11 March 2019
The Human Rights Council held an interactive dialogue with Yanghee Lee, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.
In her presentation, Ms. Lee underlined that repeated attempts to engage with the Government of Myanmar had been fruitless. She noted that thousands of people living in rural areas in Myanmar might be charged with criminal trespass under the Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Lands Management Law, if they continued to use their lands as they had done for generations, but without a permit from the Government. There was a serious downplaying of the humanitarian and human rights crisis affecting Rakhine state, whereas more human rights abuses had been reported in connection with the extraction of natural resources. Reportedly, up to 10,000 civilians had fled their homes in Rakhine state due to violence. Ms. Lee noted that the Security Council must refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court; she did not recommend the establishment of a hybrid national or international mechanism.
Myanmar, speaking as the concerned country, said that the democratically elected civilian Government spared no effort in achieving sustainable peace and genuine national reconciliation. Three sessions of the Union Peace Conference had been convened to end ethnic strife and armed conflicts, and bold action had been taken to amend the undemocratic provisions of the 2008 Constitution. The issue in Rakhine state was vast and complex, Myanmar said, sharing the concern over the plight of affected communities due to violence triggered by provocative, coordinated attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army against security outposts in October 2016 and August 2017. Myanmar remained willing to receive verified returnees from Bangladesh in a voluntary, safe and dignified manner. Due to the Special Rapporteur’s failure to comply with the code of conduct and her lack of impartiality in carrying out her mandate, which had caused public resentment, Myanmar had been obliged to discontinue its cooperation with the mandate-holder, stressing that harmful acts such as biased reports and unconstructive statements negatively affected social cohesion in the country.
In the ensuing discussion, several delegations voiced concern that Myanmar had discontinued the cooperation with the Special Rapporteur, and regretted that Myanmar had not implemented the Council’s resolutions and ensured accountability and justice for victims. Speakers voiced deep concern about the continued grave human rights violations committed in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan states, which may amount to the gravest crimes against humanity. Speakers also called the Government of Myanmar to end the persecution of journalists and human rights activists and to ensure conditions for the voluntary, safe and dignified return of refugees. Some speakers encouraged Myanmar in its efforts to sustainable peace and development, noting that the Special Rapporteur’s report contained significant imbalances, which did not pave the way for a genuine dialogue and cooperation. The Council should not continue supporting hostile mandates against certain countries. It should pursue a depoliticized non-confrontational approach in the discussion of the situation in Myanmar.
Speaking were Thailand on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, European Union, Spain, Afghanistan, Estonia, Denmark, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, India, United Kingdom, Belgium, Canada, Germany, Croatia, Iraq, Czech Republic, Somalia, Finland, Viet Nam, Australia, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Netherlands, Republic of Korea, France, Costa Rica, Maldives, Belarus, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Switzerland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, New Zealand, Ireland, Luxembourg, Iran, Bangladesh, China, Greece, Philippines, Turkey, Japan, Slovakia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, and Thailand. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation also spoke.
The following civil society organizations also took the floor: Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada (in a joint statement with International Service for Human Rights), Human Rights Now, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, The European Centre for Law and Justice, International Educational Development, Inc., International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, and Refugee Council of Australia.
The Council has a full day of meetings scheduled today. It will next hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar (A/HRC/40/68). (Advance unedited version: A/HRC/40/68)
Presentation of Report by the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar
YANGHEE LEE, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, said that sadly, more negative than positive developments had occurred during the last reporting period, and regretted that her repeated attempts to engage with the Government had been fruitless. She noted with concern that as of today, under the Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Lands Management Law, thousands of people living in rural areas in Myanmar might be charged with criminal trespass if they continued to use their lands - as they had done for generations - without a permit from the Government. The law classified nearly one-third of all land in the country as vacant, fallow, or virgin, and the majority of those lands were in ethnic states, where shared land ownership practices, such as customary tenure, were widely observed. At the same time, land belonging to refugees and internally displaced persons was left unattended. The law did not sufficiently recognize these realities, said Ms. Lee, raising concern that with land security central to the cycle of conflict, poverty, and denial of rights, the law had the potential to be disastrous.
