GENEVE (27 June 2018) - The Human Rights Council this morning continued to examine human rights situations that require its attention, and held separate interactive dialogues with the Commission on Inquiry on Burundi, and with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.
In his oral update to the Council, Doudou Diène, Chairperson of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, noted that the situation in Burundi remained very disturbing. Democratic space remained limited, civil society representatives experienced severe pressure, and it was difficult for the independent media to work. African Union observers were not able to operate in the country, and human rights defenders were exposed to multiple dangers.
Francoise Hampson, Member of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, said that the Commission had documented human rights violations such as extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and torture, which targeted members of the opposition parties, particularly the Forces Nationales de Liberations- Rwasa wing. There were reports of arrests of people who had called for a no vote in the referendum.
Lucy Asuagbor, Member of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, reminded that the Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the Burundi ruling party, the National Council for the Defence of Democracy, had acquired repressive machinery since 2015, covering the country, intimidating the population, and conducting police operations. They had been mobilised to collect contributions for the 2020 elections and had been pressuring people who were unwilling to pay their contributions.
Burundi, speaking as the concerned country, said that, according to the African Parliamentary Union which had visited the country in May 2018, the Commission of Inquiry had demonstrated a poor understanding of the political, social and security situation in Burundi. It was clear that the question of Burundi was not a question of human rights, but a question of geopolitical appetites.
In the discussion that followed, delegations deplored the fact that Burundi, a member of the Human Rights Council, continued to refuse to cooperate with its mechanism, and noted with concern that human rights violations continued to gain in intensity in the country. The space for political opposition and civil society was rapidly shrinking, and impunity prevailed. The referendum process had taken place against the backdrop of intimidation of all dissenting voices and the restrictions of fundamental freedoms. Speakers were concerned that some constitutional amendments were not in line with the spirit of the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement. Given the grave humanitarian situation with 180,000 internally displaced and 429,000 refugees, delegations urged Burundi to guarantee political participation, and the freedom of speech and of peaceful assembly, especially in the run up to the presidential elections in 2020.
Speaking in the discussion on the situation of human rights in Burundi were European Union, Germany, France, Belgium, Australia, Switzerland, Denmark, Netherlands, Spain, Venezuela, China, Georgia, United Kingdom, Luxembourg, Myanmar, Russian Federation, Ireland, Eritrea, Sudan, and Mexico.
Also taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations: International Federation of ACAT Action By Christians for the Abolition of Torture (in a joint statement with Centre for Civil and Political Rights; East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project and World Organisation Against Torture); East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project; Espace Afrique International; Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l'homme; Amnesty International; Human Rights Watch; Tourner la page andInternational Organization for the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (EAFORD).
The Council then turned to the human rights situation in Myanmar, hearing an oral update by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee, who reminded that the Government of Myanmar continued to deny her access and the Government of India had not responded to her request to visit the refugees from Myanmar residing in India. Myanmar was now the world’s fourth largest refugee producing country, with one million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. While the international community’s attention was consumed by the Rohingya crisis, the conflict in Myanmar had escalated in other areas since the beginning of the year, and six domestic inquiries set up under the Aung San Suu Kyi-led Government had not effectively held perpetrators of human rights abuses to account.
Myanmar, speaking as the concerned country, noted that the situation in Rakhine state was complex. Security had deteriorated sharply following terrorist attacks against police outposts. The Government was deeply concerned about the suffering of all people caught up in the conflict, and was disturbed that the Special Rapporteur had failed to mention terrorist attacks on the Hindus. The Government had established an independent commission of inquiry to assess the situation in Mynmar.
Many speakers were gravely concerned about evidence of deep-rooted impunity for gross human rights violations in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan states, where acts of suspected genocide included military troops’ systematic and brutal mass rapes of Rohingya women and girls. Whereas some welcomed Myanmar’s engagement with the United Nations mechanisms and its responsiveness to the call to establish an independent commission of inquiry to investigate alleged human rights violations, others invited Myanmar to become a party to the Rome Statute, or to accept the exercise of jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, given the gravity of the alleged crimes against humanity. There was a pressing need for the Myanmar authorities to end all violence, ensure full protection of all civilians, and fully observe international humanitarian law. A call was issued for the international community to step in, and also for the Council to ensure that an international accountability mechanism was put in place in September, when the fact-finding mission would present its final report.
