50th session of the Human Rights Council - Panel discussion on the root causes of human rights violations and abuses against Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar
This August, we will pass the fifth anniversary of the widespread and systematic campaign of violence by the Myanmar military that has driven more than one million Rohingya Muslims from their homes in Rakhine State in Myanmar, to seek refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh.
At the same time, in the wake of the military coup of February 2021, we also continue to witness the re-escalation of armed conflicts and violent repression in many other parts of Myanmar, inflicting yet more displacement and suffering on ethnic and religious minorities.
Over many years, this Council has sought to respond to these grave violations and abuses – appointing or recommending the creation of new mechanisms to investigate and document them, while pursuing accountability.
Simultaneously, the Council has sought to look more deeply at the root causes of violations and abuses against Rohingyas and other minorities in Myanmar, in the hope of finding new pathways to more transformative reforms and a more peaceful and inclusive future for the people of Myanmar.
In my report to the 43rd session of this Council, I noted that discrimination and exclusion against ethnic and religious minority groups have been the hallmark of the laws and policies of Myanmar for over half a century. They have suffered the consequences of complex, multi-dimensional and long-standing root causes of human rights violations and abuses.
These causes include the historical legacies of colonialism and military rule, including the progressive “Burmanization” of the State. Minorities have suffered exclusion under different laws and policies, in particular the 1982 Citizenship Law that rendered many stateless. After decades of conflict and displacement, they have endured health, education and development gaps.
Also, in the age of social media, minorities have faced new waves of racism, xenophobia and hate speech. And in the absence of civilian democratic oversight and an independent judiciary, they have had few channels of redress.
Finally, minority women have faced particular vulnerability and exclusion. This despite their enormous potential to play leadership roles for their communities.
In the report, I identified the need for decisive measures to ensure genuine accountability for past and present violations and abuses. I called for legal, constitutional and policy reforms to foster greater space for diversity, equality and sustainable peace and reconciliation, including the repeal of the of the 1982 Citizenship Law.
Sadly, that report was written at a time where there was hope the newly democratized institutions of Myanmar and the peace process would offer new opportunities to tackle these issues. But the military coup of February 2021 and subsequent brutal and repressive campaigns targeting all ethnic and religious groups in Myanmar, including the Bamar majority, have dramatically set back any progress. And the country is now engulfed in a new wave of violence and repression.
Today more than ever before, as we seek solutions to the current crisis, it is important to keep focus on the root causes of violations and abuses against ethnic and religious groups in Myanmar, including the Rohingyas. Until these root causes are properly addressed, no sustainable peace or democratic development will be achieved.
Today, I urge the international community to stand united in pressuring the military to halt its ongoing repressive military campaigns against its own people. The international community must use its influence to restore rule of the country to a legitimate and independent civilian government with no military oversight of the executive, legislative and judicial powers.
I call for dialogue and engagement with the National Unity Government and ethnic organisations, as well as the genuine participation of civil society representatives in any political process. Myanmar youth and women – including from minorities - should be given a leading role.
If there is one ray of hope, it is the transformative discussions about the future of Myanmar that have begun within and between various ethnic, religious and social divides. These conversations have the power to sow the seeds for longer-term reconciliation and sustainable peace. We must listen to and support the Myanmar people’s aspiration for the establishment of an inclusive, prosperous and peaceful society, and do our best to amplify their voices
I urge the Council to give careful attention to the views that will be expressed by our distinguished panellists today and to consider the adoption of a comprehensive and inclusive roadmap for the implementation of recommendations addressing the root causes of human rights violations of ethnic and religious minorities in Myanmar.