The Government’s pledge to make Myanmar more investment-friendly had been reaffirmed at the Rakhine State Investment Fair in February 2019, continued the Special Rapporteur, expressing her deep concern at the serious downplaying of the ongoing humanitarian crisis and the suppression of the human rights crisis affecting this state, and the absence of evidence that Myanmar was fulfilling its duty to protect all its people from human rights abuses on the basis of equality, and particularly in the areas affected by conflict, such as Rakhine. Of particular concern were human rights abuses in the natural resource extraction sector, and the fact that revenues from this economic sector, which were needed for vital services and socio-economic development of the country, were being diverted into the personal bank accounts of military generals and their allies, undermining the civilian government, sustainable development, the peace process, and the realization of rights. The Special Rapporteur noted with satisfaction that Myanmar’s Minister of Education had just issued a directive to incendiary materials from school curriculums and textbooks, an issue that Ms. Lee had raised in her report.
Despite the four-month unilateral ceasefire, the conflict between ethnic armed organizations in San state was alarming, with reports of civilian deaths and 1,700 people fleeing since 27 February, while in Rakhine state up to 10,000 civilians had reportedly fled their homes due to violence. There was an increasingly internationalised situation of the Rohingya with deportations from India and Saudi Arabia recently, and Bangladesh had announced that in April it would relocate 23,000 Rohingya refugees from Cox’s Bazar to the Bay of Bengal. The road to justice was long and uncertain; it was paramount to address victims’ needs, redress the harm, and place the rights of victims at the heart of all approaches. Reversing the continued stance of denial and shifting to recognition and acknowledgement would go a long way in bringing about an end to impunity that had long existed in Myanmar. The Security Council must refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court, and victims must not be allowed to wait in the purgatory of international inaction.
Statement by Concerned Country
Myanmar, speaking as a concerned country, said that the democratically elected civilian Government had spared no effort in achieving sustainable peace and genuine national reconciliation, and that three sessions of the Union Peace Conference had been convened to end ethnic strife and armed conflicts, and bold action had been taken to amend the undemocratic provisions of the 2008 Constitution. The issue in Rakhine state was vast and complex, Myanmar said, sharing the concern over the plight of affected communities due to violence triggered by provocative, coordinated attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army against security outposts in October 2016 and August 2017. Myanmar remained willing to receive verified returnees from Bangladesh in a voluntary, safe and dignified manner, and had agreed to start the repatriation in April, including 444 Hindus. Myanmar would not accept any call to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court. The Independent Commission of Enquiry, established to investigate all alleged human rights violations, was an embodiment of the country’s willingness to address the accountability issue. Due to the Special Rapporteur’s failure to comply with the code of conduct and her lack of impartiality in carrying out her mandate, which had caused public resentment, Myanmar had been obliged to discontinue its cooperation with the mandate-holder, stressing that harmful acts such as biased reports and unconstructive statements negatively affected social cohesion in the country.
Thailand, speaking on behalf of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, welcomed Myanmar’s commitment and efforts to enhance socio-economic development, promote good governance, democratic practices and human rights, and to achieve peace, national unity and reconciliation. It urged Myanmar to continue implementing the recommendations of the Advisory Commission. European Union regretted that Myanmar had discontinued cooperation with the Special Rapporteur, and raising concern about grave human rights violations, advocated for the establishment of an independent mechanism to investigate those crimes. The European Union called on Myanmar to allow full safe, and unhindered humanitarian access. Spain urged Myanmar to fully cooperate with the Council and its mechanisms, and positively noted the demilitarization of the Government and the empowerment of civilian authorities, but was concerned about the vulnerability of thousands of displaced Rohingya children.
Afghanistan regretted that Myanmar had not implemented the Council’s resolution and underlined the importance of ensuring accountability and bringing perpetrators to justice. Myanmar should re-start cooperation with the Special Rapporteur and begin repatriating the Rohingya refugees. Estonia remained deeply concerned about the continuous human rights violations in Myanmar, including grave violations against children, and said that the international community should not accept impunity for violations and abuses of international human rights law. Denmark expressed deep concern about the continued grave human rights violations committed in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan states in Myanmar, and expressed its support for the ongoing efforts to establish an independent mechanism to investigate those crimes. Denmark was further concerned about the limited space for independent media in Myanmar.
