Myanmar: Continued international scrutiny essential to advance human rights

17.03.2016

The generally successful elections in November 2015 have been followed by a long waiting period, during which Myanmar has undergone consideration both by the UPR and the Human Rights Council. Hope remains that the new government can tackle ongoing violations and support human rights defenders, but the international community should do all it can to give them the guidance, tools and support to do so.

(Geneva) - The Human Rights Council’s scrutiny of Myanmar shows significant areas for improvement, says ISHR, and is an essential part of a process giving both the newly-elected government and Burmese civil society tools they can use to help ensure a successful transition and continuation of human rights reforms. 

The report of the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar highlighted important barriers to structural reforms, including the Constitution, ongoing detention of political prisoners and the continuing application of both outdated and newly-adopted laws that restrict civic space. She also highlighted the humanitarian and human rights crisis facing Rohingya communities, conflict-afflicted states and displaced populations. Economic development, she emphasised, would not be enough; concrete actions are needed over the next 12 months.

As a result of negotiations following her strong report, the draft resolution tabled at the UN Human Rights Council outlines, among other elements, the need to open an OHCHR office with a full mandate that would allow for monitoring and reporting on ongoing violations and abuses with a view to ensuring accountability.

The draft resolution also aligns with the message from over 120 Burmese civil society groups, calling on the Rapporteur to work with the government to identify ‘benchmarks for progress’, in addition to consideration of ‘priority areas for technical assistance’.

‘The UPR is an important process where UN member states engage the government on key areas of concern – their commitments therefore are, in effect, “benchmarks”. But given the current climate, the additional support of the Special Rapporteur and an OHCHR country office will really help the rubber meet the road,’ said Sarah M. Brooks, ISHR Asia Programme Manager.  

Of the 281 recommendations Myanmar received during the UPR review, the government submitted last week its final response, indicating a total of 165 accepted recommendations. These included recommendations in line with those suggested by ISHR and national partners, such as protection against reprisals (Italy), the assurance of protection of human rights defenders (Chile), and the creation of a safe and enabling environment for civil society, defenders, and journalists (Norway).

‘There are some important openings in the recommendations that move towards recognition of the important work of defenders; that said, those that were more squarely focused on the key issues of justice and accountability, including for harassment of and crimes against political dissidents and defenders, were considered “prescriptive”,' said Ms Brooks.

‘The written response by the government that “there is no arbitrary arrest or detention in the country on political grounds” (A/HRC/31/13/Add.1, para 13) really says it all when it comes to explaining why a continued focus on justice and the critical contributions of defenders is needed,' she said.

Six recommendations addressing the need to bring the functioning of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission in line with the Paris Principles were accepted; civil society has long held concerns about the Commission’s authority and independence, questioning its ability to contribute positively to the protection and promotion of human rights in the country.

‘To our surprise, the UPR review was almost entirely silent on the question of corporate accountability in the country, in particular where land rights are concerned,’ said Ms. Brooks. ‘This raises flags for us and our partners, given the rampant abuses documented by local communities and civil society linked to government-supported development projects, including the formation of Special Economic Zones that will benefit Myanmar’s trading partners.’

The government did not accept recommendations directly related to concerns about the root cause of these business-related violations, including the need to ensure free, prior and informed consent of affected communities. They accepted only one recommendation (from the Czech Republic) emphasizing the need for redress for illegal land grabs.

ISHR encourages the new government of Myanmar to ensure genuine and constructive engagement with the Office of the High Commissioner, the Special Rapporteur and the country’s increasingly vibrant civil society to meet the expectations of the international community and – more importantly – the expectations of its own peoples regarding real respect for human rights. 

Category:

Region
  • Asia
Topic
  • Freedom of expression, association and assembly
  • Human rights defenders
Mechanism
  • Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council
  • UN Human Rights Council
  • Universal Periodic Review
Country
  • Myanmar