Rights groups are urging Myanmar to work with international bodies to address allegations of rights abuse and failures to reform rather than rebut the accusations at the U.N. Human Rights Council in the run-up to the Southeast Asian country’s next Universal Periodic Review in January 2021.
In a statement issued Monday, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) criticized the Myanmar government for disregarding international legal obligations to provide accountability for military atrocities against the Rohingya Muslims and other ethnic minorities in conflict areas.
Despite a commitment to adopting democratic reforms and respecting civil and political rights in the 2015 UPR review cycle, Myanmar has made little progress and failed to undertake meaningful reforms to bring its rights-violating laws into compliance with international human rights standards, HRW said.
HRW also noted the government’s failure to revoke or amend laws that it said undermine the rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly.
“Myanmar’s unwillingness to provide accountability for rampant rights abuses seems to know no bounds,” said Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director, in the statement.
“U.N. member countries should use Myanmar’s U.N. review to demand the government make progress through deeds, not more flowery talk, to achieve genuine human rights improvements.” he said.
In a submission to the Human Rights Council on July 9, HRW cited Myanmar’s refusal to cooperate with a Council-mandated fact-finding mission to investigate atrocity crimes, its barring of a previous U.N. special rapporteur on human rights from entering the country, and its failure to fulfill a pledge by former President Thein Sein to set up a permanent office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the country.
‘Running a risk’
Yangon-based rights activists on Wednesday also called on Myanmar leaders to investigate rights violation allegations and to prosecute those responsible if the government is unwilling to resolve them in the international arena and through the UPR reporting process.
Nickey Diamond, a human rights activist with Fortify Rights, said he does not see the government taking effective measures to rectify the issue.
“Instead, the government is protecting the military for its rights violations,” he told RFA.
“It is running the risk of involving itself in the crime,” Diamond said. “When there are allegations that rights violations occurred, the government is supposed to take measures, such as investigations. The government also should take action to prosecute the violators.”
Aung Myo Min, executive director of Equality Myanmar, a human rights education group based in Yangon, said the government’s lack of cooperation with international bodies over the allegations of rights abuse won’t bode well for Myanmar’s global standing.
“The government’s lack of action is drawing more international pressure,” he said, adding that the situation could reach a point where international judicial bodies take over the cases.
Aung Myo Min noted that the international community has moved from condemnation of Myanmar to efforts to prosecute the country and its military leaders under international law.
The focus of these efforts is the crackdown on Rohingya Muslims in 2017 that left thousands dead and drove more than 740,000 others into neighboring Bangladesh.
“Before, they condemned Myanmar for human rights violations and made demands of the government, but now they are trying to bring the cases before the courts to be prosecuted under international criminal law,” he said.
Myanmar faces genocide-related charges at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the U.N.’s top court which settles disputes between nations. The International Criminal Court, a separate court that tries individuals, in November authorized an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity perpetrated by Myanmar soldiers against the Rohingya.
At an ICJ hearing last December in The Hague, Aung San Suu Kyi, who led Myanmar’s defense, said the violence meted out against the Rohingya — which included killings, mass rape, torture, and village burnings — occurred during army operations to sweep northern Rakhine of Muslim insurgents who had attacked police. She asked the ICJ to drop the case.
Chan Aye, director general of the Consular and Legal Affairs Department at Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told RFA that Myanmar would give an oral report on the government’s performance during the UPR session in January.
“The government has expressed concern over these issues,” he said. “We have talked about prosecuting the violators. Actions are being taken to do that. We are also making sure not to stop the flow of humanitarian assistance in the middle of armed conflicts.”
Chan Aye added that Myanmar and the international community may have “different views” on how well the country is doing in this regard.
Under the UPR system, U.N. member states undergo a review of their human rights records every five years under the guidance of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Reported by Phyu Phyu Khine for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.