Weekly Highlights: ‘Reprisal’ the Order of the Day
'Reprisal' the Order of the Day
Photo credit: Yanghee Lee at a press conference in Rangoon on July 1, 2016. / The Irrawaddy
On 20 January, 2017, at the conclusion of her latest visit to Myanmar , the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Ms. Yanghee Lee spoke of the "deteriorating" situation in northern Myanmar, condemned the Government's response to "defend, dismiss and deny" abuses in northern Rakhine State and lamented the "feelings of optimism and hope slowly fading." Furthermore, she spoke at length of 'reprisal' as a recurring theme of her 12-day visit. Among others, the recent cases that have come to light of nine students in Irrawaddy Region being sued and two Kachin pastors detained, show the gravity of the reprisals being carried out.
At the press conference that concluded her trip, Ms. Yanghee Lee expressed concern about the lack of political will for democratic reforms from the military and the obstacles put in the way of human rights by its "three legs of the government" – the military-controlled ministries of Home Affairs, Border Affairs and Defence. This is exemplified by the military offensives in northern Shan State and Kachin State, which have increased in severity, with local populations suffering displacement, abuse and the other horrors of war. Ms. Yanghee Lee described how "the hope generated by the outcome of the 2015 election is starting to wane." She also condemned the Government's denials of the abuses that the Myanmar Army is committing in northern Rakhine State as part of their security operations as "incredible" and "far-fetched."
Ms. Yanghee Lee also stated, that "there is one word that has hung heavily on my mind during this visit — reprisals." These reprisals were feared by those who spoke to her during her visit and are certainly warranted due to the retaliatory actions of the Myanmar Army in other instances. One example is the two Kachin pastors in Mong Ko, Shan State, who had aided journalists that visited after armed conflict had waged in the town between the ethnic armed organizations' (EAOs) alliance – The Northern Alliance – and the Myanmar Army. After being summoned by the Myanmar Army on Christmas Eve these two pastors had been missing until a statement released by the Myanmar Army on the Facebook page of the office of the Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces on 19 January, 2017, specified that they were detained and in custody accused of serving as "financial-supporter, informer, recruiter, [and] rumor-monger" for EAOs. It is clear that helping journalists report on the details of armed conflict is not something the military will tolerate.
While aiding fact-finding in conflict areas is deemed worthy of reprisal, so are expressions of anti-war sentiment in non-conflict areas. In Pathein, Irrawaddy Region, a satirical play by young students that mocked the pro-war demonstrators has angered the military. Nine students are now being sued for defamation by the Myanmar Army's Southwestern Command for "damaging the reputation of the army."
The human rights situation in Myanmar, particularly where the Myanmar Army is involved, continues to deteriorate. Furthermore, those who speak out against this or aid the exposure of their abuses face the consequences. Yet as Ms. Yanghee Lee stated, "They see speaking out as their only hope for change, and want desperately for the rest of the world to be aware of the situation that they are in." While the Myanmar Army continues its abusive behaviour, the international community, especially the donor community supporting Myanmar's transition, has a responsibility to do more to stop the further deterioration of the human rights situation in Myanmar and to honor the courage of those who continue to speak out. The international community must not stay silent but recognize the ground realities, condemn abusive actions and reprisals towards civilians and put pressure on the Myanmar Government to hold the Myanmar Army accountable and start a process of bringing it under civilian control.
 One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country's name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term 'Myanmar' in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of 'Myanmar' rather than 'Burma' without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten.