Re. Upcoming trip to Myanmar scheduled for May 22, 2017
Letter to Annika Ben David, Ambassador for Human Rights
Civil Rights Defenders and the Swedish Burma Committee write to draw your attention to some key human rights challenges in Myanmar. We hope that the recommendations will be considered in your dialogue with the Government of Myanmar during your upcoming visit.
Since the National League of Democracy (NLD) took office in 2016 the new administration has failed to carry out significant reform. We recognize the continued domination by the military, but the new government’s ability and willingness to improve the human rights situation is deeply disappointing.
Restrictions on freedom of religion and protection for minorities is worsening. In Rakhine State, the Rohingya minority continues to face state-sponsored abuse constituting crimes against humanity, heightened after a serious escalation of violence in October 2016. Credible reports of serious abuses by security forces have emerged, including extrajudicial killings, rape and other forms of sexual violence, torture and mistreatment, arbitrary arrest, and arson. Access to Northern Rakhine State remains restricted, including for humanitarian agencies supplying food and healthcare to a population that was almost wholly reliant on it for their very survival. This has led to critical food insecurity, leaving many, including women and children, at risk of severe malnutrition. Around 75,000 Rohingya have fled Northern Rakhine State to Bangladesh since October alone. Many others remain displaced. The government puts its hope in the Kofi Annan Advisory Commission on Rakhine state, however, this commission has no mandate to investigate human rights abuses. They must take responsibility for and engage with the UN-Mandated Fact Finding Mission.
Despite the re-introduction of the Panglong Peace Conference, slated as an opportunity to reinvigorate an engagement with ethnic armed forces towards achieving nationwide peace, ethnic conflict and violence continues in Kachin and Northern Shan State. Fighting between the Tatmadaw and armed groups has worsened since 2016, and the military continues to commit serious human rights abuses and crimes of war with impunity. This includes extrajudicial killing, rape and other forms of sexual violence, torture, mistreatment, and arson. As offences continue, the space for humanitarian agencies to deliver necessary goods is also disrupted and access to the internally displaced heavily restricted. Thousands of already internally displaced persons have been forced out of their camps because of escalating military offences. Conflict in Rakhine State and other ethnic areas post a serious threat to the achievement of national peace and reconciliation.
Restrictions on freedom of expression and censorship remain of central concern, creating a toxic environment in which speech in defense of the vulnerable is deterred, contributing to rising forms of intolerance and a shrinking space for human rights defenders. Threats to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly persist despite a presidential amnesty of 235 political activists in April 2016. Cases of censorship have exponentially increased under the new administration. Laws governing electronic communication including Sec 66(d) of the Telecommunications Act are now frequently being used to criminalise legitimate speech. More than 55 activists and journalists have been charged under this provision, among them those who are accused of “defaming” both State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and President U Htin Kyaw. There have been more cases of “defamation” under this new administration than there were during the Union Solidarity and Development’s tenure. The Unlawful Associations Act continues to be used to crack down on legitimate assembly and peaceful protest.
On the Situation in Northern Rakhine State and Protection for the Rohingya:
- Urge the Government of Myanmar to ensure full and unfettered access to Northern Rakhine State, including for humanitarian agencies, civil society and human rights groups, and journalists;
- Urge the Government of Myanmar to cooperate fully with the United Nations Fact Finding Mission, including by allowing unimpeded access to requested areas and ensuring that those who cooperate with the Mission are protected from reprisal;
- Push the Government of Myanmar to remove all restrictions on freedom of movement for the Rohingya that has led to adverse impact on basic livelihood including health and education;
- Ensure equal access to citizenship for the Rohingya and amend the 1982 Citizenship Law.
On Ethnic Violence and Conflict
- Urge the Government of Myanmar to allow full and unfettered access to humanitarian aid organizations to all internally displaced persons in need of humanitarian assistance in conflict-effected areas;
- Urge the Government to ensure that the repatriation of IDPs and refugees takes place in alignment with international standards, including the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement and the 1951 Refugees Convention, and to ratify the Refugees Convention;
- Urge a prompt and impartial investigation into all allegations of human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law and ensure that impunity for armed forces does not continue to prevail;
- Urge the government to take effective measures to prevent and respond to all forms of sexual violence in conflict
On Freedom of Speech and Protection for Human Rights Defenders
- Urge the Government of Myanmar to release all political prisoners and drop all charges against those facing politically motivated charges;
- Urge the reform and prompt repeal of laws that are used to persecute human rights defenders and others critical of both the government and military, including 66(d) of the Telecommunications Act, the Penal Code and other repressive legislation used to fuel politically motivated arrest and detention;
- Urge the Government of Myanmar to sign and ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
- Urge the tangible reform of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission and ensure that its mandate is aligned with the UN Paris Principles including maintaining a genuinely independent composition. Urge the Commission to actively investigate human rights abuses rather than being an awareness raising body.
We thank you for your consideration.
Kristina Jelmin, Head of Programme, The Swedish Burma Committee
Martin Gemzell, Asia Programme Director, Civil Rights Defenders