Report of the Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Thomas Andrews

46th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council (Geneva, 22 February 23 March 2021)

By: Clelia Jeandin / GICJ

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People holding candles during a peaceful protest (Credit: Reuters, March 2021)

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Introduction

This report will firstly summarize the Special Rapporteur (SR)’s written report of the human rights situation in Myanmar.  Mr. Thomas Andrews divided his report in two distinct parts, with one concerning the human rights situation in Myanmar after the coup that occurred on February 1st, and the second one concerning the situation of human rights in Myanmar in 2020 leading up to the coup.

The report will then focus on the unfolding and outcome of the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur, which took place on the 11 and 12 March 2021 in Geneva.

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Summary of the SR’s report

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1. Human rights situation in Myanmar after the coup

After describing how the coup unfolded, Mr. Andrews highlighted the ways in which Myanmar people demonstrated resistance to the military junta. The nationwide Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) was embraced by millions throughout the country. They initiated regional strikes committees, nationwide protests, and released 5 key demands: (1) release all those detained; (2) abolish the military dictatorship; (3) achieve democracy; (4) establish a federal democratic union; and (5) abolish the 2008 constitution. On February 5th, 15 MPs created the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw (CRPH) to support the anti-coup movement,  designing the State Administrative Council (SAC, the military authorities) as a terrorist organization.

Mr. Andrews provided a list of the SAC’s violations of rights as of 1 March 2021. It includes murders (close to 100), beatings, mass arbitrary detention (over 1,000), intimidation, and systematic repression of civil and political rights. He noted that since February 1st, the military made a disproportionate use of force that only increased as protests grew. Firing into crowds, shooting fleeing protesters and systematic murders have been reported. The authorities are also arbitrarily detaining National League for Democracy (NLD) members, parliament members, Union Election Commission (UEC) officials, activists, journalists, lawyers, teachers, medics, students and celebrities. Families are left with no information on their wellbeing and location after their arrest. Night raids are also being carried out on the NLD’s offices and headquarters, with confiscations of entire computer systems.

Legal restrictions on civil and political rights: Freedom of expression was strongly impacted by the junta’s actions. The SAC imposed new laws that criminalizes protesters and normalizes surveillance. A daily internet blackout from 1am to 9am has also been imposed in addition to the series of internet shutdowns that happened as early as February 1st. Reporters also face significant restrictions on their ability to inform and collect information as they face intimidation, harassment, and are banned to use certain expressions such as “coup government” or “military council” by the SAC. Amendments were added to the law protecting the privacy and security of citizens, removing protections from unreasonable searches, seizures, surveillance and arbitrary detention. Marches, protests and gatherings are now prohibited. Trade unions, the most important force in the mobilization of worker participation in CDM strikes, have been banned.

Impact on armed conflict, protection of civilians, humanitarian access and displacement since the coup: The military authorities targeted different ethnicities in the Kayin, Shan and Kachin states. Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) were instructed not to participate to protests. The delivery of humanitarian aid was hindered by the coup in most ethnic states. The slowing down of telecommunications services and difficulty of withdrawing cash are causing serious delays to humanitarian structures’ functioning.

In his report, Andrews commented on the international response to the coup. He notes that the Myanmar military’s economic interests remain largely unchallenged by member states.

Recommendations: The SR recommended the military junta stop the use of excessive force against civilians; respect their right to peaceful assembly and association; release all those arbitrarily detained; grant access to all zones in need to providers of humanitarian assistance; allow unfettered access to human rights monitors; and end the persecution of journalists and human rights defenders.

He recommended the UN to convene the UNSC to assess the situation and invoke Chapter VII authority under the UN Charter, specifically to impose an arms embargo, target economic sanctions, refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court, and deny recognition of the military junta as the legitimate government.

He recommended member states establish coordinated sanctions on junta leaders and their associates, block all overseas accounts of all entities of the State of Myanmar, join the 41 countries that already imposed arms embargoes and ensure the embargo is coordinated, and deny recognition of the military junta as the legitimate government representing the people of Myanmar.

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2.    Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar in 2020 and up to the coup d’état

Democratic space: In  Myanmar, ethnic groups, especially Rohingyas, are under-represented in elections.

Freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association: Andrews reported the frequent arrest of students critical of the military prior to the November 2020 elections. Arbitrary detentions increased in 2019 and 2020, with journalists being specifically targeted. Andrews also noted that, before the coup, plans were in place to increase the capacity for government mass surveillance.

Protection of civilians: Throughout 2020, armed conflicts intensified across Rakhine state, Chin state, Shan state, Kachin state and Karen state. The report notes that the Myanmar military is responsible for significant right violations.

Violation of the ICJ order:  On 23 January 2020, an Order by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) instructed Myanmar to take all necessary measures to protect members of the Rohingya community from acts proscribed by the Genocide convention. From 23 January 2020 to 22 January 2021, at least 33 Rohingya civilians were killed as a result of the conflict.

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Aung San Suu Kyi addresses the judge at the International Court of Justice (Credit: AP Photo, December 2019)

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Freedom of movement:
Rohingyas are unable to return to their homes, requiring authorization to leave Rakhine state and travel. There are approximately 600,000 stateless Rohingyas in Rakhine state, with 130,000 of them living in IDP camps since 2012.

Humanitarian access: Andrews notes that security challenges and government restrictions have heavily impacted humanitarian structures’ capacity to provide aid to the most affected states, especially in Kachin state, Chin state, Shan state, and Rakhine state.

Statelessness: In 2020, no progress was made to improve Rohingyas’ access to citizenship.

Internal displacement: Both displaced and non-displaced populations suffer from protracted and recurrent displacement, poor living conditions, dependency on humanitarian assistance, and the impact of Covid-19 on access to services and livelihoods. Andrews underscores the extreme severity of this need and the urgency of the humanitarian situation.

Right of return: The SR describes the movement of IDPs to their villages in 2020 as “modest at best”. In Rakhine state especially, bulldozing and clearing of homes and land, confiscation of house plots and land are reported, in addition to Rohingya villages being removed from maps.

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