Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Weekly Highlights: Governments, including Myanmar, Must Take Responsibility for Fact-Finding Mission


Governments, Including Myanmar, Must Take Responsibility for Fact-Finding Mission

 A border guard policeman stands in front of people at Buthidaung's Tinn May village Photo credit: Htet Naing Zaw / The Irrawaddy




As the Myanmar[1] Government continues to refuse to cooperate with a UN-mandated fact-finding mission to investigate abuses by the Myanmar Army in Rakhine, as well as in other areas of concern such as Shan and Kachin States, 23 organizations issued an open letter as a timely reminder to the international community on their responsibility to ensure that the Myanmar Government complies with the mission.


The open letter calls on countries including the US, UK, and member states of the EU, ASEAN and the OIC, to "strongly encourage the Myanmar government" to cooperate with the fact-finding mission. The UN mandated this mission at the 34th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council in March 2017 where the Council adopted a resolution on Myanmar's human rights situation. Reports of egregious human rights abuses documented by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and a number of human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch in particular, highlight the necessity of an international effort to hold perpetrators accountable in the absence of a credible and legitimate domestic investigation mechanism.


A recently published special report by Reuters has unearthed additional key details of the military's operations after the initial attacks on the border guard posts on 9 October, 2016 by the newly named 'Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.' After limited success in locating the group, on 12 November, after a clash with the members of the group, the Myanmar Army used helicopters to shoot indiscriminately at villagers fleeing the fighting and unleashed two weeks of sustained and intense military operations throughout northern Rakhine. Around 75,000 Rohingya fled over the border to Bangladesh, most of whom continue to live in refugee camps. The Chinese special envoy for Myanmar, Sun Guoxiang, urged both countries to resolve the issue in a state visit to Bangladesh this week.


The UN-mandated fact-finding mission is not limited to Rakhine State, as it also includes active conflict areas in Kachin and Shan States where the Myanmar Army has been committing human rights abuses for decades, having recently ratcheted up its operations since October 2016. Three civilians were shot dead on 9 April, 2017 by the Myanmar Army in Kyaukme Township, northern Shan State, accusing them of being members of the ethnic Ta'ang armed organization, Ta'ang National Liberation Army (TNLA). Yet, local villagers refuted such allegations, as the men were not in fact, ethnic Ta'ang, but ethnic Burman and Shan. Extrajudicial killings such as this have been documented and reported regularly by local and international human rights groups for years and desperately necessitate investigation by the UN-led mission.


Despite the overwhelming evidence of human rights abuses committed by the Myanmar Army in Rakhine, Shan and Kachin States, as well as the systematic and institutionalized nature of such abuse, the Myanmar Government is refusing to cooperate. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi stated in her State of Union Address in March 2017 that such a mission is not welcomed, while the Commander in Chief of the Myanmar Army, Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing stated on Armed Forces Day in the same month that such an intervention would impinge on national sovereignty.


As pointed out in the open letter, cooperation with an independent, international fact-finding mission "would demonstrate the government's willingness to uphold the rule of law, work collaboratively with the international community to help establish the facts, identify perpetrators, and deter future crimes by all parties to the conflict." This is why it is vital that the international community uses all the diplomatic pressure it can muster to persuade the Myanmar Government to cooperate. There is already a precedent for refusal to cooperate, as the ILO-formed commission into forced labor in 1997 was denied formal access and the military regime did not attend any hearings. This must not be repeated.  


The Myanmar Government has an obligation to adhere to the principles of human rights, justice, rule of law and accountability. Furthermore, this is an opportunity for the Government to demonstrate to the Myanmar Army that it has the political conviction to challenge the abuses and impunity of the institution that has inflicted destruction upon Myanmar's people, particularly ethnic and religious minorities for decades.


[1] 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.








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About Progressive Voice


Progressive Voice is a participatory rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 the same day that Progressive Voice was formally established. For further information, please see our press release "Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice."


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