European Union, Canada, Poland, Thailand, Czechia, Japan, Sweden, Belgium, Iraq, Germany, France, Australia, Denmark, Norway, Netherlands, Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Iran, Liechtenstein, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, New Zealand, Venezuela, Mexico, China, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Luxembourg, Estonia, Russia, Turkey, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Ireland, Belarus, the Maldives, United Kingdom, and Viet Nam took floor in the interactive dialogue.
Also speaking were the following non-governmental organizations: Human Rights Now; Amnesty International; International Federation for Human Rights Leagues; Lawyers Rights Watch Canada; Alliance Defending Freedom; Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development Forum-Asia; International-Lawyers.Org; Human Rights Watch and Christian Solidarity Worldwide.
The Council will next hold a general debate on human rights situations that require the Council’s attention.
Presentation by the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi
DOUDOU DIENE, Chairperson of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, said that the mandate of the Commission was renewed by resolution 36/19, adopted in 2017. Since the last briefing, the secretariat and the mandate holders had visited Ethiopia, Belgium, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda. Face to face interviews or at distance interviews had been conducted with over 380 Burundians in exile or in Burundi, adding to the 500 testimonies collected previously. The situation in Burundi remained very disturbing. The Commission considered that the declaration by President Nkurunziza, according to which his mandate would end in 2020, should not obscure the context in which the referendum campaign was conducted.
FRANCOISE HAMPSON, Member of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, said that many human rights violations had been documented, including extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture, targeting members of the opposition parties, particularly Forces Nationales de Liberations-Rwasa wing. There were reports of arrests of people who called for a no vote in the referendum. Schools were closed by local authorities to force students of voting age to register in the voters lists. People were executed or abducted because of their refusal to join the ruling party. Unidentified bodies continued to be discovered in various parts of the country. No serious investigations had been carried out by the authorities. In December 2017, launching a campaign aimed at explaining the draft new Constitution, President Nkurunziza in his speech barely concealed his incitement to violence. A former deputy chief of cabinet was sentenced for hate speech and the Commission received several reports and videos with similar statements by Government officials. The authorities were not taking any action to prosecute them.
LUCY ASUAGBOR, Member of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, said that the Imbonerakure had acquired repressive machinery since 2015, covering the country, intimidating the population and conducting police operations. Moreover, Imbonerakure had been mobilised to collect contributions for the 2020 elections so they were putting pressure on people who were unwilling to pay their contributions, showing that contributions were not voluntary but obtained by force. These contributions were in addition to taxes, deductions and other contributions. This placed Burundians in the last but one position according to the Gross Domestic Product per capita ranking and 3.6 million Burundians or over 30 per cent of the population were in need in assistance.
DOUDOU DIENE, Chairperson of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, said that the democratic space remained limited. Civil society representatives experienced severe pressure and it was difficult for the independent media to work, as illustrated by the suspension of the British Broadcasting Corporation and Voice of America. Radio France Internationale had also received warnings. In this situation, several opposition and civil society actors in exile had called for revolution, which increased the risk of the deterioration of the security situation. The attack in the Buganda municipality by unidentified individuals that killed at least 24 people was particular disturbing. The Government was urged to provide any relevant information. Burundian stakeholders were called on to engage in an inclusive political dialogue. Support was extended to the mediation process under the auspices of the East African Community, with the backing of the African Union and the Special Representative of the Secretary General who had been experiencing a smear campaign in Burundi. Burundi refused to fully cooperate with the Commission and recommendations were turned down. The Government had failed to accept recommendations calling for the resumption of the monitoring activities by the Office of the Head Commissioner whose headquarters agreement had remained suspended since October 2016. African Union observers were not able to operate in the country, and human rights defenders were exposed to multiple dangers, as noted by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights.
Statement by the Concerned Country
Burundi, speaking as the concerned country, rejected the oral update by the Commission on Inquiry which was rather a structural autopsy of a country, and as such, must be a work of an established jurist. The President of the Commission had gone beyond the essence of his expertise and had even gone after the President of Burundi, accusing him of hate inciting speech. Burundi rejected such language and demanded a minimum of respect. According to the African Parliamentary Union which had visited the country in May 2018, the Commission on Inquiry had demonstrated, as a result of disinformation campaigns, a poor understanding of the political, social and security situation in Burundi. Turning to the continued rhetoric by the European Union, Burundi said that it was clear that the question of Burundi was not a question of human rights but a question of geopolitical appetites.
