Myanmar: At historic moment, Council must sustain momentum


Ongoing impunity and the need for structural reforms in Myanmar are major concerns for civil society and require sustained attention by the Human Rights Council; both the Special Rapporteur and the OHCHR have continuing key roles to play promoting, protecting and contributing to the realisation of rights in the country.

(Geneva) - Historic elections that brought Aung San Suu Kyi’s party to power have set a positive tone on Myanmar in the international sphere, and opened up new spaces for civil society voices from inside the country to be heard. Nonetheless, underlying structural issues, including restrictive laws still on the books and a Constitution that entrenches the interests of the military, mean that the work of advancing human rights in the country is far from over.

In this context, ISHR joins global, regional, and local civil society organisations in calling on the Human Rights Council to pass a strong resolution on Myanmar that recognises these challenges and lays the groundwork for solutions. The resolution should maintain the crucial monitoring and reporting functions of the Special Rapporteur and seek to advance the long-standing negotiations to open an OHCHR office – with a full mandate - in the country.

‘The resolutions passed by the Human Rights Council last March, and by the General Assembly as recently as December, both recognise the continued challenges faced by human rights defenders in Myanmar,’ said Sarah M. Brooks, ISHR Asia programme manager and advocate.

‘Given the conditions on the ground, the Human Rights Council must ensure that the Special Rapporteur and UN experts continue to have a central role in moniroing, documenting and reporting on the human rights situation in Myanmar, while also supporting and advising authorities in the country on ways to improve the promotion, protection and realisation of rights on the ground.’

As the letter outlines, and organisations like Burma Partnership have noted, the change in power at the top in Myanmar have, as yet, had little impact on the situation on the ground. Political prisoners remain in prison long after assurances from President Thein Sein regarding their release; an estimated 23 activists and defenders have been arrested since the election on 8 November. Tensions between religious and ethnic communities continue to tear at the threads of social cohesion, and military conflict, including cases of sexual violence, has revived in border areas

Land rights abuses are rampant, and exacerbated by ‘open for business’ policies and a problematic Foreign Investment Law. Defenders working in the area of business and human rights, including those seeking corporate accountability, or promoting land, labour and environment rights, still face a harsh reception when conducting their legitimate human rights work.

‘As the new government comes into office in late March,’ said Ms Brooks, ‘this resolution  should signal that the international community has hopes, indeed expectations, that reforms will continue. These reforms can take advantage of the recommendations from international experts and the UPR, as well as the voices of defenders themselves. The Council should seek to provide the tools, through the Rapporteur and the Office, that help bring all these elements together.’

For more information, please contact Sarah M. Brooks, Asia programme manager and advocate, at s.brooks[at]


  • Asia
  • Human rights defenders
  • Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
  • Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council
  • UN Human Rights Council
  • Myanmar