Human Rights Council discusses human rights situation in Myanmar

The Human Rights Council in its midday meeting held an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, and the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.

Yanghee Lee, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, presenting her report, said that the Government of Myanmar had refused to further cooperate with her mandate and to allow her access to the country. There were now more Rohingya people outside Myanmar than within. Ethnic minority groups in other areas of the country, such as Kachin, Shan and Kayin, were much like the Rohingya, victims of the military campaign. While Myanmar said it had constructed facilities to receive verified returnees from Bangladesh, there appeared to be a policy of forced starvation in place, designed to make life in northern Rakhine unsustainable. Considering that crimes against humanity had been occurring since 2016, Ms. Lee recommended a comprehensive review of actions by the United Nations system regarding the implementation of its humanitarian and protection mandates. Marzuki Darusman, Chairperson of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, said that over 600 in-depth interviews with victims and witnesses of alleged human rights abuses had been conducted, although the Mission’s request for a visit had been denied by the Government. The escalation of violence had magnified the longstanding humanitarian crisis in Kachin and Shan states. Credible reports had been received of indiscriminate attacks, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture and inhumane treatment, and rape and other forms of sexual violence. Turning to the situation in Rakhine state, Mr. Darusman reminded that credible accounts were rife of the State’s various security forces having committed gross human rights violations in the course of those operations. In all likelihood, those violations amounted to crimes under international law. Myanmar, speaking as the concerned country, said the present Government had been able to make progress in the peace process and implement the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine state for a sustainable solution. The terrorist attacks in Rakhine state in August 2017 had abruptly changed the state of affairs; restoring law and order to provide security had become a priority for the Government. Most of the ethnic groups and their villages remained intact in Myanmar, as witnessed by the United Nations entities in their recent visits. In the ensuing discussion, speakers strongly condemned the use of violence that had led to the mass expulsion of hundreds of thousands of civilians from Rakhine state, but also from other regions. They urged the Government of Myanmar to cooperate fully with the Special Rapporteur and the Fact-Finding Mission and to ensure unimpeded access for humanitarian aid. Speakers welcomed the signing of the arrangement on the return of displaced persons from Rakhine state between the Governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh, and the recommendations of the Kofi Annan Advisory Commission. Several speakers noted that there should be accountability for violations of international humanitarian law, and those had to be referred to the International Criminal Court. They asked the Special Rapporteur to further elaborate on how the international community could assist in the creation of a structure that would document human rights violations for future criminal proceedings. Speaking were European Union, Philippines on behalf of Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Lichtenstein, Germany, Finland, Russia, Norway, Croatia, Estonia, Denmark, Belgium, Canada, Belgium, Canada, Spain, Switzerland, Czechia, Japan, Viet Nam, Poland, Australia, France, China, Qatar, Sweden, Greece, Venezuela, Iraq, Mexico, United States, Maldives, Iran, Lithuania, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Thailand, Indonesia, Netherlands, Algeria, Luxembourg, Turkey, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, United Kingdom, Ireland, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Belarus, Iceland, Slovakia and Republic of Korea. The Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation also took the floor. The following civil society organizations also spoke: Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, Human Rights Watch, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Amnesty International, Plan International, Inc, International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, International Commission of Jurists, Presse Embleme Campagne, Article 19, Asian Legal Resource Centre, Human Rights Now, Maarij Foundation for Peace and Development, International Organization for the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination EAFORD, Child Foundation, and International Educational Development, Inc. The Council has a full day of meetings scheduled today. It will next hold an enhanced interactive dialogue on the human rights situation in Eritrea. Documentation The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar (A/HRC/37/70) Presentations by the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar and the Chair of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar YANGHEE LEE, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, presenting an oral update, said that while before she had been the only Special Rapporteur to have access to Myanmar, during the last few visits tactics of the military past had been adopted and last September the Government of Myanmar had refused to further cooperate with the mandate holder. Thus, the Special Rapporteur was declared as unwelcomed and accused of being unfair and biased. There were now more Rohingya people outside Myanmar then within. The alleged August attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army and ensuing attacks by security forces led to record numbers of people fleeing Rakhine state in the weeks that followed. Speaking with over 100 refugees in Cox’s Bazar who had fled the violence in Maungdaw, Buthidaung and Rathidaung townships in northern Rakhine, the Special Rapporteur heard first hands of attacks in which homes had been set ablaze