Interactive Dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi
European Union called for independent investigations on all human rights violations, including the massacre at Ruhagarika. Extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention and restrictions on fundamental freedoms were deplored, and the referendum process was contrary to the mediation process carried out by the African Union. Germany deplored the fact the Burundi continued to refuse to cooperate with mechanisms of the Human Rights Council and the Government was called on to resume cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner. The referendum process was characterized by continuous intimidations in a climate of repression and a lack of transparency in the absence of independent media representatives and observers. France was concerned over ongoing violations and their humanitarian consequences, including the number of displaced persons. There were indications that some of the violations amounted to crimes against humanity, so the Government was called on to cooperate with the Commission of Inquiry.
Belgium was deeply concerned about the situation in Burundi, including acts of torture and sexual violence. Lack of transparency marked the process of revision of the Constitution but the decision of the President of Burundi to end his mandate in 2020 was welcomed. Australia said that recent referendum results were concerning and constitutional amendments did not involve genuine dialogue despite calls by the international community at the African Union and East Africa summits, running counter to the Arusha Peace Agreement. How could regional leaders best encourage the Government to address the violence committed? Switzerland regretted the climate of intimidation surrounding the referendum and condemned incidents in the Buganda municipality. Authorities were called on to respect the Arusha peace process in the revision of the Constitution.
Denmark noted with concern that human rights violations continued to gain in intensity, the space for political opposition and civil society was rapidly shrinking, while the changes to the Constitution allowed the President to run again and changed the majority voting system with a simpler one not in line with the ethnical allowances implemented as a result of the peace negotiations after the civil war. Netherlands was concerned that some constitutional amendments were not in line with the spirit of the Arusha Peace and Reconciliation Agreement, and had the potential to exclude minorities. Burundi must guarantee political participation, and the freedoms of speech and of peaceful assembly, especially in the run-up to the presidential elections in 2020. Spain was concerned about the human rights situation in Burundi and the generalized impunity for the violations and abuses, and regretted the fact that the constitutional reform process had not taken place in a spirit of political consensus. Spain was also concerned about the grave humanitarian situation in the country, where 180,000 people were internally displaced, 429,000 were refugees, and 3.6 million people needed assistance.
Venezuela recognized the political will of the Burundian Government to improve the situation in the country. It was clear that the imposition of country specific mandates did nothing to contribute to the strengthening of human rights. They should be removed from the Council’s worksheet. China commended the efforts of Burundi’s Government to promote stability and reconciliation. Rather than imposing arbitrary sanctions, the Council should fully respect Burundi’s sovereignty and avoid the politicization of human rights issues. Georgia remained deeply concerned about the state of human rights in Burundi, especially of widespread cases of torture, arbitrary detentions, extrajudicial executions, and the shrinking space for the media. Georgia called on Burundi to investigate the gross and systematic human rights violations.
United Kingdom voiced extreme concern about the human rights situation in Burundi, which had deteriorated further in the run-up to the referendum held on May 17. The culture of impunity for crimes committed only encouraged further abuses and violations. Luxembourg deplored the refusal of Burundi’s Government to allow access to the Commission of Inquiry, and called on the authorities to revise their isolation from the United Nations system. While recognizing that 30,000 refugees had returned to Burundi, it reminded that a great number of them still remained in neighbouring countries. Myanmar shared the view that country-specific mandates and resolutions in the Council went against the principles of universality, objectivity, and non-selectivity. It called on the international community to support Burundi’s endeavours in promoting and protecting human rights.
Russia noted that the consideration of the situation in Burundi was taking place in a politicized setting. Human rights situations in countries had to be addressed in a proper way and this was the Universal Periodic Review. The Council was a mechanism for international cooperation, not demonization of States. Ireland noted the remarks made by President Nukrunziza at the announcement of the new Constitution that he would not seek re-election in 2020 and urged him to use the remainder of his term to leave a legacy of peace. The Government had to re-engage with regional and international bodies, including the Office of the High Commissioner and the Commission of Inquiry. Eritrea welcomed the political will of the Government of Burundi to ensure the protection of human rights, and its participation in the Universal Periodic Review. Like other countries, Burundi had its challenges but the international community had to assist with adequate technical assistance, while avoiding politicization through country specific mandates.
