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The Myanmar National Human Rights Commission Continues Failing to Deliver

By Burma Partnership  •  September 30, 2014

Burma PartnershipA report authored by Burma Partnership and Equality Myanmar was launched on 25 September 2014 in Rangoon revealing the continuing ineffectiveness of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC) as well as the lack of independence from the government. The report was launched on the same day that a reshuffle of the members of MNHRC was announced by the government, which came as a complete surprise to civil society organizations due to the lack of consultation.

Released at the Myanmar Journalists Network in Rangoon, Burma: All the President’s Men, contributed to the annual Asian NGO Network on National Human Rights Institutions (ANNI) Report on the Performance and Establishment of National Human Rights Institutions in Asia (2014). The report analyzes the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission Law 2014 enacted in March this year (enabling law) that institutionalizes the mandate of the MNHRC. The report finds that the law does not guarantee independence from the government and in particular, the president’s office. In contravention of international standards on national human rights institutions, namely the Paris Principles, the selection process does not adequately consult with civil society. As the report points out, “It is up to the selection board to come up with procedures for short-listing candidates, yet the enabling law itself should set out the process/procedure for selection, with consultations with civil society.” The members of the MNHRC are actually chosen by a selection board of ten, five of which are from the government or are government-affiliated. The enabling law states that two members of this board are to come from civil society organizations and a further two are to be MP, yet there is no transparency regarding the procedures under which the two MPs are chosen. Additionally, the chosen civil society members to the selection board are restricted to registered civil society only, thus excluding many outspoken and critical political and human rights groups who feel they cannot register under the current climate.

Thus it is fitting that on the same day that Burma Partnership, Equality Myanmar and Forum-Asia were presenting these concerns, the announcement of new membership of the MNHRC was made, a decision without consultations with civil society. Aung Myo Min, Executive Director of Equality Myanmar, who co-authored the report stated, “We were absolutely not aware of the board making nominations and we had no knowledge of who was being appointed. Just like before, we continue to stress this lack of transparency and communication with civil society groups.” The President’s reshuffle also took previous members of the commission by surprise with former member U Lahpai Zau Goone lamenting the loss of Kachin, Shan and Chin members while another, U Hla Myint, stated that he did not know if the change had been done by the proposed selection board that is outlined in the enabling law, or if it had been done arbitrarily by President Thein Sein.

The report also uses two examples of pressing human rights concerns that the MNHRC has inadequately tackled; sexual violence in conflict zones and religious violence in Arakan State. The use of sexual violence, and rape as a weapon of war, in particular in Kachin State and northern Shan State the last few years, has been well documented by various human rights groups yet the MNHRC has simply avoided the issue. Meanwhile a flawed investigation into the alleged massacre of 40 Rohingya at Duu Yar Char Tan in Arakan State, from which the UN has evidence of, resulted in the MNHRC finding no evidence. This ineffectiveness not only delegitimizes the MNHRC as an institution but it also serves to act as a cover for atrocities committed by Burma authorities, thus exacerbating the deteriorating human rights situation in Burma today. This timely report, therefore, is important in that despite having a national human rights institution in name, it is certainly not an effective tool to genuinely find redress for the victims of human rights violations.

For the MNHRC to be effective the enabling law must be redrafted to comply with the Paris Principles. With a litany of human rights violations plaguing the country, as well as an ineffective judiciary that is subservient to the government, an independent, effective accountability mechanism is very much needed, otherwise rule of law will remain weak and impunity entrenched. Furthermore, the MNRHC must institutionalize consultations with civil society, including non-registered civil society organizations, grassroots and community based organizations, and networks of human rights groups. It is vital to implement the inputs from these groups in the MNHRC’s work as such organizations certainly know the communities most affected by human rights abuses more than the current membership of the MNRHC. The international community must also recognize the current limits to the MNHRC’s make-up and activities and pressure the Burma Government to reform this institution to make it independent, transparent, and accountable, especially the victims of human rights abuses. This will enable it to begin to effectively tackle the myriad of problems in Burma today, rather than acting as a cover for the ongoing atrocities committed by the various arms of the state authorities.

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