Myanmar: End criminalisation of the rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression

19.03.2015

As the Human Rights Council negotiates a resolution on Myanmar, ISHR has released a Briefing Paper on the deteriorating situation for human rights defenders in the country.

(Geneva) - States must not miss a significant opportunity at both the UN Human Rights Council and through the forthcoming Universal Periodic Review to push for greater respect and protection for human rights defenders and civil society actors in Myanmar.

ISHR today launched a major Briefing Paper on the situation of human rights defenders in Myanmar, also known as Burma. The briefing paper highlights concerns over laws which unreasonably restrict the rights to freedom of expression and assembly and which are increasingly employed to criminalise human rights defenders and censor journalists. The briefing paper also documents reports of the use of reprisals and force against those who promote corporate respect for human rights or who protest in relation to major development projects.

‘The worsening situation for human rights defenders represents a significant backslide on the minimal progress made in transitioning to democracy,’ said Ms Pooja Patel of ISHR.

The briefing paper serves as a submission to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) which will scrutinise the situation of human rights in Myanmar in October 2015.

Myanmar's second UPR coincides with general elections and a Constitutional referendum later this year. Meanwhile, grave concerns have been raised by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar over the criminalisation of peaceful protestors and restrictive laws that serve to shrink democratic space and an enabling environment for civil society. The Human Rights Council is currently negotiating a draft resolution on the situation in the country during its 28th session.

Following from its first UPR in 2011, the government has not responded adequately to previous recommendations. Despite promises of release, a number of political prisoners remain behind bars, with new arrests of activists and protesters under the deeply problematic Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Process Law. Human rights defenders, journalists and political activists continue to be frequently subject to intimidation, judicial harassment, arbitrary arrest, and violence. Only two of the 11 oppressive laws identified in 2011 have been repealed. Although restrictions to the media have relaxed to some degree, new press laws still maintain criminal sanctions and high fines while the State regulates publications.

Particularly at risk are women human rights defenders, particularly those working in areas of ongoing conflict. In addition, activists and community members protesting peacefully against land confiscation and large-scale development projects face charges of trespass and obstruction. LGBT rights defenders, who work in a discriminatory and hateful climate of conservative norms and anti-homosexuality legislation, are also targeted.

In light of the systematic abuses faced by the Rohingya community, and the discriminatory climate perpetuated by authorities and religious leaders, those working to promote the rights of the Rohingya and other religious minorities have faced threats and intimidation from both State and non-State actors.

As well as supporting a strong resolution on Myanmar at the Human Rights Council, ISHR urges States to make strong UPR recommendations regarding the protection of human rights defenders and safeguarding civil society space.

These recommendations should include that the Government amend legislation that unreasonably restricts the rights to freedom of expression and assembly, enact specific laws to protect human rights defenders and end reprisals and the use of force against human rights defenders. The government should also ensure impartial investigations into violations against HRDs and provide a safe space for meaningful civil society participation.

This Briefing Paper on the situation of human rights defenders in Myanmar is intended to assist States and other stakeholders to formulate questions and recommendations during the UPR.

For further information about the Briefing Paper or the Human Rights Council resolution, please contact ISHR's Pooja Patel, on p.patel@ishr.ch.

Category:

Region
  • Asia
Topic
  • Corporate accountability
  • Freedom of expression, association and assembly
  • Human rights defenders
  • Reprisals and intimidation
  • Women's rights and WHRD
Mechanism
  • Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council
  • UN Human Rights Council
  • Universal Periodic Review
Country
  • Myanmar