Sudan took note of the Government of Burundi’s efforts to address the human rights situation, and noted its participation in the Universal Periodic Review. Despite challenges, Burundi continued to make efforts to cooperate with the Council and the international community. Mexico recognized the importance of the mandate of the Commission in documenting human rights abuses. Respect of the principle of non-politicisation was instrumental in addressing the human rights situation in countries and it was regretful that Burundi had withdrawn from the International Criminal Court.
International Federation of ACAT Action By Christians for the Abolition of Torture in a joint statement with Centre for Civil and Political Rights; East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project and World Organisation Against Torture noted the climate of intimidation. Human rights defenders were targeted by violations and were imprisoned, and the situation in prisons was particularly difficult, leading to several deaths. East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project said liberties were severely restricted in Burundi. Journalists, lawyers and non-governmental organizations were forced to conduct their work from outside the country. Human rights defenders were being consistently harassed. Burundi was unfit to serve as a Human Rights Council member. Espace Afrique International was concerned over persistent human rights violations since the beginning of the 2015 political crisis. Refugees from Burundi must be allowed to return and mechanisms must be established to facilitate the process. Burundi was urged to work with the Commission of Inquiry to bring violators of human rights to justice. Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l’homme said key human rights violations, constituting crimes against humanity, had been perpetrated by Government agencies since 2015. The denial of access to human rights bodies demonstrated the State’s lack of will to cooperate in the matter. Council members could not be human rights violators.
Amnesty International said action was required to ensure the authorities respected freedom of expression in the lead up to the 2020 elections. The Commission was asked how confidence could be restored in the justice system. Human Rights Watch had documented killings and harassment of political opposition representatives by State authorities in Burundi. Ruling party members had used hate speech that risked leading to large-scale violence. The Commission was asked how Burundi could be kept under close international scrutiny.
Tourner la Page said the people of “Macedonia” had mandated it to oppose name-change efforts being pursued by that Government. Citizens were taking to the streets to protest Government action to change the identity of the “Macedonian” people. Nobody had the right to change a people’s identity and language. International Organization for the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (EAFORD) regretted Burundi’s continued refusal to cooperate with the Commission of Inquiry. A recent massacre was a reflection of the overall seriousness of the human rights situation in the country. The Commission was asked how women could participate in reaching durable solutions to the crisis.
DOUDOU DIÈNE, Chairperson of the Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, explained that the will of the Commission of Inqury was to complete its mandate, and to focus on human rights as an issue, which could not be completely independent from the global political climate. He regretted to say that Burundi had not responded to the persistent nature of human rights violations. That persistence had been documented by the Commission in a precise and clear manner. Mr. Diène highlighted the issue of impunity and justice, and the cooperation of the Burundian authorities with the Human Rights Council, the African Union, and the Commission of Inquiry. The decision of Burundi not to grant access to the Commission of Inquiry was very concerning. If the authorities wished to ensure transparency and objectivity, that would require relevant institutions to be able to conduct their work. Thus, the ball was in the Burundian court. The Commission of Inquiry would also like to address what was happening with human rights in the post-referendum period. Burundi was a member of the Human Rights Council, and as such, it should provide access to the Commission of Inquiry. The basic fundamental argument to convince the Burundian authorities to cooperate with the Commission was that the Commission could not reflect the position of the Burundian Government unless it had access to the Burundian territory.
Presentation by the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar
YANGHEE LEE, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, presented her oral progress report pursuant to resolution 37/32 on the situation of human rights in Myanmar. The Government of Myanmar had continued to deny access to the Special Rapporteur, and the Government of India had not responded to requests to visit the refugees from Myanmar who were residing in New Delhi, Mizoram and the state of Jammu and Kashmir. It was imperative that States respect the mandates established by the Council and provide timely answers to requests made by Special Procedure mandate holders. A visit to Bangladesh would be undertaken to Dhaka and Cox’s Bazar as well as Bashan Char island and the Konarpara area, on the Bangladesh side of “no man’s land” where Rohingya from Myanmar had been staying for nearly a year. Myanmar was now the world’s fourth largest refugee producing State and there were a million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, some of whom had been there since the 1990s. Over 128,000 mostly Rohingya people remained in camps following violence in central Rakhine in 2012. There were 123,000 displaced people in Kachin and Shan states. Renewed conflict in Kayin state drove 2,500 people from their homes earlier this year, and around 121,000 people had been living on the Thai-Myanmar border for decades, fearful to return home. The Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Myanmar Government, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the United Nations Development Programme in June to assist repatriation from Bangladesh, did not recognize Rohingya living in Bangladesh as refugees. How could repatriation be voluntary if the people for whom the process was made were excluded from it? It was paramount for the Myanmar Government to dismantle the system of discrimination against the Rohingya and guarantee their human rights, including restoring citizenship rights and property. The flow of refugees to Bangladesh had not stopped and with limited access to northern Rakhine, little was known about the situation of the Rohingya there.
