Burma: Enhance democratic space by facilitating freedom of expression and assembly

02.03.2015

The Human Rights Council must do more to support human rights defenders and ensure an enabling environment for a vibrant civil society in Burma if it wants to genuinely support the country’s democratic transition.

www.burmapartnership.org

(Geneva) - The Human Rights Council must do more to support human rights defenders and ensure an enabling environment for a vibrant civil society in Burma if it wants to genuinely support the country’s democratic transition, said the International Service for Human Rights today.

The Human Rights Council must take heed of the High Commissioner’s warning that the country ‘needs urgently to get back on track’, particularly in light of a constitutional referendum and general elections later this year.

Over the course of the past year, ongoing arrests and charges brought against peaceful protesters indicate that the rights to freedom of expression and assembly remain severely restricted in Burma. While the government did adopt amendments in June 2014 to the problematic Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law, authorities in the country continue to use this law to charge protesters solely for their participation in peaceful assemblies and demonstrations. In particular, those targeted include human rights defenders, journalists, political activists, land and environmental rights activists, and affected community members.

‘The government’s repeated assurances of ending the systematic practice of detaining dissenters fall short as new cases of arrest are regularly reported, particularly in the context of disrupting assemblies,’ said Ms Pooja Patel from ISHR. ‘The government must support democratic space in Burma and ensure an enabling environment where freedom of expression is facilitated. Indeed, this is the foundation of a vibrant democracy,’ added Ms Patel.

‘As a minimum, the Human Rights Council must urge the government to immediately and unconditionally release political prisoners and human rights defenders unduly charged under the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law. Furthermore, this law requires a genuine review to bring it in line with international human rights standards’, stressed Ms Patel.

The Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar noted at the conclusion of her recent visit to the country in January that unfair land confiscation, forced eviction and concerns with land use policy were pervasive. Affected communities and activists protesting in this regard have been met with excessive use of force by local authorities and arrest.

The Special Rapporteur urged the government to ensure adequate consultation on land development and to eliminate legal avenues that punish the expression of opinions contrary to State policy. Furthermore, the Special Rapporteur appealed to the international community, donors and investors ‘to ensure that they do not inadvertently facilitate human rights violations through their development programmes’.

‘The government has made claims to cooperate with the UN and other human rights mechanisms and institutions. However, the most recent cases of threats, intimidation and harassment against human rights defenders engaging with such mechanisms sends a very different message,’ said Ms Patel.

U Sein Than was arrested immediately after the Special Rapporteur’s previous visit to Burma after meeting with the mandate holder, and he is currently serving his sentence in prison under charges relating to the Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession Law. The Special Rapporteur herself was subject to public harassment and slander by a prominent Buddhist leader, with no intervention by the government. U Brawn Shawng now faces charges brought by the military after making a submission to the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission regarding the case of his 14 year old daughter, who was allegedly shot by the military in Kachin state.

‘Genuine cooperation includes as a basic requirement to refrain from committing reprisals against any individual who exercises the right to access and provide information to human rights mechanisms and institutions, whether at the UN level or domestically,’ said Ms Patel.

‘It is clear that the Human Rights Council has the responsibility to renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar at its present session. Doing so will allow for continued identification of human rights issues and challenges that require examination and solutions. Highlighting specific cases of violations is also important in terms of ensuring accountability and lending protection to individuals’, Ms Patel said.

‘While the mandate of the Special Rapporteur remains crucial at this present juncture in Burma, the international community also needs to strongly encourage a more permanent presence in the country to support the democratic reform process in a holistic and long-term manner,’ said Ms Patel.

The UN General Assembly adopted its annual resolution on the human rights situation in Myanmar in December 2014 in which it recalled the commitment made by the government to set up a country presence of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and expressed its concern on the delays in this regard. The High Commissioner has also reminded the country that he stands ready to provide ‘comprehensive monitoring, reporting and technical cooperation’.

Contact: Pooja Patel, Program Manager, ISHR, on + 41 76 787 39 28 or p.patel@ishr.ch

Category:

Region
  • Asia
Topic
  • Freedom of expression, association and assembly
  • Human rights defenders
  • Reprisals and intimidation
  • United Nations
Mechanism
  • Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
  • Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council
  • UN Human Rights Council
  • National Human Rights Institutions
Country
  • Myanmar