Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights
UN General Assembly document dated 23 September 2013
The UNGA has now released the report of Special Rapporteur Tomás Ojea Quintana on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar. In the report, Quintana describes how the reforms under way in Myanmar continue to create the prospect of significant improvements in the human rights situation. Important developments during the reporting period include the continuing release of prisoners of conscience; improving respect of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; and progress towards agreement on a national ceasefire.
Quintana highlights, however, the dangers of glossing over shortcomings in the area of human rights. He warns that, if these shortcomings are not addressed now, they will become increasingly entrenched in areas such as accountability for human rights violations; the rights of ethnic and religious minorities; the rights to peaceful assembly and association; the representation of women in decision-making positions; land rights; and human rights and development. Furthermore, they will eventually undermine the reform process itself if they are not addressed in accordance with international human rights standards. He concludes that the challenge, which has been present since the outset of the reform process, is to achieve a transition from the military mindset that prevails.
Derek Tonkin writes: Quintana's report is a cautious balance between human rights issues which merit attention and desirable amendments to the Constitution. In contrast to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, he places more emphasis on the resolution of human rights issues, but includes three recommendations (Paragraphs 95 b,c and d) relating to the Constitution.
- Myanmar rejects latest UN human rights report - The Myanmar Times
- Interview with UN Special Rapporteur Quintana on human rights issues - IRIN
- Comments by Mr Quintana in the UN 3rd Committee on 24 October 2013
Burma support withheld on UN pledge to end sexual violence
The Irrawaddy - 26 September 2013
Burma’s government has not supported a declaration launched on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly this week to end sexual violence in conflict zones, as women in the country report continuing rape by soldiers amid the transition from military rule.
Despite lobbying from the British government, the Burma government has not endorsed the declaration, which was signed by 113 UN member countries as of this week and pledges not to allow amnesties for sexual violence in peace agreements. Continue reading.....
Derek Tonkin writes: There has so far been no comment from the Myanmar Government or from civil rights organisations inside Myanmar and opposition political parties, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Details of the UK-sponsored initiative may be found at this link.The Declaration, which is open for endorsement until 4 October 2013, has been signed so far by seven out of ten ASEAN countries, not including Laos, Brunei and Myanmar, nor yet by Myanmar's neighbours China, India and Bangladesh.The declaration has so far received the endorsement of 113 of the UN's 193 members, or just under 60%.
The Myanmar Times - 15 September 2013
The international community appears almost certain to adopt a human rights resolution against Myanmar at the United Nations General Assembly, which opens this week in New York, despite government expectations that the resolution would be dropped this year for the first time in two decades.
Quintana urges reconciliation
UN News Centre - 22 August 2013
A United Nations independent expert today urged greater inclusion of women and other minority voices in the peace efforts in Myanmar and called on the Government to fulfil its obligations in stemming the spread of incitement of religious hatred directed against minority communities. Wrapping up his eighth visit to the South-East Asian country, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, stressed that Myanmar had made positive improvement in its human rights situation, and has the potential for further progress
But at the same time, he stressed that the historical need of reconciliation with ethnic groups and the spread of incitement of hatred against religious minority groups are among remaining critical challenges. “The initiatives being implemented at the highest levels by the Government to stop more fighting in the country needs to be accompanied, in parallel, with measures at the grassroots level to also engage local and rural communities in the process of peacebuilding and reconciliation,” Mr. Ojea Quintana said.
- Read the full report
- Government fails to protect UN envoy - The Myanmar Times
- Government slams Quintana allegations as 'totally wrong' - DVB
- Burma disputes allegation of attack on UN envoy - Voice of America
- Myanmar blames 'misunderstanding' after UN envoy mobbed - Associated Press
- Myanmar's religious diversity: Dialogue triumphs violence - Comment
- A milestone in our history: Burma remembers the class of 88 - The Independent
- Burma releases 68 children from military service - BBC News Asia
- Human Rights Watch - Justice for 1988 massacres
Report of the UN Secretary-General - 19 August 2013
The present report, submitted pursuant to paragraph 21 of General Assembly Resolution 67/233, covers the period from 25 August 2012 to 10 August 2013. During that period, Myanmar witnessed dramatic changes as the reform measures initiated in 2011 continued to be pursued through the building of new institutions and the enactment of new laws in active sessions of the national parliament and regional assemblies, while steady progress was achieved in national reconciliation through negotiations with erstwhile ethnic armed groups and encouragement of the voluntary return and resettlement of displaced populations.
The Government carried out a series of reform measures aimed at transforming the economy into an increasingly market-oriented economy, opened new sectors to foreign investment and trade and introduced measures to ensure greater transparency and to combat corruption. As the country’s engagements with the outside world expanded widely, new challenges arose. The increased communal tensions and violent incidents around the country raised doubts as to whether they could undermine the reform process under way. The United Nations continued its wide-ranging engagement with and provision of support to Myanmar.
ILO lifts remaining restrictions on Myanmar
ILO Press Release - 18 June 2013
In a historic move, delegates attending the International Labour Conference (ILC) have voted to lift all remaining ILO restrictions on Myanmar.
The remaining restrictions, imposed by the Conference in 2000, included the need to discuss Myanmar’s application of the ILO Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No.29) at special sittings of the ILC, and a recommendation to ILO constituents to review their relations with the country.
The ILC had already suspended some restrictions on Myanmar when it met last June.
The ILO restrictions were initially introduced in 1999 and 2000. They were based on article 33 of the ILO Constitution, which the organization invoked for the first time in its history.
The restrictions were introduced after Myanmar failed to act on the recommendations of an ILO Commission of Inquiry, which had been set up to examine whether the country was complying with its obligations under Convention 29.
UNGA Resolution of 29 December 2014 on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar
UN News Centre Press Release [Adopted without a vote]
UNGA Resolution of 27 December 2013 on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar
UN Department of Information Press Release [Adopted without a vote]
UNGA Resolution of 24 December 2011 on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar
UN Department of Information Press Release [Voting 83 for, 21 against, 39 abstentions]
UN Department of Information Press Release [Resolution voting pattern in Annex II)