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12 – 18 January: The Facts are Plain and Stated. It is Time to Act!

January 19, 2015

Yanghee-Lee-Arakan-Mob-8-Jan-2015-JPaingIrrawaddyThe US Special Envoy for Human Rights in Burma, US Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski and his accompanying delegation, completed the second trip of this kind, highlighting the plethora of grave human rights concerns that continue to plague the people of Burma. On the same day, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Burma, Yanghee Lee, also gave a stark analysis of progress in human rights.

The two day, US-Myanmar Human Rights Dialogue visit included meetings with Union ministers in a closed door arrangement in Naypyidaw as well as meetings with civil society in Rangoon and Myitkyina, the capital of war-torn Kachin State. The 10-day trip of Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee also included meetings with various government and civil society representatives, as well as visits to the site of the Letpadaung Copper Mine, Insein Prison, Arakan State, and Lashio, northern Shan State.

Both delegations stated recent religious violence and tension as a pressing need to address. US Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski noted, “The use of religion in particular to divide people, whether it is done for political or other purposes, is incredibly dangerous,” while Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee directly clarified the right for Rohingya to self-identify; “Fundamental rights are not hierarchical – they aren’t conditional upon one another. They’re inalienable. You can be assured that in all my meetings with government interlocutors, I use the word ‘Rohingya’. The rights of Rohingya people must be protected, promoted and upheld,” while also stating that the situation in Arakan State “remains at crisis stage.” Other issues discussed by both delegations include legal reforms, land rights and the new land use policy, as well as ethnic conflict.

While the very existence of such visits are commended by both delegations, the irony of the promises made by the Burma Government to such high-profile actors is not lost on the uncountable victims of human rights abuses at the hands of the Burma authorities. The US delegation statement explains that, “Both governments reaffirmed their obligations under the Geneva Conventions to protect civilian populations at all times and all places.” Yet on 15 January 2015, just after the US delegation arrived in the country, clashes between the Burma Army and the Kachin Independence Army left around a thousand civilians displaced and in desperate need of help. The Burma Army certainly did not adhere to its obligations under the Geneva Conventions, as Ko Kar Gyi of the Kachin Development Network Group explained, “Military forces closed the way to the conflict area as religious leaders and civil society groups were attempting to rescue local people who are in the danger zones.”

At a press conference after their meeting with the UN Special Rapporteur, members of the Coordination Committee for Civil Society Organizations Forum iterated concerns they have over the current state of the reform process, concerns that were also conveyed to the US delegation. These included the government’s continued use of various old and newly enacted laws as a tool to; repress human rights activists, discriminate against women in the name of national race protection, and to disenfranchise farmers to facilitate investment.

That a broad forum of civil society organizations in Burma continues to highlight various forms of serious human rights abuses is testament to the grave situation that many people in Burma face today. That two remarkably high profile delegations, from the UN and the US Government, further note and even add to these concerns in the same week reflects the gravity of human rights problems in Burma despite gushing praise of the process in many international circles. The international community must reflect on these statements and confront the reality of the situation in Burma. Condemnation is just the first step. Concrete action must be taken that shows that the Burma Government cannot continue to inflict suffering on its own people with impunity. Further investment and official support of policies and programs of the Burma Government results in complicity in such violations. There can be no denial of the reality of the situation of human rights in Burma and the reform process. This reality is plain to see and stated clearly by influential local and international actors. This year of 2015 is of upmost importance for the future of Burma given the necessity of an inclusive political dialogue towards national reconciliation as well as the opportunity to amend the 2008 Constitution and to hold genuine free and fair elections. It is time for the international community to show their commitment and act to ensure that these fundamental changes are realized.

News Highlights  

As government peace negotiators continue to bang the nationwide ceasefire agreement drum, Burma Army and Kachin Independence Army forces clash near Hpakant, displacing around 1,000 people while some ethnic armed groups state that they are being pressured to sign the agreement before concrete promises on the government side have been made

Inside Burma                                                                 

Members of the opposition denounce 50-person talks on political change as a ‘waste of time’ and a diversion from substantive dialogue

Myanmar National Human Rights Commission pins the blame of the recent murder of Letpadaung Copper Mine Protester, Daw Khin Win at the hands of low-ranked police officers while a further two protesters have been arrested for their role in opposing the project

Six villages in Tenasserim Region to be cleared to make way for a rubber farm, despite opposition from local communities while in another part of Tenasserim Region, expansion of mining operations is damaging farmland in five villages

Former NLD member apologizes to monks for causing offence at a speech last year but charges are still not withdrawn and he remains in prison under religious offence charges

The defence of the three men on trial in Rangoon charged under religious offence charges for using an image of the Buddha to promote a bar is rejected

A grenade attack on a police station in Hpakant, Kachin State, injures four

The major who filed a case of false accusation against the father of a 14 year old girl killed by the Burma Army, eventually appears at court after not turning up on several occasions, causing the court to be adjourned over fifty times since the lawsuit was filed two years ago


Two trafficked Rohingya die in Thailand of hunger and dehydration

Officials announce that $27 million worth of illicit goods have been seized over the past two years on the Burma-China border

UNHCR and the Thai Government to undertake a survey of refugees in all nine camps along the Thailand-Burma border


North Korea pressures the Burma Government to crackdown on bootleg DVDs of satirical film that criticizes North Korea

The Organization for Economic Development (OECD) calls on the need for urgent reforms in Burma

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Bangladesh sign an agreement to provide humanitarian assistance to Burmese Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh


What can Zapatistas Teach Burmese Migrants in Thailand
By Jay Kerr
The Guardian

Myanmar and the Post-2015 Development Agenda
By Kim Jolliffe
The Myanmar Times

Latest from the Blog

Letpadaung Crisis Takes a Turn for the Worse
By Burma Partnership


Workers at a textile factory in Mandalay continue industrial action after the owners renege on an agreement signed a year ago

Around 1,000 monks, students, farmers, labourers and community leaders stage a protest in Mandalay, calling for the abolishment of the 2008 Constitution

Statements and Press Releases

British Parliament Debates Rohingya of Burma
By Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK

Coordination Committee for Civil Society Organizations Forum
By Coordination Committee for Civil Society Organizations Forum

Burma: Amend Biased Citizenship Law
By Human Rights Watch

Assistant Secretary of State Malinowski’s Travel to Burma
By US Department of State

Burma and the U.S. Conclude Successful Second Human Rights Dialogue
By US Department of State

Statement of the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar
By Yanghee Lee

This post is in: Weekly Highlights