Liechtenstein was particularly concerned about the violence against children, including murder and rape, and stressed the obligation of the international community to follow other avenues for accountability, including a new mechanism to focus on all the atrocities committed in Myanmar, and not just the deportations of the Rohingya. Lithuania was concerned about the excessive and disproportionate use of force by the police against protestors and said that the application of restrictive and ill-defined laws against defenders of civil society was unacceptable. Myanmar should immediately release the two Reuters journalists imprisoned for seven years for their coverage of the atrocities against the Rohingya. India said it was necessary to address the root causes of the conflict and stressed that threatening Myanmar with a punitive approach at the International Criminal Court would not help. Bangladesh could not continue to host such a large community of displaced people and, although India had delivered nearly $2 million in aid, it was important that the conflict was resolved.
United Kingdom regretted the escalation of violence between the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army and the Tatmadaw in Rakhine state, and called on all states to show restraint. There needed to be accountability for the perpetrators of crimes and achieving this in a domestic process, if credible, was preferable. Belgium welcomed the progress made by Myanmar in addressing the conflict and stressed the critical importance of addressing the root causes of the conflict in order to achieve peace. In doing so, Myanmar should implement the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine state. Canada was deeply troubled by reports of increased violence in Rakhine, Shan and Kachin states, and said that the plan to close the camps for the internally displaced persons should not be implemented without the displaced people having a voice. Canada also stressed that repatriation should include clear policies on citizenship for the returnees.
Germany urged Myanmar to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur in demonstration of its commitment to improve the human rights situation. Bangladesh had greatly helped thousands of refugees who had fled the country, noted Germany, and expressed concern about the spread of hate through well-orchestrated policies. Croatia shared the Special Rapporteur’s view that the international community should focus on justice and accountability for victims, and asked how gender perspectives could be included in a policy discussion on all relevant issues in the peace process. Iraq was concerned about gross human rights violations revealed by the report and invited Myanmar to step up to its moral and legal commitments and provide protection for the population. The agreement between Bangladesh and Myanmar on the return of refugees was welcomed and concrete measures were expected.
Czech Republic urged Myanmar to end the persecution of journalists, human rights activists, and lawyers defending them, and asked about the perceived potential of the Independent Commission of Inquiry and its work so far. Somalia urged Myanmar to bring about conditions for the voluntary, safe, and dignified return of refugees, and ensure access to humanitarian assistance to all internally displaced persons. How could States strengthen their support for the efforts to improve the human rights situation? Finland was particularly appalled by findings related to the vulnerable situation of victims of sexual and gender based violence, and asked about steps to strengthen the support provided to women and girls who suffered sexual violence, including to children born as a result of such violence.
Viet Nam said it shared the concern of the international community about the humanitarian situation in Rakhine state, and encouraged Myanmar to continue to implement people-oriented policies in order to promote harmony and reconciliation. It welcomed the efforts taken by Myanmar to strengthen cooperation and dialogue with international and regional partners to promote and protect human rights. Australia called on Myanmar to re-engage with the Special Rapporteur and urged all parties to cease hostilities and respect international law, including human rights. Australia supported the independent investigative mechanism for Myanmar and called on Myanmar and the Independent Commission of Inquiry to cooperate fully with the mechanism. Russian Federation supported a depoliticized non-confrontational approach in the discussion of the situation in Myanmar. It shared the concern expressed by Myanmar about the threat posed to its stability and security by various terrorist and extremist organizations.
Saudi Arabia expressed surprise that the Special Rapporteur had mentioned in her report that it had deported several Rohingya. Saudi Arabia supported Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, and also hosted them in Saudi Arabia. It called on Myanmar to put an end to the acts of violence against the Rohingya minority. Venezuela encouraged Myanmar’s efforts to ensure sustainable peace and development. The Special Rapporteur’s report contained significant imbalances, which did not pave the way for a genuine dialogue and cooperation; the Council should not continue to support hostile mandates against certain countries. Netherlands expressed concern about the lack of access to Rakhine state by the United Nations, about the fate of nearly one million Rohingya refugees, and about the fact that the crimes committed in Myanmar may amount to the gravest crimes against humanity.