While the international community’s attention was consumed by the Rohingya crisis, conflict had escalated in other areas of Myanmar since the beginning of the year. In March in Kayin state, conflict resumed between the military and the Karen National Liberation Army, a party to the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, and thousands of villagers were forced to flee. Clashes between the Arakan Army and the military in Chin state had led to 1,000 villagers being displaced. In northern Shan state, fighting between ethnic armed groups had led to displaced civilians. The seven-year anniversary of the conflict between the military and Kachin Independence Army had just passed. Thousands of villagers were forced to flee, only to be trapped in the forest without assistance, bringing the number of displaced by the conflict in Kachin to 13,500 since January. The Government’s National Strategy for the closure of the internally displaced camps in Myanmar did not entail a proper plan. Moreover, demonstrations against the conflict took place in several cities in April and May. Protestors in Yangon were violently dispersed by the police and 45 activists were arrested and were being prosecuted.
Recently, the Ministry of Cultural and Religious Affairs had restricted Islamic and Arabic teaching, as well as building new places of worship of the Bible and the Quran. It had been over 10 months since the start of the violence that forced the Rohingya to leave Myanmar. Without concrete action, condemnation by the international community was simply not enough and it had to be admitted that so far the United Nations and the international community had failed. The Government had recently established an independent commission of inquiry in order to address reconciliation, peace, stability and developments in Rakhine but it seemed yet another attempt to distract the international community. This was the sixth domestic inquiry to be set up under the Aung San Suu Kyi-led Government and no inquiry had effectively held perpetrators of violations to account. While the situation of Myanmar clearly warranted the attention of the International Criminal Court, the inability of the Security Council to refer the situation was noted. The Council had to establish an accountability mechanism under the auspices of the United Nations without delay. In March, in a report to this Council, the Special Rapporteur said that she had made a proposal to establish a structure based in Cox’s Bazar that would look to advance justice and rights of all victims. In view of the scale and gravity of the allegations of security forces’ human rights violations and abuses, and violations of international humanitarian law across the country, the structure should also look to advance justice and rights of all victims. It was therefore imperative to now consider a credible international accountability mechanism going beyond her recommendation. The accountability mechanism should interview victims, investigate violations and consolidate the investigations undertaken by other mechanisms and United Nations bodies, including the Fact Finding Mission. It would also develop a framework for victim support, reconciliation and reintegration.
Statement by the Concerned Country
Myanmar, speaking as the concerned country, said the present Government came to power two years ago with the overwhelming support of the population, but peace was not something that happened overnight. Government leaders had been striving for peace and prosperity in the country and no rights violations were tolerated. Myanmar was resolute in its efforts to overcome the present challenges. The situation in Rakhine state was complex and security had deteriorated sharply following terrorist attacks against police outposts. The Government was deeply concerned about the suffering of all people caught up in the conflict. Myanmar was disturbed that the Special Rapporteur had failed to mention terrorist attacks on Hindus.
The Government had established an independent commission of inquiry to assess the situation in the country. The looming monsoon season meant efforts to achieve stability must be intensified. Cooperation must create the conditions to allow for the safe return of displaced persons and all stakeholders must initiate repatriation efforts. Myanmar had a track record of cooperation with mandate holders. However, it would not be productive to cooperate with the current Special Rapporteur due to her violations of the code of conduct. Myanmar had requested that she be replaced. The United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy had been granted full access to the country. Myanmar would continue to engage constructively with the United Nations.
Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar
European Union regretted that the Government of Myanmar had discontinued its cooperation with the mandate, and invited Myanmar to become a party to the Rome Statute, or to accept the exercise of jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, given the gravity of the alleged crimes against humanity. Canada remained concerned about the serious humanitarian crisis in Myanmar. By according priority to the needs of women and girls, Canada had come up with a strategy of concrete measures to promote human rights, gender equality, human dignity, peace and security in the region. Poland voiced concern about the serious humanitarian crisis in Myanmar which affected mostly the Rohingya minority. It acknowledged the readiness of the Myanmar Government to cooperate with the United Nations mechanisms. What should be the long-term strategy of the international community to assist Myanmar in reconstructing Rakhine state?
Thailand noted that the complex situation in Rakhine state required an approach that took into account the concerns of all relevant parties in order to build trust and confidence. It welcomed Myanmar’s engagement with the United Nations mechanisms, and its responsiveness to the call to establish an independent commission of inquiry to investigate alleged human rights violations. Czechia stressed that it was important to ensure justice for all human rights violations in Myanmar, which was a prerequisite for securing sustainable national reconciliation. It was important to bring national legislation in line with international human rights law. Japan placed importance on the voluntary, safe and dignified repatriation of displaced persons to Rakhine state in Myanmar. It welcomed the Memorandum of Understanding signed by Myanmar, the United Nations Development Programme, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Sweden stressed that there was a need to continue addressing the situation in Rakhine state and other conflict-afflicted regions in Myanmar. Sexual- and gender-based violence and violence against children were signs that crimes against humanity had occurred in the country. Belgium urged Myanmar to fully cooperate with United Nations Special Procedures in order to establish the facts and circumstances of human rights violations in Rakhine state. The human rights situations in Kachin and Shan states were also concerning. The most realistic solution to the situation was the implementation of the Advisory Commission’s recommendations. Iraq remained deeply concerned about the deteriorating human rights situation facing the Rohingya Muslim population in Rakhine state. Iraq urged Myanmar to work with the international community to bring the perpetrators of human rights violations to justice. A safe environment must be created to allow for the return of refugees.
Germany was alarmed at reports of widespread and systematic attacks against civilian populations in Myanmar. It was a legal necessity to investigate violations and hold all perpetrators accountable. Rohingya Muslims were being forced to flee. Germany asked how the international community could help ensure accountability. France called on Myanmar to give full access to United Nations mandate holders. Violence against the Rohingya community was systematic and offenses must not go unpunished. France urged Myanmar to allow access to media representatives to Rakhine and asked what the Special Rapporteur thought of the independent commission of inquiry. Australia urged Myanmar to immediately resume cooperation with the Special Rapporteur. Recent clashes between the military and ethnic armed groups were a major concern. All parties must allow for the delivery of humanitarian assistance. Australia asked how the international community could help Myanmar prevent discrimination against minorities.
Denmark called on the Myanmar Government to resume collaboration with the mandate holder. It continued to be deeply concerned about the grave human rights violations committed by Myanmar’s security forces, not least in Rakhine state. Impunity had to end on all sides. Norway voiced concern about the human rights and humanitarian situation in Rakhine state, and about the escalation of conflict in Kachin and Shan states in Myanmar. There was a pressing need for the authorities in Myanmar to end all violence, ensure full protection of all civilians, and fully observe international humanitarian law. Netherlands remained extremely concerned about the grave human rights violations committed by the Myanmar security forces, which had to be thoroughly investigated. Ensuring accountability was crucial for long-term security and stability. The authorities in Myanmar needed to ensure that refugees returned to Rakhine state voluntarily.
Organization of Islamic Cooperation reminded that the Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar were prosecuted because of their religion, and regretted that the Government of Myanmar refused to cooperate with the mandate holder and United Nations mechanisms. What were the best ways to move forward to repatriate Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh? Iran objected to any approach based on double standards and politicization of human rights in the Human Rights Council. At the same time, it expressed its concern about the widespread and disproportionate attacks on the Rohingya minority in Myanmar. Liechtenstein said that ensuring a peaceful and lasting solution to the crisis on Myanmar required addressing its root causes, in particular discriminatory restrictions in law, policy and practice. The current crisis in Rakhine state was underpinned by decades of systematic discrimination against minorities. Republic of Korea remained concerned about the lack of tangible progress in the repatriation process of “displaced Myanmar residents from Bangladesh” and urged safe, dignified, voluntary, and sustainable return of refugees and internally displaced persons. The Republic of Korea encouraged Myanmar to ensure that its independent commission of inquiry on Rakhine state worked closely with the fact-finding mission and the Special Rapporteur.
