Make clear, genuine commitments on human rights at Universal Periodic Review 

(GENEVA)—The government of Myanmar should commit to concrete actions to end and remedy ongoing abuses during its upcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the United Nations Human Rights Council, Fortify Rights said today.

Fortify Rights today published its formal submission to the United Nations on Myanmar’s human rights record, documenting four years of abuses. The submission documents widespread and systematic torture, killings, forced population transfers, persecution, and other international crimes committed by Myanmar authorities with impunity since 2011.

“Myanmar needs to take more robust steps to end ongoing abuses,” said Matthew Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights. “The Myanmar government has shielded perpetrators of grave human rights violations, casting doubt on its commitment to reform.”

On November 9, Myanmar will undergo its second UPR—a process in which the UN Human Rights Council reviews the human rights record of UN member states every four years. Myanmar’s last review was in January 2011.

In areas of active armed conflict in Kachin and northern Shan states, Fortify Rights has documented extrajudicial killings, torture, indiscriminate attacks on civilians, forced labor, widespread use of torture, and the use of human shields by Myanmar military personnel since 2011. Fortify Rights believes these abuses constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity under international law.

In its submission, Fortify Rights identifies eight Myanmar Army infantry and light infantry battalions and divisions responsible for torturing civilians in Kachin State since June 2011. Torture as a war crime in Kachin and northern Shan states was the subject of a 72-page report in 2014 by Fortify Rights, I Thought They Would Kill Me”: Ending Wartime Torture in Northern Myanmar.

The government of Myanmar continues to obstruct humanitarian access and aid to more than 300,000 internally displaced persons in Kachin, Shan, and Rakhine states. In Rakhine State, more than 140,000 Rohingya Muslims remain confined to more than 50 internment camps. Their freedom of movement is tightly restricted and many lack adequate food and access to health care.

More than 100,000 Rohingya Muslim asylum seekers have fled persecution and avoidable deprivations in aid in Myanmar in recent years, in many cases departing by sea on boats operated by human traffickers.

“For three years we have lived in a tent on the ground,” a 40-year-old displaced Rohingya man in Sittwe Township, Rakhine State told Fortify Rights in 2015. “There is not enough food, no school, no medical attention…We can’t take this pain anymore.”

Rohingya Muslims and other Muslim communities in Myanmar have experienced multiple pogroms and persecution in the past four years. In 2012, state-sponsored violence in 13 of 17 townships in Rakhine State directed primarily at Rohingya Muslims resulted in deaths, widespread destruction of property, and large-scale internal displacement. The Myanmar government has failed to facilitate a credible, independent investigation or hold perpetrators to account for these atrocities or other incidents of anti-Muslim violence that have since erupted in other parts of the country.

“Thein Sein’s government has deliberately implemented policies that are destructive to the Rohingya people, particularly their livelihoods and social fabric,” said Matthew Smith. “Domestic efforts to end abuses against Rohingya have been exhausted. The time is long overdue for the international community to take action.” 

There are an estimated one million Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. Myanmar authorities continue to restrict Rohingya births, freedom of movement, marriage, home repairs, construction of places of worship, and other aspects of everyday life. Rohingya are denied equal access to citizenship status and are increasingly excluded from participation in their country’s political processes—including the upcoming elections. The government has revoked the Rohingya right to vote, and the Election Commission—a recipient of international donor support—has disqualified most Rohingya candidates for parliamentary seats. Fortify Rights believes the Election Commission excluded Rohingya candidates due to their race and religion.

Fortify Rights has also documented the continued use of forced labor in Myanmar, particularly in northern Rakhine State. Fortify Rights has received information regarding several thousand cases perpetrated by the Myanmar Army since 2011, including child forced labor.

The submission published today also calls for the release of prisoners of conscience in Myanmar and documents shortcomings in the judiciary and national human rights framework. Many of Myanmar’s laws conflict with international human rights standards or are used by Myanmar authorities to impermissibly restrict or violate human rights. 

Earlier this year, the government appointed Home Affairs Minister Lt. Gen. Ko Ko to lead the committee responsible for presenting Myanmar’s human rights record to the Human Rights Council. In 2012, General Ko Ko spoke on record to Myanmar parliament about “tightening the regulations” against Rohingya in Rakhine State. In 2012, he introduced legislation to parliament requiring all citizens of Myanmar to register overnight guests while empowering authorities to conduct warrantless “midnight inspections” of homes. This law and its enforcement were the subject of a 46-page report in 2015 by Fortify Rights, Midnight Intrusions: Ending Household Inspections and Guest Registration in Myanmar.

A 2015 report by the International Human Rights Clinic at Harvard Law School implicates General Ko Ko in war crimes and crimes against humanity in eastern Myanmar in 2005 and 2006, and a separate lawsuit alleges he is responsible for firebombing Buddhist monks and other peaceful protesters in November 2012 in Letpadaung, Sagaing Region.

“It’s telling that General Ko Ko, a man who has obstructed positive reforms in the country, would be tapped to defend Myanmar’s human rights record,” said Matthew Smith. “Ko Ko’s own rap sheet of international crimes should be a topic of attention in Geneva.”

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