Republic of Korea called on Myanmar to cooperate with the international community and allow access to conflict zones. They underlined the need to create the conditions for the safe and dignified return of displaced people, and to uphold the Memorandum of Understanding that Myanmar signed with United Nations bodies. France reiterated its call on the authorities in Myanmar to ensure safe and unhindered access to the Rohingya in Rakhine state. France was concerned about the conclusions of the Special Rapporteur that human rights abuses were not limited to Rakhine, Shan and Kachin states, but extended across the country.
Costa Rica regretted that Myanmar denied access to the Special Rapporteur and urged it to reconsider facilitating the work of the Council’s mechanisms. Costa Rica was particularly concerned about the situation of children in the armed conflict, especially with respect to the recruitment of children and sexual violence against them. Maldives remained deeply concerned about the continued human rights violations against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, and called on the authorities to respect their international obligations under international law. Internally displaced persons should take part in the drafting of the plans for their return. Belarus opposed the adoption of country-specific resolutions and mandates that were not universally recognized. They were not able to foster progress in the field of human rights, and Myanmar’s situation was an example of that. What Myanmar needed was real assistance through regional mechanisms and constructive dialogue.
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea opposed politicization, selectivity and double standards in the field of human rights, as well as any interference into the internal affairs of sovereign countries. It duly noted the efforts of Myanmar to repatriate refugees and the burden of Bangladesh in hosting refugees, and it encouraged the bilateral efforts to that end. Switzerland voiced deep concern about the serious security and humanitarian situation in Rakhine state in Myanmar, and appealed to the Government to cooperate with all United Nations mechanisms. It was imperative to hold rapid and independent inquiries in order to guarantee accountability for the committed crimes. Iceland expressed disappointment that Myanmar had decided not to grant access to the Special Rapporteur, and voiced concern about the situation in Rakhine state. It was also alarmed about the continued reports of decreasing space for the expression of views and the incarceration of political activists.
Norway regretted the verdict against journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, and called on Myanmar to uphold the freedom of the press and ensure the full protection of all civilians without discrimination in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan states. It welcomed the unilateral ceasefire and called for its implementation beyond the initial four-month period, and for the inclusion of Rakhine state. Sweden called for restraint by all parties and reiterated its call for a referral of the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court. It asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on what transitional justice initiatives could be used in this context, particularly regarding accountability. New Zealand supported a country wide truth and reconciliation or restorative justice process to ensure accountability for grievances and long-standing discrimination, highlighting the serious obstacles posed by Myanmar’s legislation which did not provide for Rohingya to become citizens. New Zealand urged unimpeded access for humanitarian actors.
Ireland welcomed the unilateral ceasefire but was concerned about the recent escalation of violence in Rakhine state following attacks by the Arakan Army, calling for a de-escalation of hostilities. It asked what recommendations the Rapporteur would make to the international community to support the de-escalation of the latest hostilities. Luxembourg expressed deep concern about the upsurge in violence in Rakhine state as well as the hindered access faced by humanitarian actors. It asked what could be done to facilitate access to victims by an independent mechanism. Iran opposed the politicization and double standard approach in the Human Rights Council. It called on Myanmar to take all concrete steps to respect the human rights of its civilians and recognize the right to return of all forced migrants to their homeland on a voluntary basis.
Bangladesh regretted the Special Rapporteur’s comments on the steps taken by the Bangladeshi Government, which lacked clarity of understanding of the situation on the ground. The remarks on the education and employment of Rohingya in Cox Bazaar were unwarranted. It would be better she concentrated on the underlying causes of the conflict, and helped establish safe spaces inside Myanmar. China stated that since taking office, the Government of Myanmar had made progress in developing the country and supporting its people. The international community should respect the country’s sovereignty, and provide constructive support to resolve the current crisis, rather than name and shame them. Greece welcomed recent positive steps to establish a joint committee in Myanmar to reform the constitution, and for its work on conflict related sexual violence in the country. Greece called on the Government to provide the legal framework to ensure a return to the rule of law and the protection of human rights.
Philippines regretted that the Special Rapporteur had discouraged international investment in Myanmar, and instead called for the investment to be directed to local non-governmental organizations, even though the Government was the main provider of services. They asked her to suggest ways that the international community could help Myanmar recover, including to develop the extraction industry, protect women against violence, and improve access to education. Turkey regretted that the conditions in Rokhine state were not conducive to the return of the Rohingya, and urged that the repatriation should be carried out under principles established by the High Commissioner for Refugees. Myanmar should also expedite the return of all internally displaced Rohingya to locations of their choice. Japan urged Myanmar to allow access to humanitarian assistance in conflict areas in Myanmar. Japan continued to call on the Government to cooperate with the International Commission of Enquiry, and asked the Special Rapporteur how the international community could assist those affected by the conflict.
