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21 July – 27 July: New Special Rapporteur, Familiar Human Rights Abuses

July 29, 2014

28 July 2014 Eskinder Debebe UN PhotoThe new Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma, Ms. Yang Hee Lee, concluded her first visit to the country on 27 November, and unsurprisingly, found the human rights situation troubling, warning of the potential of backtracking on initial reforms, an analysis that resonates with many Burma followers. She outlined her initial findings at Rangoon airport in a statement just as she finished her mission, highlighting the shrinking of democratic space, the ongoing religious violence and discrimination, the deteriorating humanitarian conditions for internally displaced persons (IDPs) – especially Muslims – in Arakan State, the severe human rights abuses in Kachin State, the urgent necessity for legislative reform and the rule of law, the lack of involvement of women in both the peace process and governance, the exclusion of local people in large scale development projects and the impact of such projects on vulnerable communities, and the continuing incarceration of political activists, among other issues.

We welcome Ms. Lee’s open and honest discussion of the term “Rohingya” and her pledge to be guided by international human rights law as regards the use of this term. This was despite the insistence of government officials not to use the word “Rohingya” throughout her trip to Arakan State. On the basis of this principled stance, we are reassured that Ms. Lee will not flinch from using the term when appropriate in the future. After visiting two camps for IDPs, one for Arakan Buddhists and one for Rohingya Muslims, Ms. Lee was troubled by both the terrible conditions in the camps and the lack of humanitarian access that is resulting in people dying due to insufficient medical assistance. She also acknowledged that this situation is “undeniably worse” in the camp for Rohingya. While she did not explicitly state that this is a situation engineered and maintained by the authorities, it is obvious that the unequal treatment of Buddhist and Muslim IDPs is a deliberate policy by the government that further punishes the Rohingya simply due to their ethnicity.

It is also welcomed that she visited Kachin State, and areas where the Burma Army continues to launch offensives against the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), committing severe human rights violations, including sexual assault, torture and extrajudicial killings against Kachin civilians. While she acknowledges that both sides have committed human rights violations, we feel it is important to clarify that the majority and the most serious of these are being committed by the Burma Army rather than the KIA.

Related to the peace process is the issue of refugee camps along the Thailand-Burma border, who are becoming increasingly anxious over their fate given the recent political developments in Thailand, ration cuts from the donor community, the seemingly dominant narrative that it is time for refugees to return to Burma, all in the context of lack of transparency from the influential actors involved. It is hoped that this issue will be raised in Ms. Lee’s statement to the UN General Assembly later this year, as the current conditions are not yet right for return, with the refugees themselves remaining vulnerable and stateless. The peace process is still fragile and has not produced the necessary outcomes to lay the foundations for an environment in which people can return safely and with dignity, and so any future repatriation must only happen on a voluntary basis and following full consultation with and participation of the refugees themselves.

Finally, we commend Ms. Lee for her explicit commitment to be guided by the work of her predecessor, Mr. Tomás Ojea Quintana, stated in the conclusion to her statement. It is vital that Mr. Quintana’s many years of distinguished work, exhaustively monitoring the challenging human rights situation in Burma and providing robust and principled recommendations, are not lost in the recent handover. This statement clearly recognises the importance of continuity, the indication being that Ms. Lee fully intends to build upon Mr. Quintana’s work while putting her own impressive professional experience and personal judgment to good use for the benefit of the people of Burma. We wish her all the best and hope that the international community uses her work to be better informed about the human rights situation in Burma and influence their current engagement with the Burma government to place the human rights of the people of Burma as a priority before investment and business interests.

News Highlights

Chin State court sentences eight Chin rights activists—six men and two women— to US$30 fine each on charge of holding an unauthorized protest over alleged rape attempted by a Burma Army soldier

Independent investigators meet with communities regarding a complaint filed by villagers over Japanese investment in Thilawa Special Economic Zone

Inside Burma

National League for Democracy says it has collected five millions signatures to amend the Constitution

The delegation from Karen National Union led by General Mutu Sae Poe to join the Ethnic Armed Organization conference in Laiza in Kachin State to discuss the second draft of the ceasefire agreement approved by Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team and Burma government and a delegation of Restoration Council of Shan State also to join the upcoming Third Ethnic Armed Organizations conference  but United Wa State Army is not attending, saying it has not yet properly studied the draft

In Keshi township, Southern Shan State, fighting between Burma Army and Shan State Army-North resumes and the conflict has displaced villagers from six villages and Ta’ang Women’s Organization says over 800 ethnic Palaung villagers in northern Shan State have fled their homes to avoid ongoing clashes between the Burma Army and Ta’ang National Liberation Army

In the Pyuthu Hluttaw, Shan Nationalities Democratic Party, Rakhine National Party, All Mon Region Democratic Party and Phalon-Sawaw Democratic Party boycott a vote against further debating the potential for Burma to adopt an electoral system of proportional representation

Major General Mya Tun Oo thought to be selected as the next Commander in Chief of Burma Army is promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General

Anti-Narcotic Joint Committee comprised of 17 members from 6 different ethnic Karen armed groups to start combating illegal drugs in Karen State

An ethnic Mon women’s rights activist, Khin Khin Kyu, wins the N-Peace Award given by the multi-country N-Peace Network in recognition of her efforts to advance the rights of ethnic minority women in Burma

Burma’s Special Branch police officers temporarily detain and question three editors of Myanmar Herald journal regarding their financial affairs, just as Shwe Mann called on President Thein Sein to show tolerance to the media industries


Eight members of the Rangoon based journal Bi Mon Te Nay, who fled Burma after publishing an article misquoting an activist who stated Daw Aung San Suu Kyi had formed an interim government, has been detained on the Thailand-Burma border and handed over to Burma’s authorities

Thailand and Burma to begin talks over the plan of refugee repatriation, while UNHCR is cautious about the safe return of refugees given the country’s ongoing challenges such as the continuing conflict, land mine, and lack of infrastructure, services and livelihood in Burma

Burma is willing to sign a memorandum of understanding with Singapore to offer better protection – such as minimum pay, official days off and legal redress – for its domestic maids working in urban areas in Singapore

Malaysia’s second largest bank CIMB Group plans to obtain banking licences in Burma as part of its drive to expand in fast-growing Southeast Asian markets


The US Senator Mitch McConnell strongly calls for Burma to amend the Constitution to allow opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to run for president

Burma’s Ministry of Health invites Doctors Without Borders to resume their work in the camps of Rakhine State where about 140,000 IDPs mostly Rohingya live who have almost no access to healthcare


How NCPO can Help Myanmar Refugees
By Bill Frelick
The Bangkok Post

Myanmar’s Last Front
By Philip Heijmans
Foreign Policy

Latest from the Blog

Flurry of Rumor and Counter Rumor Regarding Repatriation is Detrimental to Refugees
By Burma Partnership


Students in Mandalay stage a protest over a new education bill that limits academic freedom and restricts political activity

Statements and Press Releases

BURMA / MYANMAR: Immediate Need for Fair Trial and Remedies for Free Speech
By Asian Human Rights Commission

Burma: Eight Chin activists convicted; fined
By Chin Human Rights Organization

Four detained newspaper journalists appear in court on Emergency Provisions Act charges
By Reporters Without Borders

Statement of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar
By UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

This post is in: Weekly Highlights