by security forces and entire villages had been razed to the ground. The repatriation process for the refuges had to be voluntary. While Myanmar said it had constructed facilities to receive verified returnees from Bangladesh, it seemed that Myanmar had been also engaging in large-scale development projects in former Rohingya villages and there appeared to be a policy of forced starvation in place, designed to make life in northern Rakhine unsustainable. Ethnic minority groups in other areas of the country such as Kachin, Shan and Kayin had been, much like the Rohingya, victims of the military campaign. Information on a new ground offensive was received last week in an area controlled by the Karen National Union, which was a nationwide ceasefire agreement signatory. There had been no progress on legal and judicial reform. The Special Rapporteur had also been a target of hateful and violent threats on social media. The Council had been notified four years ago about the possible commission of crimes against humanity regarding the Rohingya and the High Commissioner had made the same warning about war crimes in other parts of the country in 2016. The Council had established the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar in March 2017, yet this had not stopped the ongoing persecution. The crimes committed in October 2016 and August 2017 bore the hallmark of genocide. He recommended the establishment of a structure in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh under the auspices of the United Nations to investigate and document human rights violations, in order to facilitate independent criminal proceedings. In closing, the Special Rapporteur stressed that the international community had to ask itself whether it could have done more? To that end, a comprehensive review of actions by the United Nations system during the events of October 2016 and August 2017 was recommended regarding the implementation of its humanitarian and protection mandates and within the human rights up front framework. This was in line with the Secretary-General’s own priority on advancing a preventive approach to human rights. MARZUKI DARUSMAN, Chairperson of the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar, said that the Mission had made significant progress, undertaking missions to Bangladesh, Malaysia, Thailand and the United Kingdom. It had conducted more than 600 in-depth interviews with victims and witnesses of alleged human rights violations and abuses, and it had held numerous consultations with experts, activists, civil society actors and diplomats. The Mission had also received and analyzed satellite imagery, photographs and video footage of events. From the beginning, the Mission had reached out to the Myanmar Government to undertake dialogue with it and to conduct inquiries on the ground. But the Government had denied the Mission’s request to conduct a visit in February 2018. The reports of human rights violations and abuses in Kachin and Shan states that the Mission was examining in detail suggested certain patterns that were experienced across the country. While the intensity, scale and impact of the recent events in Rakhine had been of different order, the manner in which operations were conducted demonstrated marked similarities. Moreover, the recent intensification of the longstanding conflicts in Kachin and Shan states had led to a spike in reported human rights violations and abuses, and violations of international humanitarian law. The Mission was receiving credible reports of indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks, extrajudicial killings, arbitrary deprivation of liberty, enforced disappearances, destruction of property and pillage, torture and inhumane treatment, rape and other forms of sexual violence, forced labour, and the recruitment of children into the armed forces. The Fact-Finding Mission was deeply concerned about the escalating clashes between the Myanmar military and the Kachin Independence Army in recent months, including in the areas around the town of Tanai, displacing thousands of civilians. Large numbers of civilians had been trapped and displaced for several days without adequate humanitarian assistance. That escalation of violence and further wave of internal displacement had magnified the longstanding humanitarian crisis in Kachin and Shan states. Parties had to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians and civilian objects under their control against the effects of attacks, and to ensure safe access to humanitarian assistance. The Mission urged the authorities of Myanmar to lift all movement restrictions and to ensure that humanitarian actors could carry out their work in safety. Turning to the situation in Rakhine state, Mr. Darusman reminded that the longstanding conflict had radically intensified following the attacks in 2016 and 2017 by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army and the Myanmar security forces’ so-called “clearance operations.” Credible accounts were rife of the State’s various security forces having committed gross human rights violations in the course of those operations. In all likelihood, those violations amounted to crimes under international law. Information collected so far regarding the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army activity in the region strongly suggested that the security forces’ response, and in particular its use of force, had been far in excess of the actual threat and in violation of international norms and standards. The Fact-Finding Mission called on the Myanmar Government and military to heed the Government’s promise not to condone impunity for serious human rights violations and abuses, no matter how senior those who were responsible. The Mission regretted that the steps taken so far had been utterly insufficient. At no point had the Myanmar authorities held genuine consultations with the people concerned to hear from them about their experience, understand their needs, and dispel their fears. Nor were the authorities allowing the international community to play a role in ensuring that the return of refugees was voluntary, safe and dignified. The displaced people should not be returned without