Slovakia urged the authorities in Myanmar to grant unlimited access to the Special Rapporteur and was concerned about the wide spread violations against children, including forced labour and conscription. It called on Myanmar to put in place all the recommendations of the report and asked what measures beyond legislative tools should be used to effectively tackle the root causes of hatred and intolerance. Lao People’s Democratic Republic said that in view of the complexity of the situation in Rahine state, any solution had to be based on the reality on the ground. The international community must give the Government of Myanmar the necessary help to return stability, peace and development to Rakhine state. Organization of Islamic Cooperation said Myanmar’s lack of progress in resolving the citizenship issue for the Rohingya was hampering progress in the safe repatriation process and failed to address the root causes of the crisis in Rakhine state. It urged Myanmar to cooperate with the Rapporteur and to implement the recommendations of the Annan Commission. Thailand highlighted the importance of the engagement of the international community and the Community of Southeast Asian Nations in supporting the repatriation process. Last Friday the Thai Prime Minister had travelled to Myanmar to discuss the roles that Thailand and the Community could undertake to further the peace process.
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development said that military run conglomerates such as the Union for Myanmar Economic Holding Lmt and the Myanmar Economic Corporation provided budget financing to the military with no transparency or accountability. It called for coordinated international action on these enterprises as the military greatly benefited from foreign investments. Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada, in a joint statement with International Service for Human Rights, said they requested justice, including compensation; the right to return home in safety, including the right to citizenship; as well as the right to education. Human Rights Now requested the Government of Myanmar to guarantee safety to internally displaced persons, and asked the Government to cooperate with international bodies, and prepare for the return of these persons.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide remained concerned about the mistreatment of numerous minorities in Myanmar, including Muslims. They were concerned that part of the violence was influenced in some part by China, and asked the international community to pay careful attention to this. The European Centre for Law and Justice stated that the targeted persecution of Christians was coordinated by the Chinese Government in Myanmar, including the closure of Christian schools. They reminded Myanmar that it was a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and should abide by these requirements.
International Educational Development, Inc. said that their organization was present on the ground in Shan state and had accounts of violations of human rights there, including murder, rape and confiscation of land. Government authorities had continued airstrikes in Kachin and other ethnic minority areas, and the international community should take measures to stop this. International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, speaking on behalf of the Rohingya people living in Cox’s Bazar, said that they were denied the right to healthcare, shelter and work in the camp. More than 120,000 Rohingya were still held in concentration camps in Myanmar. Refugee Council of Australia welcomed the decision to establish a new Independent Investigative Mechanism as a landmark moment in the struggle for justice. It was important that this mechanism started preparing cases ready for prosecution, which had to include national courts exercising universal jurisdiction.
YANGHEE LEE, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, said that the rights of the victims had to be at the heart of all legal recourse procedures. Myanmar should allow unimpeded access to the new Independent Investigative Mechanism and allow the Special Rapporteur back in the country. In terms of relocation and repatriation, there were no places to return to, not just in Rakhine but in other parts of Myanmar as well. On transitional justice, criminal accountability had to be invoked, commissions had to be established and the culture of denial had to end. It was necessary to provide redress to victims, end impunity, and establish the rule of law. The unilateral ceasefire was extended only to northern Myanmar, and it should be extended to Rakhine state as well. As for the possibility to provide technical assistance, it was very difficult. It was urgent to adopt a gemstone policy law as a basis for legislative reform and continue to engage with the extracting industry to reform this sector. Home countries of multinational corporations had to have a proper oversight to ensure compliance with international standards. Private interests did not support military objectives. Bangladesh had responded to this enormous humanitarian crisis, with over a million refugees living now in Cox’s Bazar. Should the international community tell Bangladesh they had to continue their generosity indefinitely? Or that Rohingya refugees had to endure such a situation indefinitely? The answer to such questions had to be an unequivocal “no” and the Council was implored to stop talking and start doing.
For use of the information media; not an official record