UN Human Rights Council: Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar


MARCH 14, 2016


Human Rights Watch would first like to acknowledge the excellent work of Professor Yanghee Lee as special rapporteur, especially as she has faced unacceptably harsh and threatening criticism from ultra-nationalist monks during her previous trips, which the High Commissioner has rightly denounced.


We acknowledge the important changes Burma has made since 2010 in opening up and making progress in respecting human rights. But as the Special Rapporteur has noted in her report, the incoming government faces serious systemic problems.


The signing of a partial ceasefire in October has not ended armed conflict and in some areas abuses have actually intensified.  Renewed fighting has displaced thousands of civilians amid allegations of serious laws-of-war violations by government forces and ethnic armed groups, including forced labor, torture and ill-treatment, and sexual violence.


There are about 100 political prisoners in the country, while another 400 people, including many students and land rights activists, face criminal charges for asserting their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. This is the most at any time since the major political prisoner releases of 2012.


Numerous rights-abusing laws remain on the books, which local police and officials frequently use without direction or oversight from the central government. The military-drafted constitution allows the armed forces to appoint the home affairs minister – who controls the police — as well as the defense and border affairs ministers. An unreformed judiciary remains corrupt, incompetent, and overly beholden to the military and government officials. The military remains above civilian control, and continues to enjoy impunity for past and ongoing human rights violations.


Race and religion remain unresolved flashpoints. The Rohingya Muslim minority, long a target of government repression, was disenfranchised during recent elections. The Citizenship Act of 1982 effectively denies Rohingya the possibility of citizenship. More than 130,000 remain in squalid displacement camps, while the remaining 1.1 million face everyday curbs on basic rights, including their freedom of movement, and rights to livelihood, education, and health. To date, Aung San Suu Kyi and senior members of her National League for Democracy have shown no inclination to stand up for them.


Now is not the time to relax international scrutiny: a single election and the military’s partial withdrawal from governance won’t transform the situation. We urge the Council to renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur under item 4 and take the opportunity to maintain continued pressure along with support for a reform agenda by articulating a clear list of benchmarks for the new government to address deeply entrenched rights violations.


These include:


  • Calling on the government to establish a formal office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights with both full reporting and capacity-building mandate, and end restrictions on visas and travel permits for OHCHR staff;
  • Prioritizing the release of political prisoners and dropping charges against peaceful activists;
  • Amending or repealing rights-abusing laws to prevent local officials from using these repressive legal tools and curtailing politically motivated arrests and detentions;
  • Establishing a framework for accountability mechanisms to prosecute civilian and military officials and members of non-state armed groups implicated in serious rights abuses;
  • Improving the living conditions of Rohingya Muslims by immediately repealing local measures that restrict basic freedoms;
  • Amending the Citizenship Act of 1982 to ensure compliance with international rights standards;
  • Producing a roadmap for constitutional reform that provides for a genuinely democratic political system under civilian rule.


Powerful forces in the country will try to stop reforms in their tracks. The Council needs to send a strong message that it will stand with the Burmese people until the reform process is complete.


Human Rights Watch (HRW)





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