HRC53: Human rights mechanisms on Myanmar stress the dire humanitarian situation in the country

53rd session of the Human Rights Council

19th June – 14th July 2023

Item 2: Annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and reports of the Office of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General and Item 4: Human rights situations that require the Council’s attention

21st June and 06th July 2023

By Luísa Barbosa / GICJ

Executive Summary 

On 21st June 2023, the Human Rights Council (HRC) held a Panel discussion on the measures necessary to find durable solutions to the Rohingya crisis and to end all forms of human rights violations and abuses against Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar. During this opportunity for discussion, the Council heard four panellists who asserted the urgent need to address the root causes of the crisis. They strongly argued that the eventual repatriation of the Rohingya population to their homeland must happen in a sustainable, safe, and, most importantly, voluntary manner. In the meantime, the international community was called on to take concrete action to improve the conditions of Rohingya refugees in host countries.

The situation in Myanmar was once again the object of discussion at the 25th regular meeting of the HRC on 6th July 2023. During this session, the HRC held an Interactive Dialogue on the Written Update of the High Commissioner on Human Rights in Myanmar and on the Oral Progress Report of the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar.

Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) supports the essential work of both the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Rapporteur in Myanmar. We condemn the ongoing violence in Myanmar and the lack of action by the international community in reaction to it. GICJ urges all States to refrain from providing the Myanmar military with weapons used to commit war crimes and to attack civilians and civilian infrastructure. Regarding the Rohingya crisis, we call on the international community to double its efforts to improve the conditions of Rohingya refugees in host countries and campsites.

 

Background

Rohingya Muslims are an ethnic minority originally from Buddhist Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. The Rohingya are not recognised as an official ethnic group in Myanmar and have been denied citizenship since 1982, suffering decades of violence, discrimination and persecution in Myanmar. The Rohingya are the world’s largest stateless population, which affects their civil, cultural, economic, political, and social rights. Their largest exodus began in August 2017, following a wave of violence in Rakhine State and forcing over 700,000 people to seek refuge in neighbouring countries.

Currently, the Rohingya Muslims continue to be subject to institutionalised and long-standing persecution that perpetuates a cycle of marginalisation, systemic discrimination, and poverty, leading to serious violations of their human rights. Moreover, since February of 2021, when Myanmar’s military took over power of the country, violence has been widespread, leading to further internal displacement in the country.

Due to this appalling situation, the HRC, through Resolution 50/3 of 7th of July 2022, decided to hold a panel discussion on the measures necessary to find durable solutions to the Rohingya crisis and to end all forms of human rights violations and abuses against Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar at its 53rd session. In addition, the human rights situation in Myanmar was analysed under Agenda Item 4 with an Interactive Dialogue on the written update of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on Myanmar and with an Interactive Dialogue on the oral progress report of the special rapporteur on Myanmar.

 

Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar since 1st February 2021

The report focused on the identification of trends and patterns of human rights violations in Myanmar between 1st February 2021 and 30th April 2023. It was especially dedicated to the human rights impact of the denial of humanitarian access.  

The report asserted that the military developed a “four cuts strategy” against the civilian population, especially ethnic armed organisations, anti-military armed groups, and civilians perceived to support them. The strategy relies on cutting off the population’s access to food, funds, intelligence, and recruits through the systemic implementation of tactics, such as the burning of villages, airstrikes, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture and ill-treatment. This limitation of movement, denial of humanitarian assistance and use of “scorched earth tactics” were seen as a continuous violation of the civilian population’s human rights by the report.

It was also highlighted that food insecurity is on the rise in Myanmar, with 15.2 million people requiring food and nutrition assistance. Additionally, the report affirmed the direct attacks on healthcare personnel and infrastructure and the severe restrictions on freedom of movement through the delay and denial of visas and the establishment of checkpoints, which amount to yet another violation of the civilian population’s rights. 

The security and safety of humanitarian actors were also addressed by the report. Humanitarian workers are subject to arrest, harassment, intimidation, detention, mistreatment, and even death. Furthermore, the report denounced the restriction on mobile data and call services determined by the military. These measures affect the ability of populations in need to seek aid and hamper the work of humanitarian aid institutions. Also, the report condemned the extensive presence of anti-personnel landmines, explosives remnants of war and other unexploded ordnances across the country, which pose a significant threat to displaced populations in seek of humanitarian aid.

The report ultimately found that the Myanmar military is the most responsible for the negative impact on the enjoyment of human rights and on the delivery of humanitarian action due to its establishment of an all-encompassing system of control based on the instrumentalisation of legal and administrative spheres in Myanmar. It was recommended that Myanmar’s military authorities immediately cease all violence and attacks directed at the civilian population and infrastructure, urging its compliance with international human rights law and humanitarian law. The OHCHR also recommended the UN Security Council take steps to refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court and appealed to the member States to ensure the different humanitarian response plans are adequately funded.

Panel discussion on the measures necessary to find durable solutions to the Rohingya crisis and to end all forms of human rights violations and abuses against Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar

On the 21st June 2023, the HRC held a panel discussion on the measures necessary to find durable solutions to the Rohingya crisis and to end all forms of human rights violations and abuses against Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar.

The floor was first given to the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Nada al-Nashif, who provided a comprehensive overview of the Rohingya crisis and the violations of human rights observed in Myanmar. She commended neighbouring countries for the reception of displaced persons deriving from Myanmar. She called upon the international community to support the Humanitarian Response Plan, which is severely defunded. Ms. al-Nashif also offered her support for international accountability efforts, such as the case brought by Gambia at the International Court of Justice. Lastly, she advocated for the establishment of a collective roadmap toward finding durable solutions anchored on human rights for the Rohingya crisis.