Comments by the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in Myanmar
YANGHEE LEE, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, on her proposal on the accountability mechanism, said that she had already developed a concept paper with details of an accountability mechanism, and said that it was up to States to make a final decision in this regard. Accountability for all human rights violations by all duty bearers was the most important purpose of any accountability mechanism, and she had proposed that it contained the elements of collection of information and their verification; analysis and repository of information; and utmost care to victims of human rights violations to prevent their re-victimization and support their pursuit of justice. In terms of the cooperation with the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General, Ms. Lee stressed that the two had different but complementary mandates, and also said that she would soon engage with the Special Envoy. Finally, the Special Rapporteur stressed that the national accountability mechanism was not judicially independent, and also stressed the urgent need for Myanmar to first domesticate international legislation concerning war crimes and crimes against humanity, which at the moment, could not be tried domestically.
Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar
Saudi Arabia was dismayed by the lack of cooperation by Myanmar with the Special Rapporteur. The displacement and human rights violations of Rohingya Muslims persisted. Myanmar was the fourth largest producer of refugees in the world. The international community must intensify efforts to end the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims. Indonesia underlined the need for Myanmar to take steps to restore stability and security in Rakhine state. The Government must protect all individuals, regardless of religion and ethnicity, and must allow access to humanitarian assistance. Indonesia would continue supporting efforts to achieve sustainable peace in Myanmar. New Zealand recognized Myanmar’s ongoing efforts to implement a wide reform agenda. However, the situation of minority groups in the country was a major concern. New Zealand urged Myanmar to protect civilians in situations of conflict and to support the creation of credible investigations into all alleged human rights violations.
Venezuela recognized Myanmar’s efforts to pursue lasting peace. Myanmar was actively cooperating with the Human Rights Council and pursuing policies to ensure national unity. The Special Rapporteur had displayed bias and her report was unbalanced. The Universal Periodic Review was the appropriate mechanism to address human rights issues. Mexico invited Myanmar to welcome the Special Rapporteur into the country and shared deep-felt concerns over ongoing human rights violations. Mexico also regretted the situation of individuals detained for political reasons and reiterated requests to allow access to humanitarian agencies into Myanmar. China said Myanmar had made economic and development progress and was improving the situation of its population. The international community must respect Myanmar’s sovereignty and understand the challenges it was facing. The issue of Rakhine state was complex and could not be resolved overnight.
Afghanistan said that the systematic discrimination and injustice towards people in Rakhine state constituted the root of the crisis, including rape, torture and killing of women and children, and agreed that the crime of genocide had been committed against the Rohingyas by the Government of Myanmar. Afghanistan acknowledged the generosity of the Government and people of Bangladesh. Bangladesh agreed that heinous crimes against humanity and genocidal acts had been perpetrated against the marginalized and stateless Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, resulting in one of the largest exoduses of humankind in recent history. Luxembourg was highly alarmed about the situation of refugees in Bangladesh, especially in view of the bad weather and the vast needs for psycho-social support. All acts committed against the Rohingya after 25 August 2017 pointed towards the intention to destroy their existence – totally or partially – from Rakhine state. It was very likely that acts that constituted crimes against humanity had been committed.
The grave humanitarian situation of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh remained very disturbing, said Estonia and stressed that, in view of the pervasive lack of accountability at the national level, there must be an independent international investigation. In this sense, Estonia supported the referral of this situation by the Security Council to the International Criminal Court. Russia stressed that discussions on specific human rights situations did not bring value to the promotion of human rights in the world and stressed that there must be cooperation and participation of concerned countries in such dialogues, which must take place through the Universal Periodic Review. Turkey insisted that, in order to break the vicious cycle in which the Rohingya Muslims had been caught for generations, Myanmar must end violence in Rakhine state, hold the perpetrators accountable, implement the recommendations by the Advisory Commission, and ensure the treatment of the Roghingya on an equal footing with others.
Lao People’s Democratic Republic welcomed the Memorandum of Understanding on assistance to the repatriation process of displaced persons from Rakhine state. The situation in Rakhine could only be solved through a constructive dialogue with a clear understanding of the context. Ireland noted the recent escalation of violence in regions of Myanmar and voiced concern over the increasing number of civilians being internally displaced. Myanmar was called on to grant greater access to the United Nations to assess the situation of civilians affected by conflict. Ireland asked how recent conflict could be de-escalated. Belarus was consistently against country-specific mechanisms. Such efforts heightened confrontation within the Human Rights Council and politicized the discussion. Mechanisms created without the consent of the country concerned would never result in constructive dialogue.