adequate guarantees for human rights protection in place. Statement by the Concerned Country Myanmar, speaking as the concerned country, said the present democratic Government had been able to make progress in the peace process, laying democratic foundations. Implementation of the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine state for a sustainable solution was also progressing. While such efforts were well on track, the terrorist attacks in the Rakhine state in August 2017 had abruptly changed the state of affairs in Rakhine state. Restoring law and order to provide security for all was necessitated, while the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army terrorist attacks and their instigation had impacted the population. Daily lives and the future of all ethnic groups, including Rakhine, Daing-net, Mro, Thet, Mramagyi and people belonging to Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu faiths, had been adversely affected. This had also led to the displacement of people internally within Rakhine state, and beyond the borders. It was important to highlight, however, that the majority of ethnic groups and their villages still remained intact in Myanmar as witnessed by the diplomatic corps and United Nations entities in their recent visits. However, a less-than-objective approach by some had brought a paradigm shift in the perception and attitude towards Myanmar. Ultimately, history would be the judge. In conclusion, Myanmar stated it was unreasonable to assert that the leadership, whose mission had human rights at its core, remained indifferent to the allegations of grave human rights violations. The Government would never tolerate such crimes. State Counsellor Daw Aung Suu Kyi had been striving for freedom, democracy and human rights in Myanmar even before she assumed the responsibility of the State. Myanmar was prepared to work with any arrangement or mechanism which was in line with the national circumstances. The bulldozing of the ground was part of the preparing for the returnees. Interactive Dialogue European Union urged the Government to cooperate fully with the Fact-Finding Mission and grant full and unrestricted access to all areas and interlocutors, as well as to create conditions for voluntary and safe return of displaced persons. How could the international community assist in the creation of a structure in Cox’s Bazar which would investigate evidence of human rights violations to allow criminal proceedings? Philippines, speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, welcomed the signing of the agreement on the return of displaced persons from Rakhine state between the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh, and condemned all acts of violence, including attacks against Myanmar security forces. The importance of increased humanitarian access to the affected areas was underscored. Liechtenstein called on Myanmar to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur and the Fact-Finding Mission and said that presentations had put a spotlight on the grave crimes that had led to forcible displacement of the Rohingya. What were the recommendations to the Security Council for ensuring justice for the grave crimes committed? Germany remained worried about widespread human rights violations in Rakhine state but also in several other regions, leading to the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of civilians. Was there a chance for national courts to use the findings on mass human rights violations in order to facilitate impartial and independent proceedings to guarantee accountability? Finland called on the Government of Myanmar to ensure free access and commended the Governments of Malaysia, Bangladesh and Thailand for their cooperation. What could be done to ensure access of victims of sexual violence to long-term health services and psycho-social support? Russia saw the mandates of the Special Rapporteur and the Fact-Finding Mission as examples of double standards and ineffective use of the budget. It was reiterated that all reports had to be distributed on time in all the United Nations languages Norway was deeply worried about the human rights and humanitarian situation in Rakhine state and encouraged the Government to resume its cooperation with the Special Rapporteur. There was a pressing need for the authorities in Myanmar to end all violence, ensure full protection of all civilians without discrimination, and fully observe international human rights and humanitarian law. Croatia deeply regretted that the Government of Myanmar had denied the Special Rapporteur’s subsequent visit in January 2018, and encouraged it to grant full, unrestricted and unmonitored access to all Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. It called upon the Government to uphold the right to freedom of religion and to prosecute those responsible for gross violations. Estonia said the grave situation of the refugees in Bangladesh remained disturbing. Any return needed to be voluntary. There needed to be accountability for all those responsible for violations and abuses of international humanitarian law, and these had to be referred to the International Criminal Court. Denmark regretted that the Government of Myanmar refused to collaborate with the Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar. It condemned in the strongest terms the human rights abuses and violations in Myanmar, including the recently increased control of the media, such as the case against Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, who uncovered abuses in Rakhine state. Belgium urged the Government of Myanmar to provide equal protection and treatment to people from all communities who suffered from attacks by extremists or excessive action from the military. All parties to the conflict must facilitate unrestricted humanitarian access to those in need. The ethnic cleansing continued, according to sources. Canada informed of its readiness to work closely with the international community and Myanmar under the auspices of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, presided by Kofi Annan. It was in this light that it had appointed the Honourable Bob Rae as a Special Envoy to Myanmar w