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22 – 28 September: The Myanmar National Human Rights Commission Continues Failing to Deliver

September 29, 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.

News Highlights

Burma’s Border Guard Force (BGF) arrests five of its soldiers allegedly involved in the killing of Karen National Union (KNU)’s soldier after the KNU accuses the BGF of murdering one of  its soldiers after his body handcuffed and the throat-slit, was found in the Moei river near the Burma border town of Myawaddy and Armed fighting between Burma Government’s soldiers, including the BGF, and Karen armed groups occurs near the center of Myawaddy town which has resulted in several deaths of soldiers on both sides

Burma offers citizenship to 209 Muslims including Rohingyas, out of 1,094 stateless people who took part in the verification process in Myebon’s IDPs camp in Arakan State where many had initially refused to take part as they did not want to list their identities as Bengali while the government has drafted a plan to detain Rohingya Muslims who do not accept ethnic classification and the prospect of citizenship, putting them at risk of indefinite detention

Inside Burma    

Sithu Htet, a local member of National League for Democracy’s Maha Aungmyay Chapter in Mandalay is brutally beaten by two Burma Army soldiers and a son of a lieutenant, and dies in Mandalay General Hospital the following morning

Khun Myint Htun, the chairman of Pa-O National Liberation Organization (PNLO) expresses his concern over the fate of three of his soldiers, who he claims were captured by the Restoration Council of Shan State (RCSS) during armed clashes over territory dispute last month, while RCSS spokesperson claims the three PNLO soldiers were not arrested and they have joined his group according to their own will

Nai Hong Sar, who leads the Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team, expresses his doubts over the military’s willingness to sign a nationwide ceasefire after Burma Army Chief Min Aung Hlaing said giving the opportunity to five unrecognized members of United Nationalities Federal Council (UNFC) to sign a nationwide ceasefire agreement would make peacebuilding efforts more difficult while The Karen National Union (KNU) says they will make a decision on whether to continue their membership with the UNFC in October

Rangoon’s Mayor Hla Myint announces the suspension of a controversial city expansion plan after receiving criticism from the media and local lawmakers over the lack of transparency of the project

Burma’s Ministry of Information (MOI) plans to take legal action against two journals – Myanmar Herald and Daily Eleven– alleging defamation for articles which contained defamatory descriptions of President Thein Sein and the MOI, after negotiations mediated by the country’s Interim Press Council broke down

In Irrawaddy Region, three activists from Ayeyarwady Youth Network are charged under Article 18 of Burma’s controversial Peaceful Assembly and Peaceful Procession law after organizing an International Peace Day event without seeking permission from local authorities and A court in Irrawaddy Region sentences human rights activist Htun Htun Oo and three local residents in violation of Article 18, for planting mangroves in an effort to raise more awareness towards environment

In Chin State’s Palatwa Township, Burma Army re-arrests ethnic Chin farmers who had accused them of arbitrarily detaining and torturing them, forcing them to sign a document stating that they would retract the accusations


U Wirathu, a leading Burmese monk notorious for his anti-Muslim rhetoric, arrives in Sri Lanka to take part in a conference organised by a politically powerful monk-led Sinhalese nationalist organisation, despite opposition from Sri Lanka’s Muslim and Christian leaders who urge their government to deny his entry to the country

Thai authorities arrest 75 illegal Burmese migrant workers and eight Thai nationals accused of illegally recruiting the migrants in the Mae Pa Ward of Mae Sot, Thailand


The last 23 Burmese refugees from Thailand’s refugee camps arrive in Japan under a Japanese pilot resettlement program which begun in 2010

Six countries – China, Cambodia, Laos, Burma, Thailand and Vietnam – agree to enhance cooperation against drug production, trafficking, and abuse in the Greater Mekong Subregion of East Asia


Death of a Journalist
By Yamamoto Munesuke
The Irrawaddy

What Myanmar Does Not Need
By Lex Rieffel
Brookings Institution

Latest from the Blog

Arrest of Student on Trumped-up Charges is a Damning Indictment of Justice in Burma
By Burma Partnership


Around 50 students from Monywa University Students’ Union Network in Sagaing Region launch a campaign opposing the controversial National Education Bill passed by parliament in July, demanding the abolition of the National Education Commission and the Coordination Committee for Higher Education that centralize and control their education, as well as calling for a trilingual education system – in Burmese, English and ethnic language, which they said would promote ethnic unity in Burma

Statements and Press Releases

New Report Exposes the Continued Ineffectiveness of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission
By Burma Partnership, Equality Myanmar, Forum-Asia

အမ်ဳိးသားဒီမိုကေရစီအဖြဲ႔ခ်ဳပ္ တည္ေထာင္ျခင္း (၂၆)ႏွစ္ေျမာက္ ႏွစ္ပတ္လည္ေန႔ ေၾကညာခ်က္အမွတ္-၁၀ / ၀၉ / ၂၀၁၄
By National League for Democracy

Myanmar: UN Chief Urges Country to Move beyond ‘Narrow Agendas’ and towards Cooperation
By United Nations


သမၼတ၏ ဘက္ေတာ္သားမ်ားသာ ျဖစ္ၾကသည္ (All the President’s Men)
By Burma Partnership and Equality Myanmar

This post is in: Weekly Highlights