Myanmar

Myanmar: Urgent action needed to address deteriorating human rights situation

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** Amnesty International’s written statement to the 34th session of the UN Human Rights Council (27 February-24 March 2017)**

One year after the National League for Democracy (NLD)-led government took office, the deterioration in the human rights situation in Myanmar requires immediate and urgent action from the UN Human Rights Council (the Council).

In Rakhine State, state security forces have responded to attacks by armed groups on police posts with a campaign of violence against the Rohingya civilian population, which may amount to crimes against humanity. In northern Myanmar fighting between the Army and armed ethnic groups has escalated leading to fresh violations of international humanitarian and human rights law against the ethnic civilian population. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) estimates over 100,000 people have been displaced in Rakhine State and northern Myanmar in the last five months. The limited space for freedom of expression nationwide has closed down even further following a surge of “online defamation” cases.

The international community cannot adopt a “wait and see” attitude in the face of increasing violations. The continuing power of the military to violate rights with impunity and the unwillingness or inability of the new administration to counter discrimination and impunity require immediate action. The Council should adopt a strengthened resolution on the human rights situation in Myanmar under agenda item 4, extending the mandate of the Special Rapporteur and requesting her to provide more regular reporting to the Council on the resolution’s implementation, including on meeting the reform benchmarks requested by HRC Resolution 31/24. It should also mandate an independent international investigation into human rights violations and possible crimes against humanity committed in Rakhine State since October 2016, to avoid impunity, ensure justice to victims and survivors and identify causes of violence.

GRAVE VIOLATIONS IN RAKHINE STATE

The Myanmar security forces have engaged in a deliberate and indiscriminate campaign of violence against the Rohingya in northern Rakhine State after attacks by armed groups on border police posts killed nine police officers on 9 October. Amnesty International and the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human rights (OHCHR) have chronicled extensive human rights violations by the security forces, including unlawful killings, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, rape and other crimes of sexual violence, other forms of torture and ill-treatment, destruction of property and denial of humanitarian access. According to UNOCHA, the violence has displaced over 92,000 Rohingya, 69,000 of whom have fled to Bangladesh. Evidence collected by Amnesty International and OHCHR suggests these violations may be widespread and systematic and therefore may amount to crimes against humanity.

The authorities have largely responded to allegations of human rights violations with denials, while barring independent journalists and human rights monitors from freely accessing the area. On 1 December the President established a commission to probe the 9 October attacks and their aftermath. This commission is neither independent nor credible: it is comprised of former and current government and security forces officials and has allowed the broadcast of interviews with eyewitnesses and possible victims on state media thereby compromising their anonymity and confidentiality. In its interim report the commission claimed to have found insufficient evidence of abuse. Its final report, due initially to be published on 31 January, has been postponed indefinitely.

We note the establishment of the Rakhine State Advisory Commission led by Mr. Kofi Annan, but stress that it is not mandated to investigate human rights violations, and is limited to making recommendations to secure “peace and prosperity” in Rakhine State.

Amnesty International recalls that crimes against humanity are crimes of such serious magnitude that they affect humanity as a whole. We consider that the gravity of the violations in Rakhine State and the government’s ongoing failure to independently and effectively investigate them justify the ongoing involvement of the international community in investigating them.

It should be stressed that the recent violence takes place against decades of persecution of the Rohingya and discrimination against ethnic Rakhines and other minorities in Myanmar. Failure to investigate the violence adequately will send a message that security forces can commit such crimes with impunity; this will undermine efforts to tackle wider concerns in Rakhine State and beyond.