Maldives remained extremely concerned about the situation in Rakhine and the denial of cooperation by Myanmar with the Special Rapporteur. The situation in the country was deeply disturbing. Myanmar was urged to effectively implement the Memorandum of Understanding on repatriation. United Kingdom stressed that the successful implementation of the Memorandum of Understanding and the domestic commission of inquiry remained inherent to any progress being made. The Special Rapporteur was asked how justice for all ethnic groups could be ensured and how the peace process could be supported. Viet Nam encouraged Myanmar to seek long-term humanitarian solutions to the crisis. Viet Nam welcomed the signing of the Memorandum of Understating and looked forward to its concrete implementation. Myanmar must build people-centered policies as part of comprehensive solutions to the issue.
Human Rights Now noted that over 900,000 Rohingya refugees lived in substandard camps in Bangladesh and was concerned about the escalating violence in Kachin state which had caused the displacement of thousands of people. The organization urged Myanmar to immediately provide access to the fact-finding mission and the Special Rapporteur. Amnesty International said it had published today, 27 June, new research implicating specific military units in atrocities against the Rohingya during a devastating campaign of violence which had started 10 months ago. The report had identified, by name, 13 individuals who should be investigated for command or direct responsibility for crimes against humanity, which extended to the top of the chain of command. International Federation for Human Rights Leagues decried the latest attempt by Myanmar to whitewash the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya in Rakhine state by appointing yet another commission of investigation that was likely to lack credibility, independence and impartiality. It was vital for the Council to lend its support to the fact-finding mission with a view to fostering accountability for crimes against ethnic minorities in Myanmar.
Lawyers Rights Watch Canada remained gravely concerned about evidence of deep-rooted impunity for gross human rights violations in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan states, where acts of suspected genocide included military troops’ systematic and brutal mass rapes of Rohingya women and girls. The Council should recommend the creation of an effective international mechanism to ensure that all returns were voluntary. Alliance Defending Freedom remained deeply concerned about persistent attacks and violence against ethnic minorities in Myanmar and the lack of adequate prosecution for human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings and torture. There must be safety and security for all regardless of their ethnicity, in order to ensure peace in Myanmar. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development Forum-Asia said that the recent Memorandum of Understanding between the United Nations Refugee Agency, the United Nations Development Programme and Myanmar on the repatriation of Rohingya refugees did not address the root causes of the crisis, particularly citizenship and ethnic identity. The creation of an accountability mechanism must be considered as a first step until a full-fledged international justice and accountability body was set up.
International-Lawyers.Org stressed the repercussions of climate change on the fulfillment of human rights in Myanmar. Noting the discussion’s focus on the potential return of Rohingya Muslims, the organization asked if Rohingyas in fact wanted to return. The Human Rights Council was urged to ensure that Myanmar adopt climate change protection measures. Human Rights Watch said that in Shan and Kachin states, the armed forces of Myanmar had attacked villages and committed abuses against civilians. Ethnic armed groups had used children as soldiers and recently deployed landmines. The crisis in Rakhine state continued. Human Rights Watch supported calls for the creation of an accountability mechanism. Christian Solidarity Worldwide said the displacement of thousands of civilians in Kachin and Karen states represented a major set-back in the situation in Myanmar. The Government was urged to allow international humanitarian aid, human rights monitors and the media unhindered access to Kachin, Shan and Rakhine states.
Concluding Remarks by the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar
YANGHEE LEE, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, agreed that impunity for violations in Rakhine state would encourage other parties to the conflict in Myanmar, as many of those conflict areas had a spill-over affect. Impunity encouraged more violence, which was why it was important to set up an accountability mechanism. International instruments had no access to Rakhine but people were fleeing more to Bangladesh. All parties to the conflict had to be held accountable. The peace process had to be more transparent and inclusive. The Panglong Peace Conference was scheduled for July and hope was expressed that civil society would be included. The judiciary in Myanmar was not independent. If recommendations of Kofi Annan’s Advisory Commission could be implemented, this would solve many problems.